Sunday 23 January 2011

Who Owns London?

Those who do not have a few tens of millions to splash out on second or tenth homes will have missed the shindig to celebrate the completion of Number One Hyde Park (look at and endless stories) in Knightsbridge and opposite Harrods, a subsidiary of Fulham FC just for contrast.

Apparently it was a gathering of our new good and great in the land. Essentially chaps with their hands on oil and gas supplies and others who are at the forefront of the Non-Taxed part of our economy. The sort that Mayor Bossy Boris The Blonde Blunderbuss prostrates himself before at the tinkle of a phone call.

Within these people there are connections with a UK background. There are a handful of remnants of the old landed aristocracy who were lucky enough to marry heiresses owning lands on the fringes of the London of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

They are the ones who were clever enough to move their valuable property holdings into company ownership before Inheritance Tax and the consequences of the long Agricultural Depression could cull them along with their peers.

There are the Crown Estates, the only one that excites the London media and a useful distraction that avoids too much attention on other property owners, especially those media moguls and their friends who have substantial interests in London property.

It is not a simple business. In the middle years of the 20th Century those with mortgages almost always borrowed from UK financial organisations who relied in turn on UK savers or investors based in the UK. Public Sector organisations normally owned their own buildings or rented them from UK property companies.

Much of private industry and commerce were the same, those who owed money on their buildings again were large engaged with UK financial companies. Some of the arrangements had more complex arrangements but it was simple to know who was who and in money terms what was what and the implications.

In other sectors, rentals and leaseholds much the same applied. UK ownership, borrowing, management services and the rest were identifiable firms. You knew where they were, who owned them, for the most part could see their accounts and they were more or less all within the taxable economy.

What is the position now? One of the better known examples is HMRC who are said to have unburdened themselves of property ownership and management. They have sold off and then leased/rented or what back, given over the management of the properties and the rest to attract “investment” into UK government operations.

The general idea was to promote “efficiency” more or less like Santa Claus is said to be an efficient way of distributing goods to the lower age market segment of the leisure products industry. He promotes sales and the reindeer and elves get to eat while he is the public image of a bountiful financial operator.

However, as all parents know the reality is sharp increases in spending out of disposable incomes often now driven by increased debt loading with added interest and servicing costs arising from children’s insatiable demands urged on by a foreign ruthless and relentless marketing and financial servicing operation.

Were I to go through all the ownership, property management, financial systems and the hugely complicated, layered, intricate ways of moving money, credit, debt, added consultancy and accounting costs of all the types of property in London it would be a very long post indeed and that is not mentioning tax havens.

Also, it would be almost impossible to understand and certainly the financing of much is beyond any comprehension. Because not only do ordinary people have little idea of what is going on, nor do our politicians who serve the system, nor does the average financial adviser or pension fund trustee and least of all the people who are actually running the show.

As for the Bank of England, this lot are the equivalent of a pack of drunken incompetent elves under the guidance of a Santa who is in serious denial of his mounting money problems and reindeer out of their skulls on schnapps laced moss and lichen.

Bossy Boris believes in unlimited support for housing benefit for non-working, non tax-paying people lodged in premises owned by non-taxpaying people engaged with financial agencies who pay little or no UK tax all of whom owe little or no allegiance to the UK. One does wonder where his family money is invested in.

But if you go round all sectors of property in London now and ask the simple question of who owns what, where the money is coming from, where the eventual ownership lies, how it is managed and to whom money is owed and what have been the trends over the last twenty years you will come to realise that the UK no longer owns most of London.

London may be the capital, financial and media centre of the UK. but the taxpayers outside the M25 are paying huge subsidies one way or another to sustain a city whose main activity is to extract as much money from the UK and to pay as little UK tax as possible.

If my visit yesterday was any guide, it is not just the ownership that stinks; the air quality there now is the worst I have experienced.

And I remember December 1952.

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