March 4th, 2015

Ed’s response to George Osborne’s interview on the Today programme

Ed Balls MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, responding to George Osborne’s interview on the Today programme, when he six times refused to answer questions on Lord Green, said:

“George Osborne was asked six times whether he discussed allegations of tax evasion at HSBC with Lord Green, the bank’s former chairman, and six times he refused to answer.

“What has George Osborne got to hide? People will draw their own conclusions from his total failure to answer.

“The Chancellor also struggled to explain why, since the government received these files in May 2010, only one person has been prosecuted out of 1100 names.

“David Cameron and George Osborne must now come clean about their discussions with Lord Green – both while he was a Tory Minister and before they appointed him.”

Ends

Posted March 4th, 2015 by Ed
March 3rd, 2015

Ed’s comments at the London First event on London’s economy and infrastructure

Speaking at a London First event on London’s economy and infrastructure, Ed said:

“It is vital that we rebalance our economy and make sure the recovery reaches every part of the country. We need to ensure all working people start to feel some benefit from economic recovery.

“That’s why our plan will devolve more economic power and funding to city and county regions across England, so that they can drive growth, invest for the future and create more good jobs.

“But we neglect the importance of London’s economy at our peril. It’s where almost one in five jobs and businesses in the UK are located.

“As an MP in Yorkshire I am clear that we need London to be a successful global city if we are going to be a successful country. The whole of Britain benefits from London’s growth and dynamism. We should have no truck with the argument that if the rest of the country is to get more jobs and investment then London needs to be less successful. It’s not a zero-sum game.

“But for London to continue succeeding as a global city I believe we need to remain engaged in Europe. London’s professional and financial services, advanced manufacturing and creative industries depends on our access to the European single market.

“Walking out of the EU would be a disaster for London. It would put our capital’s future success at risk – costing us jobs and trade, investment and influence.

“Britain exiting the EU is now the biggest risk to London’s prosperity in the coming years. I don’t see how any Mayor of London could ever advocate us leaving Europe if they were really putting the interests of this great city first.

“While many parts of our capital’s economy have gone from strength to strength, London has certainly not been immune from the squeeze on living standards in the last few years.

“Far from it. The cost-of-living crisis has affected millions in our capital, with working people on average over £3,200 a year worse off since 2010. That’s the biggest fall in real wages of any region of the country. And it has been exacerbated by high and rising housing costs – for renters and buyers alike.

“We won’t solve this living standards crisis in London without building many more homes which Londoners can afford to buy. That’s why I’m clear house-building will be a top priority for a Labour Treasury. We have an ambitious plan to build 200,000 more homes a year – and many of those will need to be in London.

“Too often as a country we have dithered and delayed on the big decisions we need to take for the future.

“Just look at airport capacity in London and the south east. This government kicked that decision into the long-grass by setting a timetable for the Davies review to report after the election. It should have reported before now.

“It’s a vital issue for London’s economy, yet the Chancellor and the Mayor somehow launched an economic plan for London last month which didn’t mention airports once. That is the opposite of a long-term approach – a simply staggering omission.

“As I said last year, the next Labour government will make a swift decision on expanding airport capacity following the Davies review and taking into account environmental concerns.

“And we need to grasp the nettle on other big infrastructure decisions too. That’s why, following the report by the Chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority Sir John Armitt, we will establish an independent National Infrastructure Commission.

“That Commission will help us identify the infrastructure needs of every region of our economy over the next 25-40 years and ensure government comes up with plans to meet them.

“And with London’s population set to grow over that time, the Commission will clearly need to ensure that London’s infrastructure, including our transport system, is fit for purpose.

“Crossrail is a big step forward and plans for Crossrail 2 are already underway. But our Commission will also need to assess what more we may need to do to ensure our capital’s transport infrastructure can cope as London continues to grow‎ and prosper.”

ENDS

Posted March 3rd, 2015 by Ed's team
March 2nd, 2015

Supporting young people in Morley & Outwood

As a constituency MP here in West Yorkshire, I know how worried school leavers and parents across Morley and Outwood continue to be about their kids starting their adult life burdened by so much debt if they choose to go to university.

Chatting with first time voters in Morley town centre about Labour's pledges for young people

And as Shadow Chancellor, I am equally worried about the debts the current system is racking up for future taxpayers.

