Federal Policy Committee report – 12 December 2018

FPC had a full and varied last meeting before Christmas on Wednesday night.

We started with a broad overview of the overall financial implications of our policy platform: our priorities for spending and how we would find the resources to pay for them. This ranged widely over a number of areas including spending on welfare and health. We had a particularly good discussion of the best way of supporting education. We also reviewed our various tax proposals, with the 1p on income tax for health as the headline commitment, and also drawing together various other proposals on tax recently approved by conference.

Next up was the motion and paper on Race Equality which we will be proposing to spring conference. This has some excellent analysis and proposals to tackle the deep and difficult issues in this area, and will be published with the agenda for spring conference. Many thanks to Merlene Emerson and the working group who have developed these.

We had a useful conversation with Paul Noblet, the chair of the working group A Fairer Share for All, ranging widely over the territory of this group. The group has taken evidence on and is discussing various proposals to help the least well off, both through the benefits and tax system and other ways. It will publish a consultation paper on its proposals before spring conference.

We had a brief but useful discussion with Mike Tuffrey – who co-chaired the policy working group that wrote the Good Jobs, Better Businesses, Stronger Communities paper – about some work he is supporting to look at the big economic questions facing the country, including the challenges of new technology, the relationship between business and society, and what the role of the state in the economy should be. This is at an early stage but it it is hoped that in due course there will be some proposals to contribute, that take the ideas in the original policy paper further forward.

As previously reported, the committee has been thinking about priority areas for developing future party policy, looking beyond our existing programme of policy papers we plan to bring to conferences in 2019. On Wednesday we decided to set up a policy working group on the nature of public debate, covering the way in which public and political discourse currently happens, the role of both traditional and social media, the challenges to journalism, how political and government institutions should themselves change in response, and the concerted efforts by some international actors to influence debate and elections in other countries. We will be advertising for members of this group probably in January, and the aim is for it to develop a paper for spring conference 2020. We also decided to set up two working groups, on natural resources and the natural environment, and on the evolving nature of work, with particular emphasis on where power lies in the developing landscape of modern employment. These are intended to come to autumn conference 2020, and we will be setting them up including recruiting for members, later in the spring.

We agreed that we will plan to work with spokespeople to develop proposals to come to conference on tourism, rail, issues of importance to women, rehabilitation of offenders, and arts and culture.

We will also look at bringing motions to conference over the next year or so on access to justice, tax, civil liberties and education. In many cases these will focus on drawing together a range of existing ideas in these areas and presenting them all together in a way which helps us to communicate our message effectively.

Finally, we identified Housing, Planning and International Development as areas where we do think party policy does need updating and we will ask various party groupings with relevant expertise to do some work with us and the relevant spokespeople and develop proposals which could come to conference.

This is quite a substantial programme of work which will take some time to do, and not all of which may come to fruition, but which we think would significantly help to develop our policy and political offer to the electorate.

Lastly, we had a brief discussion about the party’s proposed supporters scheme, and how it would be appropriate to help achieve the aim of engaging supporters in discussing policy.

We finished our meeting just as news of the Conservative leadership confidence ballot came through!

* Jeremy Hargreaves is a vice chair of Federal Policy Committee and the Federal Board.

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  • David Warren 14th Dec '18 - 5:52pm

    Thanks for this really interesting and informative report Jeremy.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Dec '18 - 7:00pm

    Good as it is to learn that the working group on A Fairer Shares for All will bring a consultation paper to Spring Conference, it would be better still to have some rapid public reaction from our leaders to current urgent issues. One is the devastating report on the state of people in our country suffering inadequate and callous benefit provision from the UN rapporteur, Philip. Another is the breathtaking repeated assertion of Mrs May that she intends to produce a country ‘that works for everyone’, when it is appallingly obvious that she and her predecessor have failed utterly to look after the ‘left-behind’ and the families in poverty. And the third is the fact that it is nearly Christmas, when many cannot take part in the expected feasting and jollity, and that Brexit which will make everyone poorer if it happens is still looming ahead.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Dec '18 - 7:04pm

    The UN rapporteur’s full name slipped from my typing – he is of course Professor Philip Alston, whose devastating statement includes references to many other relevant reports on the increasing inequality and poverty in this country, and whose work has been dismissed by the government.

