Tag Archives: levelling up

22 November 2022 – today’s press releases

  • Debt figures: Conservative Chancellors have blown black hole in Britain’s finances
  • Welsh Liberal Democrats to Vote to Withhold Legislative Consent on the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill
  • OECD forecast: Damning verdict of the Government’s economic record
  • Sewage: Budget means almost £500 million less to tackle the sewage crisis
  • Levelling Up Bill: Conservative chaos to blame for cancellation of vote

Debt figures: Conservative Chancellors have blown black hole in Britain’s finances

Responding to new ONS figures showing the scale of UK government borrowing in October, Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Sarah Olney said:

These figures reveal just how badly the long list of Conservative Chancellors have trashed our economy. This Government has blown a massive black hole in Britain’s finances and is now expecting hardworking families to pick up the bill.

It is a national scandal that big banks are getting massive tax cuts whilst the squeezed-middle gets clobbered with endless tax rises.

The sensible way to solve this is surely to tax the richest companies making bumper profits. We can’t trust this Conservative Government to clean up their own mess. They should never be trusted to run our country’s economy.

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Should we take a risk and be honest about taxation?

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Liberal Democrats, we have a problem. As Max Wilkinson has commented in a recent posting, soft Conservatives are turning to us partly because the government has broken its promises not to raise taxes. But we are committed to decent public services, staffed by people who are decently paid; and after 20 years of cuts in services and real reductions in public service pay, quality can only be regained by substantial and sustained increases in spending. Furthermore, public service workers – people who believe that life is not only about money but also about what you put back into society and community – are among our natural supporters.

So what, under the current fiscal and economic crisis, do we say to potential LibDem voters about tax?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 34 Comments

Morgan and Farron speak on rural levelling up

Rural issues are often sidelined in the Commons and in public policy. Yesterday, Tim Farron and Helen Morgan made significant contributions to the rural levelling up debate in the Commons chamber.

The debate, secured Selaine Saxby Conservative MP for North Devon, was sparsely attended but there were some strong speeches (Hansard).

Helen Morgan and Tim Farron highlighted the way that farming is being treated under the Conservative government, though the botched introduction of the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMS) and trade deals. Rural transport was a major issue, trains, buses and access to rail stations. Hospitals of course featured. Ambulance delays. Bed blocking. The inability to attract staff because there is nowhere local and affordable to live. And the ever difficulty of getting a decent broadband connection in rural areas to allow businesses to thrive (I might add education and medical services to that list also).

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Can you cut taxes and level up at the same time?

The Conservative leadership campaign has been a competition to demonstrate the best small-state tax-cutting credentials, with little concern for what that means for public services or investment.  Even Rishi Sunak seems to have forgotten the generous promises of the 2019 manifesto, which helped to win those ‘Red Wall’ seats.  ‘A Conservative Government’, it declared, ‘will give the public services the resources they need, supporting our hospitals, our schools and our police.’  There would be ‘millions more invested every week in science, schools, apprenticeships and infrastructure… to underpin this national renewal, we will invest £100 billion in additional infrastructure spending – on roads, rail and other responsible, productive investment which will repair and refurbish the fabric of our country and generate greater growth in the long run.’

The sense of betrayal in Yorkshire, the North-East, North-West and beyond at the failure to follow these promises through is already strong.  Abandoning the new Leeds-Manchester line, the key to Northern Powerhouse Rail, has been a particular source of disgust. Last Saturday’s Yorkshire Post carried a strong op-ed by Justine Greening and an interview with Ben Houchen, Boris Johnson’s favourite elected mayor, both warning their party about the absence of concern for poorer regions in the leadership campaign and the likely consequences at the next election of having let these regions down.  But Conservative party members are concentrated in the prosperous home counties, and there’s little mileage in telling them to pay more tax to level up the rest of the country.

This failure, however, also presents a dilemma for us.  The seats we hope to win from the Conservatives are also mostly concentrated in the prosperous home counties, where we are seeking to attract wavering voters who will look for taxes to be spent on improving investment and services in their own areas.  Richard Foord and Helen Morgan have spoken up about the distribution of Levelling Up funds to their constituencies, and Tim Farron has active interests in rebalancing the country, but this is not a priority that’s so easy to sell on the doorsteps of Wimbledon or Guildford.

Nevertheless, we are a national party, and as Liberals we should worry that our deeply unequal society – our economic inequality easily the widest in Europe – is incompatible with a healthy democracy.  What’s more, we control some Councils in the north of England, have active Council groups on many others and hopes of winning some parliamentary seats in the next election and more thereafter.

