The real losers of this election were landlords, apparently

Oh, yay. Image: Getty.

I’m trying to get out of the habit of being publicly mean about terrible press releases. It’s cheap, it’s self-indulgent, and it doesn’t require either intellectual effort or journalistic skill to point out that a stupid thing someone has said is stupid.

On the other hand, I’ve had three hours sleep, I can barely remember how verbs work, and this is a really terrible press release, so screw it.

Here’s the topline: the landlord lobby is very disappointed in Theresa May’s Conservative party. In fact, if the Tories don’t change their ways, then, well, the landlords will, well, they’ll do something, and then they’ll be sorry.

James Davis, CEO and founder of online lettings agency, Upad.co.uk, comments on the shock General Election result:

“The landlord bashing is only likely to continue with Theresa May forming a deal with the DUP to allow her to continue leading the country. There were no new pledges set out to help struggling landlords in her manifesto.”

Okay, let me stop you right there. The Tory party didn’t create either the buy to let bubble or the housing crisis it’s a part of (thanks, Tony Blair). But for the last seven years, they’ve presided over the expansion of both.

Despite some half-hearted attempts to revoke the rentiers’ privileges towards the end of George Osborne’s time as chancellor, this government has overseen a massive unearned boom in house prices. Landlords have been able to make large quantities of money on the basis of very little effort. Renters, on the other hand, have had to pay over ever larger chunks of their flatlining incomes in exchange for neither assets nor securities.

So what exactly are the landlords whining about? What do they want? A medal?

It gets worse.

“The Tories have proven that they can’t be trusted by landlords; as they continue to use them as a political football to kick around. I certainly wouldn’t let one of my properties out to a Tory as you can’t trust them!”

That exclamation mark is genuinely included in the quote, people.

Anyway:

1. I’m not quite clear on the legalities of asking someone’s political affiliation before renting a room to them, but it feels like fairly dodgy ground to me.

2. You do know that the Tories making these decisions aren’t renting, right?

 “Whilst the Conservatives have recognised that the 8 million tenants in the UK are worth supporting politically...”

Here is the full extent of the Tory manifesto’s promises to renters:

“We will also improve protections for those who rent, including by looking at how we increase security for good tenants and encouraging landlords to offer longer tenancies as standard.”

I mean they’re basically manning the barricades, aren’t they? Arm yourself, Francine, the sans-culottes are coming.

“... what they don’t seem to realise is that the changes they want to bring about for landlords, will eventually through the test of time affect tenants far more through higher rents.”

Well, no, I’m not buying this. Rents are set by the interaction between the supply of housing, the demand for that housing, and tenants’ abilities to pay. Landlords’ costs don’t come into it. The idea that they do implicitly assumes that the market would bear higher rents, but landlords don’t charge them because [reasons]. Surely more likely is that landlord-ing would become slightly less profitable, which, while annoying if you’re a landlord, is not likely to bother anyone else.

The weirdest thing about this press release is... What is James Davis, CEO and founder of online lettings agency Upad.co.uk, threatening exactly? Is he saying landlords are going to vote en masse for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party? Because he doesn’t say this explicitly, but if that’s not what he’s saying, this isn’t much of a threat is it?

I don’t think the Tory manifesto did go in for landlord bashing, if I’m honest. But if it had, I don’t think it would have been much of a problem. Landlords are among the safest groups in Britain to bash: nobody really likes them, they add very little to the economy, and they can’t take their business offshore. If there’s one group you absolutely can get away with being mean about, it’s landlords.


So we should do more of it, that’s what I’m saying.

Where was I going with this? I’ve had three hours sleep. Did I mention that?

Nope, can’t think of an ending. Please go read my thoughts on the election over on the New Statesman instead.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”