Posts Tagged ‘Ian Lucas’

Let’s make legal fees work better

01/02/2013, 07:00:34 AM

by Ian Lucas

The perennial argument between government and lawyers is with us again. The Today programme reverberates once more with the arguments of the government that too much is spent on legal aid and, on the other hand, by the legal profession, that the payments are necessary to maintain principled support for an independent legal system.

As a lawyer and former whip in the ministry of Justice, I know that both sides have right on their side. But this dialogue of the deaf must end. It serves no purpose.

I suggest that we adopt a simple principle to make public money work for the benefit of the legal profession and for society as a whole.

The amount paid by the British taxpayer to the legal profession is huge. It is a big mistake to believe that the money involved is limited to the legal aid budget – which in itself amounts to around £2.2 billion. On the contrary, most money is paid to firms who do not carry out legal aid work: to commercial firms of lawyers and to counsel and other legal advisers who provide specialist advice to the myriad of public authorities which exist in the UK.

These include local authorities, regulatory authorities, statutory undertakings and all of the other organisations set up to administer and deliver public services.

This gives an enormous amount of power to the purchaser of legal services, power which I believe should be directed to the public good. Procurement gives government an opportunity and government in its various forms, the biggest single procurer of legal services, needs to wake up to this fact.


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Back in the real world, it’s still the budget, stupid

02/04/2012, 03:17:59 PM

by Ian Lucas

As the dust settles on a tumultuous couple of weeks it is becoming clear that outside the Westminster bubble, only one event has truly cut through to the general public: the budget.

With the cut in the 50p rate of tax and the imposition of the “granny tax”, this was truly a Budget for “the premier league” – those top rate taxpayers who had the ear of the prime minister and have benefited directly as a consequence of George Osborne’s announcements.

What is clear is that securing economic growth and new jobs  was not a key topic of conversation at the Downing Street dinners. Before the Budget, and after it, the failure of this Government is its failure to build growth.

A cut to capital projects has taken away key Government support for private sector job creation. Whole industrial sectors – such as construction – are suffering as a result, and both large-scale firms and their smaller subcontractors are holding back.

The uncertainty in the jobs market is reducing employee confidence. People are postponing major spending decisions. If you are worrying about your job, you won’t move house. Income for the local economy, agents’ fees, finance to builders is held back.

Worries about jobs are hold back spending; yet the Government has increased taxes on consumers. Every penny more on VAT for central Government is a penny less for local business.

It is necessary to reduce the deficit. But the most damning statistic for the Government is that it is borrowing £147 billion more than predicted – because the economy is not growing and more people are out of work.


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The glass is half empty for high speed broadband

17/08/2011, 10:15:07 AM

by Ian Lucas

When is good news not good news for rural communities struggling to get online?

Yesterday’s announcement by the Government of millions of pounds of investment sounds great. But despite the fanfare with which the Government is announcing its allocations, it is only providing half the money for projects.

Ministers are lining up to say how shameful it is that, in 21st century Britain, people in communities across Britain can’t get online in the way others take for granted.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt says people are “suffering”. Environment secretary Caroline Spelman calls the situation “unthinkable.” Scottish secretary Michael Moore says broadband is a “lifeline.” But these are empty words, and more empty promises.

This anger from ministers at the situation communities across Britain face is only half the story – and their solution creates a big money problem for hard-pressed local councils. They must find millions from council budgets to ensure their areas don’t get left behind.

Devon and Somerset were revealed in the DCMS announcement to be receiving £31.2 million. Both counties must now find the same amount themselves. In contrast, in Greater London, a government assumption that the private sector will provide broadband means no government funds – but also no obligation to find the millions to match them.

The government’s decision to provide only half the necessary funds means an inequality in broadband provision is being guaranteed – unless rural councils find extra money from their own budgets.

Labour would have funded universal high speed broadband by 2015 through a 50p per month levy on fixed phone lines and an extra £230 million from the Digital Switchover Fund. The government ditched these plans. But the way in which it has structured their replacement means some local authorities have to find millions and others don’t, simply because of where they are.

The government’s superfast plans are starting to look more and more like a super stealth tax.

Ian Lucas is Labour MP for Wrexham and a shadow business minster.

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Tories reap the credit for Labour’s automotive success

17/06/2011, 03:30:09 PM

by Ian Lucas

Two pieces of excellent news for the UK automotive industry last week.

First, Nissan announced a £192 million investment to bring the Quashquai to the UK – building on the excellent relationship the British government has built up with the company over the years.

Second, BMW/Mini announced a £500 million investment, bringing its new mini to the UK – and David Cameron was keen to do the photo-op of the mini in Downing Street. Much better, David, is to visit the stunning Cowley plant. Here I was privileged to drive number 1.5 million of the mini production line away from the factory.

What is significant is that these two inward investors have kept faith with the UK automotive industry, and that that investment will now contribute to bringing down our budget deficit.

I believe a big part of the reason for that new investment was Labour’s support when the post 2008 whirlwind hit the industry.

Labour’s 2009 car scrappage scheme was one of the most successful interventions in industry in recent history. Initially using £300 million of public money, it fuelled demand when the car industry was flat on its back. Companies like Nissan and BMW/Mini pressed hard for the introduction of the scheme and the Labour government responded.

It was a massive success – devised quickly and administered smoothly, it preserved jobs in British manufacturing as well as in the important car retail sector. One of my first jobs on becoming automotive minister in June 2009 was to badger Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson to extend the scheme – pretty frightening when facing the worst world financial crisis since the 1930s.

It was quite a day when, at the 2009 Labour party conference, Peter announced the extension of the scheme.

And this support, along with Labour’s automotive council and the excellent UK collaboration between employers and unions, is the reason why we are so well-placed to compete today.

