What's the deal with the New Green Deal?

The same old mistakes are made again today by those who pull the levers.

Britain is not heading for a new economic disaster; it has sustained one long-term national and personal debt crisis. One group, the Green New Deal Group, has been consistent with its critique: economic failure caused public debt to rise and this is where the crisis lies.

The same old mistakes are made again today by those who pull the levers. Unemployment figures are down but this is sustained by part-time or zero-hour contracts and underemployment. Tony Dolphin said in 2012 on these pages: "We know there are many reluctant part-time workers because the Office for National Statistics asks those who are working part-time if they would prefer to be working full-time and 1,418,000 are currently saying "yes" – the highest number since comparable records began in 1992 and an increase of 700,000 over the last four years.”

While the number of unemployed is reduced the amount of work being done doesn't rise. Jobs aren't being created quick enough, it's just more jobs have more people working them. That's not what we had in mind when criticising employment rates.

Another mistake is bank bonuses. In the days before the Big Bang (deregulation of the financial markets in 1986), back when bankers were more trusted than the police, the NHS, and the press, UK merchant banks paid bonuses of around 3-4 per cent of a salary, while some firms only gave Christmas hampers as thanks.

In 1997 the city bonus pool hit £1 billion for the first time. Ten years later: £9bn, 4,000 bonuses of which reached above £1m, a few hundred over £5m, and twenty-odd over £10m. Even after RBS was bailed out, post-Libor scandal, bankers were paid bonuses of £7bn.

And here's another kick in the teeth: according to the figures from the Office for National Statistics, banks and insurers delayed about £700m of bonuses so as not to pay the 50p top rate of income tax.

This is where better control of banks is needed. In 2008 the Green New Deal Group argued that, in the face of economic collapse, government should not revert to type, hoping the market would fix things, but actively intervene. In their second report in 2009, The Cuts Won't Work, the group warned of complacency around freezes to inter-bank lending and the rise of high city bonuses.

Cash injections to save the world, bailouts to save the banks – these are all vindicated in theory as in practice. Quantitative easing was not able to save the country from unemployment, low wages, and low investment because in the following years we had a government that were ideologically committed to austerity. But none the less creating more money and spending more to save later should appeal.

The Green New Deal would be funded through tackling tax evasion and avoidance, a programme of Green Quantitative Easing would generate jobs and economic activity, investment would be made through bailed out banks at sustainable rates of interest, and buying out PFI debt using Green QE money would ensure no more money is wasted through it.

But where further? A local Green New Deal could fund regional and community banks which in turn invests in small and medium enterprises and lends to local people at reasonable rates of interest, putting out of business payday lenders, home creditors, and loan sharks who suck money out of the real economy and profit from people's debt.

Giving this kind of boost to high streets and local communities would provide more jobs, more money in people's pockets, and stop high roads becoming a miserable mix of pawnbrokers, betting shops, and empty fronts.

As opposed to the political status quo, the Green New Deal Group called for a Keynesian solution of more spending to meet economic crisis head-on. It feels vindicated in its decision and continues the same for today. Seeing this through at a national and local would do a great deal to improve on what this government has done so much to ruin.

Photograph: Getty Images

Carl Packman is a writer, researcher and blogger. He is the author of the forthcoming book Loan Sharks to be released by Searching Finance. He has previously published in the Guardian, Tribune Magazine, The Philosopher's Magazine and the International Journal for Žižek Studies.
 

Getty
Show Hide image

Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.