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JanRoyall2014.jpgJan Royall on Labour’s commitments to rural Britain

Looking through the train windows at the beautiful Stroud Valley, I feel glad to be alive, confident that in three weeks this will again be a Labour constituency, with David Drew elected to Parliament. It is a glorious spring day, the trees and the hedgerows are bursting into life and my own Forest, the Forest of Dean, looked wonderful earlier this week as Shadow Food and Farming Minister, Huw Irranca Davies and Hywel Lloyd, co-founder of Labour Coast and Country, launched their rural tour of England with our terrific local candidate, Steve Parry-Hearn.

I am proud that Huw and Hywel started their tour here, demonstrating Labour's commitment to keeping our forests public, and recognising the fantastic fight that was started by HOOF (Hands Off Our Forest) against the Coalition’s crazy plans to privatise our woodlands.  I am also proud that in our manifesto we make it crystal clear that we will protect the Public Forest Estate and promote access to green spaces in public planning. We want everyone to have enjoy nature – whoever they are, wherever they live.

We met at Hopewell Colliery, a working free mine that doubles up as a visitor attraction with underground tours and a small museum. Free-mining is one of our treasured Forest traditions, which we are determined to sustain for future generations. Speaking both to members of HOOF, a non-political organisation, and the local Labour Party, Huw also raised other issues crucial for maintaining and reinvigorating rural communities – broadband, transport, housing, health and care, jobs, and wages that enable people to love with dignity. Labour wants people to live and work in rural areas, with vibrant small businesses and affordable housing. Our policy of raising the minimum wage to at least £8 per hour by 2020, together with our active encouragement (led by Labour councils) of the living wage and banning exploitative zero hours contracts, will help deal with the very real problems of rural poverty. Likewise, we want to ensure fair agricultural wages by working with the Low Pay Commission.

West Gloucestershire has for two years running been the location of the ineffective and inhumane badger culls – another focus of Huw and Hywel’s tour. Of course we understand that Bovine TB is a scourge on the countryside, devastating livelihoods as well as communities. That is why the last Labour government undertook an extensive field trial, which concluded that culls could make no "meaningful contribution" to reducing the disease and might in fact make the problem worse. Sadly, Coalition Ministers disregarded both the science and the expert panel which evaluated the first year of pilots, choosing instead to continue with uneconomic and cruel culls. Labour is committed to working with scientists, farmers and wildlife groups to develop an alternative strategy to get Bovine TB under control, including stricter cattle measures and prioritising badger and cattle vaccinations.

People in the Forest, as in other rural areas, want and need the support of the government. They want an education system that provides their children with the skills and opportunities to flourish vocationally or academically, as well as quality jobs and a caring NHS. But they also want to be trusted to use power that should – and will, under Labour - be devolved to County as well as City Regions. All too often the man in Whitehall does not know best, when it is people who live and work in rural areas who understand their needs and aspirations. They need a government however, that will listen and enable them to act – a Labour government.

Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour Leader in the House of Lords and a resident of the Forest of Dean. She tweets @LabourRoyall

Published 15th April 2015

Good nature, good government

Jan Royall on Labour’s commitments to rural Britain

SimonHaskel.jpgSimon Haskel on the need for a genuine long-term economic plan

There is one magic ingredient which if inserted into our economy would raise pay, increase income, raise the tax intake, reduce welfare cuts, increase exports, raise our standard of living, and cut the deficit.

And that ingredient? Productivity.

The Coalition government does not see this because it has a one sided view of the economy. By concentrating on total GDP, they hide the fact that per head this 1.8% lower than it was in 2008.  The total has gone up only because of population growth. But the output per person is 1.8% lower.

The Chancellor took pride last week in the fact that more jobs were created in Yorkshire than in the whole of France. What he didn’t tell us is that four people in France produce as much as five people in Yorkshire. And the latter work longer hours. Perhaps this is because the French taxpayer is reluctant to subsidise low wages.

In raising these matters, some accuse Labour of not being business friendly. Not true. The wider interests of business are not served by leniency towards dubious activities by companies, special treatment for powerful lobbies, or subsidies that compensate for poor management. They are served by a clear business strategy, especially one that aims to raise productivity.

