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.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.