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.
 

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital