It’s good news that Birmingham City Council has issued ‘Brummie Bond’ to build homes.
Long-time readers of the Birmingham Post will be aware that BCC leader John Clancy had banged on about the idea of using Brummie Bonds (“a confident act of local economic self-determination”) for years – well before he became Council Leader – here in the Birmingham Post through his columns and blogs. I’d say the Post actually deserves a special mention in allowing him space to form some of the ideas he is now putting into practice.
And it’s welcome on a number of fronts.
Firstly, we urgently need to build more homes. The Birmingham Development Plan points to 89,000 new homes being needed for Brummies by 2031. We simply aren’t building enough. The city’s population has been growing steadily since the turn of the Century after being restricted for much of the Post-War period by government controls that lasted until the 1980s. More homes for this growing population are needed – in Birmingham and in neighbouring local authorities.
The City Council is already building more new council houses than any other local authority in the country – with the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust building 30 per cent of all new homes in the city last year. But that’s still not enough and using Brummie Bonds to raise £45m to help finance more house building is welcome news. Clancy has talked of Brummie Bonds opening up new funding streams to deliver a “step change” in building homes.
Secondly, it’s good to see Clancy delivering on a key promise made during his leadership campaign to look for new ways to get funding to build homes. With austerity cuts the City has to be innovative in finding news ways to bring in the finance to achieve key goals like building homes. It’s his first issue of Brummie Bonds.
Thirdly, it’s great to see a local firm providing the finance. Wythall-based pensions and life assurance specialists Phoenix Life (which can trace its history back to Phoenix Assurance, set up in 1786) is investing in the Brummie Bonds, lending the Council £45m. It sees Brummie Bonds as a good investment.
Fourthly, this really does seem to be a low cost way of raising finance. The Council has stated that the interest rate it will pay on the Brummie Bonds is actually lower than that charged by the Public Works Loan Board (or PWLB – a government body that provides loans to local authorities mainly for capital projects).
In this case the Council will pay less in interest (some £1.4m less at a stroke) than borrowing from government. It also raises the possibility of other PWLB loans being converted to Brummie Bonds in the future, thereby saving the Council money on interest payments.
Fifthly, this opens up the prospect of further Brummie Bond issues for home building and other investment. Clancy has said that he is “determined that the Brummie Bonds programme will go from strength to strength”. That raises the possibility of Brummie Bonds for more homes, capital projects and further economic development. Clancy has previously talked of investing in local small and medium sized businesses.
Finally, given that Phoenix Life has found the issue attractive, there is the prospect of other investors coming in to take up future issues – whether from the UK or internationally (and it would be encouraging to see the West Midlands Local Government Pension Fund investing locally as well).
Anyway, hats off to Birmingham City Council for pulling this off. A "confident act of local economic self-determination"? Yes.
* Professor David Bailey works at the Aston Business School in Birmingham