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Utrecht Popular Front launches its manifesto

04/06/2014

Spirit of 45

These are lean times for mainstream politics. Little over a year until the next general election and the Tory government, in thrall to the city, has given us a beer and bingo budget. Their mates the Liberal Democrats continue to prop up the government and the Labour party appears scared stiff to present anything resembling a radical alternative to the coalition. Meanwhile UKIP continue to attack immigrants as the root cause of all our problems.

So, what is the alternative? Do we just idly sit back and let them get on with it? Or do we get off our arses and do something about it? Well, a good friend of mine, Jon Frost, partly inspired by Ken Loach’s brilliant documentary The Spirit of ’45, has decided on the latter course of action, and has compiled a manifesto for a fairer future. Here it is. It consists of nearly eight thousand words so those of you that regularly moan at me for churning out articles of a thousand words will need to up your game.

I’ve known Frosty since the late nineties when I lived in his home town of Scunthorpe and it would be difficult to find a nicer bloke. He’s a Liverpool supporter but don’t let that put you off reading this. In recent years he’s been living and working in the Dutch city of Utrecht so this manifesto benefits from a European perspective.

We’re all busy people and there’s probably something daft to watch on the box so you don’t necessarily have to read it all. It’s split into twenty four different themes such as housing, health, education etc. Pick out the ones that you are interested in and please use the comments box at the end to comment, criticise, praise and add to the manifesto. This is very much a work in progress. Go on, give us your views. Please read it and share it. It’s a wonderful piece of work that deserves a wider audience; full of passion, conviction and a belief that we can, collectively, change the world around us. Regular readers of this blog will easily spot that this is not my work. It’s been thoroughly researched and there are facts and figures rather than the usual “if we all just hug each other the world will be a better place” nonsense.

Plato once said that “one of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is you end up governed by your inferiors”. Watching Clegg and Farage on the box the other night he may have a point. We can do better than this. Please read this, give us your views and share it as widely as you can. Thanks. 

Agenda for a Fairer and Better Future

1. Housing

Resolve the housing crisis by forming large scale housing associations and give them the powers and the finance to build social housing on a large scale. The money for this can be founds by scrapping the huge folly that is HS2. And by the issuing of low interest infrastructure bonds (see point 2)

All housing developments by the new housing associations would be mixed developments containing social housing for rent, private home for rent (rent not to be paid by the state, but the houses should be built to satisfy the need that some private sector rental is always required, with amount of private rented homes being capped at 5-10% of the development) and private homes for sale. The mixed nature of these developments would help prevent the development of huge sink estates where the poorest sectors of society are currently banished to, to be quietly forgotten about.

Rents for the social housing would be regulated and increases capped each year at inflation.

Private houses for rent would be subject to a compulsory landlord registration scheme to ensure minimum accommodation standards are met and maximum occupancy must also be specified to end overcrowding (only House of Multiple Occupation are currently subject to these rules

The sort of housing built would also be mixed to prevent developments where only 3 bed semis are built, to include houses and flats of varying sizes and differing numbers of bedrooms, all within the same development. This would provide the variety of accommodation required to suit most individual and family circumstances, and prevent the stare subsidising high private sector rents because the public housing doesn’t have the type of accommodation required.

The private houses in the scheme would be properly affordable. i.e. not affordable as in 250k, but affordable as in related more to average wages, meaning small starter homes to be priced at approximately 100 -120k in the regions and 150 -170k in London, and these houses should be aimed and first time buyers and people with lower incomes

Full use of Brownfield sites for development to lessen the impact on the countryside, but also to utilise currently derelict land, which in turn will help to revitalise city suburbs.

Additionally, use the infrastructure funds to make insulate homes and businesses across the country to fulfil a long term green agenda and to improve the efficiency and quality of the existing housing stock.

If done correctly this policy should create a virtuous circle by creating jobs,, stimulate the national economy, revitalise local areas, improve the living conditions of people, bring in revenues to maintain and replace the housing stock, and eventually reduce the benefits bill by increasing access to social housing and affordable homes to buy.

2. Infrastructure

Create a national and regional programme for Infrastructure. This could be funded partly in the same way as housing by scrapping HS2, but also, while interest rates are low, by the issuing of national infrastructure bonds offering a low but fixed yield to pension funds, insurance and the like (borrowing like this needs to be pursued as all infrastructure can’t been financed out of annual revenues and expenditure). This would prevent further appalling contracts being signed for PFI schemes, which while not appearing on the governments books, are ruinously expensive and only provide value for money for the private sector companies that signed these contracts. As a result of infrastructure bonds PFI should be banned with immediate effect

One of things I’ve learned from living in Holland is that by comparison our infrastructure is incredibly dated and large swathes of are not fit for purpose. Successive governments from all parties have massively underinvested in infrastructure over the past 4 decades, leaving an infrastructure that is bad for the economy, doesn’t serve the people properly and gets progressively more dated with each passing year, meaning the bill for it replacing gets ever higher.

