Will Self: London thinks only of itself. The rest of the country is just there to be bled dry

Most of my work keeps me in London carrying out damp and timber surveys but every now and then I have to travel out of London and recently have had to do a dry rot job in Barrow on Furness and some damp repair work in Redcar. People who know me know that I am not a hands on man and once I have got the lads started on a job I usually just walk my dogs in the nearest park or on a beach and both Barrow and Redcar were ideal for this. After an hour or so on the beach I then usually do a bit of psychogeography round the area and both Barrow and Redcar have been blighted by the recession. Once both proud steel towns their manufacturing base has been slashed and although the steel works in Redcar have recently re-opened which will create around 1,200 jobs there is still vast unemployment in both these areas as well as most of the country that is beyond Greater London. I realised that Cameron, Clegg etc must hardly ever venture out of London to see the real world and real people and the hardship they are suffering. I was then hoping to write an article about this but read Will Self`s piece in the Independent and decided that he just about says everything there is to say about it so here it is :-

In conversation with John Gray a couple of months ago, the subject of Britain`s future came up, and the philosopher opined that: `London will become a sort of Singapore, I think, a wealthy island of urbanity surrounded by impoverished satrapies.` I found myself without any hesitation acceding to this dystopian vision, and with every successive week the Coalition`s policies ? acting as a turbocharger on the impact of international capital flows ? only seem to be bringing this intensely divisive state of affairs closer.

The news this week that Newham council believes the Government`s cap on housing benefit will result in the exodus of tens of thousands of the poor to urban centres as far north as Walsall is only ? in my view ? the continuation by other, more vicious means of the sort of `class cleansing` introduced by the New Labour regime`s Pathfinder Scheme. Then the idea was that the brave new provincial cities would be made over in London`s image: cloned retail and artists` quartiers paid for by an ever-bulging property asset bubble, while the less desirable would be rehoused using the profits. But, since 2007, this bubble has plangently popped ? everywhere, that is, but in the capital itself.

Such noises that Cameron et al make about the regions now are hedged round on the one hand by constitutional worries, and on the other subjected to the Orwellian sing-song chant: `Public sector bad! Private sector good!` Obviously, given that the provinces ? especially the North ? are to a greater extent dependent on public sector funding means, ipso facto, that they are first in line for the chop ? or would be, if they hadn`t already been at the head of the queue since the late 1970s. True, you can find pockets of deprivation in London and the Southeast with intergenerational unemployment stretching back to the Thatcherite G?tterd?mmerung unleashed on manufacturing industry ? but they are nothing like the entire districts of terminal desuetude you find in the Midlands, the North, and even such bosky cabinet ministerial holidaying spots as Cornwall.

Of course, the suspicion that London is sucking the lifeblood out of the rest of the country is nothing new ? you can find medieval authorities aghast at the Great Wen`s metastasising ? but, in recent years, there has come a sinister new alignment of forces: the inertial dirigisme of central government has become allied to the dark star of the City of London, so that the political class find their institutional prejudices insistently reinforced by what they deem `economic realities`. Naturally, they act to head off this riving apart of the country, and the creation of new mayoralties is part of this. However, as ever in politics: if you want to know where power really lies, follow the revenue. The tax base of the new city governance is no bigger than the piffling amount that has traditionally been allocated to local government ? leaving all these municipal popinjays firmly under the control of Westminster.

That the London Assembly and mayoral elections receive such a fanfaronade of media attention is only, surely, a function of the capital`s own irresistibly high profile, for no matter how much Boris blusters (and Ken wheedles), I`ve got news for you: you`re nothing but a jumped-up transport commissioner with delusions of being an airport planner. Naturally, the next London mayor ? whoever he may be ? will continue as a cheerleader for the Stratford Festival of Running and Jumping ? how could it be otherwise? The mayoralty is all about PR ? and the Olympics is nothing but a PR exercise to sell the city.

Moreover, London remains as Janus-faced today as it was at the height of the Empire, when it served as the entrep?t and transhipment point for a vast proportion of the world`s trade. One big smiling face looks to the rest of the world, saying: send us your rich and your upright, so that they may invest their reserve currency in our astronomically expensive property ? and while you`re at it, send us your poor and your huddled masses as well, so that they can clean the toilet bowls of the wealthy on below-minimum wage. The other grimacing face is turned on this less salubrious spectacle: a hinterland full of euphemistic `jobseekers`, filling out their losing tickets in the National Lottery.

