David Cameron and Nick Clegg hold a press conference on anti-terror laws at No.10 Downing Street on 10 July, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Lib Dems steal a march on the Tories by pledging to cut National Insurance

Nick Clegg has pre-empted an expected Tory manifesto commitment. 

When the Lib Dems pledged to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000 in their 2010 general election manifesto many Tories questioned why they hadn't got their first. The answer was provided by David Cameron during the first TV leaders' debate: "I would love to take everyone out of their first £10,000 of income tax, Nick. It's a beautiful idea, it's a lovely idea - we cannot afford it." 

It turned out, though, that we could. The policy was included in the Coalition Agreement and the Tories, with some chutzpah, now present it as their greatest achievement in government. In his most recent Budget, George Osborne announced that the threshold would rise to £10,500 next year, exceeding Clegg's original target. 

The Lib Dems, however, have long made it clear that they want to go further by increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 by the end of the next parliament. Labour, meanwhile, has pledged to reinstate the 10p tax rate (a policy championed by Tory MP Robert Halfon) disastrously abolished by Gordon Brown in his final Budget in 2007. 

These announcements have left the Tories, many of whom, like Milton Friedman, are in favour of cutting taxes "under any circumstances and for any excuse", asking what their offer will be. One policy long rumoured for inclusion in the party's manifesto is a cut in the National Insurance threshold. At present, this stands at £7,956, far below the income tax threshold of £10,000. Cutting NI would ensure that the 1.2 million workers who earn too little to gain from another increase in the personal allowance (or from a 10p tax rate) would benefit. The Tories, still viewed as "the party of the rich", would be able to boast of a tax policy more progressive than that of their rivals. 

But as in 2010, the Lib Dems have got there first. Danny Alexander announced today that after achieving a personal allowance of £12,500, the party would "seek to raise the level that people start paying employee National Insurance". He added: "The Liberal Democrats are the only party in British politics with a long-term commitment to cutting taxes for the working people of Britain. We've delivered the largest programme of tax cuts for a generation over the last four years, despite all of the other financial pressures.

"These manifesto commitments will mean nothing less than a generational shift to a fairer tax system that rewards work and helps working people. That's the way to build a stronger economy and a fairer society and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get on in life."

It sounds good, but the Chief Secretary to the Treasury notably avoided the question of how the move would be paid for. With the IFS warning that the next government will need to raise taxes (or cut welfare) by £12bn merely to keep departmental spending cuts at their current pace, all parties should be more focused on raising money than giving it away.

But nine months away from a general election, politics is trumping policy. That means the pressure is now on Cameron to deliver a conference-dazzling tax cut pledge this autumn. How he will do that while pledging to eliminate the deficit by the end of the next parliament, and to avoid any further tax rises, is another question

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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