Time to start building for Britain

I am currently travelling for a year and am currently visiting India. This vibrant and growing economy has lessons for the UK. Everywhere you go there is building going on. New houses, new factories, new shopping complexes. In addition there is an ongoing repair programme for roads, public buildings, ancient monuments, temples. Sure, India still has slums, some schemes take an age to complete, but the thrust of the country is building for the future.

The government – at national, state and local level – is funding a lot of this work, in conjunction with the private sector and heritage and other charities and voluntary groups. What is clear is that government in all its forms has no problem with taxing its citizens and spending a chunk of the money on improving infrastructure, growing the economy, providing jobs and encouraging tourism. Compare that with Brexit UK. Governments of all hues have spent decades convincing us that tax is wicked and must under no circumstances be increased – especially for the rich – and that cuts in public services are vital for the health of the economy. As a result the building trade is on its knees, there is a chronic shortage of houses, public services are being trashed, the NHS is in crisis and vital infrastructure repairs and improvements are being put off into the distant future.

Surely it is time for the Liberal Democrats to offer a different vision. Spending money on much needed new infrastructure, developing the green economy, improving the NHS, building much needed social housing and reinvesting in decent public transport that reaches all parts of Britain should be something we can advocate with enthusiasm.

None of this would be inflationary because it is building a future infrastructure not spending on current consumption. It can be financed partly from taxation and partly from borrowing. The government can pump prime the developments it wants to see and use its powers to ensure that the developments it wants to see are given priority. The government can allow local authorities to borrow to build social housing, new or improved schools, better local infrastructure, rather than demanding year on year cuts in the services all our communities desperately need.

And yes, taxes may have to rise. However an extensive building programme of the sort I am seeing here in India would put lots of people into work – real work with proper wages – people who would pay tax rather than draw benefits.

Alongside campaigning for Europe, our party should surely be advocating building for the future and for a better Britain

* Dr Michael Taylor has been a party member since 1964. He is currently active in the Calderdale Party.

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  • Max Wilkinson 13th Oct '16 - 3:43pm

    I wholeheartedly agree that Lib Dems should be 100% in favour of building more houses.

  • Lots of building going on in Bangkok too being done with migrant labour.

  • You raise many interesting suggestions Michael, and there can be no doubt that house building – the right sort in the right places – should be one of our top priorities. It needs more than a few bland statements by the powers that be, and a real investment in time and money, but it will bring us great benefits.

    Thinking back to a recent article discussing co-operatives, the subject of housing co-operatives was raised. I think we should give serious consideration to how that can form part of the process, and get it to work as effectively as possible. In addition, I’d like to explore the possibility of getting locals involved in the actual building work. Is it practical to use a major building or refurbishment project as training for the people who will eventually live there. It would help to provide motivation, and give a strong sense of ownership. It’s an oft over-used term, but right in this situation I think.

  • Christopher Haigh 13th Oct '16 - 7:44pm

    Michael, what is the logic of your neighbouring council allowing expensive house development on a popular municipal golf course rather than encouraging affordable accommodations to be built in redundant parts of the town centre where there are train and bus links ? Like Fiona says it needs to be housing developments for the most needy and in the right place.

  • I support the proposals, especially the ‘much needed social housing’.
    But, given the Tories’ right to buy legislation, what is to stop tenants in a new council house buying it after three years and leaving us back where we started?

  • “It can be financed partly from taxation ”

    There’s a very long queue for financing anything from taxation and I don’t see housing having priority over health or education. Why can we not have a national investment bank where we can invest pension funds and savings that funds affordable housing and gives a generous return. The government has a huge land bank it could release for such housing.

  • Mick Taylor 14th Oct '16 - 1:39am

    Thanks for the positive comments. I expect much of this to be financed by borrowing, as councils used to do, not by PFI or other stupid methods. And yes, we may well have to modify the right to buy. Remember none of this will happen with a Tory Government. My ideas form part of what I hope will be offering at the next GE.

  • Simon McGrath 14th Oct '16 - 3:07am

    Its a pity the author did not spend a few minutes on research before writing this. India is rather well known for its low tax base – around 17% of GDP far far below the OECD average let along the UK.

  • David Garlick 14th Oct '16 - 9:43am

    Stevan ‘I don’t see housing having priority over health or education.’ I would argue that a safe and secure home enables the occupants to make the most of Education and promotes better health. These strands of ‘life’ are interlinked/interdependent and need to be looked at in that light. Deciding on the use of scarce resources is what politicians have to do but if we engage the members and the general population in creating a vision of the sort of world we/they want to live in we could do very well if we listen to that.

  • Sue Sutherland 14th Oct '16 - 2:05pm

    Fiona, back in the nineties I was a Lib Dem chair of housing and we had a rare opportunity to build quite a lot of social housing. We used that opportunity to provide training for local people in building skills. This kind of investment can have other local spin offs like providing food and drink for the builders.
    Stevan I have to agree with David Garlick that good housing is vital for physical and mental health and for children to make the most of their education. There have been studies showing the link between housing and health and you only have to think about children’s lives to see how their schooling can be affected by poor health, lack of sleep through overcrowding or the disruption of living in hostels or cheap hotels.

  • Sue Sutherland 14th Oct '16 - 2:08pm

    PS Stevan. I like the idea of a national investment bank.

  • I think it’s tempting to think that the type of public health crises caused by slum living are over, but there are still many whose health and well-being are adversely affected by poor quality or unsuitable housing.

    In many ways, it’s much easier to sell “health” and “education” as universal priorities, while many think of the housing crisis as something impacting on ‘other people’, or manifests itself as middle class twenty-somethings with iPhones complaining that saving for a deposit means cutting back on trips to Pizza Express. And to be fair, they are often the ones being interviewed on the subject.

    Nevertheless, there are very real problems for people with respiratory problems living in properties with damp, or someone with mobility problems stuck in a high rise with a temperamental lift. Children will learn better after a good night’s sleep and have space to do their homework.

    The other problem for politicians advocating improving housing is that if you are doing it right, it will take time. The previous administration at my council instigated a large programme to boost council and social housing, also ear-marking areas for private developers. They even did some of the preliminary site assessment work on brownfield sites to make it as easy as possible for them. A lot of new, good quality housing has been built as a result, but before any of them were complete, we had a change of administration. It’s another political party taking all of the credit for these new homes! Nevertheless, it’s still the right thing to do, and if done right, will provide good quality training and employment for local people.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Oct '16 - 5:16pm

    @simonmcgrath. This author has spent some 16 months living in India and did his PhD research here working with small businesses. I suspect I know rather more about India than you. My point has little to do with the tax base. It was making the point that India is willing to direct tax resources to building for the future and successive UK Governmrnts prefer to cut back on spending and cut direct tax. I want to see my party start speaking up for using tax revenues and prudential borrowing to invest in vital infrastructure like housing, green economy, NHS, schools not conforming to the neo liberal orthodoxy that gas so infected other parties that holds that tax is wicked, esp for the rich and that prioritises cutting spending.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Oct '16 - 5:19pm

    Oops has not gas

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