London`s own ebb and flow of gentrification is nothing new: the house I live in, in Stockwell, south London, was completed in 1868 as an upper-middle-class dwelling complete with generous servants` accommodation, but within 35 years it was tenanted by three lower-middle-class families. What`s new about the current reordering of the metropolis`s vital organs is that the beating heart of Cockneydom is finally being excised altogether: London is undergoing a Manhattanisation, as property prices continue to rise and rise, and the centre of town becomes unaffordable except for the rich and their domestics. The Olympic project, with its frankly pathetic input into the local economy of the East End ? including a paltry allocation of affordable housing ? will probably prove the locus for the greatest piece of class cleansing yet seen, as the purlieu of the Park becomes another investment opportunity in postmodernist clothing.

If, as I did the week before last, you walk from London into the heart of England, you encounter a society in many ways just as divided as that of the metropolis. I walked all the way to the Prime Minister`s constituency town of Witney, and found there plenty of loafing oafs. Witney`s carpet-making industry has long since gone, and unlike the echt Cotswolds where the Notting Hill set like to play political charades in a carefully staged arcadia of gastropubs and manorial theme parks, there`s no sign of the recession ending ? what with charity shops aplenty along the high street.

But London cares nothing for this, having long since gone back into growth ? any more than it does for the Northern laagers where the whey-faced burghers are now deprived of local industry and so deprived of local legatees and donors for their charitable sector. So much for the Big Society ? the political class always bleat on about their constituencies, as if tooling up the motorway to spend a couple of days in some well-appointed gaff dining the Lord Lieutenant somehow made them the proverbial salts of the earth, but the truth is that the vast amount of their time is spent in Westminster, drinking skinny lattes as their hearts pitter-patter in response to the latest Beltway gossip.

In the past, London was undoubtedly the locus of England ? and even of Britain as a whole ? but there remained profound strengths in the regions; now a moat is being dug around the M25 and the bridges that cross it are being strategically mined.

Will Self is Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University. His latest novel, `Umbrella`, is published by Bloomsbury in August

Posted on: 07/05/2012 21:14:58

Never Ending Recession

According to statistics the recession is over but ask any of your friends or colleagues and they will tell you that the country is still in the mire and the real end of the recession is not known but hopefully it won?t be as long as Bob Dylan?s Never-Ending Tour which started around 1988 and is still going strong after nearly 23 years on the road so let us all hope that the our recession doesn?t last quite so long.

However there are no great grounds for optimism as the Government seem to rest all their hopes on an economic recovery with consumers spending the country out of recession when it is widely known by most financiers and economists that consumerism as we know it is dead and buried.

The economy of the country has been in a gradual decline since the 1960s and the only thing that has sustained it was the housing market and this was encouraged by feckless lending by Banks and over-borrowing by consumers who were offered cheap and easy credit terms. In the housing booms that we have seen during the last three decades it has been the rapid turnover of houses and all the work and services that were generated during each housing transaction that kept the economy buoyant. Most people when moving into a new house during the boom years would never think twice about ripping out the kitchen and replacing it with a new one as well as carrying out further renovation works. This all created work for builders, plasterers, plumbers, and joiners etc who were employed to carry out these works. Unfortunately all the kitchen and bathrooms that were fitted were usually imported from the likes of Germany and all the white goods such as fridges and freezers were also imported.

The booming housing market also created extra work for Estate Agents, Building Surveyors and all sorts of trades allied to the housing market such as damp-proofing and timber treatment and it was not uncommon for single houses to be have had chemical damp-proofing and woodworm treatments carried out several times over the course of a decade just to satisfy Building Society requirements for a guarantee against rising damp and timber decay.

The boom rapidly turned to bust with the near collapse of all the main banks and now that they have been rescued by the Government and the taxpayer they are now reluctant to lend any money to businesses and private individuals and have hoarded all the money that has been given to them in the form of Quantitative Easing.

With the housing market probably dead for the next twenty years or so as Banks revert sensible lending that was last seen in the early 1970s, the Building Industry has ground to a halt and along with it a lot of support services and as we are country whose manufacturing base has been steadily shrinking for the last 40 years there is basically no work around. To make things even worse the Government is slashing public spending and forcing thousands of public sector employees on the dole, even the ones who are lucky enough to keep their jobs often have to forgo any wage increases for the foreseeable future.

Yet Cameron and Clegg seem convinced that we are on the road to recovery but they couldn?t be further away from the harsh reality of life in the real world today. Now that most of the population see that there is little hope of any Government help they have resorted to basic human instincts and battened down the hatches and stopped spending. With food and fuel prices rising on a weekly basis and wages not rising the disposable income for common people is falling and this has put a brake on the growth that is predicted by Cameron?s advisors.

Take a walk down most high streets and you will see boarded up shops and empty streets, nobody is spending as they have no money. The only places that seem to be thriving are pawnbrokers and bookies while healthy eating has also taking a backseat as people seek comfort in fast food from MacDonalds, KFC and the lovely pasties served up by Greggs.

