October 26th, 2014

The Tories are not the party of the North – my article in the Independent on Sunday with Andrew Adonis

In politics, actions speak louder than words. So when George Osborne desperately tries to claim this week that the Conservatives will deliver for the North of England, people will judge him and his party on their record.

In our northern towns and cities millions of working people who are still not feeling the recovery will find the Chancellor’s pre-election posturing to be no more than empty words. Because in both the North-west and Yorkshire and the Humber, wages have fallen by even more than the national average since 2010. Across the country the number of young people on the dole for more than a year has gone up by 25 per cent since the last election. Yet across the North of England, that figure is 62 per cent.

Infrastructure output is down by almost 20 per cent since May 2010, and only a quarter of projects in the Government’s infrastructure pipeline are in the North-east, North-west or Yorkshire and the Humber.

That’s why we’ve urged the Tories to back Sir John Armitt’s proposal for an independent infrastructure commission to identify the long-term infrastructure needs of every part of the UK. On high-speed rail, we have both said we need value for money for the taxpayer and to improve the existing plans to maximise the benefits for the whole country and strengthen the links between northern cities.

And while savings need to be made, councils across the North such as Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Wakefield have had deeper cuts in funding than many other parts of the country. So nobody will believe the Tories can deliver the good jobs, growth, investment and rising living standards we need for the North.

After all, one of George Osborne’s first decisions was to abolish Labour’s successful Regional Development Agencies. And the work of implementing the Northern Way taskforce agenda, which was all about impoving east-west transport links across the North, has ground to a halt under the Tories. Now George Osborne is struggling to play catch-up with Labour’s radical plans to devolve more power and £30bn of funding to city and county regions – not just in the North, but in every part of England.

With our plans, local areas will be in the driving seat on key decisions affecting their local economies. We will give groups of local authorities substantial new powers over back-to-work schemes, to drive house building, and to integrate, invest in and plan transport infrastructure.

A Labour Treasury will also allow city and county regions that come together in combined authorities to keep all the additional business rates revenue generated by growth.

These reforms go much further than this Government’s timid and half-baked approach. So when George Osborne comes along with talk of more action on regional growth, Labour councillors and MPs across the North will take it with a huge pinch of salt.

The Tories have never stood up for our northern towns and cities. They will never be the party of the North. Only Labour has an economic plan that will deliver real devolution, more good jobs and rising living standards for all, not just a few.

Ed Balls is the shadow Chancellor.

Lord Adonis is shadow infrastructure minister and led Labour’s growth review.

Posted October 26th, 2014 by Ed
October 24th, 2014

My response to today’s GDP figures

For all George Osborne’s claims that the economy is fixed most people are still not feeling the recovery. Working people are over £1600 a year worse off since 2010 and these figures now show a concerning slowdown in economic growth too.

We need a strong and balanced recovery that works for all working people, not just a few at the top. But under the Tories we have stagnating wages and too many people in low-paid jobs which, as the OBR said last week, are leading to rising borrowing. This plan isn’t working for working people.

And under this government house building is it at its lowest level since the 1920s, business investment is lagging behind our competitors and exports are way off target.

Labour’s economic plan will make Britain better off, create more good jobs and earn our way to higher living standards for all.

We will get 200,000 new homes built a year, raise the minimum wage, cut business rates and expand free childcare for working parents. And we will balance the books as soon as possible in the next Parliament, but do so in a fairer way by reversing David Cameron’s tax cut for millionaires.

Posted October 24th, 2014 by Ed
October 22nd, 2014

My Column in the Morley Observer

My mailbag has been full of people’s recent experiences of the NHS over the last few days. Almost everyone who has written has stressed to me what a vital service our health service is for them and their family. One couple wrote to tell me about having to wait over two weeks for an appointment with their GP. Another local woman told me about her concerns that staff in care homes don’t have enough time to care for elderly people properly.

I’ll always take up specific cases on behalf of local people who contact me. But unfortunately some of the cases I’m seeing are no longer unusual. Increasingly people I speak to in Morley and across the constituency tell me how worried they are about the NHS.

And it’s not just patients. NHS professionals who live or work locally are also in touch with me regularly to tell me about the impact the current health policy is having locally. One doctor told me recently how worried he was about the direction the NHS is going and the pressure staff are now operating under. “There is only so much ‘efficiency’ that can be achieved before serious cracks will appear” he wrote. And a nurse working in a local hospital told me about the ‘dire state’ she thinks the NHS is now in.

The testimonies I’m hearing – from staff and patients – worry me greatly. Our NHS – our country’s greatest achievement – should be going forwards not backwards. NHS patients and staff shouldn’t be feeling this way. Urgent action is needed to protect our health service and protect the needs of the patients who rely on it.