Infrastructure requires continual investment and continuous improvement every single year and not only would create thousands of jobs skilled jobs, but also provides a very good return for the economy.

3. Health

Immediate repeal of the Health and Social Care Act to not only stop the privatisation of large parts of the NHS, but also to enable the fundamental reshaping of the sort of NHS we need for the future. In short the main focus should be primary care.

The NHS needs to be fundamentally changed to shift its main focus into the provision of a fully funded and fully resourced primary care service. It may initially cost a large amount of investment, but I ultimately believe it will save money. Britain is facing the same problems as other rich western nations in that the population is rapidly ageing, and with increased ageing comes a fundamentally different set of health challenges.

Acute care is excruciatingly expensive. Many of the resources within hospitals are now consumed by elderly or other similarly vulnerable patients, and these patients are treated in hospital due to the inadequate provision of primary care services and social services. And treatment in a hospital is ultimately far more expensive than providing proper primary care services.

The refocusing on primary care would require much more provision of social housing, sheltered accommodation (people should offered the option to buy these properties so that the wealth built up over their life is not needlessly squandered in a few years of nursing home fees), fully staffed social services that are properly integrated with GP surgeries, proper pay for care workers and an aim only admit to hospital when it is actually necessary rather than an admission due to no primary care support services available to help with their problems. Reduction in acute care will not only dramatically reduce costs in hospitals, but along with better primary care services will also improve the mental health and vulnerabilities of these patients, which I believe in the long term will reduce the overall burden on the health service and provide a better solution for peoples health issues.

The NHS is already has very high demand and in the coming years and decades will face greatly increased demand for help with things like diabetes, depression and dementia to mention just 3, most of which can be far better and more effectively treated by a proactive primary care service, than by resorting to hospital admissions.

These are long term issues which are only going to get worse, so decisions need to be taken now to plan for health care provision not just for the coming parliament but for the coming decades.

The myth that health service is becoming unaffordable needs to challenged (it’s just a cover story to aid the path to privatisation). It will remain affordable as long as the service is adapted to meet the future needs of the people that it serves.

4. Pay

Raising of the minimum wage to the level of the proposed living wage, with legislation requiring that it increases in line with inflation on an annual basis.

This could be introduced immediately for large multinational businesses and the for the public sector, over the term of the next parliament for medium size businesses and small business with few employees should be given tax breaks to lessen the financial impact of these extra costs.

I know many large businesses will whine and continually lobby the government to keep the wage low, but in international surveys it has been shown that compared to their equivalent foreign rivals, that British businesses are amongst the most profitable in the world, so most can well afford this increase. All we get is that this will affect returns to shareholders, but shareholders aren’t the only concern, and I do believe that happy and contented employees will in turn produce higher returns for your business which in the end will negate their complaint about reduced returns to shareholders.

Governments and most politicians only think of employers and large businesses, and rarely think the pay and conditions of the people that generate the sales and profits of these companies. That way of thinking has to change.

Everybody has the right to a fair days pay for a fair days work.

Paradoxically, while the introduction of the minimum wage has stopped unscrupulous employers paying pitiful wages, and meant pay rises and better living conditions for millions, one of the unintended side effects of the minimum wage is that is has now become the default wage for many jobs, jobs that before the introduction of the minimum wage would have been paid at a rate above it. On this point the only workable solution would be return to collective bargaining to overcome this problem, this would require and increase in union participation and increased organised labour (see point 6 on Unions).

(People blame immigration for driving down incomes, and whilst there is some small truth in this, in the last 10-15 years in particular the main cause of falling incomes has been the driving down of wages by large employers due to lack of an organised labour response caused by de-unionisation and a lack of collective bargaining).

5. Employment Contracts

An immediate end to zero hour contracts. These are exclusively for minimum wage jobs and so keep the poorest paid and most vulnerable members of society dangling on a string which their employer only has to tug on and they’ll come running, as most are desperate for as many hours as they can find. I find this degrading.

Again, all politicians bang on about is that a flexible labour market is what has enabled the UK economy to recover faster than the rest of Europe.

Again this only looks at shareholders and private owners of massively profitable companies and ignores people with no employment rights, paid the minimum wage and not knowing from one week to the next what they are going to earn. That is no way for anybody to be required to live their life.

Employer and employee rights must be more balanced, and ending zero hours contracts would be a good to start.

6. Unions

Any employee should automatically be offered the right to join the relevant union and unions should be allowed unfettered access to all employees and all workplaces.

