Beware of what you buy and from whom – Kezia, Jackie and the hounds of the Unionist press are watching
The unionist press forced the matter of property portfolio ownership by politicians on the attention of readers in Scotland. There might have been merit making such information available to the public if the compelling need to do so had been driven by a desire to do good things. But this was not the case. There was malice in the motives. The purpose of the “expose” was to destroy the budding career of an SNP politician who had, (so far as the police were concerned) done nothing that might have warrant intervention. The savagery of the onslaught by innuendo, selective quotes and half baked interviews continued unabated for nearly a week.
To add fuel to the fire the Labour Party in Scotland took up the cudgel. Abusing valuable parliamentary time and with the full support of their Labour party colleagues they, (through Jackie Ballie and Keiza Dugdale) raised the matter on two separate occasions attempting to force the First Minister to pronounce on affairs and take action requiring official bodies, over which she had no authority, to release confidential information pertaining to the MP (which would be in breech of the Data protection Act) The sheer audacity of the Labour Party is breathtaking.
But there is merit in adding to the debate by revealing that Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat MPs are no strangers to the business of purchasing properties. But the scale of it places any portfolio held by the SNP MP under attack at the very bottom end of the business.
9 October 2012: research for an independent campaign group reveals increasing numbers of politicians across all parties maintain property portfolios
A group campaigning on behalf of first-time house buyers identified MPs supplementing their income through private tenants:
Conservative MPs: 83 out of 305
Labour MPs: 32 out of 232
Liberal Democrats: 9 out of 57
The group also found several examples of MPs owning more than one rental property. James Clappison, Tory MP for Hertsmere, topped the charts, having been found to own 26 homes he rented out across East Yorkshire.
Katy John, a spokesperson said “Not only do MPs enjoy taxpayer-funded second homes, many of them also have a portfolio of rented houses too. Many first-time buyers are trapped in the private rented sector, 94 per cent of whom would like to buy their own home.
Tenants in this country face some of the worst levels of housing security in Europe. First-time buyers desperately need house prices to fall to more affordable levels, but landlord MPs at the very top of the property ladder have a vested interest to not let this happen.”
5 March 2013: Great Tory housing shame: Third of ex-council homes now owned by rich landlords
The multi-millionaire son of a Tory minister who presided over the controversial “right-to -buy” scheme is a buy-to-let landlord owning at least 40 ex-council properties.
Investigation has found a third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher are now owned by private landlords. In one London borough almost half of ex-council properties are now sub-let to tenants.
Tycoon Charles Gow and his wife own at least 40 ex-council flats on one South London estate. His father Ian Gow was one of Mrs Thatcher’s top aides and was Housing Minister during the peak years of right-to-buy. Other wealthy investors own scores of ex-council properties via offshore holding firms in tax havens in the Channel Islands.
GMS union boss Paul Kenny said: “You couldn’t make it up. The family of one of the Tory ministers who oversaw right-to-buy ends up owning swathes of ex-council homes.”
Thatcher’s man: Ian Gow was Housing Minister during height of right-to-buy boom in 1984
26 April 2013: Britain’s richest landlord MP Richard Benyon buys up 96 properties hikes the rent then tells poor families: You shouldn’t waste so much food
Around 90 households in an estate in Hoxton, London have been snapped up by Tory MP Richard Benyon’s £110million family firm, which promptly announced plans for a massive rent hike. The residents, now unable to meet the rent – face eviction.
Britain’s richest MP Richard Benyon told families on the breadline. “You shouldn’t waste so much food. careful fridge management would help solve the crisis in living standards and families should also eat more leftovers” He went on to say “many people have no idea how to keep fruit or vegetables or that cheese will last longer if properly wrapped.
2 August 2013: A property company run by the Labour Party has paid no tax in eight years, despite earning millions of pounds in rental revenues
Labour Party Properties Limited (LPPL), which owns a £6.3m portfolio of properties, has paid no corporation tax since 2003. In those eight years the company has received a total of £8.7m in rents but declared losses of £279,000. A Labour Party spokesman said the firm had done nothing to intentionally cut its tax bill.
Ed Miliband has repeatedly accused multi-national companies such as Starbucks and Google of failing to pay their full share of tax.
The latest accounts show LPPL, which is wholly owned by the Labour Party and whose directors include Iain McNicol, the Labour Party general secretary, received £1,189,000 in rent from 21 properties in 2011. Around forty per cent of the portfolio, worth £2.5m, is rented on the open market, while the other buildings are leased to local parties as offices and social clubs.
23 September 2013: Labour’s claim of being the party of council housing is in tatters
As part of the Labour conference focus on the cost of living, the party will be going to great efforts this week to reclaim its presumed title as the party of ‘council housing’. Expect to hear private builders bashed for squirrelling away land plots rather than piling ‘em high with apartments as they should. And the pillorying of the right to buy policy, ritually chastised as it is each conference as the chief reason for the country’s interminable descent into social housing drought.