And yet – as local people are telling me – it is getting harder to see a GP. The number of nurses has been cut and waiting lists are on the rise. On top of that there is a looming crisis as NHS budgets are set to get tighter and tighter in the years ahead.

So there are some difficult decisions to make. Should we allow the NHS to continue to go backwards, or accept that, alongside reforms, the health service needs more funding?

I certainly do not want to duck this challenge. And so I’ve put forward two proposals to raise much needed investment for the NHS.

The first – a mansion tax on houses worth more than £2 million – would be used for an NHS Time to Care Fund. The money raised would help to support an additional 20,000 nurses, 8,000 GPs, 5,000 home care workers and 3,000 midwives. At the moment the average council tax payer in Morley is paying hundreds of times more in council tax in proportion to a billionaire buyer of a penthouse in central London. And that can’t be right. Those who can most afford to pay, should be asked to make a bigger contribution. The money raised from a Mansion Tax would be used to fund increased resources for our NHS which can be used for everyone.

And for a chronic condition like cancer, on which great progress was made in the early noughties, waiting times for cancer tests are currently increasing. Nationally the number waiting for more than six weeks for key tests to diagnose cancer is up from 1,900 in May 2010 to over 10,600 in the summer of this year.

So in order to get those waits down again, my second proposal is for a new levy on tobacco companies. This would enable us to introduce a one-week cancer test guarantee to improve early diagnosis and enable treatment to begin earlier when we know it is more effective and most lives could be saved.

Cancer services have been under real strain in recent years. We know over the last four years that £790 million has been cut in real terms from cancer budgets. And with waiting times increasing too I think its vital urgent action is taken to get these NHS service back on track.

Because we all know that with cancer time will always be such a crucial factor. So it’s right to prioritise any additional resources where they can have the biggest impact.

What is clear from the people across our area is that we do need to find ways to increase resources in the health service. These are difficult decisions. But for the thousands of local people relying on local health services – in particular those who are ill themselves, or caring for a sick relative – ensuring our NHS better serves their needs is an absolute priority. The future of our NHS depends on it.

You can show your support for these proposals on my website – www.edballs.co.uk

Posted October 22nd, 2014 by Ed's team
October 20th, 2014

My response to the Wakefield Children’s Centre Consultation

Last week I submitted my formal response to the consultation on Children’s Centres in the Wakefield District. As many local people will know, I am, and have always been, a regular visitor to all our local Children’s Centres – speaking to staff and parents about the support they are receiving and how centres are being used.

In 1997 there were no Children’s Centres. By 2010 there were over 3,500 across the country, including the 23 in the Wakefield District. They were set up in the heart of local communities to provide essential services to parents and to give every child the best possible start in life.

In difficult economic times, with budgets extremely stretched, I fully understand and appreciate the need for local authorities to make savings. However, our Children’s Centres are a precious resource, the loss of which could affect generations of parents and children.

Children’s Centres were designed to be a universal service for all families with children under five. They are non-judgemental places which any parent can and should visit regularly or turn to if events cause problems in their lives. And while it is clearly a vital part of the role of children’s centres to reach out to the most vulnerable in society to ensure they are receiving the services and support they need, those in need of support aren’t always the people we thing they are.

And I’ve always believed that our Children’s centres are really important places, vital community assets which I want to support and protect.

Of course some Children’s Centres are better than others and there are always ways in which centres can be improved. However as a regular visitor over the years and after speaking to so many parents in recent months, I am seriously concerned that the loss of such community assets could have a serious long-term impact for children and parents in my constituency.

The Stanley Children’s Centre in particular is a very active centre and I have been a very regular visitor over many years.  During the course of the consultation period, I attended a busy “Stay and Play” holiday session at Outwood Memorial Hall as part of their outreach activities and spoke to parent and last month, I invited local parents attending the centre to a meeting to hear their views. Over 500 local parents also presented me with a petition backing the Stanley Centre. Some parents also contacted me directly in my office to raise their concerns about proposals affecting the Stanley Children’s Centre.

Parents I spoke to had attended open sessions for parents, used the centre for its crèche support. Some had accessed training and volunteer programmes, others had sought out advice and support for post-natal depression or for support with a disabled child or a child with Special Educational Needs. Some had been supported via the Children’s Centre to flee domestic violence.

Parents I spoke to told me about the support and advice they had received at the centre to help them manage a child or children with special educational needs, including physical disabilities and autism. “There was always a friendly face and cup of tea if you were having a difficult day” one told me.  Another told me how big a problem isolation can be for parents, especially those with children with a disability.  “I really need to get out of the house but can’t travel far.”