There needs to a proper reset and proper re-engagement between unions and employers to ensure fair rights for both employees and employers (currently, anyone mentioning their union membership of their support for unions is immediately dismissed as a militant or extremist or unreasonable. This use of emotive language completely undermines people and unions whose only aim is too secure better pay and conditions for their workers).

It does seem that over the past few decades both sides seem to have forgotten the meaning and intention of the original social contract that originally existed between them. This now means that there hardly ever appears to be any constructive relationship or dialogue between the employer, their employees and their respective union. The process now seems to be entirely adversarial and based on destructive conflict (I think the conflict and destructiveness is a direct consequence of draconian anti union laws introduced in the 80’s, their powers and rights being so eroded that unions feel conflict is sometimes their only course of action to make progress, and employers feeling they have little need to talk or listen to the union) which is of no benefit to any party.

However, to balance this increased access and power of unions, then the democratic legitimacy of unions and its actions must also be increased. Unions also need to work hard to raise awareness about proposed actions and need to improve access to balloting, including the option of online voting and workplace based balloting. This way the results of the vote cannot be disputed and hence its legitimacy can’t be questioned. It is only fair that checks and balances are in place to stop abuse of power by both employer and by unions.

It is an attempt to put both unions, employees and employers back in a positive relationship again as the current situation is not serving anybody.

7. Industrial Policy

If we really want to rebalance our economy then we need a proper, detailed industrial policy, financially supported by government, the basics of which need to be agreed by all parties, so that individuals and companies that would benefit from such a policy are provided with the certainty that financial and organisational help and assistance and policy won’t change with every new government.

The services industry we have built up, much of which is excellent, shouldn’t be ignored, but the decline and neglect of manufacturing in the last 3 decades has been dreadful, impacting not just on jobs itself, but damaging communities and reducing the financial health of the whole nation. We now consume so much more than we produce or sell, that fully 50% of all the shipping containers that arrive in this country full of imported goods, leave the UK empty, meaning we are not manufacturing enough of the things the rest of the world wants to buy, but also meaning our current account deficit is huge and in the long term completely unsustainable.

The only way that a more balanced and a more productive economy can achieved is by helping and advising, investing in and promoting manufacturing.

We have wonderful research institutes within all our universities, and are world class in areas like scientific research and engineering design, but moving, from the highly advanced research stage to the manufacturing of said products requires large amounts of funding. For decades, too often in Britain this funding is either very hard to come by or is completely unavailable.

At this point, there are 2 choices available. Firstly, move your company overseas to receive funding from overseas. Or secondly, sell your company to a large multinational who will then the benefit from the economic and commercial returns from the next phase of your research and development. Both of these choices mean the UK’s ability to transform R+D into commercial returns and jobs is greatly diminished. It both the short and long term this is hugely damaging to the health of economy

I feel that this is an issue that has been holding back the UK for decades. Whereas we only invest about 1.6% of our GDP in R+D funding, other countries such as Finland, South Korea, The Netherlands, USA and Germany invest over 3.5% in R+D funding. The results of this difference in funding are plain for all to see.

A network of regional business investment banks and research institutes needs to created (along the lines of Germany’s superb network of Fraunhofer Research Institutes) that is also backed by government funding to help people launch businesses or expand existing businesses based on promising research to create jobs, growth, wealth etc….

If this network of regional banks and research institutes exists regardless of what government we have it creates the sort of stable, long term financial and investment environment that should allow manufacturing to flourish. An environment that allows and supports long term growth and enables people, businesses and the country as a whole to finally reap jobs and a financial return from the talent that is contained within our society.

Right wing Tories and UKIP say that if we leave the EU, we can sign new bilateral trade agreements with emerging countries like China, India, Brazil etc…. and sell more products to countries lie these to replace our trade with the EU. The sad truth is (although never actually acknowledged by the right wingers) that we wont be selling more goods to these emerging countries, because as a nation the decline in our manufacturing base means we are not producing the right sort or quality of goods that they actually want to buy. Belgium currently exports more to China than the UK. Until we start to manufacture more of the type of goods that other countries want to buy, then our long term economic position will not improve. Countries like Germany and Holland are way way ahead of us in this respect.

The creation of a long term industrial policy, the creation of regional investment banks, the creation of regional research institutes backed by government money, the creation of jobs by expanding into green and nuclear power would lead to the creation of plenty of long term, skilled and well paid jobs, help rebalance the economy, reduce our huge trade deficit and actually begin to helps us pay our way in the world again. Long term, large scale, sustainable investment is the key to all of this.

