Reading the Labour manifesto was a bit like watching a magician determined to show you every trick they have ever learned as quickly as possible moving from disappearing an elephant to finding a coin behind your ear and back again. The ambition was admirable, if slightly unhinged, but Lord it was tiring after a while. By contrast, the Liberal Democrat manifesto is an altogether more controlled and sedate affair. However, there is still plenty of implications for local government.
As expected, the Lib Dems major on Brexit in their opening section – not a mention of councils or even devolution anywhere. But read on and it is clear that the Party is determined to maintain its historical reputation for being the party of local concerns and decentralisation. While in the Labour manifesto, it often felt like local government appeared as a bit player supporting other policies, here councils are clearly central to the Lib Dems plans for country. Notably the document includes a catch-all pledge to “reduce the powers of central government ministers to interfere in democratically elected local government”. While this will leave all those councils run on totalitarian lines disappointed, it is clearly a signal of devolutionary intent from Tim Farron’s party.
They also have some serious stuff to say about social care and housing.
So here’s my shot at a summary of the main Lib Dem policies aimed at or affecting local government.
Fiscal/Economic Policy and Devolution
- The UK to remain in the Single Market and protect freedom of movement across the EU.
- Devolve further revenue-raising powers from Westminster to the regions through a clear “government process”.
- Devolve decision-making powers over economic development, transport, housing and skills.
- Champion the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine and support with significant infrastructure investment.
- Remove the referendum requirement for council tax changes.
- £100bn spend on infrastructure investment in road and rail and a new Housing and Infrastructure Bank with capitalisation of £5bn.
- Require banks to fund the creation of a local banking sector to meet needs of local SMEs.
- Review business rates for small companies and make them a priority for future tax cuts.
- Keep government debt falling over lifetime of Parliament.
- Establish a £2bn flood prevention fund.
- Establish a centrally funded Migration Impact Fund to help local communities to adjust to new migration and meet unexpected pressures on public services and housing.
Health and Social Care
- 1p rise on all income tax bands and dividend taxes to provide £6bn extra funding for health and social care. This rise to ultimately be replaced by a hypothecated Health and Care Tax.
- Establish a cross-party convention on the future of social care.
- Ultimately combine health and social care into one service (no clarity here on what if any role for local government in this new service).
- Guarantee UK residency rights for all care workers.
- Establish decent training, career pathways and a code of conduct for care workers.
- Keep public health in Local Government and reverse cuts to public health budgets.
- Build 500,000 government commissioned homes over the life of the Parliament and raise housebuilding to 300,000 a year by 2022.
- Enable local authorities to levy up to 200% council tax on second homes; enforce housebuilding on unwanted public sector land; penalise excessive land-banking; end the Right to Buy if they choose.
- Build ten new garden cities.
- Abolish Voluntary Right to Buy for Housing Associations.
- Lift the borrowing cap for councils.
- Strengthen the hand of councils to prevent developers reneging on affordable housing commitments.
- Require local plans to take into account 15 years of future housing need.
- Create a community right of appeal in cases where planning decisions go against the approved local plan.
- Introduce a new Rent to Own model where rent payments give tenants an increasing stake in the property, owning it outright after 30 years.
- Provide£7bn extra funding for schools and colleges.
- Introduce a fairer funding system for schools.
- Councils to be given clear responsibility for school places.
- Repeal the law requiring all new schools to be free schools or academies.
- Scrap plans for new grammars.
- Devolve all capital funding for new schools to councils.
- Require Ofsted to inspect local authorities and academy chains.
- Double the number of businesses hiring apprentices.
- Expand higher vocational training.
- Reverse cuts to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds.
- Scrap the bedroom tax.
- Scrap the Work Capability Assessment and replace with a local authority managed system.
- Increase the Local Housing Allowance in line with average local rents.
Councils as Employers
- Guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK.
- Encourage all public sector employers to adopt a higher, voluntary living wage for all staff.
- All large employers to publish details of staff paid below the voluntary living wage and of their high to low pay ratio.
Now we await the Conservative manifesto supposedly out tomorrow: something Philip Hammond refused confirm or deny this morning on the Today programme. How he got that reputation for being dull and ultra-cautious is a real puzzle!