Posts Tagged ‘localism’

Labour needs to get local

12/02/2014, 07:00:29 AM

by Richard Watts

Today Jon Cruddas is set to speak to the New Local Government Network on what could be the answer to the key political question for Labour: how can we change the lives of people in this country with far less money than the last Labour government spent?

All political parties talk a good game on localism in opposition, but haven’t delivered in government. It was one of my criticisms of the last Labour government, and while David Cameron and Eric Pickles have talked about ‘giving power back to the people’ the reality has been a disastrous local government legacy that has seen real term budgets slashed and services up and down the country hanging by a thread. At the same time, ministers like Michael Gove have centralised power in Whitehall at a speed that would have Lenin nodding with approval.

But this time, even if Labour return to power in 2015, things for local government will be very different.  By 2015 my council will have lost over £100 million a year of funding; that’s around 40 percent of our budget. Funding isn’t likely to return to pre-2010 levels and borough’s like mine are being faced with two undeniable trends, a rising demand for services and shrinking budgets. Westminster politicians need to wake up to the fact that council budgets will fall off a cliff in 2015 and 2016 without a change in the way local government is funded.

However Britain wastes public money by spending far too much of it on managing problems through top-down national initiatives that smarter investment could have avoided.


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Regional VAT, an idea for Ed Balls

22/04/2013, 07:50:07 AM

by Dan McCurry

When I was in Arizona, I kept getting overcharged in the shops. At least I thought I was, until I objected and was told that the extra 7% was the state sales tax. They weren’t including it on the price tickets, because Americans are weird. These days Arizona charges a whopping 9%, compared to Virginia at 5%, and New Hampshire at 0%. There is no strategy between these different rates. This is America. The states just do their own thing.

In the UK we pay 20%, and we call it “Value Added Tax”, because we’re not weird.  Imposed centrally, we apply this tax at a uniform rate across the country, but if we wanted to, we could charge different rates in different regions, while continuing to collect it centrally.

There is a potential serendipity to Labour’s economic policy, when looking at two of the main drivers of stimulating the economy in Labour’s five point plan for jobs and growth: house building and a VAT reduction.

Mass house building is firstly intended to create demand in the economy, but by solving our chronic housing shortage, we reduce our private sector rents, and thereby counter poverty. It all seems so neat that, however, there is a flaw in this strategy.

The area that needs massive house building is London and the South East, but the economy is fairly frothy in this area, so there is not much of a demand problem. Much of the rest of the country doesn’t needs housing, but does have a lack of demand.

So although there are many infrastructure projects in other parts of the country, the stimulus from house building would mostly effect the south east, which is not where it is mostly needed.

The other policy of Ed Balls is to affect consumer spending through a reduction in VAT.

The problem with VAT is that it can be fiddly. When Gordon gave us a 2.5% cut, I don’t think I’m the only one who was irritated at being given coppers in change for my coffee, and it didn’t take long before the coffee price went back up and the vendor pocketed the difference. Retail prices tend to gravitate to round numbers, meaning that VAT cuts need to be substantial to be worthwhile.

If Ed Balls concentrated his VAT cut on the regions that are not getting a house building boost, then he’d probably be able to double the size of the VAT cut. In simple terms, let’s imagine the counties in north of England have their VAT reduced to 10%.


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Bristol’s Labour councillors have been undermined by a blinkered NEC

27/11/2012, 12:20:17 PM

by Ben Mitchell

A farce and an embarrassment is how I’d describe recent events in Bristol. In under a week, Labour have managed to score not one, but two own goals. All coming off the back of the election on November 15th of the city’s newly elected mayor, George Ferguson, the independent candidate.

From the moment he took office, Ferguson has called for a “rainbow coalition” to sit in his cabinet. Based on the election results, he vowed to fill it with three Labour councillors, one Tory, one Lib Dem, and one Green. A city beset by years of political squabbling and inertia was finally going to put Bristol first. Indeed, the city has felt just that little bit more upbeat, hopeful that this time things will be different; a mayor, with bite, and the power to get things done.

Well, that was the fantasy, anyway. Labour has shut the door on the chance to be a part of Ferguson’s cabinet. Last Wednesday evening, Bristol Labour party members gathered to reflect on defeat, and to look ahead to the future, where it was to decide on whether the party should accept a role with the new mayor. A vote was taken, where much to my dismay but not surprise, most members voted against entering into coalition rule. I was at this meeting and voted in favour.


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Five reasons why the future of the left is local

22/11/2012, 12:57:49 PM

by Graeme Henderson

Localism has emerged as the poster boy of new policy ideas. For instance, the recent Heseltine review, a report on UK competitiveness, could easily be misread as a report on localism. Following similar themes, the publication of IPPR North’s northern economic futures commission final report this coming week will set out how devolving more power to the north of England could help it prosper. All of the main political parties are cautiously warming to localism and its benefits. The caution is understandable as it effectively means national government rendering itself less powerful. However, for those of on the left, the problem is more fundamental: simply put, is localism merely a byword for the dreaded postcode lottery? This is an unfair assessment of localism, yet it is one which is still persuasive on the left.