However, this policy must be a long term project, requiring the commitment of all parties, would take a large amount of initial investment, and the results may take a long time to be seen or felt, but only by putting this sort of policy in place will you create and environment in the decades to come where manufacturing can thrive and take its rightful place as one of the drivers of our economy, and compliment the excellent service industries we already have.

8. School Leavers Policy

Proper structured careers advice should be provided for all.

Children wishing to stay on at school and go into further education and university should always be encouraged to do. The benefits of a good education should never be underestimated.

But for children who leave school at 16 and don’t follow the academic route, then nothing is being done for them, they are being desperately failed by the system and just disappearing into a black hole.

Proper structured careers advice should be provided for all. But this requires the participation and cooperation of both schools, local authorities, government, and local and national employers. Integration of advice, qualifications and job opportunities could then provide advice of prospective careers but also to match schools leavers with prospective employers and vice versa.

For too long we’ve let kids leave school with no idea of what they are going to do, and for too long we’ve said university education is everything and denigrated skilled vocational and manual careers. Its time to end this obsession and snobbery and let kids know that if they don’t want to go to university, then there is nothing wrong with following a vocational trade and qualifications.

Introduction of such a scheme would provide opportunities for school leavers, but also help employers fill skilled vacancies which for years they have complained about being unable to fill. My policy would to fill this skills gap. (It is based on the German model for youth employment, which as been incredibly successful).

However, it requires proper long term commitment from all parties concerned, and initially at least will require large scale financial support from government and employers. Coupled with my industrial policy, desired elsewhere, it will provide good quality jobs and a good future for many young people and fill the skills shortage that for so long has held manufacturing in this country back.

9. Regional Power

It is now time to return full executive powers to the cities and regions outside of London.

Most people don’t believe you, as they believe she was the great champion and empowerer of the individual, but in reality Thatcher was the great centraliser. She didn’t trust the cities, especially in the north, to freely submit to and follow her policies, so she took power away from them and centralised all power and decision making in London. And these powers have never been fully returned. In the long term this has only served to exacerbate the economic division between London and the rest of the country.

Government policy is predominantly London driven, and thereby assuming that policy that is good for and works for London is also good for the rest of the country. For much policy this emphatically isn’t so.

Returning full executive powers to councils will make them truly independent, so as to allow them to find local solutions to local problems.

For example, I have been a regular visitor to Manchester ever since the mid 80’s when my brother studied there. Although it still has a long way to go, and still has many poor and deprived areas, Manchester has been transformed in last 20 years, even with the limited executive powers that the city council has had. In the mid 80’s much of Manchester was pretty grim as we’re many northern cities, but it has now been transformed into a vibrant, thriving city. Think how much more could be achieved if full executive powers were returned to city council.

To emphasise my point that what is good for London is not always good for other cities and regions, Manchester City Council have repeatedly said that they look to Barcelona, not London, when looking for ideas for urban and economic renewal.

It is finally time to give cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and the like were given full executive powers to determine their own futures.

10. Minister for the North/Regions

In addition to returning full executive powers to councils, a new cabinet position should be created with a portfolio for the North and the Regions.

This position can act as a link between councils and government to ensure that where possible policy is properly integrated, and where not possible, that it can be adjusted to suit the needs of the regions outside of London and the South East.

Policy doesn’t always have to be unilateral for whole country, but where necessary should be multilateral to satisfy the needs of different areas of the country.

11. Pensions

(based on the paper “The Dutch Pension System” by the Dutch Association of Industry Wide Pension Funds)

The pensions system requires reform to ensure that all employees can receive an adequate pension in retirement through the combination of state pension and a workplace funded pension. Reform is also required to ensure that the pensions system can cope financially with a generally ageing population.

Employees in final salary schemes are already well catered for, but employees with private defined contribution schemes are at the mercy of the insurance companies and the annuities market for their returns. This sector of people have been very poorly served by the pension products and annuities provided by these insurance companies. Successive governments have consistently underestimated the ability of the financial sector to give terrible advice, or in many cases just plain rip their customers off.

My proposals (people already in existing final salary schemes can stick with their scheme and associated benefits until retirement) to reform the pensions system are as follows:

a) Collective Pension Schemes

Rather than having thousands of pension schemes operated by different companies, then instead, large collective pension schemes should be established for each sector of the economy e.g. a pension scheme for the retail sector, a pension scheme for the health sector, a pension scheme for the construction sector and so on.

When you start work you are allocated to the relevant pension for the sector you are working in and start making your contributions. If you move to a new job within the same sector you continue to pay into the same scheme. If you move to a new job in a different sector you have 2 options. Firstly, you can continue paying into your old pension scheme. Or secondly, you can choose to move your accrued pension benefits to the scheme associated with your new job for a small fixed administration fee.

