Labour to oppose fiscal stimulus through housing repairs for OAPs

In a remarkable turnaround the Labour Party has stated its opposition to a program of national economic fiscal stimulation through a programme of housing repairs for Old Age Pensioners. Despite the jobs that will be created, the multiplier effects of such works, they’re muttering about it being difficult to find the money:

The Queen has been dragged into a funding row as UK opposition parties warned that they could vote against a £369 million refurbishment of Buckingham Palace.

The royal household has insisted that the work is essential to avoid a catastrophic failure, but the bill is more than twice the estimates.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, have approved £369 million ($A620m) of taxpayers’ money for the ten-year refit, which must be agreed by a House of Commons vote before April.

Labour and the Scottish National Party have refused to commit to supporting the funds when public sector services are facing cuts and pay freezes.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, an avowed republican, was said to be considering the party’s position as his frontbenchers lined up to criticise the repair works.

“Ultimately it has to be weighed up against what is happening in the economy,” Andrew Gwynne, a shadow cabinet office minister, said. “Clearly on one level we have to upgrade our national heritage. But when people are struggling they will want to know how the government can find the money to refurbish Buckingham Palace. We have austerity for the many but there appears to be money for other things. The government has got to get its priorities in order.”

The nation’s leading economist and tax expert, the Sage of Ely, condemned this opposition in the strongest terms.

“McDonnell and Corbyn have to get a grip on economic reality here. The State employing people, employing people to do anything, does not cost money because all the money is paid back in tax.”

He added:

“And, if I support Brenda here maybe I’ll still get ermine.”

41 thoughts on “Labour to oppose fiscal stimulus through housing repairs for OAPs”

  1. She could just ask the public for donations. A quick whip round would easily net £369m. To be repeated every decade or so.

  2. Or, alternatively, we could let the royals keep the receipts from the Crown Estates, abolish the Royal List, and let them manage these kinds of affairs themselves.

    But the people screaming about this wouldn’t like that either, once they found out how much the Crown Estates surrender to the Exchequer annually…

  3. Andrew M,

    Well, in a way, that’s what she’s doing. But via a collective mechanism (which is somewhat fair as we all enjoy the results of the Japanese tourists coming to see it and buying dinners and hotels).

    I’m a republican, but no longer much of an active one. They’re mostly about ceremony, don’t cost much, so who cares? Maybe I should care about £37m a year, but considering the pile of money being burnt over at DFID and BIS, not a priority.

    And on top of that, lots of tourism offsets at least a large amount of that. Forget the monarchy here. This isn’t about the monarchy. It’s about the house. People love all our old shit and come here for it.

  4. Whatever happened to planned, cyclical property maintenance? The state seems to allow many properties in its care to deteriorate, not to bother maintaining them, and then renovate comprehensively. Most of the problems at the Palace could have been dealt with in a rolling programme.

  5. @Theo,

    That’s a question you can ask about the UK in general… Something the UK has more in common with communist countries, who focussed on headline capital investment and never on routine, boring maintenance.

  6. Quite so, abacab: that was my general point, though I think the problem is even worse in, say, southern Europe.

    Here, the National Trust maintains its estate well, as do most housing associations, hotels, etc; but not the government. It’s scandalous that the wiring at the Palace is 50 years old. And opening up an historic building for renovation will almost inevitably reveal infestations, structural weaknesses, concealed decay etc, so the costs will probably soar. Planned maintenance is not difficult, the techniques are simple and well known, and they save money. So why do the state’s property managers not implement them? Incompetence and bureaucracy, I suppose.

  7. They spent the Property Grant in Aid they were awarded by the politicians, they couldn’t spend more. The Sovereign Grant gives slightly more flexibility on what is prioritised as it combined the grants in aid with the Civil List.

  8. As I understand it, one taxpayer alone is paying for it, out of money net of tax. And government will reduce her tax rate to 75% for a period of years to allow her to do it.

    Exactly what is wrong with someone paying for the repairs and upgrade themselves out of net income?
    Would Labour rather she just pay 45% tax rate instead?

  9. @Ducky,

    Having lived in NL and CH, both of them do routine preventative maintenance a gazillion times better than the UK. Who can’t seem to fix a road until there’s more pothole patch than original surface, and then will only top it cheaply…

  10. So MPs are objecting to this, at a time when they’re planning on spending £7 billion (and that’s just the estimate, so double that) on their own gaff?

