Category Archives: The Independent View

The Independent View: Countdown to the Election

Lib Dem Voice has received this article from Matrix Chambers, a law firm that specialises in election law. It offers the opportunity to sign up for weekly briefings during the election period.

It’s trite to say, but we are just weeks away from the most important General Election in a generation – especially for those interested in election law. The culture of fighting elections – and the public’s role within that – has changed in recent years owing to new technology. There is now also new (and untested) legislation restricting the actions of professional third party campaigners.

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The Independent View: Incentives matter in our education system

Incentives matter in our education system. The right ones encourage our schools and teachers to deliver the very best education the system has to offer.

Yet in the run up to the general election, politicians would have us think otherwise. Rather than creating the incentives for excellence to spread, they seek to drive performance from the centre. Cross-party support for a new college of teaching illustrates this shift in rhetoric, with politicians trying to magic more high quality teachers without thinking about the underlying incentives. The so-called “Cinderella” teaching profession really has found its fairy godmother.

The academy school programme is all about incentives. By freeing schools from local authority control and management, the aim is to allow innovation to drive better education for pupils.

Yet better incentives are needed if academies are to drive large scale transformation across the country. According to a survey of academy schools Reform published last year, many academies are inhibited from using their freedom to innovate. Two thirds of the 654 academies surveyed had yet to make changes to the curriculum, staff terms and conditions or the school day, despite having the freedom to do so.

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The Independent View: A new report from CentreForum highlights the problems with Labour’s tuition fees policy

A new report entitled “A Labour of Love?”, released today by CentreForum and written by Tom Frostick and Chris Thoung, weighs up the pros and cons of Labour’s recently announced policy on tuition fees, one which revolves mostly around the fees being cut from their current £9k maximum to a £6k ceiling. The report can be read here.

On the plus side, the policy does acknowledge the importance of maintenance grants. It also reopens the discussion that needs to be had regarding the balance between state and individual investment in undergraduate education by lowering the percentage of loans the government estimates will not be repaid. It would also apply to all undergrads, including those currently studying, so would be fair in that regard.

But there is a lot to say about the policy that is negative. If introduced, it would have little to no impact on a staggering lowest 60% of graduate earners and would mostly benefit higher earning graduates only (and even then, up to twenty-eight years after they’ve left university). It is also costed in such a way that could discourage pension saving, and its higher interest rate scheme for wealthier graduates contributes only modestly to the intended progressiveness of the policy. 

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The Independent View: The Liberal case for airport expansion is strong

Centre Forum aviationThe debate over airport expansion, particularly in the South East, has been raging for decades. Later this year, it is due to reach a crucial moment as Howard Davies and the Airports Commission publish their final report. Ahead of this, CentreForum has published a report looking at the liberal case for aviation and explaining how genuine concerns over environmental challenges, noise and regional growth should be addressed.

Though not directly concerned with Liberal Democrat policy, the report does raise questions over the wisdom of the party’s current position.

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The Independent View: Half of the public are likely to change their vote after examining the parties’ policies

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 14.15.40Last night, I found myself in the strange position of introducing a panel of speakers at Birkbeck, including John Curtice and Dr Rosie Campbell, to discuss whether the internet can have an impact on our voting habits. I say strange because just 5 years ago, I had no real interest in politics. I suppose I was like most people, engaged a little around election time but otherwise never really bothered by what went on in Westminster.

But yesterday, the organisation I set up during the 2010 election, Vote for Policies, organised this debate in partnership with The Birkbeck Institute for Social Research, as we released some really interesting data from our users: 50% of people polled on the Vote for Policies website say they are likely to vote for a different party as a result of using the site. A further 63% say they are surprised to discover which party’s policies they support. You can read a full report of the debate here.

Vote for Policies allows users to compare policies on topics like education or the economy, without knowing which party they belong to. 166,000 surveys have been completed since its soft launch on February 19th 2015. 1,111 users completed the poll on which our findings are based.

I set it up because before the last election I came to the frightening realisation that I simply didn’t understand the differences between the parties’ policies, which led me to read all of the manifestos in detail. For the first time, I felt informed and ready to vote – but most people don’t have time to trawl through manifestos, so I wanted to make this process easier for everyone else. You can take the survey here.

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The Independent View: Location, location … taxation? The benefits of a locally-driven mansion tax

A tax on high-value property is a long-standing Liberal Democrat ambition, yet one which remains controversial. If and when it is adopted by government, it must be directed locally if it is to address key concerns.

The chief benefit of a mansion tax is to discourage purely speculative housing purchases. Falling demand for luxury property from prospective owners unwilling to pay tax on homes they are not inhabiting would encourage a greater focus from developers on homes affordable to the majority.

Of particular concern is the 70% of newly built homes in central London bought by non-UK residents in 2013. Existing housing stock in an under-supplied market must be used more efficiently. Combined with other new taxes on such property and a strengthening pound, the effect of a targeted mansion tax could be especially strong on ‘non-dom’ owners.

This complements the inherent advantage of a mansion tax. By taxing value arising from features inherent to the property such as its location or design rather than endogenous decision-making by economic agents, it avoids the negative incentive effects associated with income tax. 

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The Independent View:  How to bring  an end to cold homes

respublica_logo_hi_res1 in 10 households in the England are in fuel poverty. This is national scandal which we need to address.

The coalition has made progress, improving the energy efficiency of over a million homes, but as the proposed ‘Green Homes Bill’ in the Liberal Democrat manifesto recognises, much more can be done to cut energy bills for the fuel poor and help bring an end to our cold homes crisis.

The current energy efficiency scheme aimed at the fuel poor, ECO (the Energy Company Obligation) in its current form is not up to the job of responding to the scale of the challenge which confronts us. We need to go further to ensure the most vulnerable in our society are not faced with the unenviable choice between heating and eating.

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