Britain celebrates (Japanese) state investment

It seems like everyone is investing in British infrastructure except for the British government

Duncan Wheldon at the TUC points out something:

David Cameron has arranged for a state-backed lender to step into the breach and help finance infrastructure projects, including wind farms, in the UK to the tune of ‘billions of pounds’.

The state-backed lender is the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation.

Given that the UK’s own Green Investment Bank is currently limited to £3bn it is perfectly possible that the UK’s green industries will recieve more funding form the Japanese state than the British one. This strikes me as an odd development.

None of this is new, of course. Foreign investment banks have been buying up British industry for years. As I wrote at Left Foot Forward, the China Investment Corporation now owns 9 per cent of Thames Water, and Abu Dhabi owns another 10 per cent:

With Thames Water now almost a fifth owned by foreign governments, and vast amounts of foreign state ownership in other public infrastructure companies from trains (Arriva) to postal services (DHL) and energy (EDF), the government will have an increasingly hard line justifying its long-held belief that private companies are inherently more efficient than state-owned ones.

Indeed, with the opening of the London-Frankfurt line in 2015, Deutsche Bahn will be operating on British soil under its own name for the first time.

Britain is finally getting a start on investing in our own infrastructure, rather than waiting for others to do it for us. As Joe Manning wrote yesterday, London boroughs aren't waiting for central government to get started, pooling their resources to get a better return for their money and improve the city with one move. It makes sense:

Pension funds have long time horizons. This means that they are well placed to invest in the infrastructure that is crucial to economic growth but will not realise immediate returns, such as new transport connections. In fact, there is a near perfect match between pension funds' appetite for long term assets and the need for long term financing of infrastructure.

Or we could do nothing. That seems like a popular plan.

A French wind turbine. Ours are Japanese. Credit: AFP

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The private renting sector enables racist landlords like Fergus Wilson

A Kent landlord tried to ban "coloured people" from his properties. 

Fergus Wilson, a landlord in Kent, has made headlines after The Sun published his email to a letting agent which included the line: "No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy."

When confronted, the 70-year-old property owner only responded with the claim "we're getting overloaded with coloured people". The letting agents said they would not carry out his orders, which were illegal. 

The combination of blatant racism, a tired stereotype and the outdated language may make Wilson seem suspiciously like a Time Landlord who has somehow slipped in from 1974. But unfortunately he is more modern than he seems.

Back in 2013, a BBC undercover investigation found 10 letting agent firms willing to discriminate against black tenants at the landlord's request. One manager was filmed saying: "99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans."

Under the Equality Act 2010, this is illegal. But the conditions of the private renting sector allow discrimination to flourish like mould on a damp wall. 

First, discrimination is common in flat shares. While housemates or live-in landlords cannot turn away a prospective tenant because of their race, they can express preferences of gender and ethnicity. There can be logical reasons for this - but it also provides useful cover for bigots. When one flat hunter in London protested about being asked "where do your parents come from?", the landlord claimed he just wanted to know whether she was Christian.

Second, the private rental sector is about as transparent as a landlord's tax arrangements. A friend of mine, a young professional Indian immigrant, enthusiastically replied to house share ads in the hope of meeting people from other cultures. After a month of responding to three or four room ads a day, he'd had just six responses. He ended up sharing with other Indian immigrants.

My friend suspected he'd been discriminated against, but he had no way of proving it. There is no centrally held data on who flatshares with who (the closest proxy is SpareRoom, but its data is limited to room ads). 

Third, the current private renting trends suggest discrimination will increase, rather than decrease. Landlords hiked rents by 2.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, an indication of high demand. SpareRoom has recorded as many as 22 flat hunters chasing a single room. In this frenzy, it only becomes harder for prospective tenants to question the assertion "it's already taken". 

Alongside this demand, the government has introduced legislation which requires landlords to check that tenants can legitimately stay in the UK. A report this year by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that half of landlords were less likely to rent to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme. This also provides handy cover for the BTL bigot - when a black British tenant without a passport asked about a room, 58 per cent of landlords ignored the request or turned it down

Of course, plenty of landlords are open-minded, unbiased and unlikely to make a tabloid headline anytime soon. They most likely outnumber the Fergus Wilsons of this world. But without any way of monitoring discrimination in the private rental sector, it's impossible to know for sure. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.