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Monday, 29 June 2009

Bumbling Britain's Future

The hype merchants and hucksters in charge of this country have put together some proposals for how they are going to meddle a bit more. What they call "key deliverables" (nothing of the sort of course, these are just summary titles for policies, but politicians have been picking up consultants' jargon even if they can't use it) are listed here.

So let's slam the doors and kick the tyres on this one.

First up is Democratic Renewal:

• Independent regulator for parliamentary standards established
• New statutory Code of Conduct for all MPs
• Independent Audit of all MPs’ expenses
• Online publications of all future MPs’ expenses
• Draft House of Lords Reform Bill
• Constitutional Renewal Bill, including action to remove the hereditary principle from the House of Lords
• Wright Commission on modernising the House of Commons
• Action on local democratic renewal
• Completion of a national consultation on a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities

Mostly solutions to problems that weren't there until Labour MPs messed up the system. the rest not something you would trust them to meddle with, and all o litle consequence to the man in the street.

Next up is Real Help Now:

• An extra 35,000 apprentices start work bringing the total to over 250,000
• Young Persons Guarantee of a job or training place introduced for all 18-24 year olds before they reach long term unemployment
• 150,000 jobs through £1 billion Future Jobs Fund
• Subsidised training or employment for adults unemployed for six months
• £1.2 billion support for affordable housing to buy and rent
• Mortgage Rescue Scheme and Homeowners Mortgage Support to help households facing repossession
• Enterprise Finance Guarantee underwrites up to £1.3 billion of lending
• Up to £75 million in equity for SMEs through Capital for Enterprise Fund
• VAT cut puts £20 billion back into economy
• 3.9 million families £150 a year better off through raised Child Tax Credit
• Car scrappage scheme stimulates up to 300,000 new car purchases
• New Growth fund provides over £18 million to support an extra 45,000 affordable loans
• Up to £42.5 million support for volunteers, charities and social enterprises plus additional £16.7 million hardship fund

None of which is new. They might as well add that fresh air and sunshine will continue to be free at the point of delivery, at least under the current Comprehensive Spending Review.

Let's have a look at Investing for the Future:

• Tax relief supporting £50 billion of capital investment
• £150 million Innovation Fund which will over time lever in up to £1 billion of private sector funding
• £750 million Strategic Investment Fund established
• ‘Infrastructure UK’ launched
• Guarantee of a sixth form, college or apprenticeship place to all school leavers who want one
• £400 million to kickstart mothballed developments and £100 million for Local Authorities to deliver new social housing
• Work underway to rebuild or refurbish secondary or primary schools in every Local Authority in England
• National roll out of an integrated employment and skills system
• Up to 1,000 additional wind turbines on and offshore
• £1.5 billion to deliver 20,000 additional energy efficient affordable homes over the next two years
• Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation ensures 5 per cent of all road fuels sold come from bio-fuels

The "tax relief for investment" is nothing more than the capital allowances system that we have had simce the introduction of corporation tax although these days for most plant and machinery it is only at 20% of the balance of unclaimed expenditure rather than the more generous 25% we had for most of the last 30 years.

The £150 Innovation Fund sounds good, but bears with little brain may need reminding that in April April, the government said it would establish a £750 million strategic investment fund to provide financial support to high-tech companies, and hey guess what! The £150 million will come from that fund. So nothing new here. All talk no action, and no reason to believe that politicians and civil servants will do a better job of spotting winners that the BVCA.

Even the relatively paltry £500 million for social housing is not new money. £150 million will probably come from an existing fund for decoration and maintenance of existing council property. The rest is made available because at present the surplus from council rents and proceeds of council house disposals are snaffled by Westminster and redistributed (one assumes to Labour heartlands), but this practice will be stopped. So in towns where where there is actually an excess of housing because the population is moving away there will be more cash from disposals, while in areas of population growth, where there will be higher demand for housing, there will be no cash. No new money, just edistribution,. ut they didn't tell you that.

The rest is a listing of initiatives already completed or aspirations (RTFO/wind turbines) already underway.

