January 28th, 2015

Beat the January blues in Morley Town Centre

Here in Morley, nestled close to the intersection of the M1 and M62 motorways, businesses come here because of our brilliant location at the cross-roads of Britain.‎ And what better way to beat the January blues than by an afternoon shopping in Morley town centre?

As the local MP, I’m in regular contact with local firms. And I know how well our brilliant shops and businesses have weathered the storm of the last few years. The market is doing really well. New businesses are opening on Queen Street – including high-street names like Wetherspoons. And you can get meat, veg, flowers, gifts, clothes – pretty much anything you need – within a 3 or 4 minute walk of a free carpark.

Over at the market just before Christmas traders told me they were doing well. “It’s all about your regular customers,” one of the butchers told me. “We’ve got some people who’ve been shopping with us for donkey’s years.”

But for many people and businesses It’s been tough and difficult few years. “It’s been the combination of rent and business rates that’s been hardest Ed,” one local retailer told me. And she was right. Small businesses operating on the high street have had to work really hard to survive. People have had much less money to spend and have been careful about how they spend it.

That is why I’ve said that rather than looking to cut corporation tax again, which tends to have a bigger benefit for larger companies, we should instead cut and then freeze business rates. This will have a much bigger impact for smaller companies – across the country more than 1.5 million business properties will benefit.

But other local businesses also raised with me their concerns about the uneven playing field they face, trying to compete with online retailers who don’t pay business rates – and in some cases – pay much less tax than small local firms. As businesses complete their own tax returns, people want to know that they’re paying their fair share and that others will be doing the same.

High-profile cases of tax avoidance have undermined people’s trust and also hit those who play by the rules and pay their fair share. So I have said I will work with other countries to modernise the rules and act to tackle tax avoidance by closing loopholes, increasing transparency and having tougher independent scrutiny of the system.

Although the economy nationally is now growing again, I’m worried that growth is patchy and hasn’t yet translated into rising living standards and enough well-paid jobs for people in our area. And I’d like to see more investment and support coming to Yorkshire and our area so that people round here see more of the benefits of a growing economy.

Here in Morley we are in a great strategic location in the north of England. We’re close to great road networks and other large cities. But we have to keep fighting to make sure our area gets its fair share. And since the scrapping of our Regional Development Agency, Yorkshire Forward, I am worried that the new Local Economic Partnerships haven’t been equipped to meet the big challenges our regional economy faces.

Local companies tell me all the time that with more support they would be able to start more apprenticeships, develop their export market, and invest in infrastructure.
And we need businesses to grow to create jobs and opportunities for the next generation. With one in five young people under the age of 24 not in work or training, I want to see businesses given the right support to create opportunities for young people to get on and do well.

At the moment the gap between London and the South East, and the rest of the country is growing again. I want to see growth that benefits all working people in every part of Britain. We need to see a devolution of power – and resources – to local areas, so we can start to see stronger growth in our area – including rising wages and more opportunities for young people. That really would be good news for local businesses and the local workforce.

Posted January 28th, 2015 by Ed
January 27th, 2015

My blog on the Holocaust Commission Report

Seventy years ago today one of the darkest periods of Europe’s history came to an end as Auschwitz was liberated.

From the survivors who literally bear the scars of the inhumane suffering they experienced; to our young people in schools who hear what their grandparents’ peers, and in many cases their own grandparents, went through, the annual Holocaust Memorial Day remains an important day in our country’s calendar.

The geopolitical map of Europe was born out of the atrocities that people experienced. It is our job to ensure that we, and future generations, not only pause to acknowledge the scale of that suffering, but that we continue to learn from the legacy of the Holocaust.

When I meet young people who have taken part in the Lessons from Auschwitz project, and visited the former Nazi death camp in Poland, their stories serve as a reminder of the significance of commemorating these events. I am proud to have played my part as Schools Secretary in founding and funding their experience; but there is more to be done.

Over the last year I’ve had the privilege of continuing to contribute to taking that legacy forward as part of the Prime Minister’s cross party Holocaust Commission.

The commission has taken evidence from two expert groups and held numerous evidence sessions to make sure that a permanent and fitting memorial, reflective of the country’s feelings, is founded in Britain.