What you’re unlikely to hear is a serious admission by Labour of its appalling track record on council housing supply. That local authority housing passed into private hands far faster under Labour than Conservative prime ministers. Or that the true title of council housing champion sits more comfortably in Conservative hands.
24 November 2013: Labour’s property portfolio, including Ed Balls’s constituency buildings, have benefited from cheap loans from the Co-operative Bank
Labour Party Properties Ltd (LPPL), a property firm wholly owned by the Labour Party, has used its £6.3 million portfolio to secure £3.8 million of cheap finance from the Co-op bank. The properties used as collateral in the deal include Morley Labour Rooms in the shadow chancellor’s West Yorkshire constituency.
The revelation raises fresh questions about Labour’s close relationship with the Co-operative Bank, whose former chairman and Labour councillor, Rev Paul Flowers, has been arrested and bailed on suspicion of drug offences. It follows the revelation the Co-op donated £50,000 to Mr Balls’s office.
LPPL paid 2.88 per cent interest on the loan, according to the company’s 2012 accounts – a far cheaper rate than would typically be offered to property firms on the open market, one expert said. If the bank had charged a commercial rate of interest, LPPL’s tenants could face significantly higher rents, he added.
24 February 2014: Richest MP in Britain slams welfare state but makes £120k a year in housing benefit
A Tory MP worth £110million is raking in £120,000 a year from his hard-up tenants’ housing benefit – despite blasting the “something for nothing” welfare state.
Richard Benyon – Britain’s richest MP – runs his vast property empire from a mansion on his sprawling country pile. But last night he was accused of cashing in off the back of the very handouts his party pledged to slash – as it emerged a string of other Tories were doing the same.
Just last month the MP, 53, said: “The average household spends £3,000 per year on the welfare state. This figure had been rising inexorably and unaffordably.”
Benyon has also attacked the Labour Party over payments and said: “Labour want benefits to go up more than the earnings of people in work. It isn’t fair and we will not let them bring back their something for nothing culture.”
He is a director of the Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Limited, which owns most of the land and property linked to his family. It got £119,237 in housing benefit from West Berkshire council last year, more than any other private landlord in the area.
Eileen Short, of Defend Council Housing, fumed: “How dare Richard Benyon lecture us about ‘something for nothing’ when he is living off the poorest and milking taxpayers all the way to the bank? “It’s not tenants who gain from housing benefit, but some of the richest people in Britain. They get richer at our expense – and blame us while they’re at it.”
Mr Benyon is likely to pull in thousands of pounds more from properties in other areas, too, as his firm owns 20,000 acres of land from Hampshire to Scotland and 300 houses in Hackney, East London. His office refused to comment on the figures or confirm whether Englefield got more housing benefit from other councils. Buy-to-let landlords and property tycoons like him will bank a total of £9.2billion in housing benefit this year.
It costs more than £23 a week, or 29% more in housing benefit, for a council to house a tenant with a private landlord than with a housing association or social not-for-profit landlord, according to the Department for Work and Pensions. Mrs Short added: “It’s time we stopped greedy private landlords living off housing benefit. Instead of subsidising them, we ought to cut rents not benefits, and invest in housing that’s really affordable. Let’s get these people off our backs.”
Our investigation, with the GMB union, comes after it was revealed yesterday that UKIP’s housing spokesman Andrew Charalambous was making a fortune off migrant tenants on welfare – despite leader Nigel Farage calling for a ban on foreigners claiming the cash. The millionaire pocketed £745,351 in housing benefit from occupants, who he admitted included immigrants.
Our probe also uncovered a number of other Tories and donors who also bagged cash through housing benefit tenants last year.
Peer Lord Cavendish benefitted from £106,938 in housing welfare last year from Barrow council in Cumbria through his shareholding in Holker Estates.
The Earl of Cadogan, who has given £23,000 to the Tories, has received £116,400 in benefits from Kensington and Chelsea. And MP Richard Drax’s 7,000-acre Morden Estate got £13,830 from Purbeck council, South Dorset, last year. A Morden spokesman said: “We don’t comment on these things.”
On top of Mr Benyon’s haul from tenants, his family farms have also received more than £2million in EU subsidies since 2000. Once a year the multi-millionaire – whose great great grandad was PM Lord Salisbury – hands out food to poor families as part of a 16th century tradition. He recently came under fire for scrapping plans to dredge the Somerset Levels. He was also criticised for claiming poor families wasted too much food.
Our investigation is based on Freedom of Information Act requests made by the GMB union, which has many members who rely on social housing. There are 1.8 million households on the waiting list for council homes. Despite Government pledges to tackle the welfare bill, the annual cost hit £24billion this year.
24 February 2014: Glasgow – vagrants housed in rat infested hellhole – Landlords paid £1.5m in Housing benefit
The owners of a notorious hostel where homeless men live in squalor are bagging more than £1.5million a year in housing benefit.
