July 24th, 2014

Conservative complacency won’t help working people – my article in the Guardian

Our economy has, at long last, got back to the size it was before the global financial crisis, the latest growth figures on Friday are expected to show. The fact that Conservative strategists believe this to be a significant moment for celebration is revealing.

Not only is it two years later than the chancellor’s original plan said, and three years after the US reached the same point, it’s also the case that GDP per head won’t recover to where it was for around another three years – in other words, a lost decade for living standards.

So while David Cameron and George Osborne complacently claim the economy is now fixed, most people are worse off. As even Ken Clarke, the former Conservative chancellor, recently admitted, most people are not feeling any sense of recovery.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Tories said their policies would deliver rising living standards, but working people are worse off with wages after inflation down by more than £1,600 a year since 2010.

The myth that we were all in this together was shattered by the £3bn tax cut for the top 1%. Far from balancing the books by 2015 as promised, borrowing is set to be £75bn next year – because Osborne’s reckless first budget choked off recovery back in 2010.

Even with the economy growing again, Conservative complacency is now deeply misplaced. Because while they said they’d rebalance the economy, housebuilding under this government is at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s, business investment is lagging behind our competitors, apprenticeships for young people are falling, and our export growth since 2010 is sixth in the G7.

Despite all this, ministers think all we need is more of the same. But we are not going to deliver a balanced, investment-led recovery that benefits all working people with the same old Tory economics.

Hoping tax cuts at the very top will trickle down, a race to the bottom on wages, Treasury opposition to a proper industrial strategy, and flirting with exit from the European Union cannot be the right prescription for Britain. We need a different approach to deal with the deep-seated cost-of-living crisis, build a stronger and more balanced recovery, and tackle the substantial deficit the next government will face.

That means making work pay and tackling insecurity by expanding free childcare, introducing a lower 10p starting rate of tax, raising the minimum wage and ending the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts. We need to create more good jobs and ensure young people have the skills they need to succeed when technological change is hollowing out middle-income jobs.

To build a stronger and more balanced economy we need to get at least 200,000 new homes built a year, and devolve more power and funding to city and county regions.

British businesses should be backed by cutting business rates, maintaining the most competitive corporation tax in the G7, and arguing for Britain to stay in a reformed EU.

And we must also get the deficit down. Labour will balance the books and get the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament – as the national policy forum voted for last weekend. But we will do so in a fairer way, which includes reversing Cameron’s tax cut for millionaires, tackling tax avoidance, and cutting the winter fuel allowance for the richest pensioners.

While the Tories claim all we need is one more heave of the same old policies, Labour’s radical and credible economic plan is the only way to make Britain better off and fairer for the future.

Posted July 24th, 2014 by Ed
July 24th, 2014

Baby P and Haringey Council – my interview on the Jeremy Vine Show

Full transcript below

ED BALLS – Sharon Shoesmith

R2 – Jeremy Vine

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Speakers        Ed Balls

Jeremy Vine

JV:     This means you got it wrong doesn’t it?

EB:     I don’t think so Jeremy because the fundamental question was could the Director of Children’s Services, Sharon Shoesmith stay in her job after a damning report which highlighted failings in Haringey and my judgement was that she couldn’t. It is important to remember the person who lost most here was a small boy who lost his life. His parents were responsible but the report I commissioned also showed the huge failures of leadership and management in Haringey social services. I had a duty to children in Haringey and across the country to act and the law gave me the power, not to sack Sharon Shoesmith – that was not my decision, she was an employee of Haringey – but to remove her from her position as Director of Children’s Services which I did because it was my judgement that was the only way to keep confidence in children’s services in Haringey and across the country. And Jeremy, at every stage I acted on the basis of the expert and legal advice from our departmental lawyers who said to me that it was not my responsibility to have a meeting with Sharon Shoesmith. She had met the independent inspectors, her employers did not want her to come to the meeting at which they heard my decision and then they resigned themselves. Sharon Shoesmith didn’t resign, she has then taken this unfair dismissal case, in my view the judges have not understood the proper legal framework within which I was acting where I had a responsibility to act to keep children safe and therefore I regret this decision.

JV:     You sacked her for a headline because you were under pressure too and it is the easiest thing in the world to scapegoat her?