As was confirmed in Parliament this morning, and following a conversation I had with the Chancellor last night, there is cross-party agreement to fully fund the Commission recommendations, alongside ongoing funding for the vital work of the Holocaust Educational Trust for the rest of the decade.

Today’s commission publication commits to building a striking new national memorial in London, a world-class learning centre and an urgent programme to preserve the testimony of British Holocaust survivors and to do all of this.

I will be joining survivors at today’s Commemoration Ceremony to mark the seventieth anniversary of that liberation. I will stand with them to reflect on how those events led to the security and stability that we enjoy today. And I will do so in the knowledge that across Britain there is common purpose in making sure the legacy of the Holocaust remains a part of our country’s collective learning.

Click here to read the full report

Posted January 27th, 2015 by Ed
January 27th, 2015

My response to today’s GDP figures

Tory claims that the economy is fixed will ring hollow with working people who are still not feeling the recovery. Wages are down by £1600 a year since 2010 and now these figures show a concerning slowdown in economic growth too.

Construction is down again, business investment under this government is lagging behind our competitors and exports are way off target. And the stagnating wages we have seen over the last five years are the reason why the Chancellor has broken his promise to balance the books.

Labour’s economic plan will ensure we have stronger and more balanced growth, create more good jobs and earn our way to higher living standards for all. We will raise the minimum wage, increase apprenticeships, cut business rates, get more homes built and expand free childcare for working parents.

We will cut the deficit every year and balance the books while securing the future of our National Health Service. Unlike the Tories we will get the deficit down in a tough but balanced way – not risk taking public spending back to a share of national income last seen in the 1930s.

Posted January 27th, 2015 by Ed
January 24th, 2015

The real risk of widespread health charging under the Tories with the Osborne plan – Ed’s interview with the Guardian

Speaking to the Guardian, Ed said:

“What George Osborne is proposing represents a real risk to the future of the health service.

“This is what the overseas experience shows if you go to these extreme levels of low public spending. There is a real risk that a second Tory government will introduce charges.

“In that light it is quite legitimate to ask questions about what the NHS will look like in this world. It is right to point out that all countries that have gone down to this level of public spending have much, much greater degrees of charging for healthcare than the UK does now. We currently have one of the lowest level of charges.

“In my view you cannot go down to such sustained low levels of public spending – the lowest for 70 years – and expect the NHS to remain recognisable. These are the largest cuts over four years since the second world war.

“Ten years ago in the 2005 Conservative manifesto written by David Cameron, the Tories set out plans for a patient passport that introduced charges for people that wanted to jump the queue, so Cameron and Osborne have got form on introducing charges for basic medical treatments.”

Posted January 24th, 2015 by Ed's team
January 22nd, 2015

Stanley’s First Dementia Friends

Stanley Dementia Friends

Mrs Talbot is part of the bedrock of the Stanley community. So it was brilliant to see her – along with other residents and our local Councillors – at Stanley’s first Dementia Friends event with the Alzheimer’s Society.

As we learned, dementia isn’t just a natural part of ageing. It isn’t just about losing your memory but can affect how things look and feel as well as all kinds of everyday tasks. Nationally, 225,000 will develop dementia this year and for my generation – one in three will develop the disease. So it’s shocking that at the moment only half of those with dementia actually receive a diagnosis. Because that means that many are not receiving the treatment and care they need.

When I was in Government in 2009 we launched the first event National Dementia Strategy. This was about raising awareness of the condition, improving diagnosis and increasing the range of support services. Becoming one of the thousands of Dementia Friends is about taking a small first step and simply learning a little bit more about what it is like to live with dementia.

GPs do now receive financial support for dementia diagnosis. There are more support groups – including some here in Wakefield– to support dementia patients and their families. But dementia is a disease – just like cancer or diabetes. And that means we also need to invest in research to find a cure. So it is welcome that there is broad political commitment to increasing funding into dementia research.

For every person with dementia, there is also a family to think about, especially their main carer. Some carers may still be in paid employment. For them access to flexible working arrangements is vital. And whether or not they in paid work, all carers need access to support to enable them to juggle their own life with caring for a loved one.

Unfortunately we currently have a crisis in care – billions have been lost from adult social care budgets since 2010. That means that many of those who could have retained an active role in their communities, or continued to live in their own homes, may have been forced into residential care.

