February 11th, 2015

Voting, tax and jobs for Yorkshire – my Morley Observer column

As an elected politician, it will come as little surprise to most Morley Observer readers, to discover that I spend a lot of time voting.

Just in the last few weeks I have voted in Parliament to give local pubs a better deal, scrap the bedroom tax and to allow new research to help families with mitochondrial diseases.

Most people don’t vote anywhere near as often as me. But how we MPs vote in Parliament is ultimately decided by how everyone else votes on General Election day.

That’s why it is so important that everyone registers to vote. And being included on the electoral register is about more than just voting. Our justice system relies on juries which are randomly picked out from those on the electoral roll. And if you want to borrow money, or get a mortgage, one of the first things the bank will check is your credit rating and that’s linked directly to whether you are on the electoral register.

Of course people lead increasingly busy lives. So on election days, it can seem difficult to fit in a trip to the polling station on top of work, picking up the kids and making tea. But many people fought hard for the right to vote. A hundred years ago women and working men didn’t have the right to vote. And here in Britain, we’ve only had universal suffrage – giving everyone an equal right to vote since 1928.

That’s why I’ve always thought that, regardless of your political views, it’s important to use your right to vote. But in the elections later this year there’s a new system of voter registration which could mean that some people miss out. Across the country some estimates are that 7.5million people might be missing from the electoral register. That’s the equivalent of ten cities the size of Sheffield or the same number of people that live in 100 parliamentary constituencies. Individual voter registration means that people who’ve moved house or who live in communal residences like residential homes or student accommodation could miss out.

So if you’ve moved house recently, or if you think it’s possible you might have come off the register for any reason it’s worth checking if you want your voice to be heard and to have a say on the future of the country. You can check online and fill in the form before it’s too late. Go to gov.uk/register-to-vote to get registered or contact electoral services at Leeds City Council 0113 222 4411.

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Talking to people on the streets of Morley over the last few weekends, people have been keen to share their views with me on all kinds of issues – but especially on the state of the economy.

And the recent discussions in the media about tax have really wound people up. “We pay our share of taxes” one parent said to me in Morley, “they should do the same.” I could only nod in agreement.

Because all of us paying our tax makes it possible to ensure we have the investment we need for our public services like the NHS. Closing tax loopholes to ensure everyone is paying their tax should be a priority for every Government. I’ve said I would crack down hard on tax avoidance schemes to ensure we get the money we need into our health service.

The other hot topic last weekend in Morley was the Government’s recent spate of interest in the north of England. “Where were they four years ago?” one pensioner said when I spoke to her in the Ingles.

While it’s been really good to see growth returning to the economy nationally, areas like ours are taking much longer to recover from the global recession. I’ve always said that it is important for every part of the country to benefit. And that means backing regions like Yorkshire, cities like Leeds and towns like Morley to ensure jobs are being created and industries are able to expand to enable areas to prosper and do well.

Devolution of power and funding to English regions is now firmly in our sights. And I firmly believe that decisions about how this should happen should be made locally, not in Whitehall or Westminster. Only that way can we make sure we get the right change for each area of the country.

Morley’s done pretty well throughout the difficult times for the economy but people in our area are still feeling the pinch. Ensuring everyone pays their fair share of tax and that we get the power and resources to invest in our local and regional economy would ensure we did even better in the future too.

Posted February 11th, 2015 by Ed
February 10th, 2015

Labour’s Opposition Day Debate on tax avoidance

Speaking ahead of Labour’s Opposition Day debate on tax avoidance, Ed said:

“David Cameron and George Osborne have totally failed to tackle tax avoidance in the last five years.

“They have failed to close the loopholes we have highlighted. And the amount of uncollected tax has risen under this government.

“I am determined that the next Labour Government will act where the Tories have failed.

“We will close loopholes that cost the exchequer billions of pounds a year, increase transparency and toughen up penalties. And we will act in our first Finance Bill.”

Posted February 10th, 2015 by Ed's team
February 10th, 2015

My speech to the British Chambers of Commerce Annual Conference

Thank you Adam for that introduction.

And to your Director-General, John Longworth, and you the members of the British Chambers of Commerce for having me back again to address your annual conference.

I hope and confidently expect that you will hear from us not partisanship and sloganeering, but ‎a constructive debate about what needs to be done to secure Britain’s economic future.

Some of you here today will be signed-up Labour supporters, and some signed-up Conservative supporters. But in my experience, the large majority of business leaders care less about party affiliation, and more about the future success of their business and our country – and want to work with the Government of the day to get the right long-term environment for creating wealth and good jobs and long-term investment.

And that is what I want to talk about today.

THE CHALLENGE

We are living in difficult and risky and rather dangerous times.