Part of the reason we have a budget deficit today is because of Labour’s investment in policies like the car scrappage scheme when we were in power.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats did not oppose the car scrappage scheme in opposition. The present government is better placed to reduce the deficit on the back of that investment made in 2009. It is only a shame that it was David Cameron at the wheel of the mini, reaping the political benefit, outside No. 10 last week.

Ian Lucas is Labour MP for Wrexham and a shadow business minster.

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The government’s empty promises on broadband

14/12/2010, 04:40:32 PM

by Ian Lucas

Jeremy Hunt says he will introduce high speed broadband across the UK by 2015. His deputy, Ed Vaizey, says the government does not know how much this will cost. Confused? That is exactly what is intended. It suits the government to envelope the topic of broadband in a freezing fog because it is trying to sell a bum deal.

Universal broadband, that is, broadband to every community in the UK, was guaranteed by Labour by 2012. It was to be paid for, as specified in Stephen Carter’s “Digital Britain” white paper, by £230 million left over from the digital switchover fund. This was a major step to enable public service delivery by broadband.

The Tories and Lib-Dems have set back even the target for universal broadband to 2015, dealing a major blow to real progress to online services in this parliament. To fog the issue further, the government have mixed in Labour’s second goal – high speed broadband.

Labour gave a manifesto commitment to fund a national high-speed broadband network through a levy on phone lines. This was controversial but costed. In contrast, the Tories have asked those nice people from the BBC to pay £600 million over four years as a contribution to the cost of high speed broadband. £300 million of that money is not available until after the Government’s target date for completion and is payable in 2015/6 and 2016/7.

The Government does not know how much its commitment to high speed broadband will cost. Ed Vaizey said so in the answer to a parliamentary question on 1 December. But it is trying to sell its realisation by 2015 anyway.

So, be sceptical. Unless and until the Government tell us how much their high speed broadband will cost and where that figure will be sourced, its achievement by 2015 will not be credible.

Ian Lucas is Labour MP for Wrexham and a shadow business minister.

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Can it be right to have a transparent public sector while private companies grow rich off people’s personal information?

02/11/2010, 12:30:17 PM

by Ian Lucas

ONE of the focuses of civil liberties campaigners in recent years has been on the growth of information held about individuals by the state.

Yet while these concerns have grown, it is remarkable how little attention has been paid to the amounts of data held on individuals by private companies. The area is slowly coming under scrutiny – and is creating a difficult area for the government to regulate.

The pitfalls and problems were laid out in a recent debate in Westminster Hall – notable for several reasons, not least the number of Tory MPs, in a government pledged to cutting red tape, calling for fresh regulation.

In some ways, the shock at recent stories – such as Google’s capturing of personal data from the roadside as its cars compiled pictures for its street view application – is not surprising. One of the side effects of civil liberties campaigns focussing on the role of the state has been, as I said during the debate, that we have paid too little attention to the increase in the collection of information by private organisations.

Some of this information is given by a direct choice – the Facebook status update, the tweet about plans for the evening – even when those using such sites may not have considered all the implications of their actions.

But what happens where information is being gathered in other ways – such as the use of cookies to monitor people’s activities online and target products at them? The passing of internet activity logs by ISPs? Or even those events, such as the street view row, where personal information is taken without consent? These are diverse issues relating to personal; privacy and the real question here for any government is – how do you enforce any system you set up?

Much was made during the debate of a system of self-regulation. I have some concerns about this. Looking at the recent data security issues involving mobile phones and the News of the World, and the response of the press complaints commission, it is clear that some self-regulatory bodies can be less than robust in dealing with complaints. While we should recognise the strengths of self-regulation, such as the possibilities it poses for international agreement, we should also be aware of the dangers a weak system poses.

And I believe there is a wider problem than simply internet regulation which also needs consideration – which is the entire manner in which information about individuals is collected and used by third party organisations.

But how do we tackle this? First, by raising the profile of the issue with the general public. A greater amount of information would help people make an informed decision about their actions. People need to know much more about the scale of the information companies keep, and why it is being kept.

Second, we – in Parliament and in the country at large – need to have a very wide discussion about our next steps. I would be interested to hear people’s views on how we proceed. But I think we must recognise that private organisations should be scrutinised in exactly the same way and to the same extent as governmental organisations.

Can it be right to have a transparent public sector while private companies grow rich off people’s personal information?

Ian Lucas is Labour MP for Wrexham and a shadow business minister.

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Shadow cabinet: vote for Ian

18/09/2010, 03:56:27 PM

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Why Cameron knows nothing and cares less about council house tenants

04/08/2010, 06:50:35 PM

Never has David Cameron displayed his lack of understanding of council and social housing tenants more than in the appalling idea of time-limiting social housing tenancies. My parents moved into a new council house in 1965 and I was brought up there. It was our home. Our family wanted a secure place from which to plan our future. That is not unusual for anyone – whether they live in rented or bought accommodation.

If my parents had been told they could be evicted after five years of the tenancy, it would have immediately cast a shadow on the family’s security. No longer would they have been able to plan work and education for their children. Their focus would have been: “where will we be living next?”

Would David Cameron countenance this arrangement for his own family?

It tells us a great deal that the prime minister’s response to shortage of social housing is to limit the rights of those in occupation of social housing. A more explicable option would be to stop the sale of council housing. This directly removes homes from public sector stock and makes fewer homes available for those in need. But I suspect that this would not be acceptable to David Cameron’s political antennae – alienating his restless back-benchers.

Instead, our prime minister chooses an easier target: those in desperate need of homes who will accept a roof over their heads at any cost. Time-limited tenancies will create uncertainty and store up problems for families in years ahead. It tells us much about the political instincts of this Tory/Lib-Dem government.

Ian Lucas is the MP for Wrexham

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