Keeping people in their own homes for as long as possible is almost always the best solution. But to do that with medical advancements and pressures from an ageing population means looking at NHS and social care budgets differently so that we save money and improve care.

At the moment not enough is being done. We need to recruit the next generation of homecare workers and to give better support to family carers.

If you’re worried someone isn’t getting the right support, please contact my office on 0113 253 9466 or email me ed@edballs.com or to find out more about Dementia Friends click the link on my website or call the Alzheimer’s Society careline on 0845 306 0898.

Posted January 22nd, 2015 by Ed
January 20th, 2015

The time for action on North Sea Oil jobs is now – my article in the Aberdeen Press and Journal

The North Sea oil industry is one of Scotland’s great success stories.

For decades it has sustained thousands of jobs, generated billions in tax revenue and acted as a platform for exporting the talent and expertise of this great nation around the world.

But the industry is at a cross-roads. The plummeting global oil price has given some respite to motorists and has been good for the UK economy overall, but there is no doubt that it has also had a negative impact here in the North East of Scotland.

Hundreds of jobs have already been lost, with thousands more at risk. This is a worrying time for oil workers and their families. Everybody who can take action should do so. Walking by on the other side isn’t the response of a government in control.

When Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy was in Aberdeen a couple of weeks ago he set out Scottish Labour’s plan for a resilience fund to support critical industries in times of difficulty. The oil industry is vital to the Scottish economy and nobody can doubt it needs support. There’s nothing to stop the SNP Government in Edinburgh setting this up now. There’s no time to waste.

There is also a big role for the UK Government to play and that’s why I will be joining Jim Murphy in Aberdeen today to meet with workers and industry bosses.

George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor, has responsibility for setting the tax rates for the North Sea. He’s already caused huge uncertainty with botched tax changes in his 2011 Budget. And while he’s promised to look at this issue again, the events of the last few weeks mean we cannot afford any more delay.

We need to see urgent action to improve the tax incentives for North Sea oil investment. And if George Osborne fails to act then I am clear that, after the general election in May, a UK Labour government will. Because failing to act will not only risk jobs and investment now, it will also cost the UK taxpayer in the long-term as we lose revenue from oil that gets left in the ground.

This is all about what’s best for maximising the potential of one of the country’s key industries. But postponing this until the Budget in two months’ time is too late. The time for action is now.

Posted January 20th, 2015 by Ed
January 19th, 2015

The UK launch of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity’s report

Ed joined senior politicians and policy-makers from around the world for the UK launch of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity’s report.

The report was be launched by the Commission’s Co-Chairs: Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor and Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary and former Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama.

Speaking at the launch Ed Balls said:

“The biggest economic challenge for our generation is to deliver sustained rises in living standards for all working people.

“Our task is to reverse the toxic combination of too little growth, stagnating wages and rising in‎equality which has hit many developed economies in recent years.

“While growth has returned in many countries working people on middle and low incomes are still seeing wages stagnating.

“Here in Britain working people are now £1600 a year worse off since 2010 and this is a key reason why the government has failed to balance the books.

“And it is why David Cameron and George Osborne are completely out of touch when they try to tell people in Britain that the economy is fixed.‎

“In the short-term falling global oil prices may bring some respite for consumers across the world. But that is no substitute for tackling the deep-seated problem of our economy not working for working people.

“Because, as our report sets out, left to their own devices, unfettered markets and trickle-down economics are leading to increasing levels of inequality, stagnating wages and a hollowing out of decent, middle income jobs.

“So this is no time for complacency or triumphalism from politicians or policy-makers‎.

“Without a strong and progressive response, the danger is that our politics will tend toward populism and insularity.

“But a better future is possible – one that combines openness with solidarity, dynamism with security and innovation with equity.

“Our task is to deliver the rising productivity and more good jobs which will ensure rising living standards for all, not just a few at the top.

“It requires a progressive policy agenda, active government and international co-operation. It won’t be achieved by laissez-faire and trickle-down economics of the right, nor isolationism and protectionism.”