Because, this government’s current system is not only bad for students it’s truly bad for the public finances too. Students are graduating with a bigger burden of debt and that’s leading to higher national debt too.

So Ed Miliband and I will cut the fees cap to £6,000 from September next year. And we will raise the maximum maintenance grant by £400 a year too.

Our plan is fully costed and fully funded. Unlike the Tories we won’t make promises without saying where the money is coming from. And unlike Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems we will not make promises we cannot keep.

We will pay for it in a fair way by limiting the tax breaks which go to the richest in society.
People earning over £150,000 will get the same rate of tax relief on their pension contributions as basic rate taxpayers. And we will continue what this government has done in reducing the lifetime and annual allowances. With our plan people will still get tax relief on pension contributions up to £30,000 a year and up to a pension pot of £1 million.

Our fully funded plan will cut the debt burden on students. And it will reduce the national debt by £40 billion by 2030. It’s the right thing to do – for students, graduates and taxpayers as a whole.

Labour’s better plan means thousands of young people here in West Yorkshire can get an apprenticeship or make the decision to go to university based on their talents, their hard work and their aspirations and knowing they will have a higher grant and less debt.

And it will mean that local taxpayers will not have to pick up a growing future bill to pay for it.

This month Labour has been focused on education and young people:

- Capping class sizes for 5, 6 and 7 year olds

- Protecting the whole of the education budget from the early years through to school and college education

- Guaranteeing an apprenticeship to every 18 year old who gets the grades

And now backing local students and universities too.

Posted March 2nd, 2015 by Ed
February 27th, 2015

My speech at the launch of Labour’s general election pledge for the next generation

We must invest in the talents of the next generation if we are to build a stronger and fairer economy that delivers rising living standards for all.

That’s why this month Labour has been focused on education and young people:

- Capping class sizes for 5, 6 and 7 year olds

- Protecting the whole of the education budget from the early years through to school and college education

- Guaranteeing an apprenticeship to every 18 year old who gets the grades

And today backing our students and universities too.

As a constituency MP here in West Yorkshire, I know how worried school leavers and parents across Morley and Outwood continue to be about their kids starting their adult life burdened by so much debt if they choose to go to university.

And as Shadow Chancellor, I am equally worried about the debts the current system is racking up for future taxpayers.

Because as Ed has said, this government’s system is not only bad for students it’s truly bad for the public finances too.

Students are graduating with a bigger burden of debt and our Zero-Based Review has exposed how it is leading to higher national debt too.

David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg’s system will add £16 billion more to net debt by the end of the next Parliament than was expected and billions more after that.

As I said last month, this system isn’t working, it’s not sustainable and we need to fix it.

And that’s what we are determined to do with our better plan that we have set out today.

So Ed Miliband and I will cut the fees cap to £6,000 from September next year.

And we will raise the maximum maintenance grant by £400 a year too.

Our plan is fully costed and fully funded.

It means we can continue to back our world class universities, who won’t lose out from what we are announcing today.

Unlike the Tories we won’t make promises without saying where the money is coming from.

And unlike Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems we will not make promises we cannot keep.

We will pay for it in a fair way by limiting the tax breaks which go to the richest in society.

People earning over £150,000 will get the same rate of tax relief on their pension contributions as basic rate taxpayers.

And we will continue what this government has done in reducing the lifetime and annual allowances.

With our plan people will still get tax relief on pension contributions up to £30,000 a year and up to a pension pot of £1 million.

So our fully funded plan will cut the debt burden on students.

And it will reduce the national debt by £40 billion by 2030.

It’s the right thing to do – for students, graduates and taxpayers as a whole.

It will improve our public finances.

And it means that with Labour’s better plan, thousands of young people here in Leeds and West Yorkshire and across the country can get an apprenticeship or make the decision to go to university based on their talents, their hard work and their aspirations and knowing they will have a higher grant and less debt.

Posted February 27th, 2015 by Ed
February 27th, 2015

Cold Homes & Forced Rhubarb – my column in the Wakefield Express

More than a million older people live in cold homes because they’re unable to afford to adequately heat their homes. According to Age UK, tens of thousands die prematurely each winter. And in Cold Homes week I popped in to chat with residents at Springhills.