It is time for us to view the left as the natural home of localism. Localism, after all, means bringing power closer to the people, empowering communities and, when done right, more meaningful democratic accountability. There are several reasons why the left should embrace localism. If you’re still sceptical, keep on reading.

1. We already have a postcode lottery, let’s at least make it accountable

What is important is that local areas receive a fair proportion of public funding, not that funding is delivered (or even raised) centrally. Identifiable public spending per head, excluding social protection, is £6,647 in London, but only £5,385 in the north east. For Yorkshire and the Humber the figure is just £4,841, and yet studies have shown that the higher level of public expenditure received by London does not correspond to objective measures of need.

The regional disparities are even starker for transport infrastructure spending. Failing to adequately invest in vast swathes of the country affects the poor and disadvantaged most. Research shows that the high-skilled labour pool is far more mobile than those with lower skill levels. The most able or those with financial backing can move to wherever the jobs are. If London hoovers up the lion’s share of talent – people educated across the UK – and also public and inward investment, the regions suffer. Such extreme centralisation focused on London and the South East can only result in long-term damage to the national economy. Localism can help give local people a voice when their areas are being overlooked, and by extension, rather than hindering equal opportunities,  it can help to ensure that people get the same chances, wherever they happen to live..


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Are Britons more comfortable with bureaucracy than democracy?

16/11/2012, 04:59:03 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The people have spoken.

Well some of us have. As the results from the police and crime commissioner elections trickle in, it will be a blessed relief if as many as one in five of us actually voted.

Of course some people were not just apathetic about the idea, but determinedly hostile; visiting the polling booth in high dudgeon – simply to spoil their ballot paper.

Here was a chance, as I argued yesterday, to bring some much needed accountability about how a vital public service is run. Might be a bit boring, or possibly abstract for some, but the hostility to the idea leaves me baffled.

Of course it’s not just the police commissioners. The dismal 18 per cent turnout in last night’s Manchester Central by-election reflects the same malaise at the heart of our politics. It is reckoned to be the lowest turnout in a parliamentary election since 1942, when just 8.5 per cent voted in Poplar South, (although I suspect the not insignificant combination of world war two and the blitz may have had some bearing then).

Even in Corby, scene of this afternoon’s significant Labour win by Andy Sawford, just 45 per cent voted. And that’s after a small rainforest’s worth of election leaflets and direct mails were shovelled through voters’ letterboxes.

It seems the old saying that ‘we get the politicians we deserve’ has never been truer. For a nation of inveterate moaners about how we are led we seem to readily pass up the chance to do anything about it.


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Labour has missed a chance to be positive about police commissioners

15/11/2012, 01:42:29 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Well, here we are, the day when, if some pollsters are to be believed, fewer than one in ten of us in England and Wales will bother to trudge to the polling station and cast a vote for our first-ever police and crime commissioners.

It is fair to say that this is the most unloved choice put before the electorate since Herod offered Jerusalem voters a choice of slaughtering the first or second born.

It’s not just the prophets of doom among our number-crunching mystics who are predicting disaster. The hostile chatter across the media and British politics over the past year will make a low turnout today a self-fulfilling prophecy. I gave up going through the Labour website press release section looking for something – anything – positive that the frontbench has said about commissioners.

Yet the concept of elected police commissioners deserves a chance. A cursory glance through the independent report into the Hillsborough disaster shows why stronger oversight of our police service is so badly needed. South Yorkshire Police’s abuse of power, including running background and fingerprint checks on the dead as senior officers concocted their alibi and slur the victims, is what happens when the police have no-one able to frustrate their knavish tricks.

Chief constables enjoy almost feudal powers. Police authorities, which are supposed to act as a check and balance, are about as effective as the audit committee at Lehman Brothers. The conspiracy that resulted in the Hillsborough cover-up would not happen with a strong commissioner, ever mindful of public opinion, and ultimately personally responsible, refusing to be bowed by such evil intent.


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Depressingly, it takes the Tories to make localism come alive

31/01/2012, 11:33:54 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Localism is one of those annoyingly wispy catch-alls in British politics that never actually takes corporeal form. Like the big society, deciphering its linguistic mysteries would keep an abbeyful of medieval monks busy.

But things are getting clearer. As of last week, localism now means big city mayors.

Local government minister Greg Clark’s confirmation that we could see powerful elected mayors running Manchester, Liverpool, Bradford, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham, Wakefield, Bristol, Birmingham and Coventry as early as this November is nothing short of landmark.

Look at it this way: the prospect of a dozen big city mayors (Leicester was due to hold a referendum with the rest but opted to switch early) represents the biggest potential transfer of political power since Scottish and Welsh devolution in 1998.

Actually, forget the Welsh, so to speak; the joint population of England’s eleven largest cities and conurbations dwarfs that of the principality. While Birmingham and Leeds combined are more populous than Northern Ireland.

This new version of localism represents a real tilting of power away from Whitehall and towards our other great cities and conurbations. A moment where powerful new political voices with huge mandates emerge in new centres of power and influence.

Unfortunately, many in the Labour tribe remain unconvinced there is such a prize to be had. The party issued no press release heralding last week’s news that mayors are now within sight and no offer to form cross-party yes campaigns to win the referendums was forthcoming.


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