Margaret Hodge, anti-tax avoidance campaigner and Kendall backer. Photo: Getty Images
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Liz Kendall appoints Margaret Hodge to investigate Britain's £100bn tax relief bill

The Labour leadership has appointed the former head of the Public Affairs Committee and anti-tax avoidance campaigner Margaret Hodge to review the £100bn that Britain gives away in tax relief each year. 

Liz Kendall has announced a review into Britain's tax relief bill, potentially paving the way to massive reductions in the amount that the Treasury gives away in tax breaks.

The Labour leadership hopeful, who has described regaining the party's reputation for economic credibility as "the gateway to government", has appointed Margaret Hodge, the former chair of the Public Accounts Committee and a renowned tax avoidance campaigner, to look into the United Kingdom's £100bn annual tax relief. 

Although Kendall regards many of the tax breaks as vital to attracting investment to important sectors of the economy, including manufacturing and IT, she also believes that other reliefs are impossible to defend.

The Late Night Taxi Relief is a particularly egregious example: a tax break for people who work late hours and are given taxis home, paid for by their employers. Bankers and hedge fund traders regularly claim this tax break. But shift workers, night bus drivers, care workers and security guards are not entitled to claim the relief, as they are contracted to work unsocial hours. Between 80 to 90 per cent of the relief is claimed by city firms. 

The Kendall campaign also hope to highlight the rise in tax relief under the Conservative-led government, in contrast to the cuts to tax credits and the ongoing public sector pay freeze. Over the last five years, tax reliefs rose from 5.5 per cent of GDP to six per cent of GDP, while the cost of working age welfare fell from 5.7  per cent of GDP to 5.2 per cent. Even a reduction to 2010 levels would generation £10 billion for the Treasury, while the combined £100bn cost is greater than that paid to the NHS.)

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

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

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