At least 5 of the women who attended my meeting said that they had used the Children’s Centre to get help dealing with post-natal depression. One mum told me, “I had severe post-natal depression with my second child and didn’t talk to anyone. At the Children’s Centre staff got me out to some of the groups and came to see me at home too. It was a huge help.”

One of the parents who attended my meeting was currently fleeing domestic violence. Another had done so previously.  They spoke of the Children’s Centre as a safe place where they could access the advice and support they needed to make difficult decisions for themselves and their children.

Regardless of the reason the parents I spoke to had originally gone to the Children’s Centre, they all spoke of it as a place to access friendship and support. One mum told me, “I was so low, it’s so hard on your own, so lonely. Within 3 weeks of attending sessions at the Children’s Centre I felt totally different.” Many parents told me how important it is to meet other parents as a source of advice and support so you could all learn from each other. “It’s reassuring and makes you feel like a ‘normal parent’.”

At least four of the parents I spoke to had accessed training and childcare support through the children’s centre. It had made it possible for them to gain qualifications and move into work. All said if the centre hadn’t been close by this would have been much more difficult.

I also know that many local childminders use the Stanley Centre regularly. I have attended meetings with childminders at the centre at which they’ve told me how important the support to deal with Ofsted inspection and the Early Years Foundation Stage was in ensuring they are providing a high quality environment for the children they care for.

The concerns that were raised with me that I have raised in the consultation included:

-        Increased travel time to another centre as most of the parents I spoke to didn’t have access to their own transport and said they would struggle to get to a centre if it wasn’t based locally.

-        Whilst parents were keen on having some play sessions taking place in other local venues – such as community centres or church halls – they did have concerns about the suitability of some venues. None felt they would be as well-equipped as the current Children’s Centre.

-        Parents felt strongly that if the centre moves to an outreach-focused approach it will change the environment within the centre. Parents currently feel that the Children’s Centre doesn’t feel “official” and is a friendly, safe and non-judgemental place where staff care about the people coming through the door.

-        Parents said they felt the job of a Children’s Centre is to help people, not to judge them. They said that at the Stanley centre staff knew them by their first name not just a number on a file somewhere and that environment should be retained. They didn’t want the place to become simply a base for social services which would change the role of the centre and the feeling parents would have about going there.

-        While the Children’s Centre is a place for lots of services to be accessed, it is the only resource in the community specifically for parents and young children. Parents felt that losing this asset would mean they would also lose everything that makes a Children’s Centre different to other services.

-        The parents I met and have spoken to didn’t disagree with the need to reach those most in need, but did question how people made those decisions and decided who was vulnerable. They felt strongly that, with issues such as post-natal depression, domestic violence and children with disabilities, it isn’t obvious who is most in need and that problems can quickly escalate if support isn’t available quickly and easily. Having a non-judgemental place was important and they didn’t think the centre would be as successful if people just went because they’re “on some list or other”. They all thought it was important that Children’s Centres remained places parents are prepared and happy to go voluntarily.

-        Parents were concerned that parents / parents to be weren’t routinely given information about the children’s centre. How parents find out about local centres is clearly an issue which could be addressed by changes brought about through the consultation.

-        Some parents said they had visited other Children’s Centres and felt that the Stanley Centre is a successful centre. They said it was much more important to improve the centres that aren’t working as effectively rather than to close successful centres like Stanley.

-        The parents I spoke to understood the pressure the local authority is under to save money but questioned the strategy that had singled out a centre that was delivering good results. Many also felt that the Stanley centre already saved money because it had supported so many of them into training or work but understood these savings are sometimes difficult to quantify.

I asked all the parents I spoke to what made Children’s Centres different. They told me:

“It is a safe environment and a special place for parents, babies and young children.”

“Their only purpose is to be there for parents and children.”

“It’s a real community resource that, if we lose it, would be very difficult to get back.”

What struck me most about the parents I’ve spoken to over the last few months is how passionate they are about how important the Stanley Children’s Centre is and has been to them, and also its importance more widely within the local community. I hope we can keep the centre as a vital resource for parents and under 5s in our area.

Posted October 20th, 2014 by Ed
October 20th, 2014

A mansion tax will be fair, simple and pay to save the NHS – my article in the Evening Standard

Politics is about choices. And over the coming months the country faces a big choice about the future of our National Health Service. Here in London and across the country our NHS is going backwards: it’s getting harder to see a GP, nurses have been cut and waiting lists are going up. There’s a looming crisis as the pressure on NHS budgets gets tighter in the years ahead.