  11. simple and well known, and they save money. So why do the state’s property managers not implement them? Incompetence and bureaucracy, I suppose.

    No, I don’t think so. The problem is buildings actually don’t last long. You can carry out basic maintenance on the structure, but the services – heating, plumbing, electricity, etc. – you can’t really maintain short of a complete overhaul every few decades. There is a reason why the best preserved buildings in Britain tend to be very old – they are all structure and no services.

    With any old building you’re faced with two options: rip it down and build a new one, or gut it, maintain the outward appearance and any internal features you want, and rebuild from the outside in. That’s what they’re going to have to do with the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham palace. I don’t think regular maintenance would have changed anything in this regard.

    Incidentally, what I’m seeing a fair bit of in La Defense, the business district of Paris, is office blocks being stripped bare down to the concrete structure and totally refitted to modern standards. It seems to make sense.

  12. Buck House, like Downing and Harley Streets, were built on the cheap 250 years ago by speculative builders. You can see what the de Walden estate is doing, largely rebuilding the whole of Marylebone on a piecemeal basis. Downing St will face similar costs to Buck House shortly.

  13. @TimN
    ” The problem is buildings actually don’t last long. ”

    Something I’ve mentioned here before. To general disbelief.
    No building is ever built with a design life of much more than 40 years. Enough to see out whoever commissioned it.

  14. Buck House is big. And the queen lives in it.
    But it’s not beautiful.
    Knock it down and start again, I say.

  15. TN

    I beg to differ, and I have some experience of maintaining historic buildings.

    The problem is buildings actually don’t last long.

    A building can last indefinitely if it is properly maintained. There can come a point when that is no longer cost-effective, but it can be done.

    You can carry out basic maintenance on the structure, but the services – heating, plumbing, electricity, etc. – you can’t really maintain short of a complete overhaul every few decades.

    Yes, you need to replace heating systems, wiring etc every 15-30 years; but leaving those things 50+ years is negligent and rather dumb. In the 90s, I was project manager for a £10m refurbishment of a residential historic building. That sum would have been much less if there had been planned and cyclical maintenance. Leaving small leaks from ancient radiators unattended to for 20 years causes problems, often major problems. Ditto not dealing with rot or maintaining the lead flashings on the chimneys properly, or dealing with condensation. And bodged repairs can be worse than no repair.

    There is a reason why the best preserved buildings in Britain tend to be very old – they are all structure and no services.

    Examples, please. The best preserved historic buildings in the UK are in private ownership or owned by the National Trust, and most of those have extensive services. Residential historic buildings have often had services of some sort for up to 150 years. I have lived in a grade II* listed house for thirty years, with all mod cons, and we have a maintenance plan – which has meant that we have spent less on maintaining it than my friend has on his 60s bungalow over the same period.

    With any old building you’re faced with two options: rip it down and build a new one, or gut it, maintain the outward appearance and any internal features you want, and rebuild from the outside in.

    If you are retaining internal features, you are not gutting it. Your second option is muddled.

    That’s what they’re going to have to do with the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham palace.

    They certainly won’t be gutting Buckingham Palace…

    I don’t think regular maintenance would have changed anything in this regard.

    But it would. Stitches in time save nine, and all that. Moreover, with large historic buildings, comprehensive renovation can take place a wing at a time. Historic buildings need regular, planned maintenance, which includes scheduled renovation of services every couple of decades and also attending to the minor problems that often arise promptly.

  16. Incidentally, it’s mentioned above the wiring’s 50 years old. So what? That’s mid-sixties. There’ll be people commenting here living in houses with wiring older than that. Although I’d say you’d find wiring much older than that, still carrying current. Sixties is plastic but I’d bet you’d find rubber insulated or even cotton in a strip-out.
    And Buck House is the sort of thing I’d tender on. We’ve certainly had the experience. Piece of cake. What’s in it now’s all retrofit.isn’t it? All accessible to allow a phased renewal. Lots of building voids to run cable. And some of our minimal consequent damage tricks are really clever.
    It’s recent structure rewires are nightmares. Everything run through inadequate ducting buried behind structural concrete & steel.
    Not saying they’d be sensible & give us the job. No, it’ll be the big boys at ten times the cost.