Ron Barr, 69, and Kenneth Gray, 80, make a fortune renting out the rat-infested Bellgrove Hotel’s tiny rooms with barred windows to residents who use shared toilets and shower rooms. The hovel is awash with drugs and alcohol, with people often left to pass out in pools of their own urine.
Brothers-in-law Barr and Gray, who bought the Glasgow “hotel” for £65,000 in 1988 through firm Careside Hotels Ltd, pocket cash through more than 140 clients whose rooms are paid for with up to £199.25 a week of public money.
The men – who live in luxury – raked in £1.56million in housing benefit in 2012-13, £1.49million in 2011-12, and £1.45million in 2010-11.
A local MP said the Bellgrove was like a “Russian prison”. He went on to say “I have been in and the facilities are seriously out of date. It is like some kind of Russian prison camp – grey and horrible.” Unlike care homes, which are monitored by official bodies, the Bellgrove is technically a private hotel. Mr Mason said the site needed to be regulated and urged the Care Commission to look at it.
The amount handed to the Bellgrove’s owners, to provide a room and basic meals, has tripled from £500,000 in 2000, despite it being described even then as the “worst in Scotland”. But business is still booming at the spot in the city’s East End. On a recent undercover operation hundreds of residents were discovered living in cell-like rooms. Drugs were taken openly and residents left to guzzle cider all day before passing out in stinking corridors. Pools of vomit were also left on the floor.
Glasgow city council stopped referring homeless people there in 2010 after deciding it made people’s drink and drug problems worse. A spokesman said: “Accommodating individuals in large scale hostels makes it much harder to address the issues that led to their homelessness in the first place.” A senior source at the council said: “There’s a very unhealthy drugs and alcohol scene. You could go into that place an alcoholic and come out a drug addict and alcoholic.”
24 June 2014: Queen riding high on housing boom with property income generating £43m
The Queen’s property portfolio is delivering the royal family a record income as the property boom lifts real estate values. The Crown Estate, the property company owned by the Head of State, generated a £285m profit in the year ending in March.
According to the Financial Times, this means the Queen, who after two years receives 15% of all profits from the Crown Estate, stands to gain £43m in 2017. The Crown Estate hands all remaining profits to the Treasury. The total value of all of the estate’s assets is now £11.5bn, a year on year rise of 16%. In addition, public funding for the Queen – the sovereign wealth fund – is set to rise by £2m next year, to 42.8m.
14 August 2015: 40% of homes sold under Right to Buy are being let out privately
The government’s Right to Buy scheme has come under fire after it has been revealed that 40% of all council flats sold under the scheme are now being rented out privately.
Figured obtained by Inside Housing magazine through a Freedom of Information request show that 37.6% of ex-council flats are likely being rented privately at market rents.
The figures released by 91 councils show that they have sold a total of 127,763 leasehold properties of which 47,994 leaseholders are living at another address. This is a “strong indication that the home is being sub-let”.
The research highlighted that Milton Keynes has the highest number of ex-council homes being privately rented (69.96%). It also found that more than half the ex-council flats in six areas are now being let privately.
14 August 2015: The owners of a London ex-council flat made an 800% return when it was sold for £1.2m
A former council flat in Covent Garden has been sold for £1.2m. The owners of the property bought it from Westminster council for £130,000 in 1997 under Right to Buy. The flat
failed to make the £1.35m asking price, however the owners still made an 800% return on their investment.
27 September 2011: Tory Property Tycoon Buys Olympic Village Athlete Accommodation
A Tory property tycoon’s company has snapped up half the Olympic Village at a bargain price. Jamie Ritblat’s firm, Delancey, bought the site in which the athletes will stay during the 2012 Olympic Games for just £557 million – an estimated loss of around £300 million on the money spent building the site. The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) conducted the sale on the Government’s behalf.
According to industry experts, significant profit could result from the investment. The company plans to rent out the majority of the 1,400 homes. Mr. Ritblat’s company’s offer was allegedly the best offer put forward for the site. It is believed that the Olympic Village homes, which lack kitchens, will require major refurbishment prior to being resold or rented.
Cynics have questioned the timing of the deal, which comes soon after Delancey’s substantial donation to the Conservative Party. Mr. Ritblat’s father, property tycoon, Sir John Ritblat, was also the chairman of the Conservative Party’s Olympics Oversight Committee. The committee was set up back in 2007 to scrutinise the London 2012 budgets.
An ODA spokesperson claimed that they received bids from three shortlisted bidders. Each bidder was assessed in terms of both their long-term plans for the development and in delivering value for money against taxpayer’s investment. The spokesperson adds that no other factors were considered in the decision-making process. Mr. Ritblat has declined to comment on his donations to the Tory Party. A Conservative Party spokesperson claimed that the Olympics Oversight Committee had failed to meet since the General Election.