This ensures employees that change jobs frequently don’t end up with several small pensions form a variety of employers, but rather end up with one pension scheme upon retirement.

This is not only administratively simpler (it removes a heavy administrative burden for small firms) but also financially cheaper for all concerned, thereby increasing returns for pensioners.

b) Defined Benefit Schemes

All new pension schemes will defined benefit schemes, whereby a member each year builds up a future pension right equivalent to a fixed % of salary. To make these more affordable for everybody in the decades ahead these schemes should be based on average career salary rather than final salary.

Final payout is a % of your average salary based on the number of years your have worked and paid into the scheme.

These schemes will also have conditional indexation, meaning that pensions are automatically revised annually for inflation or increases in wages in the sector concerned.

c) Independent Pension Schemes

By law, the company and the pension fund must be strictly separated, being completely legally and financially independent from the companies and employees paying into it.

Pension must also act as non profit organisations.

This all means that pension funds will therefore not be directly affected if a company gets into financial difficulties. It provides financial stability and certainty for employees paying into the scheme that their pension is secure, and also removes the burden from government of having to takeover these pension liabilities should a company go bust.

Additionally, the investment policy of each pension fund is determined by a pension fund board of trustees. This board should consist of professional mangers of the fund, employers and employee representatives in equal measure. The board should also be supported by a member’s council whereby employees and pensioners are proportionally represented.

d) Mandatory Nature

By law, all companies must belong to the relevant industry wide pension scheme, and in turn all employees of each company must enrol in the scheme. This means all employees have access to and are members of a good pension scheme

This mandatory nature ensures sufficient economies of scale, ensuring said schemes are efficiently managed.

This all allows both government, employers and employees to create solidarity through compulsory participation. This solidarity is one the key factors underpinning these schemes.

Contributions are compulsory for both employees and employers and are subject to tax relief. Contribution rates are determined by the pension board of trustees for each industry wide scheme.

All members of the scheme pay the same rate of contribution. Individual differences such as age, gender, health and income are not taken into account when determining the rate of contribution to be paid.

Additionally, even if the pension fund is in very good health financial health, then holidays from pension contributions are strictly forbidden by law.

e) Admin Costs

Pension schemes would raise income to pay for its administration via charging of fees on pension contributions.

Admin costs would be relatively low due to economies of scale and due to the fact that schemes are non profit organisations.

Fees charges will be capped by law, so as not be excessive (about 1%) meaning that nearly all of the pension contributions go towards building up pension benefits.

f) Financial Assessment Framework

A framework must be set by a pension’s regulator, under the supervision of the Bank of England to examine the annual financial position of each fund to assess whether they can be expected to fulfil their financial obligations in the future.

The coverage ratio, which shows pension fund assets as a % of the pension liabilities to be paid in the future must be a minimum of 105%. If it dips below this level then a recovery plan must be produced to ensure the coverage ratio regains its 105% level within 3-5 years.

The collective nature of these schemes means that if the coverage ratio falls or stay below 105% then both employees and employers must make sacrifices in the form of temporarily higher contributions until the coverage ratio is restored.

If coverage ratio is above 105% all pensioners get an automatic annual inflation increase in their pension.

g) No Commutation

Commutation being defined as when the pension is paid in a lump sum rather than in monthly instalments for the remainder of your life. In my proposed schemes commutation would be banned – George Osborne’s plan to let people spend their entire pension pot as they please is a long term financial disaster. People investing it in buy to let property will drive up house prices ever more, locking even more people out of the property market, and additionally plenty of people will just squander it on holidays, cars, etc…, then leaving the state to pick up the tab in the long term. This is just a cheap pre election giveaway that will cost the government nothing in the short term.

Overall my proposals are not done to reduce the benefits of people in final salary schemes, but rather to ensure that ALL employees can be provided with a decent income in retirement, whilst spreading the burden evenly between employees, employers and the state. The state will continue to provide the universal state pension, but if my proposal’s were implemented it would reduce the benefits bill, as all pensioners would have access to and be provided with a decent retirement income by the combination of the universal state pension and the average salary pension, thereby lessening the need for means tested benefits for the elderly.

These proposals are based on the Dutch pensions system, which is consistently rated the best and most affordable in the world. It also means that the proposals actually work. In conjunction with the state pension this system ensures that all employees end up with a retirement income of about 60-70% of the career average earnings.

In summary, a system that is financially affordable and ensure equality of treatment and benefits for everybody employee.

12. Election Manifestos

Now that we have a properly independent Office of Budget Responsibility, then each party wishing to contest more than say 25 parliamentary seats must produce a fully detailed election manifesto covering all the major areas of economic and political life i.e. health, housing, education, defence, infrastructure etc….