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Levelling up – all things to all people but nothing for anyone?

It was, perhaps, indicative of how this administration operates that, on Tuesday night in the House of Lords, the Minister responding on behalf of the Government following the Statement on Levelling Up had managed to find time to carry out a word count on the White Paper but hadn’t actually found time to read the Technical Annex.

It’s that sort of document, sprawling across multiple ministries, proposing all manner of good things but with a lack of precision or, equally importantly, funding, to make any of it realistic. Indeed, in some cases, the dependencies are already in trouble.

I offer three examples;

Mission 3: By 2030, local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London, with improved services, simpler fares and integrated ticketing.

I lived in inner South London for many years, with five bus routes within 400 yards of my front door, connecting me to Central London and the City, with buses running as frequently as every 5-6 minutes during the day and night buses too. I now live in rural Suffolk, where the nearest scheduled bus stop is a forty-five minute walk away, and those buses run half-hourly, Monday to Saturday, ceasing at 6.30 p.m.

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William Wallace writes: Can we campaign on local democracy

One of the assumptions of political campaigning is that voters are not interested in political machinery.  Schools, hospitals, trains and buses, yes: Councils, regional authorities, elected mayors and voting systems, no.  But have we now reached a point where this has changed, where it might even help us to include in this year’s local election campaigning arguments for stronger local authorities and less dictation from Westminster?

In the much-delayed Levelling-Up White Paper Michael Gove has promised ‘devolution’: by which he means imposing elected mayors, with limited local scrutiny, on most urban areas that haven’t yet accepted them, and ‘governors’ on rural counties.  Governors are what empires send out to keep distant districts under control, while money and power remain at the centre.  Ministerial treatment of almost all elected mayors except Ben Houchem (Teeside’s Tory mayor) has been patronising – expected to do Whitehall’s bidding and be grateful for the Packages of money they are offered.  Michael Gove treats even Andy Street and Andy Burnham with disdain; Grant Shapps has attacked Tracey Brabin and Dan Jarvis (West and South Yorkshire mayors) as ‘irrational’ for their criticisms of the Integrated Rail Strategy.

This Tory government is irrationally against public service (and public servants) in general, and autonomous local authorities running local services close to ordinary people in particular.  One of the many scandals of the past 3 years is Johnson’s instinctive preference for outsourcing companies to run Test and Trace when the pandemic erupted, ignoring the public health officers with their established local knowledge and contacts across the country – who would have organised a better scheme at a fraction of the vast among of money paid out to these multinational firms.  Education is micro-managed from Whitehall, in partnership with academy chains, with intermittent attention to what local parents want.  ‘Levelling Up’ is packaged as hand-outs from the centre, with competitive bids and ministerial discretion to favour places with Conservative MPs.

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By Gove, my LUD is planning to level up!

In last week’s reshuffle, Robert Jenrick was booted out of cabinet and Michael Gove nudged across to take over the housing and planning brief. His duties as secretary of state now also include the struggling levelling up agenda. So the department that was most often called the housing ministry has been renamed the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, DLUHC, perhaps pronounced duller huck. Given the ordering of priorities in the title it seems inevitable that the department will be known as the Levelling Up Department, or LUD, though some may think that acronym LUDicrous. Indeed, it has attracted both criticism and satire.

Gove’s main job is to prevent the Blue Wall collapsing by rolling back Jenrick’s failing planning reforms. He must also secure the Red Wall by making levelling up happen. That’s tough for a man, although born in Aberdeen, who is identified with Blue Wall Tories. And there is already concern that local government will suffer yet again now it has been dropped from the department’s title. Michael Gove may feel he has a collar around his neck, tasked with delivering what his boss Boris Johnson could not.

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Levelling Up – Revolution not Evolution

The Prime Minister gave his big speech on “Levelling Up” and as we discovered it is still a slogan in search of policies. The only positive was a half-formed idea around further devolution. If the pandemic has taught us anything from the separate policies of devolved First Ministers, Track and Trace to the spotlight on Metro Mayors, it is that effective policy can only be delivered at a local level.

Our current constitutional settlement is obviously lopsided between Nations and the English Regions. What’s worse, government fiat often dictates spending. It is time to recast our country and develop a model that works for the whole country. Every company knows that the closer a service is to the people it serves the more responsive it is. And yet the dominance of the Treasury and Whitehall means the government pays lip service to this idea. Local government is given responsibility but starved of funding. There is another way.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 28 Comments
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