And we need to have a straight conversation about the risks we face and about what needs to be done.

This is set to be the first time since the 1920s when working people are worse off at the end of a Parliament than they were at the beginning – the biggest fall in wages in a parliament since 1874. Working people are now £1600 a year worse off since 2010.

The reality is that globalisation and technological change, is hollowing out the number of traditional middle income jobs and squeezing living standards for working people in Britain and across the developed world.

And at a time when, even as our economy recovers, most people are not seeing the benefit in their wages and living standards, this is no time for complacency.

Last year at this conference, we were six months from the Scottish ‎referendum.

We confidently expected to win that vote and reject breaking up our 300 year union and safeguard the jobs and investment which depend on it.

And we did.

But six months ‎on, with the Scottish Nationalist Party still banging the drum for separation, it would be deeply foolish to say today that the future of our union is secure.

And with the Eurozone still stuck in a deflationary quagmire, the UK Independence party still strong in the polls, anti-European sentiment still widespread, the future of Britain’s membership of the European Union feels equally insecure today.

There is a common theme here: when times are hard and living standards are under great pressure, it is always easier to look for someone to blame.

And none of us here today is immune, when the polls show that politicians, business leaders and journalists are all competing for reasons to be unpopular.

I have to say, simply telling people they’ve never had it so good will only make working people feel that politicians are out of touch with the reality of their lives.

So how should we respond?

OPEN ECONOMICS

First, we have to be robust and reject the luddite view of those who think Britain can just cut ourselves adrift from the EU and the global economy and go it alone – just as we should have no truck with those who say we don’t need a tough and credible strategy to reduce the deficit.

In my view, Britain has always succeeded and can only succeed in the future as an open trading nation, backing wealth creation and winning investment and attracting companies and talent from around the world.

The growth sectors in which we are hugely strong – from pharmaceuticals and advanced manufacturing to media and creativity, education and financial and professional services – are all global industries which depend on our access to international markets to succeed.

That is why Ed Miliband and I are clear that to walk away from Europe – our biggest trading market – would be a disaster for Britain.

But it would be really foolish to assume that public support for that vision of an open, trading Britain in the EU is strong or secure.

This is why I agree with John that Britain must lead the debate for reform in the EU.

Banging the table for change and for the EU to work better for Britain.

But not flirting with exit and putting party interest above the national economic interest.

So while I agree with your Director-General on the need for reform and about the damage the current uncertainty is doing to investment, I fear that every comment by senior Cabinet Ministers saying they would be happy or relaxed to see us walk out.

And every hint that a referendum could happen as early as next year – before any meaningful reform agenda could be achieved – only adds to the uncertainty and risk for British businesses.

Because I fear that Britain walking out of the EU is the biggest risk to our economy in the next decade.

EU exit risks British jobs, trade and investment and the future prosperity of the UK.

That is the message I hear from businesses across the country week in week out.

GROWTH AND MORE GOOD JOBS

But if we are to secure Britain’s standing‎ as an open trading nation, we need to do better at delivering strong and balanced growth with rising productivity and living standards.

It is good news that, unlike the Eurozone, the UK economy is growing.

But it is deeply disappointing that our productivity and business investment and particularly our export performance has been so poor in this recovery.

And, as we concluded in the Inclusive Prosperity Commission that I chaired with former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, it just doesn’t work for government to stand back and wait for productivity to rise or wealth to trickle down.

I believe in the power of markets and incentives to create wealth and good jobs.

But I know too that markets don’t, by themselves, deliver the long-term investment in ideas, skills and infrastructure that modern economies need.

Which is why Ed Miliband and Chuka and I are determined to work with you to improve the environment for business investment and productivity through an economic policy that tackles our weaknesses, backs our strengths and delivers more good jobs.

Because when working people and British businesses succeed, Britain succeeds too.

So this is what we mean by a modern industrial policy:

Strategic support for large and small businesses innovating in advanced supply-chains, as Lord Sainsbury and Jaguar’s Mike Wright have championed.

An independent national infrastructure commission – as recommended by Sir John Armitt – which will end the dither and delay on major infrastructure investment decisions.

And after years of kicking this into the long grass, we will make a swift decision to expand airport capacity in the south-east, while taking into account environmental concerns, when the Davies report is complete.

Support for exporters that is world class and business-led and works for small and medium-sized businesses too – and I know many of you will already have engaged with our review of export support that Graham Cole, the Chairman of AgustaWestland UK, is leading for us.

A proper British Investment Bank with the resources and ambition to improve access to finance for small and medium-sized businesses –something which many of you in this room have championed and worked with us on over the last few years and which we will set out more details on later this week.

More free childcare to help working parents balance work and family life and action to get our young people back to work.