So the choice is either to allow the NHS to continue going backwards, or accept that — alongside reforms — the NHS needs more funding.

Labour will not duck this challenge and, following the party conferences, we are now the only party with a plan to save and transform the NHS.

If we win the election we will raise £2.5 billion a year, on top of the Tory spending plans we inherit, for an NHS Time to Care Fund. This will support an additional 20,000 nurses and 8,000 GPs. And, as Ed Miliband announced this weekend, our extra funding means we will guarantee patients in England will wait no longer than one week for cancer tests and results by 2020.

Alongside a levy on tobacco firms, action to tackle tax avoidance and close loopholes, £1.2 billion of this much-needed revenue will be raised through a tax on prime value properties worth more than £2 million today — less than 0.5 per cent of homes in our country.

When working people are already paying more and have seen their wages fall by an average of £1,600 a year since 2010 I believe it is right to ask those who have the most to make a bigger contribution.

Because it cannot be fair that the average person pays 390 times more in council tax, as a percentage of the value of their property, than the billionaire buyer of a £140 million penthouse in Hyde Park — who has seen its value rise by around £6 million in the past few months alone.

As I wrote on this page earlier this year, a tax on the highest-value properties must be done in a fair, sensible and proportionate way. Ordinary Londoners should be protected and wealthy foreign investors must finally make a proper tax contribution in this country.

So this is what we propose.

First, we will guarantee that more modest properties are not brought into the scope of the tax. The Tories have been spreading desperate smears that properties worth far less today — even £1 million — will end up paying. This is simply untrue.

As I said earlier this year, we will raise the starting threshold as prices rise. And rather than raising it in line with overall inflation, we will do so in line with the average rise in prices of high-value properties over £2 million. This will ensure that the number of properties paying the tax will not increase. If prime property prices continue rising then by the time the tax is introduced the starting point will be higher than £2 million.

Second, the tax will be administratively simple. A banded system means valuations will not be needed for most properties as it will be clear which band — for example £2 million-£3 million — the property falls into. As with the Government’s new tax on properties bought through companies, owners will be able to submit a self-valuation to HMRC.

Third, as we have always said, the tax will be progressive. We will ensure those owning properties worth £2 million-£3 million will only pay an extra £250 a month through this new tax — the same as the average top band of council tax. Owners and investors in properties worth tens of millions of pounds should make a much bigger contribution. And we will look at asking overseas owners of second homes in the UK to make a larger contribution than people living in their only home.

And finally, as I wrote on this page in June, we will protect the small minority of people who are asset-rich but cash- poor. Long-standing residents who now find themselves living in high-value homes but do not have an income high enough to pay the higher or top rate of income tax — in other words earn less than £42,000 a year — will be guaranteed the right to defer the charge until the property changes hands.

So a tax on the highest value properties will be done fairly and carefully to help fund our NHS for the future. Because promises have to be paid for. David Cameron is taking people for fools when he promises £7 billion of tax changes without saying where the money is coming from — either in other tax rises like VAT or bigger cuts to public services.

In contrast, Labour won’t make any promises without saying where the money is coming from. There will be no additional borrowing to pay for spending or tax commitments.

But we will make different choices. So we will introduce a lower 10p starting rate of tax and pay for it by scrapping the so-called married couples’ allowance, which won’t actually help most married couples or most families. We will raise the bank levy to pay for an expansion of free childcare for working parents. We will scrap elected police commissioners to help protect frontline police officer numbers.

To help get the deficit down fairly we will reverse the Tory tax cut for millionaires, stop paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest pensioners, raise child benefit by just one per cent for two years and cut ministers’ pay by five per cent.

And yes, we will also use a tax on the highest value properties to help save our NHS. It’s no surprise the Tories are opposing this. Since 2010 they have chosen to give the top one per cent of earners a £3 billion a year tax cut, while working people are paying more. Now they want to make three million working people worse off by cutting their tax credits again — a strivers’ tax — while opposing a mansion tax to save the NHS.

Labour will not allow our NHS to continue going backwards. That is why we are making a difficult but fair choice with this tax. The future of our NHS depends on it.

Posted October 20th, 2014 by Ed
October 14th, 2014

Great to catch up with award-winning Enabled Works

It was great to catch up the award-winning team at Enabled Work last Friday. As well as winning the social impact award at the Morley Business Awards, Tony and team have also now secured new contracts, including one for Haribo. Having presented them with their award in Tingley just the week before, everything was back to normal on the shopfloor when I arrived and the team were all busy packing Haribo sweets into tubes for Christmas stockings.