The manifesto’s must then be fully reviewed and costed by the OBR to show their affordability/cost and their impact on growth, job’s, the deficit, investment, spending and revenue. The results of the OBR will be published and broadcast on a neutral political broadcast at the start of the election campaign.

This would have 3 effects:

Firstly, it would stop parties such as UKIP effectively campaigning on a single issue, without the burden of being able to propose workable policies on jobs, growth, health, education etc…

Secondly, due to detailed scrutiny by the OBR, if the true financial cost and impact of each parties policy’s was disclosed by the OBR review it would stop each party including simplistic, populist policy’s in their manifesto’s in a craven attempt to gain votes. It would also stop parties using evasive wording on policies in their manifesto where the true intention of the policy only becomes clear after the election i.e. the Tories top down reorganisation of the NHS, which nobody actually explicitly voted for.

Thirdly, as all parties are subject to the same level of scrutiny by an independent OBR it would make it very difficult and potentially damaging to question the OBR findings.

The overall result of this policy should be to make politicians think more deeply about their manifesto pledges as the financial and economic effect published for the electorate to see. It would hopefully remove short termism, and this on the hoof, back of the fag packet policy making that we currently seem to have.

13. Post Election Policy

A ban on the introduction of any new policy, for at least one after each election, that wasn’t included in your pre election manifesto.

This would help ensure that voters get a clearer idea of what they are actually voting for, and stops party’s introducing things that were never included in the manifesto, never mentioned, or even denied before the election (increasing V AT after the last election, which was explicitly denied by all parties before the last lection, or the Lib Dem pledge on tuition fees).

Although the suggestion is not bullet-proof, it should at least, coupled with the OBR costing of manifesto’s, make politicians think more carefully about what is include in their manifesto, if they know there are restrictions in implementing policy post the election.

14. MP’s

a) Representative MP’s

If we have system where each constituency is represented by a local MP, then to be properly representative all candidates must have a connection to the area they wish to represent, either through birth, residence or family or employment history.

This helps to ensure that prospective MP’s properly understand the people and the area they wish to represent and stop’s candidates being parachuted in a seat by party central office.

(I’m not entirely convinced whether this idea is really workable, or is me being too idealistic, as it may stop very talented people from entering parliament, but I’m really fed up with party central office imposing these privately educated, anodyne, identikit MP’s on local selection committees, who in reality jut represent their leaders in London and care and understand little about the people and the area they are supposed to represent).

b) Experienced MP’s

Prospective candidates for MP must have had at least one proper job in the outside world for several years before they can become an MP. This does not include working in central office, think tanks, or as a policy advisor

Experience of the world outside of Westminster is essential to be able to properly understand and represent your constituents, and to prevent them from being sucked ever further into the Westminster bubble.

c) Removal of MP’s

Introduction of a mechanism (there must be appropriate safeguards to ensure that the public can’t remove MP’s on whim or in a fit of pique) whereby MP’s can be removed from office during parliament for gross misconduct like all other employees, rather than the current system where they are allowed to stand down at the next election.

These 3 points would be starting point for MP’s to properly re-engage and reconnect with the people they wish to represent, and would go some way to preventing the upper echelons of our society becoming ever more dominated by the upper classes and privately educated.

15. Elected Second Chamber

While the continuation of the 2 house political system is desirable, as the upper house acts as a rational brake on the often irrational and populist lower house, the current system of an unelected second chamber stuffed full of the landed gentry and political cronies , whose numbers are topped up by each successive government, needs to change.

Scrap all peerages, and make the second chamber fully elected, where members can serve a maximum of 2 or 3 terms.

This ensures the second chamber still fulfils its necessary role, but makes it properly democratic and more accountable as well.

16. Tax

A massive simplification of the tax code and tax system is required.

The UK now has one of the most complex tax systems in the world. And greater complexity, and a piecemeal approach to adding new rules on top of the old ones (a Gordon Brown speciality) means an almost endless variety of loopholes and methods by which people can avoid paying the tax they should.

We seem to have built and ended up with a system which is predicated on the wealthy being allowed to keep as much of their wealth as possible. While plenty of wealthy people do very little to avoid tax and pay their all of taxes appropriately, a significant number of the wealthy seem to feel that as they have created wealth and jobs then this contribution should mean that they pay no further or less tax, that their taxable obligation to society is satisfied by creating jobs for others.

Whilst the wealthy shouldn’t be completely alienated as they contribute large amounts of our tax revenues, too many of them are not paying the level of tax that they should. Though I do feel it is a terrible indictment of the policies of successive governments, and a sign of the huge and growing inequality in our society, that we are now in a situation where the top 1% of our taxpayers now pay 30% of all tax.