  • to add to Katherine’s excellent post, it should be noted the Joseph Rowntree Foundation produced a detailed report on inequality and in work poverty in September. It should be compulsory reading for all politicians. They were particularly critical of universal credit.

    The full text can be downloaded and every Spring Conference delegate should read, learn and inwardly digest it.

  • Sorry Katharine. Predictive text produced an e instead of an a… which is how my daughter spells it.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Dec '18 - 11:30pm

    Joe, if the only answer to saving services at local level – such as remain – is by increasing council tax by 3% or more, that is another burden on the poorest families. We surely need to be campaigning constantly for the tax changes proposed by you, those accepted by the party in September, and those recently proposed here by Michael BG.

  • Katharine,

    campaigning is fine but where you are in control of a local authority you need to use the resources available to you to best effect.
    Councils have the power to make council tax benefit available to the poorest families. if you’re on a low income or claim benefits, your bill could be reduced by up to 100%.
    The last budget also gave councils the power to assess empty properties up to a 100% premium., effectively doubling council tax on 2nd homes left unoccupied for much of the year.
    These powers are available now and don’t require waiting for a change of government whenever that might come.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Dec '18 - 8:47am

    That’s good to know, thank you, Joe. I will enquire about the situation locally in the spring.

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Dec '18 - 12:24pm

    Thank you very much for this report Jeremy and these sound like a worthy set of policies. In paragraph 8 you mention drawing various policies together to improve the communication of our message. I realise that the policy making process rolls on in its established way but isn’t this the wrong way round? Instead of drawing out a message from detailed disparate policies wouldn’t it be better to agree on the broader aims of the party first? Then we can produce policies which enable those to be achieved.
    I think this should be where the members and supporters get involved, in establishing the broad aims and the kind of society we wish to see. Then detailed evidence based policy can follow on from there to come back to the members at conference.
    At the moment we have worthy, detailed and costed policies that come to Conference but which mostly have no common theme. Conference is one of the times when the party gets some publicity but most people won’t work their way through the detail to arrive at a common purpose if there is one. The media require short sound bites and the rest of the world doesn’t have the time or interest to search out the particular paragraph that makes sense of everything.
    We are very good at the detail of how policies would work but quite bad at explaining why we want those policies. For example, an awful lot of people know we want to stay in the EU, but, apart from the economic reasons, very few know why we feel this way.
    I’m hoping the FPC can fly the flag of Liberalism in a way that enthuses voters.

  • David Evans 15th Dec '18 - 1:02pm

    In 2013 when I was Finance Portfolio holder on South Lakeland District Council, the coalition decided to abolish centrally funded Council Tax Benefit, and put the onus on local government to provide a Council Tax Reduction Scheme instead for those on low earnings, with steadily reducing central funding. Despite rapidly falling government support to local councils, I steered our council to continue to provide 100% support to our residents a) because enforcing repayment of the inevitable council tax arrears on our poorest residents would involve spending large sums in legal costs chasing small debtors through the courts but mainly b) because it was the right thing to do. Many Labour authorities including Liverpool and Manchester preferred to cut benefit payments on their poorer residents, possibly, cynically, to make a political point by blaming the coalition for the debt.

    This political choice was dressed as a return to localism (a good Lib Dem principle) by the Conservatives, but was in fact, a typical Conservative wheeze to place the burden of supporting the poor in disadvantaged (rarely Conservative voting) areas onto the residents in those areas. Sadly, it was a wheeze our bretheren in coalition fell for, despite warnings from those Lib Dems in local government at the time.

    In SLDC, we funded it through use of the new powers to increase council tax on empty properties etc, money we had hoped to use elsewhere, but as central government support was cut each year, it had to be supplemented by other means. A price worth paying, but a price nonetheless. It can be done, but it does have a long term cost which the Conservatives will gladly pass on to local councils.

  • Peter Hirst 15th Dec '18 - 1:31pm

    Though not wanting to suggest policy on the hoof, integrating businesses with our communities is a fertile area in my view. Tax incentives could encourage local businesses to be more involved in their localities. If taken far enough it could compete with profit as a measure of their success.

  • Bedford (Lib Dem Mayor, Dave Hodgson) is another council where the Lib Dems have ensured 100% council tax support for the poorest residents, despite the failure of the government to fully fund this – https://www.bedford.gov.uk/benefits-and-support/benefits-council-tax-support/council-tax-support/

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