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The good life


By Simon Goodley
Last Updated: 1:43am BST 16/05/2007

Scouse striker Robbie must learn to take landlords' red tape penalty

It looks as though Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler might need to win himself (yet) another contract - if not at Anfield, then elsewhere. The goal poacher turned landlord, 32, owns nearly 100 buy-to-let houses, meaning he's a kind of Scouse version of the Duke of Westminster.

That's why Manchester City fans used to sing (to the tune of Yellow Submarine): "We all live in a Robbie Fowler house." But sadly, that sort of adulation is now only a memory and Robbie's Coronation Street-style property portfolio is the sole reason why anyone would continue to dub him the "darling of the terraces".

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But I digress. Assuming he's like many of this country's 850,000 landlords (me included), the Premiership's most natural finisher needs to end his career with a juicy pay day, because New New Labour (as I think it's just been rebranded) can't resist taxing the buy-to-let sector some more.

So Robbie's having to learn all about red tape - a term he probably thought referred to his team's end-of-year video - but he now discovers that it means handing the deposits collected from tenants to a third party for safe keeping (one whole street's worth in Oldham, apparently).

Worse news emerged last week. The Government now appears to be spinning those wretched Home Information Packs into the rental sector and insisting that each property has an energy performance certificate. At £200 a throw, they will hurt Robbie more than me, but that's hardly the point.

To say that EPCs are unnecessary, being farcically administered (laughably, there aren't enough inspectors), will end up being a tax that won't achieve its wider aims, and will become a scheme for employing people of no real use but who have lobbied their friends in the Government, should really go without saying.

But, sod it, I've done it anyway.As we don't pay our tenants' heating bills, and not enough of them will be bothered anyway, landlords such as Robbie and me simply don't care if our buy-to-let houses flunk their EPCs - which they inevitably will.

Much of the property available for rent in the UK is old, in need of updating and if anyone cares to give it an energy rating, it will surely be a low one.

It is much like Robbie and myself, in fact, only with one difference. Because there's something in it for us, we now come with more insulation.

Ronald phones in with a medium-rare stake

After last week's encounter with Doris Stokes, the deceased medium who kindly contacted me from the other side to share Lord Hanson's views, I receive a strange call. A reader named Ronald asks how Doris got in touch (I kid you not).

Er, are you having a laugh, I ask? "I take this sort of thing very seriously," Ronald explains gravely. "I work with some of the country's top mediums including Agnes Freeman, who deals with people like Robert Maxwell. We wondered how you found Doris, because we haven't heard from her. They've probably got the phone numbers of national papers up there and could call the financial pages."

Yes, Ronald. Doris simply picked up the blower from her new call centre in Bangalore. I do hope that helps.

A life less ordinarily valuable for ex-BP boss

One of the more fascinating revelations about the whole Lord Browne affair (excluding all the tittle-tattle, obviously) was how he supposedly told his former lover, Jeff Chevalier, that BP calculated the value of a human life at £10m. It's an accounting device, obviously, but, still, the line demonstrates starkly that everyone has their worth (quite literally). It also means that now Browne's demise is almost complete (he's still to fall on his sword at Apax), we might need to restate the accounts.

A Sir Terry Leahy, for example, must currently be worth more than both the £10m average and a Browne. But in a wider context, is a Sir Philip Green worth more than a Roman Abramovich? And do I need to alert the makers of Top Trumps that I've stumbled on a new card game?

Probably not, as this type of thing has been about for years. Companies put a value on a life, while chief executives tend to have key worker insurance to mitigate the damage if they suddenly get called to the great boardroom in the sky (or, more likely, down below).

There's more, too. World Bank economist Paul Gertler once calculated that Chevalier's colleagues in the Mexican vice industry valued their lives at about $50,000 (£25,000) per year, based on willingness to take money not to use condoms.

Steve Levitt and sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh have also worked out that Chicago drug dealers value their entire lives at $50,000 to $100,000. There are other comparisons to be made, too. For example, Browne's BP reckons one life to be worth £10m, yet a lie about meeting a rent boy costs its former chief exec £15m. Funny, that.

Cabbies' chat-nav means downturn is approaching

I've never understood why people religiously obey instructions from a satellite navigation systems. The machines all seem to bark out orders in the patronising tones of Patricia Hewitt, so I'm predisposed to suspect that both are talking nonsense.

I've always thought sat-nav's predecessor, the good old London cabbie, is a far more shrewd oracle. And he's had something to say on the economy this week.

In a quarterly poll of 500 drivers of black cabs by corporate-recovery specialist Begbies Traynor, the cabbies said traffic between the City and London's airports has declined and the number of calls to take bankers home from the office at night is on the wane.

It's always been a rule of mine that the ease with which one can procure a black cab correlates with the state of the economy.

I'm telling you. The downturn's coming.

  • simon.goodley@telegraph.co.uk
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