EB:     Well they may have thought that or not but that is absolutely and categorically untrue. What happened at the time, because you remember this, we I’m sure discussed this at the time, there was huge public anger and upset at what had happened to Peter Connelly and there was lots of pressure for immediate action. I didn’t take immediate action, I actually instead commissioned an independent investigation and waited for that report and was regularly criticised, including in BBC interviews, for not acting more quickly. But when the report came it was devastating and the people who did the report, the independent inspectors pinpointed failures of leadership and management. Now could I really have kept Sharon Shoesmith in her job when her bosses had resigned and when she had failed to keep this child safe and her department hadn’t…

JV:                  There is a suspicion that these so-called independent inspectors actually were also swinging in the wind of public opinion because just after the death of Baby P they awarded Haringey a good rating, then you say what is going on and they award it a bad rating?

EB:                 Well look, many lessons were learned about the importance of tougher independent inspection. That rating was given without a visit and that was …

JV:                   Exactly …

EB:                 And that was a mistake and they corrected that. But the fact was the health, children’s and police inspectors went into Haringey and concluded devastatingly that the department was being badly run. I, to keep children safe, had to remove Sharon Shoesmith from her statutory position as Director of Children’s Services.  Now, the judges said afterwards they think I should have had a meeting with her. I was advised not to do that, it would have made no difference because I wasn’t acting on the basis of my hunch, it was the inspector’s report which highlighted the problem. And the law, the Education Act, gave me, as Secretary of State, the power to remove somebody from a statutory position if I judged public confidence required that. And that was my judgement and I would make the same decision again today.

JV:                  So looking at the whole trajectory – obviously you didn’t have responsibility for Haringey’s decision – but do you think she was treated unfairly?

EB:                 I think that …if the courts say that Haringey could have done their processes differently, fine. The courts say that I should have had a meeting with her, which I was advised not to have done. Frankly, Jeremy, if I had had that meeting it would have made absolutely no difference other than the fact that she wouldn’t have received a very substantial amount of money. But I didn’t have the meeting because I was advised it was improper and outside the law to do so. I wasn’t, if I am honest with you Jeremy, thinking about Sharon Shoesmith, I was thinking about Peter Connelly and thousands of children up and down the country, including in Haringey, who were at risk.

JV:                   He wasn’t killed by Sharon Shoesmith either, was he?

EB:                  No, he wasn’t …

JV:                  The treatment of her is almost as if she did it, her name is more famous than the three killers …

EB:                 I’m afraid what happens in our society is that when some parents do terrible things to children – and it happens and it is hard to understand – we then step in to try and keep those children safe. That was the responsibility of social workers in Haringey who, by the way, were the … it was the same department where Victoria Climbie had been so terribly let down a decade before. Unfortunately, they failed in their duty to keep Peter Connelly safe despite repeated meetings where injuries to him were covered up. I didn’t rush to judgement; I asked the independent inspector to tell me the truth, they came to me and said the position is devastatingly bad, and it starts at the top with a failure of leadership. That was Sharon Shoesmith’s failure of leadership. I could not have kept her in her statutory post and kept public confidence. I did what I thought was the only thing possible to maintain public confidence and allow social workers in Haringey and across the country to get on and do their jobs of keeping children safe. Now, of course this payment leaves a bad taste in the month for everybody because I’m afraid Sharon Shoesmith and her department failed and therefore it is hugely frustrating when somebody receives a payment and I am also frustrated that the courts have taken the view they have taken about a piece of procedure and a meeting which may or may not have happened which would have made absolutely no difference. In the end, whatever had happened procedurally, whatever we would now learn in retrospect from this court case, I’m afraid Sharon Shoesmith had to leave her job in Haringey to maintain the safety of children and public confidence and nothing we can do or say will ever bring back a little boy who was so, so badly hurt and let down.

Related links:

My statement on the appeal court judgement

Former Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan’s blog on the decision

Posted July 24th, 2014 by Ed
July 21st, 2014

Happy Birthday NHS!

Our amazing National Health Service is 66 years old this month. But my casework contains some disturbing stories from local people who work in the health service, as well as from patients, about longer waiting times and the privatisation of NHS services.
Because as our national health service passes its 66th birthday we shouldn’t forget that there are those who want to undermine it. Some even outrageously suggest that patients should be charged £10 each time they see their GP.
Earlier this month that proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by the Royal College of Nursing. Quite right too. The NHS was, after all, set up specifically to avoid this kind of charge and to provide healthcare for people based on their need rather than their ability to pay.
The NHS is just as important now as when it was set up 65 years ago – the best insurance policy in the world. I for one will always fight to keep it safe. Happy Birthday NHS!
Posted July 21st, 2014 by Ed
July 20th, 2014

Labour’s National Policy Forum has agreed a policy programme that is radical and credible

The National Policy Forum has this weekend agreed a policy programme that is radical and credible and based on big reform, not big spending.

The Labour Party knows that this Conservative-led government’s failure to balance the books in this Parliament means we will have to make difficult decisions after the next election.