A skills policy that delivers for business – boosting apprenticeships and putting vocational learning on a par with academic qualifications so you get the confident, numerate and skilled people you need.

And a tax policy system which support growth and investment.

I have supported the cuts in the main corporation tax rate which we began back in 1997. And we will keep Britain as the country with the most competitive corporation tax rate in the G7.

But when so many of you have told us that you are under pressure because of high and rising business rates, we do not think a further cut in the corporation tax rate is the first priority this April. So we will instead use that money to cut and then freeze business rates for 1.5 million small business properties.

And because our desire to support an entrepreneurial Britain is at the core of our vision for the economy, I want a Labour Treasury to do more to support innovation, and growing businesses – and I am pleased to announce that Simon Franks, a leading British entrepreneur and founder of Redbus Group and LoveFilm, is conducting a review for us of how we can best support early stage and high growth businesses which we will publish in the coming months

But where markets are not working well – as in banking or energy – we will back the market reviews being undertaken by the independent Competition and Markets Authority to see how we can get more competition and choice and a fairer deal for businesses and consumers alike.

We will cut the deficit every year, get the current budget into surplus and the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament.

We will have to make difficult decisions and spending cuts – and like every successful business we are examining every pound spent from the bottom-up through our Zero-Based Review to root out waste and inefficiencies.

But we will not balance the books by relying solely on even bigger spending cuts in the next parliament than we have seen in this Parliament – the biggest cuts in public services of any advanced economy in the next five years according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

ALL NOT SOME

Which brings me to my third point.

As I said earlier, if we are to win the argument that Britain can succeed in an open global economy, we have to show that our economy can deliver rising prosperity for everyone who works hard and plays by the rules.

And that is not what people think is happening in our country at the moment.

I want an open and competitive tax system that rewards work and supports entrepreneurs and long-term investment and wealth creation‎.

But that also means that individuals and companies alike should pay their fair share, and where the international rules are not fit for purpose we have to change them and close loopholes here in the UK too.

And when tax and benefit changes since 2010 have cost the average household is over £1200 a year we have to show that those with the broadest shoulders are bearing a greater burden to get the deficit down.

I don’t expect people with houses worth over £2million to celebrate paying an extra £250 a month to help us secure the future of our National Health Service. But when high-value properties are so relatively under taxed and when our NHS is under such pressure, it is an important part of a tough but balanced plan.

And I didn’t want to have to cap child benefit at 1 per cent and remove the winter allowance from the richest 5 per cent of pensioners or keep the top rate of income tax at 50 per cent while we balance the books in the next parliament.

But in my judgement these things are necessary if we are to show that an open and dynamic economy and balanced deficit reduction can both be good for business and work fairly for all.

CONCLUSION

So this is my message today.

This is no time for complacency.

I don’t think for a moment that Britain’s future in the EU or as a good place to do business is secure.

But I promise you that, if we are elected, the next Labour government will work with you to ensure that it is.

And to do so, we have to show that our economy can deliver rising prosperity for everyone who works hard and plays by the rules.

A Britain open to the global economy and leading on reform in Europe, not threatening to walk away.

A Britain investing in a high-productivity economy, not ducking reform and hoping business-as-usual will do the trick.

And a Britain where we see off populist pressures for reaction and isolation by showing that we can deliver prosperity and rising living standards not just for some but for all our citizens.

Pro-business, but not business as usual.

Promoting competition, not turning a blind eye to bad practice.

Supporting wealth creation, but making sure everyone pays their fair share.

That is the task – whoever wins the General Election.

The stakes are higher than they have ever been.

And you must make sure we rise to the challenge.

Thank you.

ENDS

Posted February 10th, 2015 by Ed
February 9th, 2015

Ed’s response to today’s revelations about HSBC

Commenting on today’s revelations about HSBC, Ed said:

“There are very serious questions for George Osborne and David Cameron to answer today.

“Why, in the five years since this government was first given information about how HSBC helped people evade tax, has there only been one prosecution out of 1100 individuals identified?

“And why did they appoint the Chairman of HSBC as a Tory Minister eight months after the government was told about the bank’s activities?

“Nobody will fall for yet more desperate distraction tactics from George Osborne and the Tories when it is clear that this information was first given to the government in 2010.

“That is why the Chancellor should come to the House of Commons and answer questions about this today.”

Posted February 9th, 2015 by Ed's team
February 4th, 2015

Ed’s response to the IFS Green Budget

Commenting on the IFS Green Budget, Ed said:

“This report shows that, if the Tories win the election, Britain will face the biggest spending cuts of any major advanced economy.

“Instead of this extreme approach, which will put our vital public services at risk, we need a balanced and fair way to get the deficit down while securing the future of our NHS.