A huge simplification of the tax code greatly reduces the scope of tax avoidance/evasion. Additionally the HMRC needs to become more efficient and collect all the tax that is due to it, and stop cutting sweetheart deals with major corporations that significantly reduce their tax bills.

In this way we can collect a large amount of the £50 billion (amount varies depending on whose figures you use) of tax avoided by the wealthiest individuals and corporations each year. This not a case of soaking the rich, but rather a case of greatly simplifying the tax code and as a result greatly reducing the scope and opportunities to avoid tax and as a result getting people to pay the amount of tax that they actually should be paying. i.e. if you fall into the 40 or 50% why shouldn’t you pay tax at this rate, rather than in many cases using shabby schemes and reducing your tax rate to below that of regular wage earners. If you fall into the 50% tax band then you pay 50% tax. (Also an immediate re-introduction of the 50% tax band should be done).

This increased revenue could reduce the deficit, spread the tax burden more truly, and provide money for investment in infrastructure and public services.

17. Business Rates

Scrap business rates, an antiquated and opaque system of taxation based on the rateable value of a property, which has an unnecessarily heavy burden on small independent businesses.

Small local businesses are already being battered by out of town shopping centres, supermarkets expanding to sell many traditional high street products, and by the expansion of online retailing.

High business rates, sometimes 2 or 3 times what is payable in rent, are huge disincentive to starting a new business, and also a huge impediment to the continuing profitability of existing businesses.

(Business rates are one of the big reasons why northern high streets are full of charity shops, as they receive 90% relief on business rates).

Replace business rates with a small tax on the gross profits of each business, thereby ensuring that the tax paid is a reflection of the success and financial viability of the business.

This would help small businesses and retailers to continue to trade in tough economic conditions, encourage more empty shop’s to be filled by new local businesses who would only pay a tax commensurate with their level of success, and help to regenerate high streets and communities and provide much needed local employment.

18. Corporation Tax

It becomes ever more obvious that unless there is international cooperation on the definitions of company incorporation, domicile and tax base, then multinational companies will continue to exploit the differences in the interpretation of corporate tax law between different countries to pay as little tax as possible.

This means governments are denied much needed tax revenue, company’s continue to enjoy all the benefits that a country has to offer without helping to pay for the provision of these benefits, and a situation where their employees are contributing more to government tax receipts than their immensely wealthy employers.

Thus, corporation tax should be scrapped and replaced by the introduction of a tax on gross sales earned by each multinational (even if it means different tax rates for different sectors of the economy) in each country that they operate (irrespective of the corporate tax base or domicile).

This avoids an unnecessary battle over intra-company charges for the use of intellectual property that are used to move profits to lower tax countries (e.g. Starbuck’s using a transfer pricing model to charge royalties on each cup of coffee sold in Britain to transfer revenue to The Netherlands and thereby reducing profits in Britain to effectively zero) and all other components that are used to calculate net profits.

This would ensure fairness, not only in how much tax you pay, but also openness, as it becomes easy for people to see that your tax contribution to the country in which you operate is based on your financial success in that country.

19. Banks/Financial Institutions

a) Separation of the investment arms of our big banks from the retail arm via an impenetrable firewall so that the retail banking arm of said bank is not endangered by the financial problems of the investment banking arm

b) A ban on proprietary trading by investment banks. They can invest/trade in whatever they like with their clients money but cannot make investments/trades with the banks own money. This means the bank remains solvent even if investments/trades made with the clients money go band.

c) A ban on short selling (mainly aimed at hedge funds). I see little social benefit to this form of financial trading and it puts companies facing financial difficulties under sometimes intolerable pressure during a period when stability is required.

20. Debt

a) An immediate ban on Payday lenders

Whilst there are plenty of people who needlessly take out loans and get into too much debt, many of the poorest members of our society (and a lot of them working poor) take out these loans through desperation (a problem greatly exasperated by coalition benefit cuts). Once in debt to these companies it is very difficult to escape their grip, and it has a devastating effect on families and communities.

Access to this type of credit is far too easy and causes far more problems than it solves. Therefore pay lenders should be banned with immediate effect.

(In fact a full scale review of consumer credit regulations should be undertaken, with an aim to end the UK population’s addiction to easy but very expensive debt).

b) Expansion of Credit Unions

A ban on payday lenders does not mean that I think credit should be banned. At times everybody needs access to credit to see them through difficult times. What I think needs changing is not access to credit, but the type of credit that is available.

A large scale expansion of credit unions run by charities, churches, councils or local community start up schemes that are rooted in the local community would offer access to small, affordable low cost loans only after face to face contact with the applicant, with interest rates charged being regulated and capped by law.