But as well as their busy production line, last Friday they had also found the time to organise their own fundraising Macmillan Coffee Morning which I was delighted to be able to support.

Thanks to Tony and the team and huge congratulations again on the Social Impact Award.

Posted October 14th, 2014 by Ed's team
October 8th, 2014

Kirkhamgate Primary is a school on the up

Kirkhamgate Primary is a school well and truly on the up and I was delighted to visit and and meet the pupils who will be using the school’s fabulous new sports facilities.

I wrote to the Youth Sport Trust to support their bid for a new playground and I am really pleased the money has come through.

And having played football and netball with the children on the new pitch, I can see they are going to really pout it good use – learning, staying fit and having fun all at the same time.

Posted October 8th, 2014 by Ed
October 7th, 2014

My Column in the Morley Observer

Anyone for a cuppa? UK Older People’s Day was last week and coincides with the UN International Day of Older People. It is a celebration of the achievements and contributions that older people make to our society and the economy. And I marked the occasion by hosting afternoon tea in Morley for local pensioners from across my constituency.

But as well as the bingo, raffle for the local branch of the Royal British Legion, there was a more serious side to our get-together. I know from my post bag how worried older people are about the direction our National Health Service is going in. And after some horrific stories in the national media about older people being abused or exploited, ensuring we have a high quality of health and social care for older people in our area is a really big issue.

So when a local pensioner wrote to me asking me to sign up to the National Pensioner’s Convention’s Dignity Code for older people I thought it was important to investigate.

The Code has been written to uphold the rights and maintain the personal dignity of older people. It aims to ensure older people, who are sometimes less able to care for themselves, have their health, safety and wellbeing protected.  It calls for the wishes, habits, values and cultural backgrounds of older people to be respected and for them to be allowed to express and make up their own minds.

Staff from Knowle Manor attending on Friday told me that they adopted the Dignity Code a while back. Leeds City Council also adopted it recently.

So I was delighted to add my name. Most of those attending on Friday did the same. It was a great show of solidarity that we all believe that older people deserve respect and dignity. A really great way to mark a national celebration of older people!

******

It most certainly wasn’t business as usual on Friday night. At the Village Hotel in Tingley the great and the good from the Morley business community gathered to celebrate a year of high achievements. And there were performances from local samba dancers, band, Ream and DJ Ollie kept things lively all evening.

The awards themselves were an emotional affair. From Sole Trader, Andy who runs Yorkshire Delicious in Morley Market, the fashionistas at Room 94 who won the award for Customer Focus, Restaurant Table 27 who won the Start-up Award and Onwards and Upwards who scooped the Business Personality Award. It was a great evening.

But one of the highlights for me was the Social Impact Award I presented to Enabled Works in Morley – a group of disabled workers who formed their own cooperative after their Remploy Factory was closed a few years back. I officially opened their factory a year ago and since then they have gone from strength to strength, winning orders and delivering a real quality service.

And I can’t believe there was a dry eye in the house when Chocolate Spa won the Business of the year award. Owner, Shanda only set up the business 18 months ago and since then it’s clearly gone from strength to strength. No one was more delighted that Team ‘Chocolate’ who gave the biggest cheer of the night when Shanda took to the stage.

The awards themselves were a great testimony to the hard work of Lee Jagger, President of Morley Chamber and Rachael Kennedy the Chamber’s Events Manager. The whole evening showcased the best in the local business community. But it was an event for everyone – and I have no doubt that all attendees – especially the young people there – will have left believing that there’s nothing stopping them setting up a business and making it a success.

And in the end that’s the most important thing for our local economy. Our businesses create the jobs and wealth our area needs to prosper and do well. I’ll certainly continue to do my bit to make sure the local business community has all the support it needs to succeed.

Congratulations to all the winners and those who were nominated. It was a fabulous evening!

ENDS

Posted October 7th, 2014 by Ed's team
October 6th, 2014

Morley Business Awards

It most certainly wasn’t business as usual on Friday night. At the Village Hotel in Tingley the great and the good from the Morley business community gathered to celebrate a year of high achievements. And there were performances from local samba dancers, band, Ream and DJ Ollie kept things lively all evening.

The awards themselves were an emotional affair. From Sole Trader, Andy who runs Yorkshire Delicious in Morley Market, the fashionistas at Room 94 who won the award for Customer Focus, Restaurant Table 27 who won the Start-up Award and Onwards and Upwards who scooped the Business Personality Award. It was a great evening.

But one of the highlights for me was the Social Impact Award I presented to Enabled Works in Morley – a group of disabled workers who formed their own cooperative after their Remploy Factory was closed a few years back. I officially opened their factory a year ago and since then they have gone from strength to strength, winning orders and delivering a real quality service.