Ministers have tried to have a business strategy – one consisting of helping exports, encouraging those sectors which show promise, and innovation stimulus centres. But these initiatives could work a lot better with increased productivity. The two are interdependent.

So what should be in the government’s latest (337 page) Finance Bill to deal with this?

Jonathan Portes, Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research said: “The question is what should the government do? It should go hell for leather on doing whatever it can to boost productivity like infrastructure, investment and housing.  We should be throwing the kitchen sink at it”.

But what makes Portes call more urgent is this. The Chancellor says that unemployment has fallen to 5.5%. We are reaching the unemployment norm and this means that future growth depends on raising our productivity. Indeed, without growth in productivity, we will continue to see both rising inequality and rising immigration - maybe reaching a point where things could get quite nasty. 

A strategy for productivity means planning for the long term. Not changing grants and tax allowances, but spending evenly spread.  Not what the OBR calls a roller coaster profile for public spending – a big drop followed by a big rise.

If the government really wants to be business friendly, what about another ten year plan for science – something that the last Labour government put in place. Raising the proportion of GDP we spend on research to that of the US, Germany or France, and taking advantage by introducing long term values into our business culture.

Lord Simon Haskel is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords

Published 26th March 2015

Production lines

Simon Haskel on the need for a genuine long-term economic plan

RichardLayard.JPGRichard Layard on Treasury analysis that reveals some home truths about the deficit

If you think Labour caused the deficit, think again. The Treasury’s figures will amaze you. They show clearly that it was the fault of the global financial crisis. Up until then, Labour had much lower deficits than the Conservatives when John Major was Prime Minister. Labour’s average deficit was 1.2% of GDP, while under Major it was 5.1% - four times higher.  Similarly Gordon Brown reduced the ratio of debt to GDP, while the Major government increased it.

The graph below says it all. It really is time the British public was exposed to these basic facts. Let’s explode forever the narrative about the “mess which Labour made”.

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(Source: HMTreasury, Pocket Databank, 26 February 2015, Table 11a.)

But where do we go from here? In the upcoming general election the future of our public services are at stake. The Conservatives want to reduce them permanently as a share of our national income.

This makes no sense from the point of view of economics, nor from the point of view of common humanity. As people get richer, their demand for health services and education grows faster than their income. That is a standard finding, and of course the demand for food and material comfort grows more slowly. So unless we charge people for healthcare and schools, public expenditure on these services should consume a rising share of national income, not a falling one. Similarly, as we become more affluent, we surely should spend disproportionately more on elderly care, child protection, and the local environment.

So what of the argument that what people most want is money in the pocket?

Last year the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel held a seminar in her office on ‘What Matters to Us?’, where she heard the evidence on what makes people satisfied with their lives. The evidence was clear. Variation in household income explains less than 1% of the variation in life-satisfaction. But the variation in mental health explains at least three times as much, and the same goes for physical health. Moreover, money spent on evidence-based mental healthcare gives benefits ten time greater than the same sum left in household budgets. Our greatest problems – including dementia, alcoholism, domestic violence and suicide – can only be handled by much more spending on health.

But why should a politician care about all of this evidence? For one simple reason, that voting behaviour is influenced by how satisfied people are with their lives. In fact, the evidence shows that this matters even more than the economy.

Because of the recession, our debts have of course vastly increased, but we really do not need to destroy our public services on that account. Our ratio of debt to GDP is now stable at 80% - well below its average level over the last 200 years. And, in the short run, cutting our public services will reduce our GDP as much as it does our debt. It makes no sense.

The scale of expenditure cuts which the Chancellor is proposing is a disaster, made even more absurd by their reversal in the final pre-election year. The plan has been ridiculed by all responsible commentators. It is in fact hard to believe that George Osborne and David Cameron would ever do this if they remain in power. But let us hope we are spared their experiment.

Professor Lord Richard Layard is Director of the Well-Being Programme at the LSE and a Labour Peer in the House of Lords

Published 25th March 2015

 

The facts of the matter

Richard Layard on Treasury analysis that reveals some home truths about the deficit

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