Winter Fuel Payments were a huge step forward in helping pensioners out of fuel poverty. £200 extra (£300 for the overs 80s), makes a massive difference when you need to have the heating on all day to keep warm.

At a public meeting in Wrenthorpe on Friday we discussed the importance of this help with the cost of winter bills. But with the economic recovery still extremely fragile, there will be some difficult decisions for whoever wins the General Election in May. I’ve said that with our public services still under such pressure, we should stop paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest five per cent of pensioners – those with a pension of over £42,000. Because in difficult times, it’s important to ensure that we can as much support as possible to those who need it most.

But, with cold homes still a major factor in too many winter deaths every year, as well as keeping winter fuel payments for 95 per cent of pensioners, the Government also needs to support people to reduce their bills too. Unfortunately, support for households in fuel poverty has halved under this Government which is a really big concern.

And we also desperately need to sort out the energy market which isn’t working. I am committed to reforming the market so that it works better for ordinary people. We need to see prices frozen so that bills can only fall but not rise and we need the regulator to have tough new powers so they can force energy companies to cut their prices when wholesale costs falls.

I will continue to press for action on bills and to reform the energy market.

****

And the magic of our local forced rhubarb was brought to life once again last weekend at the annual Wakefield Rhubarb Festival organised by Wakefield Council.

I support the festival every year. Sometimes I visit the sheds and I always cook something but this year my rhubarb cooking took a more public dimension as I took to the stage with local chef, Heather Copley to rustle up rump lamb with a rhubarb mash. I’m a regular at Copley’s Farm Shop near Pontefract but it was quite a different experience to be on stage, mic-ed up, cooking for an audience. Hopefully we did ok – people certainly tucked in afterwards!

Posted February 27th, 2015 by Ed
February 25th, 2015

My column in the Morley Observer

More than a million older people live in cold homes because they’re unable to afford to adequately heat their homes. According to Age UK, tens of thousands die prematurely each winter. To mark the Cold Homes’ campaign I joined pensioners at Morley Elderly Action to discuss winter warmth over a cuppa.

“I always make sure I keep the heating on in one room,” one pensioner told me. Wearing lots of thin layers, having regular hot drinks and eating proper meals is other advice from the Cold Homes campaign. And with the cold weather still with us, we seem set to have a few more chilly weeks to go before spring.

Winter Fuel Payments were a huge step forward in helping pensioners out of fuel poverty. £200 extra (£300 for the overs 80s), makes a massive difference when you need to have the heating on all day to keep warm.

But even with winter fuel payments helping out with the cost of winter bills, each year in Britain, one older person dies every seven minutes during the winter months and many more become seriously ill due to living in a cold home. Cold homes remain a major contributing factor in the staggeringly high numbers of excess winter deaths that occur every year.

That’s why the Cold Homes’ campaign is still so important. It calls on the Government to commit to a major programme to make millions of homes much more energy efficient.Such energy efficiency improvements would not only result in warmer homes and lower bills, but could also lift nine out of ten homes out of fuel poverty. Unfortunately, support for households in fuel poverty has halved under this Government which is a really big concern for local pensioners.

With the economic recovery still extremely fragile, there will be some difficult decisions for whoever wins the General Election in May. And I’ve said that with public services still under such pressure, we should stop paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest five per cent of pensioners with a pension of over £42,000. Because in difficult times, it’s important to ensure that the support that is available reaches those who need it most.

As most Observer readers will know, Morley Elderly Action does brilliant work supporting local pensioners and ensuring they get all the information and advice they need. But what’s clear from the Cold Homes’ campaign is that many winter deaths could still be prevented if everyone lived in a warm home. So as well as keeping winter fuel payments for 95 per cent of pensioners, the Government also needs to make sure pensioners have access to support to make their homes as energy efficient as possible. That way people can save money on their bills too.

And we also desperately need to sort out the energy market which isn’t working for families and businesses. I am committed to reforming the market so that it works better for ordinary people. We need to see prices frozen so that bills can only fall but not rise and we need the regulator to have tough new powers so they can force energy companies to cut their prices when wholesale costs falls.

I will continue to press for action on bills and to reform the energy market.