And I can’t believe there was a dry eye in the house when Chocolate Spa won the Business of the year award. Owner, Shanda only set up the business 18 months ago and since then it’s clearly gone from strength to strength. No one was more delighted that Team ‘Chocolate’ who gave the biggest cheer of the night when Shanda took to the stage.

The awards themselves were a great testimony to the hard work of Lee Jagger, President of Morley Chamber and Rachael Kennedy the Chamber’s Events Manager. The whole evening showcased the best in the local business community. But it was an event for everyone – and I have no doubt that all attendees – especially the young people there – will have left believing that there’s nothing stopping them setting up a business and making it a success.

And in the end that’s the most important thing for our local economy. Our businesses create the jobs and wealth our area needs to prosper and do well. I’ll certainly continue to do my bit to make sure the local business community has all the support it needs to succeed.

Congratulations to all the winners and those who were nominated. It was a fabulous evening!

Posted October 6th, 2014 by Ed
October 5th, 2014

Transcript of my interview on Murnaghan

DM: Why do you think you’ve lost your poll lead? Anything to do with your leader’s speech at the party conference where he forgot a number of things?

EB: These polls go up and down week to week, at the end of our conference we were ahead and at the Tory conference they’re ahead. There’s only one poll which matters and that is a general election in seven months’ time and I think we are going to go on and win the election because we’ve got the policies and the vision and also we are on the side of working people and I think after the last week I don’t think people think David Cameron and George Osborne are.

DM: OK, but what do you think of your leader’s speech, on a scale of one to ten what would you give it?

EB: I think it was a good speech.

DM: But what would you give it though, one to ten?

EB: I’m not going to give a rating to my leader’s speech!

DM: So not to ten?

EB: Ten out of ten of course, he is my leader. But he’s got to show, as he said in his speech, he’s got to show himself and the policies of the next Labour government and he’s got seven months to do that and we’re going to be there week after week. When it comes to the TV debates he’ll be right up there head to head with David Cameron. I think people know David Cameron, the Prime Minister, for all his faults, with Ed Miliband they are still getting to know him but I think by the time we come to a general election day we are going to win that argument.

DM: Did you have any input into the speech? As Shadow Chancellor, the fact that he forgot to mention the deficit, did you read the speech beforehand?

EB: In the old days of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years ago, I don’t think they saw each other’s speeches until the night before …

DM: So you didn’t see it?

EB: I saw Ed’s speech two weeks before and he saw mine a week before, I’m afraid I was slightly behind in writing mine than his, so we swapped our speeches. Ed had a strong passage in there about deficit reduction and of course it was almost all of my speech the day before. Ed said in his speech on that Tuesday our clear pledge for the National Health Service, 20,000 nurses, 8,000 GPs, it’s all paid for by the mansion tax and tackling tax avoidance. He said we are not going to have borrowing to pay for that tax promise so it was all in there in the speech.

DM: But what did you say to him afterwards? OK, we know you like the speech, did you say well done leader but you forgot to mention the deficit?

EB: As Ed said, it was a big feat of memory and there was a paragraph he didn’t say and he said to me afterwards it was a mistake and it was but, look, that kind of thing happens sometimes in politics. Did people have any doubt out of our conference that we’re saying we’ve got a clear programme for government, all costed, all paid for, as I said no spending plans requiring more borrowing, no spending plans that are not costed and paid for. What a contrast to what we had from David Cameron this week, I’m sure we’ll come onto that.

DM: We will, but let’s put that to the test, all costed, all paid for because there are so many questions, particularly about this mansion tax. It is all costed, you have worked it all out so you must have the answer to all these questions then. Is it a 1 per cent flat rate above two million pounds? Is that the way it will operate?

EB: What we’ve said is we are going to use the government’s model which they introduced two years ago in 2013 which is called the Enveloped Properties Annual Tax. They currently apply that tax to properties which companies own over two million pounds. The government has bands say from two million to five million, five to ten and they levy a charge within that band. We would have different bands, it will be fair, it will be progressive, it will be proportionate. What we’ve not yet done is set out the detail of how we can do this …

DM: How have you costed it then if you have not set out the detail? You have said how much you will raise from it, therefore you have to know these details or else you just come up with a back of the envelope figure.

EB: Well you are going to be interviewing in half an hour Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary. He said in a speech a few months ago that the Treasury have done detailed analysis, because they have figures which we don’t have. Danny says that the Liberal Democrats can raise £1.2 [billion] to £1.5 [billion] for a tax over £2 million. We’ve said we believe £1.2 billion at the bottom end of that range is the right thing for us to aim for.

