The coalition has become a ‘zombie’ government – killing time, and each other, in its final year. While they bicker in Whitehall, the list of challenges the country faces gets longer, not shorter. Here are some bills that, if they’d been in touch with ordinary people, ministers could have put forward to address the rising tides of anger, dissatisfaction and disengagement that people face:
New deal for young people bill – there is a desperate need to tackle youth unemployment if we are to avoid writing off a whole generation. Young people have been disproportionately impacted by the financial crisis and recession; we should give a compulsory guarantee of a job or training. This would help bridge our national skills gap and give our young people confidence and hope about their future.
Dignity in work bill – people in work are being subject to increasingly fragile terms and conditions, and short-term contracts on wages well below the living wage. We need a new employment settlement, as significant today as the Factory Act was in 1833. Giving people peace of mind at work will be good for the economy as greater financial stability means they will be more confident in spending and investing money. This would also help break the cycle of benefit dependency.
Rent control (one-term parliament) bill – the soaring cost of housing benefit is driven mainly by inflation-busting private sector rent rises. Limiting such increases, rather than penalising tenants by reducing housing benefit, would free up billions to reinvest in building new homes. Within five years enough new homes could be built to reduce the current inflationary pressure on private sector rents.
Finance independence bill – only a tiny proportion of the money raised by local councils is retained. Most is centralised in Whitehall and dished out via increasingly dubious formulas. Giving local communities greater control over taxes raised locally, starting with council tax, business rates, stamp duty, land tax, annual tax on enveloped dwellings and capital gains property disposal tax, would increase accountability and start to reinvigorate local democracy.
Regional economic growth bill – every part of the United Kingdom felt the shockwaves from the collapse of the financial sector six years ago. It revealed a huge weakness and imbalance in our national economy. In addition, 94 per cent of UKTI staff with a remit to support regions are based in London. Devolving UKTI resources, and strengthening regional economies and sectors, would create a much more sustainable economy, more able to withstand shocks in the future.
Equality (narrowing the gap) bill – the first duty of the public sector should be to narrow the inequalities gap, ensuring that everyone regardless of background or circumstances is able to fulfil their potential. Making this an explicit requirement of all public sector and publicly funded organisations, as well as any further city or growth deals, would transform the country and end the current concentration of power and wealth in a small, self-serving elite.
The government appears to think that they can govern for four years and then get one free. Serious challenges call for serious politics, not internal coalition bickering. The people of Britain deserve better.
Nick Forbes is leader of Newcastle city council. He tweets @nick_forbes
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