*****
On Friday at Cucina’s on Queen Street I joined an impressive array of new Morley business start-ups. From an innovative new Yorkshire Bridal Shop on Albert Drive to a furniture up-cycling business based out of Tingley, these were locally grown young entrepreneurs who were all taking the plunge and setting up their own businesses.

Those I met had all be supported by Start-Up Loans, a Government funded initiative to provide loans combined with business mentors to get entrepreneurs on their feet. Their businesses were all in their infancy but they were all ambitious for the future and had clear plans for where and how they wanted their businesses to grow.

And that’s the key. If we’re going to get the economy back on its feet and to create the new jobs we need, we need more new businesses and for existing businesses to be able to grow and prosper. That’s why I’ve said I want to cuts to business rates to help small businesses. And it is why, as well as existing initiatives like Start-Up Loans, we also need a properly funded British Investment Bank that can really boost lending for small businesses to grow and create the new jobs we need.

Posted February 25th, 2015 by admin
February 24th, 2015

Local businesses benefiting from Start-Up Loans

On Friday at Cucina’s on Queen Street I joined an impressive array of new Morley business start-ups. From an innovative new Yorkshire Bridal Shop on Albert Drive to a furniture up-cycling business based out of Tingley, these were locally grown young entrepreneurs who were all taking the plunge and setting up their own businesses.

Those I met had all be supported by Start-Up Loans, a Government funded initiative to provide loans combined with business mentors to get entrepreneurs on their feet. Their businesses were all in their infancy but they were all ambitious for the future and had clear plans for where and how they wanted their businesses to grow.

And that’s the key. If we’re going to get the economy back on its feet and to create the new jobs we need, we need more new businesses and for existing businesses to be able to grow and prosper. That’s why I’ve said I want to cuts to business rates to help small businesses. And it is why, as well as existing initiatives like Start-Up Loans, we also need a properly funded British Investment Bank that can really boost lending for small businesses to grow and create the new jobs we need.

Posted February 24th, 2015 by Ed
February 23rd, 2015

Osborne’s bluster cannot hide his total failure to answer questions over the HSBC scandal

George Osborne’s bluster cannot hide his total failure to answer questions over the HSBC scandal.

Dragged to the House of Commons this afternoon he repeatedly failed to say whether he discussed allegations of tax evasion at HSBC with Lord Green before he was made a Tory Minister. What has he got to hide? People will draw their own conclusions.

George Osborne could not explain why only one person has been prosecuted out of 1100 names. And he could not say why he signed a deal with Switzerland which could prevent HMRC from getting its hands on similar information in the future.

George Osborne has been Chancellor for five years since the government first received these files in May 2010. He cannot duck responsibility for his failure to act or for the appointment of Lord Green as a Tory Minister after the government received evidence of wrongdoing.

Posted February 23rd, 2015 by Ed
February 17th, 2015

Shrove Tuesday at Springhills – my pancake video

It’s Shrove Tuesday and the pensioners at Springhills in Outwood were adamant that pancakes needed to be on the menu. I call in regularly to check in with residents and previously we’ve done exercise classes and had meetings about refurbishments.

But today it was all about the pancakes. So thanks to Walter’s kind hospitality, Cllr Charlie Keith and I got stuck in. See how we got on here:

Posted February 17th, 2015 by Ed's team
February 17th, 2015

My letter to George Osborne on the questions he has failed to answer about tax evasion and HSBC

Dear George,

It has now been over a week since the full story about tax evasion and HSBC became public. There are a number of questions which you have failed to answer over the last eight days and which cannot continue to be brushed under the carpet:

1. Why has there only been one prosecution out of 1,100 names? Was the “selective prosecution policy” a decision made by Ministers?

Detailed information was passed to this government in May 2010 about 1,100 HSBC clients allegedly guilty of tax evasion or avoidance and yet since then there has been just one prosecution.

In November 2012 a senior HMRC official told The Times that the government had adopted “a selective prosecution policy” towards cases related to HSBC. Later that month HMRC told the Public Accounts Committee that “another dozen” criminal prosecutions were to follow. However, there have been none since.

Given the scale of the alleged wrongdoing, can you explain why only one prosecution has been made and what role Ministers played in deciding on “a selective prosecution policy” for those accused of tax evasion? People would expect you to have been either involved in, or at least aware of, a decision of this seriousness.

