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28 November 2023

Andy Burnham: Labour must break its silence on tax rises

The Greater Manchester mayor told a New Statesman conference that his party should back measures such as a land value tax.

By Rachel Cunliffe

Andy Burnham has raised the prospect of new local taxes to pay for infrastructure and social care if a Labour government is elected.

Speaking in conversation with Andrew Marr at the New Statesman’s Path to Power conference today (28 November), the mayor of Greater Manchester warned that public spending pressures after 13 years of Conservative government meant Labour “won’t be able not to raise the issue of tax”. To date, Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves have only promised limited tax rises, such as the abolition of non-domicile tax status and the addition of VAT to private school fees.

However, Burnham emphasised that tax increases should not automatically be viewed as unpopular, arguing that “the public are ready to be given a sophisticated argument about where things need to change”.

Burnham suggested a range of tax options that could be explored, including a tourist tax for major cities (a common practice across Europe), a land-value capture tax so local communities benefit for new development, and a “care levy” to fix the UK’s dysfunctional social care system. He argued there would be less public resistance to this than is often anticipated, pointing out “it’s not fun draining your parent’s bank account to pay for care”. He urged that the UK look to Scandinavia’s high-tax economies as a model of what can be achieved, and floated the possibility of a universal basic income to replace the benefits system.

As well as revisiting the issue of local taxation, Burnham called for radical constitutional reform in the first term of a Labour government: proportional representation, reform of the House of Lords, and more devolution to make levelling up a success. He said the Covid inquiry, to which he gave evidence yesterday, had exposed “the complete inadequacy of the governance of Britain”, and demonstrated that “the rewiring of Britain is now urgent”.

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While it has been suggested this may not be a top priority for Keir Starmer, Burnham insisted, “That is the wrong thinking. We should have rewired the country in [19]97 and we didn’t.”

That wasn’t the only comparison to Tony Blair’s landslide victory. While the economic conditions facing the country are very different now than they were 27 years ago, Burnham exuded optimism, telling the audience “I think [20]24 could be a better moment than [19]97”. There was, he argued, a “more realistic mood” now than faced by Blair, without the same “weight of expectation”.

[See also: The everyday economists guiding Rachel Reeves]

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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