How Labour plans to crack down on payday loan sharks

Miliband will announce that the party would give councils new powers to limit the spread of payday lenders and betting shops on the high street.

Ed Miliband will return from holiday to launch Labour's local election campaign today and he's prepared a new policy for the occasion. Speaking in Ipswich, Miliband will announce plans to allow communities to halt the spread of payday loan sharks, bookmakers and fast food outlets along their high streets.

At present, if a high street bank closes down, councils are powerless to stop a payday lender moving in, despite the negative effect they can have on the area, because they are classed as the same kind of business. In the last year, there has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of payday loan firms as well as a significant increase in betting shops and pawnbrokers. Miliband will aim to reverse this trend by granting councils new powers to prevent such businesses opening. According to the party, Labour would reform planning laws by creating "an additional umbrella class which allows local councils to decide if they want to place some premises in a separate planning category." This would allow local authorities to refuse planning permission on the grounds that, for instance, opening a payday loan shop would constitute a change of use. In addition, it would allow councils to limit the spread of other types of outlet where there is local concern such as betting shops and fast food takeaways. 

In proposing the change, Miliband will cite the example of Chatham in Kent, where 23 payday lenders operate within a mile of the high street and where residents complain that their presence is increasing levels of personal debt in the area. He will say: 

Too many councils are finding that they don’t have the real power to stand up for local people. But that is what politics is supposed to be about: standing up for those without power and giving power to them. Currently if a bank branch closes down, there’s nothing a council can do if a payday loan shop wants to move in and open up in the same place. Even if there's another lender next door. That can’t be right.

The policy is a notable example of Miliband's embrace of Blue Labour-style small c-conservatism and he will contrast his stance with that of David Cameron. 

David Cameron’s government used to say it would give people that kind of chance. But it hasn’t delivered. In fact, it is moving in the opposite direction. Not standing up to the powerful interests. So it is up to us to give local people a proper chance to protect the places that they love. To turn their high streets around.

The crackdown on payday lenders is one of the five policies Labour has chosen to prioritise for its local election campaign. The other four are:

- Cancelling the cut in the 50p income tax rate (dubbed "the millionaires' tax cut") and protecting tax credits for low paid workers.

- Introducing a mansion tax on property values over £2m in order to fund the reintroduction of a 10p tax rate on the first £1,000 of earnings above the personal allowance.

-Reforming the energy market to break the stranglehold of the big six energy companies.

-Cracking down on train companies who are putting "the price of the daily commute further and further out of reach". 

After his absence last week, it will also be worth watching to see what Miliband has to say about George Osborne's decision to link the Philpott case to the government's welfare cuts, which he was privately appalled by. 

Miliband will say that "too many councils are finding that they don’t have the real power to stand up for local people". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.