You can read the full report at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2015/01/15/104266/report-of-the-commission-on-inclusive-prosperity/

Posted January 19th, 2015 by Ed's team
January 15th, 2015

Launching the Inclusive Prosperity Commission report – my Huffington Post article

Delivering stronger economic growth and sustained rises in living standards for all working people is the economic policy challenge for our generation.

A new progressive policy agenda is needed to achieve this. And it won’t come by either turning our backs on the world economy, or hoping that traditional right-of-centre economics – laissez-faire, trickle-down, deregulation – is going to turn the tide of stagnating wages and rising inequality.

That’s the conclusion of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity, which I have co-chaired with former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and reports today. Our report sets out how we can reverse the toxic combination of too little growth and rising in‎equality which has hit many developed economies in recent years.

It sets out the detailed cross-country evidence that, left to their own devices, unfettered markets and trickle-down economics are leading to increasing levels of inequality, stagnating wages and a hollowing out of decent, middle income jobs.

The report outlines that globalisation and rapid technological change have brought many benefits but, alongside an increasingly short-term outlook across our economies, and without new policies up to the task, working people – especially those on low and middle incomes – are losing out.

And it shows, in stark terms, why David Cameron and George Osborne are completely out of touch when they try to tell people in Britain that the economy is fixed.

The fact is the delayed return to growth in the UK – after the recovery was choked off in 2010 – has not been accompanied by the sustained rise in living standards for most people which the Conservatives promised. Far from it. ‎Stagnating wages explain both why people are £1600 a year worse off since 2010 and why the Chancellor’s deficit reduction targets have been so badly missed as lower tax receipts have led to billions more borrowing than planned.

But Britain is not alone. The US, despite a stronger recovery in GDP growth than the UK, has also seen stagnant living standards for most people in work. Income growth for the bottom 90% has been going backwards in Japan for a decade while low levels of demand and premature austerity are creating deflation in the Eurozone.

In our report we argue that not only social justice, but also public support for our open, global trading system and trust in democracy depend on getting it right.

And we show that, in the face of global competition and rapid technological change, developed countries cannot succeed through a race to the bottom in which companies simply compete on costs as working people see their job security eroded and their living standards stagnate or decline.

We argue that a race to the top requires policies to support more good jobs and higher wages, boost skills for everyone, support innovation, encourage long-termism in private and public sectors and so raise productivity.

In the UK, the policy solutions include greater support for young people facing long-term unemployment, more and better quality apprenticeships, expanding free childcare for working parents, raising the minimum wage faster than earnings, reforming corporate governance to encourage long-term investment, an independent National Infrastructure Commission, giving city and county regions the powers and budgets to drive growth and support clusters, a proper British Investment Bank and reform of the banking sector.

But we also argue that we need more international cooperation not less to deliver inclusive prosperity at home and abroad. We need internationally agreed progressive policies to support global growth, open up markets through greater cooperation on trade, progress on stronger international financial regulation and international cooperation to tackle tax avoidance.

Without a strong and progressive response, the danger is that our politics will tend toward populism and insularity. But a better future is possible, one that combines openness with solidarity, dynamism with security and innovation with equity. That is what we mean by a new Inclusive Prosperity for the 21st Century.‎

You can read the full report at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2015/01/15/104266/report-of-the-commission-on-inclusive-prosperity/

Posted January 15th, 2015 by Ed
January 15th, 2015

Transcript of Ed’s interview with BBC News from Washington DC

Transcript of Ed’s interview with BBC News from Washington DC:

Interviewer: “You’re here in Washington at the moment, we’re often told about the special relationship between Britain and America. What’s your view of the special relationship at the moment between the two countries?”

Ed Balls: “I think we have a common challenge not just to meet issues of international security but also to make sure that our economies not only grow but deliver rising living standards and we’ve been seeing stagnating living standards in Britain and America.

“And I think there’s another issue that is very striking to me. The biggest risk for Britain in the next few years, the biggest economic risk, would be for us to leave the EU and we have a Prime Minister who at the moment is saying that it is on the table.

“In my view, sleepwalking to exit from Europe would mean we would lose investment, we would lose jobs, we would lose big companies going to other parts of the world to invest. And we would lose influence in Europe and in America too. I think we would pay a long term cost.