  17. Ditto not dealing with rot or maintaining the lead flashings on the chimneys properly, or dealing with condensation. And bodged repairs can be worse than no repair.

    And why do you think this is the case with Buckingham Palace? Evidence please.

  18. @Diogenes

    Downing street shouldnt need it – extensively rebuild in the 60s to deal with the fact that the original construction was, as you say, crap and then further reinforced courtesy of jeremy corbyn’s mortar loving friends in the major years

  19. And out of interest, Theo, how much of that £10m was spent on project management? Most of the work required to restore old buildings breaks down into a miscellany of relatively simple tasks that can be effectively managed by the people hands on doing them & actually understanding what they’re doing. It’s the layers above them soak up the dosh.

  20. TN

    Pembroke Castle is a stabilised ruin. Any ruin, stabilised or decaying, has not been well maintained.

    Cathedrals are full of services – not only the religious ones but also plumbing, heating and electricity, not to mention lighting rigs, IT systems, sound systems etc.

    “And why do you think this is the case with Buckingham Palace? Evidence please.”

    I didn’t say those things applied to the Palace. I was giving them as examples of what had been ignored in the building I had overall responsibility for restoring. As to the Palace, if some of the electrical fittings are 50+ years old, it suggests deficiencies in the maintenance plan.

  21. BiS
    IIRC, professional services were c.15% of the cost. Standard builders, however skilled, are worse than useless on such a job: you need craftsmen with experience of working on historic buildings and with authentic materials. We had English Heritage specifying the mix of the plaster and of the rendering.

  22. Oh, & one of the oldest buildings I’ve worked with we C14th. Although the roof timers were reclaim. From when they used to lace ships together with leather thongs. You could see the drillings.
    That’s not counting renovating Roman brickwork, down here.

  23. As to the Palace, if some of the electrical fittings are 50+ years old, it suggests deficiencies in the maintenance plan.

    Which implies any maintenance plan involves a complete overhaul and replacement of the entire electrical system. Presumably this is not done on a weekly basis, and more likely it gets done every few decades. Kinda like what happens, and is happening now with Bucks Palace.

  24. Cathedrals are full of services – not only the religious ones but also plumbing, heating and electricity, not to mention lighting rigs, IT systems, sound systems etc.

    Indeed: all retrofitted.

  25. “You’d be surprised what standard builders know. Or how they can work to defined specs.”

    I’ve dealt with numerous builders, and those who can deal appropriately with a listed building are very few. Quite prepared to accept that you are one of the few, though.

  26. “Indeed: all retrofitted.”

    Some up to 150 years ago. As in Buckingham Palace. So Wells Cathedral has not been “all structure and no services” for a long time, even if we ignore the medieval water supply.

  27. I’m glad we’re finally in agreement that the major retrofitting and/or upgrade of whole systems is not part of a normal maintenance plan of a new building. We got there in the end.

  28. I would agree with BiF (Buck House is ugly; knock it down and start again) were it not for the lamentable quality of modern architectural design.

  29. “…the major retrofitting and/or upgrade of whole systems is not part of a normal maintenance plan of a new building.”

    But we haven’t been talking about “new” buildings.

    I once worked for a housing association with some listed buildings and others dating back to 1900. The maintenance plans for the whole estate included scheduled checks on roofs, drains, fixtures & fittings, emergency lighting etc, cyclical maintenance for interior and exterior decorating, re-wiring etc, and scheduled reviews of boilers, plumbing and other services (with provisional replacement dates) for the next 35 years. It’s best practice in the sector.

  30. Its quite likely some of the work could have been done decades ago. But wasn’t.
    Now getting things all done together – presumably a section of the building at a time rather than the civil service building method of doing the floor, then painting, then doing the rewiring… and so on.

  31. “The State employing people, employing people to do anything, does not cost money because all the money is paid back in tax”

    WTF? Public sector workers pay 100% income tax?? Since when??? How the F**** do they manage to afford food and accommodation?

  32. “All buildings are new at one point.”

    I am in awe of your perspicacity

    In case it escaped you, the discussion was about the maintenance of historic buildings, not new ones. Any historic building should have a maintenance plan (which isn’t a blueprint, to allow for the unforeseen and for technological advance) for the next 30-50 years.

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