RUTH SUNDERLAND: Taylor Wimpey boss Redfern’s unjust property perks

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Fulsome tributes have flowed for Pete Redfern, who is stepping down as chief executive after nearly 15 years in the role at housebuilder Taylor Wimpey.

He deserves accolades for the part he and the company have played in consolidating the home-owner democracy that took root in this country in the Margaret Thatcher years.

Unfortunately, he also allowed himself to be caught in some unsavoury episodes.They include the leasehold scandal, which saddled homebuyers with escalating costs and, in some cases, with properties they found virtually impossible to sell.

Property portfolio: Pete Redfern (pictured) is stepping down as chief executive after nearly 15 years as chief executive of housebuilder Taylor Wimpey

Taylor Wimpey, along with its peers, is involved in the cladding affair in the wake of the Grenfell Tower inferno. 

Redfern also fell into bad odour because of his prolific use of the company discount scheme, which is intended to help ordinary staff onto the housing ladder, and not as a cash machine for multimillionaire bosses like himself.

As first revealed in this newspaper a few years ago, he exploited the arrangement to the full, quietly accumulating a £1.7million portfolio of properties in London and Spain.

In 2019 he decided, after an outcry, to abandon a plan to buy a luxury apartment on the Thames with £100,000 off under the discount deal. 

His behaviour was not in the same league as Jeff Fairburn, the former Persimmon boss who became a byword for greed after pocketing £85million in two years under a controversial incentive scheme.

Even so, it was distasteful. Given he made more than £40million in pay and bonuses over ten years, Redfern could afford to pay full price, but instead he risked damage to his own and his company’s reputation.

Cupidity at the top provides ammunition to left-leaning attacks on housing wealth.

The Resolution Foundation has today published a report carping that most of the £3trillion of wealth generated from property in the past two decades has gone to people over 60 in the south of England. 

This, the think-tank argues, is an ‘unearned, unequal and untaxed’ windfall which should attract the attentions of HMRC.

In seeking to punish property purchasers, this one-sided tract ignores the huge social and economic benefits of home ownership – and anyone who has laboured long hours to service a mortgage in the South East might object to the word ‘unearned’.

Although our robust housing market is overwhelmingly positive, it is far from perfect, and resentful critiques can gain traction easily. Allowing chief executives benefits intended for the rank and file doesn’t help. The pay committee at Taylor Wimpey should make sure Redfern’s successor is steered away from that bear trap.

Omicron-omics

New restrictions to curb the spread of Omicron could come at a high price.

The Institute of Economic Affairs, a free market group, suggests a £4billion a month hit to GDP, while the British Chambers of Commerce frets about consumer confidence.

Hesitancy to spend or to socialise in the run-up to Christmas is the last thing the hard-pushed retail and hospitality sectors need at this point, or for that matter the travel industry, where Tui has racked up losses of £2billion in the year to September.

Companies more widely are suffering from staff shortages and supply chain bottlenecks, which will be exacerbated if there is another pingdemic.

Interest rates are likely to remain on hold rather than rise next week, despite inflation concerns. Investment will remain depressed amid the uncertainty. 

Firms have proved to be incredibly adaptable and resilient in the face of Covid-19, but at some point there must come a limit. 

When responding to what could be an endless series of variants, the Government cannot afford to gloss over the effects on the economy.

LV vote

The moment of truth is approaching at LV. The deadline for postal and online votes passed yesterday but there is still an opportunity for members to have their say at online meetings tomorrow.

This newspaper is deeply concerned about the prospect of the UK’s second-largest mutual being taken over by a US private equity firm, despite the arguments by LV’s chief executive that it was the best deal on offer and necessary to secure investment needed for the future. 

Given the level of criticism from politicians and the discontent among members, the poll may well be close.

Whatever their view, I urge LV members to use their democratic rights. They own the business, not the bosses. Every vote counts.

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