“Labour will make sensible spending cuts in non-protected areas, but we will also reverse David Cameron’s £3 billion tax cut for the top one per cent of earners. And most of all, Labour’s economic plan will ensure we earn our way to rising living standards for all, not just a few. That’s how we will cut the deficit every year as we balance the books and get the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next Parliament.

“George Osborne’s failure to boost productivity and wages is the reason why his plan has not only failed working people but failed on the deficit too.”

Posted February 4th, 2015 by Ed's team
February 3rd, 2015

Ed sets out an ambitious vision for Britain’s infrastructure

Today Ed announced that legislation to set up an independent National Infrastructure Commission, which will stop long-term decisions being kicked into the long grass, will be in Labour’s first Queen’s Speech after the election. A draft Bill has already been published to ensure that the plans can be fast-tracked through Parliament this year.

Ed also published for consultation a draft remit for the new Commission which sets out 10 National Infrastructure Goals which Britain should achieve over the coming decades.

Speaking at the UK Infrastructure Conference, Ed said:

“For too long successive governments have ducked and delayed the vital decisions we need to take for the long term. As a country we have got to stop kicking big decisions into the long grass.

“So in our first Queen’s Speech after the election we will act. We will establish an independent National Infrastructure Commission to identify our long-term infrastructure needs, from energy to flood defences and transport.

“The Commission will then ensure government comes up with credible plans to meet them – and hold Ministers’ feet to the fire to deliver those plans.

“We need an ambitious vision to ensure Britain has a transport network that spreads prosperity to every part of the country, is the best place in the world to do scientific research and meets the challenge of climate change.

“Infrastructure investment is vital to boosting growth and productivity in a way which raises living standards for the many, not just a few at the top. That’s why it is a key part of Labour’s economic plan.”

You can read the draft consultation at http://www.armittreview.org

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

Marking Cold Homes Week at Morley Elderly Action

Tens of thousands of older people die prematurely each winter, and more than a million older people unable to afford to adequately heat their homes, I joined pensioners at Morley Elderly Action to discuss winter warmth at the start of Cold Homes week.

Support for households in fuel poverty has halved under this Government which is a really big concern for local pensioners.

Each winter in Britain, one older person dies every seven minutes from the cold weather and many more become seriously ill due to living in a cold home. Cold Homes Week calls on the Government to commit to a major programme of investment 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 lift nine out of 10 homes out of fuel poverty.

Cold homes are a major contributing factor in the staggeringly high numbers of excess winter deaths that occur every year. What’s clear from the work done by Cold Homes week is that many winter deaths could be prevented if everyone lived in a warm home.

Morley Elderly Action does brilliant work supporting local pensioners and ensuring they get all the information and advice they need. But government also needs to make sure pensioners have access to support to make their homes as energy efficient as possible so people save money on their bills that way too. And I will continue to press for action to reform the energy market so that customers pay a fair price.

Posted February 2nd, 2015 by Ed
February 2nd, 2015

Labour sets out plans for biggest devolution of economic power and funding for generations

Speaking ahead of Labour’s new English Regional Shadow Cabinet Committee, which includes a group of Labour leaders of local councils and combined authorities from across the country, Ed said:

“Too many parts of our country are being left behind by the Tories. Labour’s economic plan is about ensuring every part of the country and all working people can benefit from economic recovery, not just a few.

“This means backing the cities, towns and regions of our country which are the engines of growth and job creation.

“So the next Labour government and a Labour Treasury will deliver the biggest devolution of economic power and funding to England’s city and county regions for generations. Our plans to devolve £30 billion of funding over a Parliament will be at the heart of Labour’s first Spending Review.

“We want to see not just a Northern powerhouse, but Midlands, Eastern and Southern powerhouses too. We will not only back our great cities, but our towns and county regions too. Not just urban areas, but also rural areas.
“Local areas will be in the driving seat on key decisions affecting their local economies – with new powers over back-to-work schemes, to drive house building, and to integrate, invest in and plan transport infrastructure. And we will also let city and county regions keep all the additional business rates revenue generated by growth.

“Labour’s radical plans go much further than anything David Cameron and George Osborne are offering. The Tories scrapped the regional development agencies, cut funding more deeply in more deprived areas and have totally failed to rebalance the economy.

“And unlike the Tories, we won’t short-change areas which choose not to have an elected Mayor by giving them a second-class deal. Every part of England will benefit from Labour’s plans, not just a chosen few.”

Posted February 2nd, 2015 by Ed's team
January 28th, 2015

Beat the January blues in Morley Town Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My blog on the Holocaust Commission Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full report

Posted January 27th, 2015 by Ed