Party members have endorsed the tough fiscal position Ed Miliband and I have set out. We will match the government’s overall day-to-day spending totals for 2015/16. And we will balance the books, deliver a surplus on the current budget and get the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next Parliament.

But we will get the deficit down more fairly by reforming our economy for the long-term and reversing David Cameron’s top rate tax cut for the top one per cent of earners.

Posted July 20th, 2014 by Ed
July 18th, 2014

My response to the CMA’s announcement on an inquiry into bank competition

Ed Miliband and I have repeatedly called for an inquiry into bank competition, so it’s welcome that the Competition and Markets Authority is now set to start this work later this year.

Ministers claim there is no problem to solve, but everyone else recognises that we have a lack of competition in our banking sector.

As we said earlier this year, in the next parliament we need to see at least two new challenger banks and a market share test to ensure the market stays competitive for the long term.

Posted July 18th, 2014 by Ed
July 16th, 2014

My Column in the Morley Observer & Advertiser

Yorkshire did a fabulous job welcoming the world’s greatest cycle race. Here in Morley though, it wasn’t so much, “Tour de Yorkshire” as “Tour de Morley”.
At Morley Victoria Primary School, their mammoth Tour de Morley scoot clocked up enough miles to cover the Yorkshire Stages of the bike race and still get half way through France. Over just a few days, Morley Victoria pupils scooted a staggering 933 miles – the equivalent of the distance from Morley to Marseille in the south of France.
It was great to join some of the year 6 pupils them for a few extra circuits of the playground. It was fabulous for Yorkshire to have the Tour de France passing through our region and brilliant to see Morley Victoria getting involved and taking part.
The Tour de France might be a men’s cycle race, but here in Morley we have our own local cycling legend. Beryl Burton not only won UK and world cycling championships but also set a world record which exceeded the men’s record for two years. It’s brilliant that there is now a fitting tribute to her Morley heritage on Queen Street.
And Beryl is currently being brought to life at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Maxine Peake’s play. It’s not every day that a Yorkshire heroine makes it to the stage – do pop in over the summer to catch the play yourself.
**************
Here at the cross-roads of Britain, we are a business-hub for the north of England. Businesses choose to locate themselves in Morley and close by because of our great location and transport links.
So I invited the Shadow Business Minister, Toby Perkins to meet with local businesses from across our area to discuss how best to support local companies to grow and expand.
Morley is home to hundreds of small businesses – many just starting out – as well as larger national organisations. As well as skills, apprenticeships and infrastructure – all vital to ensure businesses in our area can grow and expand – another big issue companies raised with us on Friday was business rates.
After a long and difficult recession, thankfully our economy is finally growing again.  But with living standards still falling, I’m worried that there aren’t enough well-paid jobs for people in our area. One in five young people under the age of 24 are not in work or training and too much new investment and growth is still concentrated in London and the South East.
I’ve long said that I want more of our national resources devolved to areas like West Yorkshire so that local people can benefit.
But at the moment the gap between different parts of the country is growing. Now we finally have some economic growth, the whole country should be benefiting. By devolving power – and resources – to local areas, we can do a better job of supporting growth in every area. That really would be good news for local businesses and the local workforce.
**************
Our amazing National Health Service is 66 years old this month. But my casework contains some disturbing stories from local people who work in the health service, as well as from patients, about longer waiting times and the privatisation of NHS services.
Because as our national health service passes its 66th birthday we shouldn’t forget that there are those who want to undermine it. Some even outrageously suggest that patients should be charged £10 each time they see their GP.
Earlier this month that proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by the Royal College of Nursing. Quite right too. The NHS was, after all, set up specifically to avoid this kind of charge and to provide healthcare for people based on their need rather than their ability to pay.
The NHS is just as important now as when it was set up 65 years ago – the best insurance policy in the world. I for one will always fight to keep it safe. Happy Birthday NHS!
Posted July 16th, 2014 by Ed
July 14th, 2014

New home for Morley North Children’s Centre

I am so pleased to see the Morley North Children’s centre has settled in at its new home in Morley Town Hall. It’s been a challenging year for the centre trying to find a new permanent home. But having endured two moves in 12 months, it’s a testament to the hard work of Michelle and her team that parents and children have followed the centre from Asquith Primary to St Mary’s Church and now to Morley town hall.

Hopefully the latest move is now more permanent – it’s great to see so many toddlers running around the town hall.

I know local families are still struggling with the cost of everything going up and wages not keeping track. Parents I’ve spoken to recently tell me how the increasing cost of childcare, in particular, has affected their family budget. Over the summer I’ll be conducting my annual summer survey of parents and families to see what the other pressure points are.