“I think what David Cameron is proposing, to play fast and loose with Britain’s relationship with Europe is the biggest risk for our economy for the next few years…

“Our two biggest trading partners are Europe and America and it is vital that we continue to trade with both. But at the moment a Conservative government, if elected, after the general election would put at risk our relationship with Europe and our influence with America, by putting on the table our relationship with the European Union.

“I think we would lose investment, we would lose jobs and we would lose influence. It would be a very, very risky proposition. I don’t think David Cameron has got a grip on the European debate in his party, I think he is sleepwalking Britain to exit.

“And when I speak to people here in Washington, and in capitals round the world, people say, ‘Britain leaving Europe? A referendum in a couple of years time? Why is David Cameron proposing to take such big risks with Britain’s economic future?’ I think they’re right.”

Ends

Posted January 15th, 2015 by Ed's team
January 14th, 2015

My Column in the Morley Observer today

Last Wednesday, like people across the world, I watched in horror and outrage as the news unfolded about the massacre of journalists from the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Here in Morley, as well as right across the world, people have since come together to express joint outrage and solidarity with France over what has happened.

Freedom of speech is such a precious part of our democratic way of life, and yet here were journalists, singled out and gunned down in an evil terrorist attack, as were a police officer and innocent shoppers in a Jewish supermarket. We all stand in solidarity with the people of France, united in our determination to defeat all those behind these attacks.#JeSuisCharlie

*****

Out on the streets of Morley last weekend a number of local residents raised concerns about the pressures in local hospitals. “What is going on in those A&E departments Ed?” one pensioner asked me. There have been some incredibly worrying stories in the press over the last fortnight about A&E and the pressures the NHS is under – locally and nationally. And of course in the week after Christmas and New Year, often people do end up in A&E who might not otherwise. Problems that might have been more minor the week before become more serious, there is a rush for appointments with GPs who can’t meet the demand, and winter illnesses lead to increasing numbers needing hospital treatment.

Although additional resources had been planned for this time of year, the demand for services has far outstripped what the NHS could cope with. And with our aging population and cuts to social care budgets , many more older people are unable to leave hospital, because there isn’t the right kind of support in the community to enable them to come home or into a community facility.

Staff in the NHS do a brilliant job and in recent weeks, many have clearly been working under intense pressures – working extra hours and in difficult circumstances to meet the needs of patients being arriving in hospital. I’d like to thank all those who’ve been dealing with the consequences of winter pressures in our NHS over the last few weeks. Their hard work and dedication to public service is keeping vital services afloat.

But longer term we need to do more to ensure that winter pressures don’t cause the crises we are now seeing. I’d like to see GPs more linked in to A&E departments to reduce the pressure hospital staff are under. And if we could enable GPs to work more closely together, spare appointments in one surgeries could help another which is overloaded.

But most importantly we need more investment in the health service for health and social care professionals. I’ve said that by clamping down on tax avoidance, increasing taxes on tobacco and on the most expensive properties worth over £2m, we can invest £2.5 billion a year more in the NHS to fund more staff such as nurses and homecare workers and reduce the pressure the NHS is operating under.

At the end of the day, to solve the A&E crisis, like that we’ve seen in recent weeks, we also need to solve the social care crisis.

At my most recent local Dementia Friends meeting with the Alzheimer’s Society last week, we discussed how important care workers are in supporting those living with conditions like dementia. We need to do more to ensure our social care workers are treated properly and paid a decent wage for the vital job they do.

But as well as the professionals, there’s more we can all do to support people living with dementia and their carers. Becoming a Dementia Friend is about doing your bit. So whether it’s being patient when someone is taking a bit longer to pay in a shop or dropping in on a neighbour with dementia or giving their main carer a break, there are lots of things we can do to help those with dementia to feel included and to have an active role in life.

Heather Raistrick who came along to the session on Friday also highlighted the need for support for those caring for a loved one with dementia. The St Mary’s in the Wood Memory Café in Morley the Wood Church gives with dementia, and their carers, a time to relax and meet others. Along with the other local Memory Cafés, it’s a brilliant support for local people.

Anyone who wants to find out more about local groups should contact the Alzheimer’s Society care line on 0845 306 0898. Or if you think you or a loved one is not getting the support they need, please don’t hesitate to contact me in my Morley office: 0113 253 9466 /ed@edballs.

Posted January 14th, 2015 by Ed