DM: But you’d have to look at the details.

EB: Of course we will but we will do it in a fair way, it will be lower for people on properties just above two million, of course it will be higher as a proportion for the most high value properties.

DM: So it will be more than 1 per cent for the higher value properties or even more because …

EB: Well you said 1 per cent, I’ve not said it will be 1 per cent. I’ve said what we’ll have is a series of bands and we will apply a charge within those bands, it will start at two million, it will be uprated by house price inflation, it will be more than proportionate so the largest houses, over ten, twenty million pounds, will pay proportionately more and houses down at two million and just above proportionately less. It will be sensitive to the fact that there will be some people who might have a very big house and low income and we will have rules which will allow them not to have to pay the annual charge.

DM: What are those rules?

EB: Well one way to do this is to allow people below a certain income level, which we’ll have to discuss and set, to say we will roll that money up …

DM: Would you roll the interest over as well?

EB: Yes and pay that off on …

DM: So you get it out of their estate?

EB: Or if they choose to sell the house.

DM: OK, so tell me about the valuation process then, how is that going to work? It is particularly sensitive around the two million mark.

EB: What we will do is use the same process that the government is doing around the Envelope Tax which is that you allow people to self-value but they will be able to pre-credit, to pre-approve with the HMRC. If the band is wide and you are right in the middle, it is clear that that’s what your property is worth, you are in that band and you will just declare that as your value. But people who want to will be able to go to HMRC and say I’m around the border, this is my valuation and HMRC will approve. Of course people will choose if they want to and …

DM: What happens if HMRC disagree? Do they have to go round your house and value your house themselves?

EB: Look, it is a very normal thing if people are moving house or if they are getting a new mortgage to get a survey of the value done. I think many people around the value might choose to have a valuation done in order to show HMRC that they are below the level and I am sure HMRC would take a valuation as it stands.

DM: So you have got to pay two or three hundred quid for a survey?

EB: I think people who choose to will be around the transition level, whether that is two million or five million or ten million, can do so, we will have pre-approval from HMRC.

DM: What about this link to house price inflation? Of course we know it’s regional, in some regions house prices go up and they go up very fast and in some regions they fall, is it the national measure you will use?

EB: That’s our plan, to use not price inflation but …

DM: Well that’s not fair is it?

EB: Not fair on who?

DM: Not fair if you are in a region where house prices have dropped and your two million pound house is suddenly worth £1.8.

EB: I think the vast majority of people in London and across the country own houses which are well short of the two million threshold. We are talking about the highest value properties which even in parts of central London are a very small minority of the overall number of house sales and I think it is fair to say that that should not go up by price inflation but by house price inflation. We are not seeking to draw more and more people into the mansion tax net but we do think that it is fair to use the UK wide measure because if you’ve got, look if you’ve got people coming from abroad pushing up house prices in central London and paying almost no tax, disproportionately a hugely low amount and in the end the contrast is this – you’ve got a Labour government which says we’ll have a tax on the highest value properties to invest in the National Health Service and a Tory government which is taxing the bedrooms of disabled people on low incomes because they say that’s fair. That’s quite a big difference isn’t it?

DM: A serious question on this, would the Queen have to pay it?

EB: What we’ve said is we’ll use the same rules that the government has for the Envelope Dwellings Tax so therefore people who have properties which are open to the public, a National Trust property which is open to the public, will have rules which allow them to be exempted but people who own large houses which are above two million pounds and aren’t open to the public, will pay it and if…

DM: So the Queen will have to pay it?

EB: The Royal Family pays tax like everybody else and rightly so.

DM: So the Queen will pay the Mansion Tax under Labour rules and therefore Prince William will have to pay it as well, he’s getting a new house on the Sandringham Estate. Just to be very clear here, you have talked about the broadest shoulders, they are pretty rich, they will pay the Mansion Tax?

EB: George Osborne and I have sat down to discuss the issue of royal finances in this parliament. There has always been a cross-party consensus, we have fair and tough rules for the financing of the royal household but members of the royal household pay taxes just like everybody else and rightly so.

DM: So those houses that they own that are not open to the public, they will pay the Mansion Tax but only if they are above two million pounds?

EB: There aren’t different rules for anybody, it’s the nature of our society and rightly so.

DM: OK, that’s very clear Mr Balls. Let me ask you about some of the measures that were announced that were very specific, what do you think about raising the tax threshold to £12,500? Is that something Labour would match or say that’s not going to happen with us?