Why did the Financial Secretary to the Treasury claim in the House of Commons last week that the government was provided this data “under very strict conditions”, when the French Finance Minister has since suggested otherwise?

2. When were you first made aware of these files, what action did you take and did you discuss it with the Prime Minister?

While a Downing Street spokesperson claimed last week that “no government minister” had any knowledge of what happened at HSBC, the Chief Executive of HMRC has since revealed that Ministers were in fact informed about these files after they were received:

“We are confident we will have told Ministers that we were about to receive a big tranche of operational information,” she said. “We will have told people, including Ministers, I suspect some time in the next few months [after the data was received].”
Lin Homer, Chief Executive HMRC, Public Accounts Committee, 11 February 2015

When were you and Treasury Ministers first made aware of these files and did you take any action as a result? If not, what were the reasons for this inaction? Did you ever discuss this with the Prime Minister?

3. Why did you and David Cameron appoint Lord Green as a Conservative peer and Minister months after the government received these files?

Lord Stephen Green was Chairman of HSBC 2006-2010 and was appointed a Conservative Peer in September 2010 and then as Trade Minister by David Cameron in January 2011.

This was several months after the government was given information from the French government in May 2010. There had also been extensive public coverage of this investigation since 2010.

For example, on 26 September 2010, the Sunday Telegraph reported that HMRC is investigating more than 200 “extremely wealthy” British taxpayers suspected of tax evasion totalling “many millions of pounds”.  It adds that they are “believed to have failed to declare huge sums of interest from private deposit accounts with HSBC’s bank in Switzerland.” (Sunday Telegraph, 26 September 2010,http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/expat-money/8025527/HMRC-launches-tax-evasion-probe-into-Swiss-account-holders.html).

Why was Lord Green appointed months after the government had this information? Can you provide details of the due diligence carried out by the government in advance of Lord Green’s appointment?

4. Did you and David Cameron discuss tax evasion at HSBC with Lord Green, or did you turn a blind eye? Did you discuss allegations of money laundering at HSBC during Lord Green’s time at HSBC which led to the bank being fined $1.9bn?

Did you or Treasury Ministers ever discuss what happened at HSBC with Lord Green in the almost three years in which he was a Conservative Minister? The Prime Minister failed to answer this question four times in the House of Commons last week.

Did you or Treasury Ministers ever discuss allegations of money laundering at HSBC during Lord Green’s time in charge of the bank, which first became public in July 2012 following an investigation by the US Senate Homeland Security Sub Committee and which led to the bank being fined $1.9bn in December 2012? When were you and Treasury Ministers first made aware of the findings of this inquiry?

If you or your Ministers did not ever raise any of these issues with Lord Green while he was a Minister or before his appointment, would this not be remiss given the scale of wrongdoing which you would have been aware of?

5. Why did you sign a deal with the Swiss authorities in 2012 which prevents the UK from actively obtaining similar information in the future?

The Swiss tax deal, which you heralded in the 2012 Autumn Statement, has not only raised a fraction of the sums promised, it also seems to tie the hands of HMRC and the UK government for the future. The following declaration was made by the Treasury:

Declaration of the United Kingdom concerning the acquisition of customer data stolen from Swiss banks:
The Government of the United Kingdom declares on the occasion of the signing of the Agreement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Swiss Confederation on cooperation in the area of taxation that it will not actively seek to acquire customer data stolen from Swiss banks.
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/356884/declaration-acquisition.pdf

This deal means that the government may never again be able to get hold of the sort of information it received in 2010 about tax evasion and which is at the centre of this scandal. This deal was also made while Lord Green was a Conservative Minister and years after this government was first given information about tax evasion in May 2010.

Why did you sign this declaration and what advice were you given about how it would impede HMRC and the government’s ability to act in the future?

Did Lord Green have any involvement in the Swiss tax deal while he was a Trade Minister and did he ever give any advice to the Treasury on it?

Given the significant public interest in this matter, I am making this letter public. It is notable that you have not given any live broadcast interviews or given a statement in the House of Commons on this issue. However, these questions cannot continue to be ignored and I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Ed Balls

Posted February 17th, 2015 by Ed