It?s still not too late for Cameron to make a U-turn and start spending again to get the nation back to work. I don?t mean by reversing welfare payment cuts to dole scroungers as these are long overdue but by spending on capital projects and improving the infrastructure of the country. Instead of paying the unemployed to sit at home watching daytime TV he should create jobs which would give people a living wage and reduce dependency on benefits. He should also raise the tax threshold to take low paid workers out of tax altogether. Clegg intends to raise the threshold to ?10,000 which will help a little bit but it is not enough and it should be raised to ?20,000. This would cost money as it is likely that millions would no longer be paying tax but on the plus side it is well known that lower paid workers tend to pay as they go and spend most of their income as fast as they earn it which in turn boost the economy and help money start to flow round the system again.

One of the first places he could start is in London. We are hosting the 2012 Olympics next year and while it looks like the athletic stadium and other major venues will be completed on time the surrounding areas are little more than shanty towns. I was in Forest Gate a week or so ago carrying out a damp survey and wandered down to Stratford which is the main town for the Olympic Games and apart from the new Westfield Shopping Centre the place is a complete mess. Whoever is in charge of this area be it Central Government, Boris or LOCOG then they should get something sorted to tidy the place up. There is a vast army of unemployed people in the area and a lot of them would be willing to work for decent wage and in the long run the Government would save by reducing benefit payments and hopefully getting an increase in VAT revenue when this newly employed workforce start spending their wages in shops and pubs. There are countless other areas up and down the country which would also benefit from a bit of money spending on them but Cameron insists there is no spare money after doling out billions to the banks with his QE programme yet he can still lavish millions on the Royal Wedding and fund pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to Government statistics the economy grew by 0.5% in the first quarter of this year and we won?t have long to wait for the results for April-June but my prediction is that growth will just be around the same mark or even slightly lower . Nonetheless Cameron, Clegg and Cable will proudly announce that the economic recovery is continuing but after taking inflation of around 4% into account this is reversed into negative territory and we are still firmly in the midst of the Never Ending Recession.

Posted on: 18/06/2011 23:18:54

Higher energy bills-Solid wall insulation

Scottish Power have recently announced that gas and electricity prices will be rising by approximately 20% in September 201l and other power providers will no doubt follow suit within the next couple of months. Obviously this will lead to further hardship in this Never-ending Recession, the Government might say that the economy is recovering but this is just lies, damn lies and statistics, and we reckon that the country will be in the doldrums for the next twenty years or so.

To soften the blow a bit we have special offers on internal wall insulation with a low deposit and payment spread interest free over 12 or 18 months.
We have reduced prices for all solid wall insulation work by 20% on our normal prices.
Our solid wall insulation systems can either be a combined damp and insulating plaster or a 30mm thermal plasterboard which is fitted onto a physical damp-proof membrane. Both of these systems will reduce the U-value of external walls to around 0.3 and provide a dry,warm internal wall which is guaranteed against any dampness or mould growth or condensation for 20 years.

For a free estimate on this money-saving innovative dual-purpose,chemical free damp-proofing and insulating system please call 0800 028 1903 or email enquiries@ukdamp.co.uk

Posted on: 12/06/2011 22:55:41

Surveyors needed-All areas but especially London & South East

February 2011 - The stricter criteria enforced by Building Societies and Banks nowadays means that they are now flagging up possible damp and timber problems on nearly every survey they undertake and this has resulted in a demand for damp and timber surveys to satisfy these requirements.

We are therefore looking for experienced surveyors who are familiar in undertaking these specialised damp and timber surveys so if you are interested and have the right qualifications then please get in touch by texting 07736 631527 or e-mailing enquiries@ukdamp.co.uk and leave as much information as possible about yourself,together with a sample of a recent damp and timber survey that you have carried out as part of a mortgage application condition.

Surveyors must have relevant qualifications e.g CSRT and have own car and all tools required to carry out full damp and timber surveys. Good rates of pay available for experienced damp and timber surveyors.

We especially need surveyors in London and the South East.

Posted on: 27/02/2011 22:36:22

Survey Fees

Revised prices for surveys and written reports, effective from 14th January 2011
Damp Survey: ?200.00
Timber Decay: ?200.00
Combined Damp & Timber Survey: ?350.00

Dry rot surveys-please phone or e-mail with details of problem so we can advise on price of dry rot survey.

Mortgage specials-mini surveys and reports to satisfy stricter Building Society lending criteria.

Mini damp survey and report/quote: ?150.00
Mini timber survey and report/quote: ?150.00
Combined mini damp/timber survey and report/quote: ?250.00

Surveys can be arranged by phoning 0800 028 1903 or via e-mail on enquiries@ukdamp.co.uk

Each damp and timber survey includes a written report with recommendations if any works are to be carried out. If we carry out the work ourselves then the survey fee is deducted from the price of the job. All work is covered by long-term guarantees.