EB: Look, the fact is it’s pie in the sky. David Cameron seems to have cut the rug from under him when it comes to making costed commitments. I said at our conference that everything which we announce will be paid for and clearly shown. David Cameron and George Osborne before the last election said, if it’s not paid for and financed, it’s not a tax cut it’s a tax con. David Cameron now says he is going to give £7.2 billion of tax cuts at an unspecified date, unclear where it is coming from, it’s a big black hole. What we also know is that he will be better off when that comes through and a family on the minimum wage will be worse off because what George Osborne announced the day before, the Strivers’ Tax, the freeze on tax credits which hit three million working people, that will more than outweigh David Cameron’s personal allowance change. So it is uncosted, it’s a black hole, it is a very, very dodgy way to do economics.

DM: So you have costed your 10 per cent rate you tell us, so that comes in at that point at the current threshold, £10,500 or what will be the current threshold. Where does it extend to, how far does it go?

EB: We’ve said we’ll introduce a 10p starting rate; we’ll do that as soon as we can in the next parliament, we will …

DM: How big is the band?

EB: We will pay for that using the Married Couples Allowance which the government has introduced and doesn’t go to people who are widowed or divorced, that’s a start. If could do more, if I could do more …

DM: But it is basic economics, you can’t know how much it costs unless you know how wide the band is.

EB: I’ve not set a band for the 10p; I have said I will use the money from the Married Couples Allowance ….

DM: So it will be very narrow.

EB: Well it will start off narrow but I’d like to make it bigger but the difference between me and David Cameron is he announces with a conference fanfare an unfunded tax cut which he can’t pay for and which is unfair because it disproportionately helps people on higher incomes. I say to you I’d like to do more but I am going to start with a 10p tax cut only paid for by the Married Couples Allowance and it’s fair because it helps working people. That’s the difference between the parties, we are now the only parties – the Lib Dems are doing it today with National Insurance – there is only one serious party which says we will not make unfunded promises we can’t show how we’ll pay for and that’s Labour, not the Tories or the Liberal Democrats, they’re trying to spray money left, right and centre.

DM: So what do you think about what John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, has been writing today? I’ll put my specs on to read it, writing in his column in the Mirror today, having heard everything you’ve said there Shadow Chancellor, he says Labour’s approach is far too timid. “I fear Shadow Cabinet Ministers are not delivering new policies because Ed Balls won’t approve them if they involve spending commitments”.

EB: As I just said, we’re not going to make any spending commitments where we can’t show how we can pay for them. Look, John Prescott is a fighter….

DM: He also asks what planet is your party on after Ed Miliband’s speech.

EB: John Prescott is a fighter, sometimes literally but he is also a political fighter and we have got a hell of a fight on our hands to save our National Health Service, to stop the Strivers’ Tax and deliver our country from a Conservative Party which will take us out of the European Union. John is clear in his article that we should learn from 1997 and I agree …

DM: He says you should become a one nation party again and not go for your core vote?

EB: John says he wants clear policies which will make a difference, minimum wage to £8 and a mansion tax to help get 20,000 nurses in the NHS, a 10p starting rate of tax, an energy price free, a business investment bank – clear policies but the lesson we learned from 1997 when John and I worked together is if you as a party come along, as happened in previous elections for us before ’97 with promises which couldn’t be paid for, then you get into trouble. Everything in ’97 was costed and paid for, everything in 2015 costed and paid for, no spending requiring more borrowing. The people who making unfunded commitments are now the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.

DM: So the last question on that pledge from Mr Cameron to raise the threshold at which people start paying the 40 rate, that’s not going to happen under Labour anyway is it? That definitely is out, that’s unfunded?

EB: I would like to take more people out of the 40p rate. I said in my conference speech, I said to people this is who I am, I would rather taxes were lower rather than higher but in the end you have got to make choices and our choice is very different from the Tories.

DM: Would you index it? I mean the threshold will stay still, it’s fiscal drag isn’t it dragging people into it?

EB: The index in law, it’s called the Rooker Wise Amendment, it was introduced in the 1970s, it is indexed to inflation. Of course we should carry on with indexation and if we could go further – but what is the difference? George Osborne has said he will keep a tax cut for people earning over £150,000, a three billion pound tax cut to the richest while he is going to make working people pay three billion more through the freeze on tax credits. It’s really interesting, 250,000 people in Tory marginal constituencies in work have seen their tax credits frozen, that’s the difference in the choice. I would like to do more for everybody but my first priority will be people in work who have seen their living standards down by £1600 [a year]. What’s George Osborne’s first priority? The people at the top earning over £150,000. That’s the election choice.

Posted October 5th, 2014 by Ed