The recent interventions by Tony Blair and Len McCluskey in the New Statesman shared one thing in common: a desire for Ed Miliband to set out a clearer alternative to the coalition’s programme. Today, during a local election campaign appearance in Newcastle, Miliband will attempt to do that when he announces six economic bills that Labour would introduce in next week’s Queen’s Speech were it in power. They include a housing bill, a finance bill, a consumers bill (focused on energy, transport and pensions), a jobs bill, a banking bill and an immigration bill.
The bills do not feature any new policies but do bring together those measures previously announced by the party, such as a reintroduced 10p tax rate funded by a mansion tax, a temporary VAT cut, a one year national insurance holiday for small firms, a jobs guarantee for every adult out of work for more than two years and every young person out of work for more than a year, the creation of a British Investment Bank and the introduction of a national register of landlords.
But while the alternative Queen’s Speech is a reminder of how much policy has Miliband unveiled to date (his chief strategist Stewart Wood has commented: “We’ve got more policy proposals than almost any other opposition I can think of…And can you name a single policy Cameron had before his election campaign?”) it will not lessen the pressure on him to say what Labour would do in 2015, rather than merely if it were in power now. In response, Miliband and Ed Balls rightly point out that the volatility of the economy – the government is borrowing £245bn more than expected in 2010 and the economy has grown by just 1.1 per cent, 4.9 per cent less than expected – means it would be irresponsible to make cast-iron pledges at this stage. But with just two years to go to the general election and Labour’s poll lead looking increasingly soft, this stance will become ever harder to maintain.
Here are full details of the six bills Labour would introduce.
· The housing market has changes significantly in recent years. There are now 3.8 million households in the private rented sector, including more than one million with children.
· Many are being ripped off through hidden fees, which are costing tenants £76m per year.
· More than a third of all privately rented homes are not up to decent standards, with more than 15 per cent lacking minimal heat in winter.
The Bill would:
· Introduce a national register of landlords, to allow local authorities to root out and strike off rogue landlords, including those who pack people into overcrowded accommodation.
· Tackle rip-off letting agents, ending the confusing, inconsistent fees and charges.
· Seek to give greater security to families who rent and remove the barriers that stand in the way of longer term tenancies.
· Since the government’s Spending Review in the fourth quarter of 2010, the UK economy has grown by just 1.1 per cent – compared to the 6 per cent forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility at the time.
· The lack of growth means that the Government is now borrowing £245bn more than they planned.
· Prices are rising faster than wages and people are now £1,700 a year worse off than they were in May 2010.
The Bill would:
· Reintroduce a 10p rate of income tax, paid for by taxing mansions worth over £2m.
· Stop the cut to the 50p rate of income tax for those on the highest incomes to reverse cuts to tax credits.
· Reverse the Tory-led government’s damaging VAT rise now for a temporary period – a £450 boost for a couple with children.
· Provide a one year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements, repairs and maintenance – to help homeowners and small businesses
· Put in place a one year national insurance tax break for every small firm which takes on extra workers – helping small businesses to grow and create jobs
· Families are facing record fuel bills while energy companies are enjoying huge profits. Since the election average energy bills are £300 a year higher.
· Rail fares are rising by up to 9 per cent a year, after the Government gave back to private train operators the ability to increase some fares by up to another 5 per cent above the fare increase ‘cap’.
· Upon retirement a pensioner can discover that up to almost half the value of their pension fund has been wiped out by hidden costs and charges.
The Bill would:
· Abolish Ofgem and create a tough new energy watchdog with the power to force energy suppliers to pass on price cuts when the cost of wholesale energy falls
· Require the energy companies to pool the power they generate and to make it available to any retailer, to open the market and to put downward pressure on prices
· Force energy companies to put all over-75s on their cheapest tariff helping those benefiting to save up to £200 per year
· Apply strict caps on fare rises on every route, and remove the right for train companies to vary regulated fares by up to 5 per cent above the average change in regulated fares.
· Introduce a new legal right for passengers to the cheapest ticket for their journey.
· Tackle the worst offending pension schemes by capping their charges at a maximum of 1 per cent;
· Amend legislation and regulation to force all pension funds to offer the same simple transparent charging structure so that consumers know the price they will be paying before they choose a particular scheme;
· There are nearly 1 million young people out of work.
· The number of people out of work for two years is half a million – the highest since the end of the last Tory Government in May 1997.
· Since David Cameron became Prime Minister, the number of unemployed people has risen.
The Bill would:
· Introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, a paid job for every adult who is out of work for more than two years. People would have to take up those jobs or lose benefits. The £1 billion costs can be funded by reversing the government’s decision to stop tax relief on pension contributions for people earning over £150,000 being limited to 20 per cent
· Guarantee a 6 month paid job for all young people out of work for over a year, paid for by a bank bonus tax. Those offered a job would be required to take it.
· Require large firms getting government contracts to have an active apprenticeships scheme that ensures opportunities to work for the next generation.
· Lending to businesses is falling month on month, including a fall of £4.8bn in the three months to February according to the latest Bank of England figures.
· The Government’s schemes, such as the Merlin deal, the National Loan Guarantee Scheme and the Funding for Lending Scheme have all failed to help businesses.
· The Treasury has allocated just £300m in funding to their Business Bank, which isn’t a real bank, is staffed by BIS civil servants and is still not up and running.
The Bill would:
. Create a real British Investment Bank on a statutory basis, at arms length from government and with proper financing powers to operate like a bank.
. Set out that one of its purposes is to support small and medium sized businesses, including across the regions of the UK through regional banks.
. Provide a general backstop power so that if there is not genuine culture change from the banks they can be broken up.
. Put in place a Code of Conduct for bankers so that those who break the rules are struck off.
. Toughen the criminal sanctions against those involved in financial crime.
. In certain sectors there is evidence that workers, particularly migrant workers, are being exploited by being paid less than the minimum wage. A recent Kings College study found that between 150,000 and 220,000 care workers are paid less than the minimum wage.
. Enforcement is weak. There has not been a single prosecution for non-payment of the National Minimum Wage in the last two years.
The Bill would:
· Double the fines for breaching the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and give local councils the power to take enforcement action over the NMW
· Extend the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to other sectors where abuse is taking place.
· Change NMW regulations to stop employers providing overcrowded and unsuitable tied accommodation and offsetting it against workers’ pay.