There’s loads going on at both our Morley children’s centres. Parents who want to find out what’s on locally for families and kids should call 0113 247 7196.

Posted July 14th, 2014 by Ed
July 9th, 2014

Tell me your views on housing

As a local MP, housing is one of the issues I deal with most frequently. People come to me for all kinds of reasons; they are having trouble finding a house, difficulties with unscrupulous landlords, repairs are needed to their council house, a sick child or relative means they need to make changes to their house or they want to raise planning queries and objections.

When I’m out and about people raise concerns that their grown up children can’t get on the housing ladder, or they’re worried about interest rates going up and the impact it will have on their mortgage payments.

I take issues around housing extremely seriously. Everyone needs somewhere safe to live. And with the increase in the number of private landlords in recent years, the rights of landlords and tenants need to be balanced to make sure people are not taken advantage of.

The nature of my work means that I often only hear from people when things go wrong, so I want to check what your experience is. I’m gathering thoughts and concerns around housing in our area so I can make sure people living in Morley and Outwood get the best deal from policies being developed nationally.

You can take part in my online consultation: just click here.

Posted July 9th, 2014 by Ed
July 7th, 2014

Le Tour de Morley

Yorkshire did a fabulous job welcoming the world’s greatest cycle race over the weekend, but at Morley Victoria, their mammouth scoot clocked up enough miles to cover the Yorkshire Stages of the Tour de France and still get half way through France.

Over the course of last week, Morley Victoria pupils scooted a staggering 933 miles.

Nursery: 8 miles
Reception: 60 miles
Year 1: 51 miles
Year 2: 61 miles
Year 3: 93 miles
Year 4: 132 miles
Year 5: 235 miles
Year 6: 287 miles

The school as a whole has scooted the equivalent of the distance from Morley to Marseille in the south of France, with year 6 alone, clocking up more miles than the two Yorkshire stages of the Tour.

It was great fun to be able to join them for a few extra circuits of the playground on Friday. It’s a fabulous occasion for Yorkshire to have the Tour de France passing through our region and brilliant to see Morley Victoria getting involved and taking part.
And of course, here in Morley we have our own local cycling legend in Beryl Burton who not only won UK and world cycling championships but also set a world record which exceeded the men’s record for two years. It’s brilliant that there is now a fitting tribute to her Morley heritage on Queen Street.

Posted July 7th, 2014 by Ed
July 4th, 2014

Politically Speaking in the Wakefield Express

Wakefield is a business hub for the north of England. Nestled as we are between the M1 and the M62, businesses come here because of our brilliant location at the cross-roads of Britain.

At Junction 41, international giants like Coca-Cola sit alongside distribution centres for Morrisons and Yorkshire Purchasing as well as dozens of smaller firms. Collectively the business community across our district employs thousands of local people.

A couple of weeks back I called in on Dun-Bri who have recently opened a new office there. They’re a small family firm providing specialist commercial vehicle lighting to business customers ranging from the AA to the fire brigade. They chose Wakefield because of its great location and were grateful for the help the Council gave them to set up and source local suppliers. But they’re a growing business too and they want to take on and train new people.

That’s really welcome news. I’m in regular contact with local companies and I know how tough things have been in recent years.

Thankfully, at long last, the economy is growing again.  But I’m worried that growth is patchy and hasn’t yet translated into enough well-paid jobs for people in our area. Too much new investment and growth is still concentrated in London and the South East. One in five young people under the age of 24 are not in work or training. And for those who’ve had their working hours reduced or who lost their jobs over the last few years, there has been little in the way of support to retrain in the skills they need to move into new jobs.

Companies like Dun-Bri and others tell me that with more support they would be able to start more apprenticeships, develop their export market, and invest in infrastructure.

We are in a great strategic location in the north of England. We’re close to great road networks and other large cities. But despite the best efforts of our Regional Development Agency Yorkshire Forward (scrapped by the Government in 2010), the region doesn’t get its fair share and the new Local Economic Partnerships haven’t been equipped to meet the big challenges our regional economy faces.

I want to see more of our national resources devolved to areas like West Yorkshire so that people see more benefit here in Wakefield. That way big projects for things such as transport, housing, skills and infrastructure could be decided locally.

A report this week from Lord Adonis sets out a clear plan for regional growth to redress the balance. At the moment the gap between London and the South East, and the rest of the country is growing by the day. Now we’ve finally got some growth back in the economy, the whole country should be benefiting. By devolving power – and resources – to local areas, we could start to see growth in every area. That really would be good news for local businesses and the local workforce.

Posted July 4th, 2014 by Ed