As these Credit Unions are locally based they can properly understand the needs of their local community and personal contact means they can better understand people’s individual circumstances. This would stop people getting into excessive debt, but would ensure that when they do need access to credit it is available from a local source at affordable rates.

c) Betting Shops and Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Stop the rampant expansion of betting shops in the most deprived areas of our big cities by limiting the amounts of outlets per suburb or per postcode.

Additionally a ban on the high cost fixed odds betting terminals, which now account for about 40% of bookmakers profits, but can empty a customer’s wallet in minutes.

Both of these provide another unnecessary outlet for people desperate to change their circumstances, but only end up with the bookie enriched and with the customer’s pockets empty.

21. Railways

Re-nationalise the railways by not renewing each rail franchise it expires.

Create an arm’s length public/ private agency to run the railways with the state, the workers and public as the only shareholders. Have worker and consumer association representation on the management boards of the new organisation.

Reform the arcane ticketing system which allows for dozens of different prices to be charged for the same trip.

Have one peak and one off peak fare, a reduced weekend fare and a discounted fare for booking more than 2 weeks in advance. Additionally, single trips to half the cost of return trip. Administratively much simpler, and more transparent for the consumer.

And finally, as here in The Netherlands offer a rail card for £50 per year that gives you a 40% discount on off peak travel (only restriction is that you can’t travel on a discounted fare before 9am on a weekday) for the cardholder and up too three additional passengers.

22. Utilities

Unfortunately I don’t think it financially possible to bring back the utilities into public ownership as it would be too costly – well north of £100 billon I suspect. (I’ve yet to think of a workable policy to achieve this, but am continuing to work on it to trey to find a way to bring these companies back into public ownership without burdening the taxpayer with an exceesicve cost).

However there are a couple of simple measures to make the market more transparent for consumers:

Firstly, reduce the number of tariffs available for gas and electric to a maximum of about 6 and this would apply to all utility companies.

Secondly, ensure that an annual statement is sent to each consumer in a standardised format detailing the cost of their energy consumption for the previous year. The statement would break down the annual cost to detail the amount and cost of gas and electric used, any energy taxes, cost of infrastructure, the cost of transporting gas and electric, and a detailed breakdown of any administration costs. As this statement is in a format that is set by the regulator then energy suppliers will be properly and easily comparable by consumers.

These measures may not reduce bills, but it will clearly highlight how much of your bill is made up from the cost of gas and electric and how much is down to other costs (for our bill here in Utrecht about 40% is made up of the cost of gas and electric, 10% in taxes, 25% in infrastructure costs and 25% in transport costs). And it increases transparency by reducing the complexity of having dozens of available tariffs, and by making it as easy as possible to properly compare the costs of different suppliers.

23. Energy

The introduction of a long term and balanced energy policy, recognising the need for a balanced mix of energy generation from green, hydro, gas, coal and nuclear sources.

The expansion into green energy, which will become increasingly important in the future is the perfect opportunity to create apprenticeships and skilled jobs by creating a British renewable energy industry to support our expansion into green energy.

Additionally, scrap the nuclear deal with the French to build the new Hinckley Point nuclear power station. This deal is ruinously expensive, guaranteeing twice the make rate per kilowatt hour of electricity generated for the next 35-40 years, with guaranteed inflationary increases. As EDF is 80% owned by the French government we would effectively be paying massive subsidies to the French state.

Use current cheap interest rates to finance the project itself and utilise the excellent nuclear expertise we already have in the UK to design the power plant. As with green energy, the nuclear sector will become ever important in the future, and thus the building of this nuclear power station is the perfect opportunity to create sustainable, skilled and well paid jobs, and additionally is an opportunity to have a piece of strategic infrastructure back in public sector hands.

24. Benefits

Immediate repeal of the bedroom tax which is a populist policy that panders to peoples prejudices but mainly gives a real kicking to the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

I’ve yet to work out a proper benefits policy as this is a mammoth task and is better done when the country is back on sounder financial footing.

However, I do believe the best way to reduce the benefits, rather than the tough love approach currently being used bills is to implement the policies I have set out, as by creating new jobs, providing good social housing, returning union and employee rights, a fairer sharing of the tax burden etc…will mean an improvement in people’s incomes and long term futures and hence lessen their need to actually claim benefits. Idealistic and simplistic maybe, but definitely achievable.

Conclusion

My intention is that to achieve the full benefits of my polices, then all of them should be introduced and implemented as so many of them are linked, complementary and conditional upon each other.

The overall aim is to achieve a more equitable society that is fairer to everybody, is principled and provides a better long term future for all. Not a society as we have now where a few sectors of society feast on success at the expense of everybody else. Some may accuse me of idealism and of being too simplistic, but I sincerely believe that the aims of what I propose are achievable with the appropriate vision and political will to see it through.

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