We can also provide quotations for any remedial damp and timber decay repairs which have been specified by a Chartered Surveyor (RICS) or any independent Remedial Surveyor (CSRT) who is a member of the Property Care Association or Institute of Specialist Surveyors and Engineers.

Posted on: 15/01/2011 19:41:41

10 Songs for the New Depression

Looks that this recession/depression is set to continue for another 10 years or so and Loudon Wainwright III ( Rufus\'s dad) has brought out this great album to cheer us up.

Posted on: 10/07/2009 20:35:51


Due to demand from customers we have now started a Property Care and Building Conservation division and are consequently looking to employ skilled plasterers and carpenters and various other trades who have experience in renovation and refurbishment work.For more information please phone 07595 611585 or e-mail enquiries@ukdamp.co.uk

Posted on: 01/04/2009 19:44:57

Housing Market

Reports in the papers and on the radio over the last few days indicate that the housing market may have started to bottom out, I think this means that there is more activity in property purchases or could it just mean that price falls are now starting to slow down?

Anyway we are out at the pointy end seeing people who are either buying or selling and requesting surveys as part of mortgage requirements and it seems that there are more housing transactions going through in the last couple of weeks.

Buyers invariably need a mortgage and this often leads to request from the Building Surveyor for a damp and timber survey being carried out in order to get the money from most lenders. This can often lead to purchasers getting a free survey/quote which invariably recommends lots of damp-proofing and timber treatments. Most of this work is expensive,disruptive and also avoidable but the purchaser will often use he findings of the free survey to negotiate a discount on the already reduced price. Not wanting to lose their buyer the seller is often forced to knock another few thousand off the price to avoid losing money spent so far on legal fees etc and then having to start the whole process again.

To avoid being gazundered like this the vendor should make sure that fabric of the property is weatherproof and watertight as dampness and timber defects are top of the list when a survey is undertaken and even when there is no apparent dampness, woodworm or fungal decay a surveyor will always alert his client to the possibility of these occurring in the future.

It doesnt take much to ensure that property will pass and inspection. Basically you need to stop any moisture ingress from outside and make sure that air bricks are not blocked. For more information on how to prevent dampness becoming a problem then please refer to the Environmental Control section on the website.

For more advice on damp and timber surveys when buying or selling a house then please ring 0800 028 1903 or email enquiries@ukdamp.co.uk.

Posted on: 31/03/2009 19:41:00

Economic Outlook

So the Bank of England has started this quantitative easing which is supposed to get money or credit moving through the system and kick-start the economy. What the government dont seem to realize is that the world has changed and everybody has battened down the hatches and has stopped spending so in effect consumerism is dead and that spending levels will never recover to what they were before this recession started.

There will still be demand for some goods and services but these will now tend to be for stuff that we need rather than simply want. This is why supermarkets like Lidl and Morrisons are getting a larger share of the market as shoppers go back to basics and the so called posher ones like Waitrose and Sainsburys are suffering a bit and are having to copy the stores at the bottom end with similar value lines.

The need/want principle also applies to the car market. I cant see the point of the Government stepping in to save the manufacturers as they will just churn out hundreds or thousands more cars that cant be sold when all the cars on the road right now will last for a good few years yet as long they are maintained properly. Eventually cars will be sold but only when people need them and also only when manufacturers reduce prices to affordable levels or they finance sales themselves instead of bleating on about banks not lending money cause if they were so sure of their product then they should have the confidence to lend the money directly to the consumer and get the money back through hire purchase agreements over 3 to 5 years.

The housing market is also suffering pretty badly and we have noticed this in the last 6 months as the majority of our surveys come as the result of Building Society surveys recommending further investigation for dampness and timber defects. However with the interest rates coming down to nearly zero mortgages are getting cheaper and providing buyers have got enough deposit then there are plenty of cheap deals around so the housing market will pick up a bit in the next few months. It will never get as busy as it was before the price crash but this is probably a good thing as the property market had gone a bit daft with lots of us were just using our houses to fund non-essential purchases like cars and holidays.

I reckon that we are in for a long recession but it wont be the end of the world and there will be still be opportunities for work for lots of people. With us we are still getting loads of calls about damp and timber decay simply because of the bad winter we have had , with all the rain, wind and snow there is bound to be some moisture ingress to the inside and then damage to plaster and timber that needs fixing. Hopefully other builders and contractors are also getting more enquiries as well because houses always need maintenance and somebodys got to do it.

Anyway just ignore what the government and all the experts are saying as they are just guessing at the outcome and their forecasts are usually wrong so just get on with it cause, as Michael Jackson said last week This is it.

Posted on: 06/03/2009 20:44:28