Let's move on to Fair Chances for all (remember that phrase because we'll come back to it later)

• 10 hours of one-to-one English or Maths tuition for thousands of seven to sixteen-year-olds
• All secondary school pupils have a personal tutor from September 2010
• Prescription charges abolished for all cancer patients
• All patients with suspected cancer will continue to be seen by a specialist within two weeks
• First ever NHS Constitution enshrined in legislation
• All patients will be treated within 18 weeks from GP referral, where clinically appropriate
• At least 75 per cent of GP surgeries offer patients extended evening or weekend opening hours
• Up to a million people aged 40-74 receive new NHS health checks
• Personal Health Budgets pilots begin to give patients and carers more control over healthcare decisions
• All social housing tenants have a greater say over where they live through Choice Based Lettings

The cancer ones are cute. The issue with serious cancer drugs is not whether you pay your £7.30 but whether NICE or your local trust agfrees to supply the drugs at so many thousand a year. But hey, while you are going through chemo, your asthma inhalers are free.

Then there is the great line "All patients with suspected cancer will continue to be seen by a specialist within two weeks". Did you spot that: "continue to be seen". Mark that up as no change.

All in all not much, particularly when you read the small print at the bottom - see later.

Then we have "Fair Rules":

• In partnership with police forces and authorities, monthly neighbourhood beat meetings and minimum police response times embedded, including answering 999 calls within 10 seconds
• Neighbourhood policing teams embedded in every neighbourhood
• New sanction for all benefit fraud first offenders, creating a ‘one strike’ provision
• Crackdown on fraud in the social housing sector
• Complete the implementation of the Points Based System for immigration on entry
• Over 95 per cent of passengers counted in and out of the country through electronic checks by the end of 2010

In case you are wondering whether most of that list is just doing things that ought to have been done before, so am I.

Well let's look at Families and Communities:

• 3,500 Sure Start Children’s Centres established – one in every community
• Free entitlement to 15 hours of high-quality early education a week for every three and four year old
• Expansion of free childcare to the most disadvantaged two year olds
• Youth Community Service begins – so that in time all young people have the opportunity to give something back to the community
• Offer of five hours PE and sport for young people
• More people are saving effectively through the new Saving Gateway accounts

Old news. Sure Start is up and running, as are the nursery places. Exta free childcare was announced 6 months ago, and none of the rest is new or paid for by the government.

But we ae nearly there "Britain in a fairer and safer world":

• Ambitious global climate change agreement in Copenhagen secured
• Pittsburgh Summit builds on London Summit measures to secure sustainable global economic recovery
• UK report to lead global review of nuclear non-proliferation
• 1,000 UK civilian experts readily available for deployment in post-conflict stabilisation around the world

None of which amounts to a hill of beans when it comes to rebuilding our future. In particular our response to nuclear proliferation in N Korea and Iran is a joke. The world knows we only attack when we know they haven't got WMD.

But what's this footnote at the bottom?

"Not all of these items will apply equally across the UK, because of the different nature of the devolution settlements."

Yup, all of those health, socoial security and education matters may not apply to you because your circumstances may be different. But they aren't going to tell you what applies to whom, so you might as well assume the worst. None of it applies to you, but if there is anything to be paid for, you will end up paying for it.

There is no strategy here, just existing policy headings in a 4 page PDF, and no new initiatives because there is no mney to pay for them. The government has avoided addressing the enormous budget deficit with eye-catching headlines that melt away after 10 seconds of reflection.

But that is modern politics. They honestly think they are safe if the voters don't see through the flim-flam before the newsreader eached the end of the sentance, but that is all that is left of New Labour. They have demonstrated that after 12 years in power, there is nothing left that they can do. In the new global village the socialist utopian promises of luxury for all has been shown to be unaffordable.

The people of Darlington can probably continue to expect a higher standard of living than the people of Darjeeling and Dar-Es-Salaam, but they have to earn it. It won't come through the ballot box. The government's reserves are all spent. It isn't a question of whether there are real cuts in government spending, but a mattter of the extent to which they will have to be made to restart growth in the private sector. Can Brown fix it? No, he can't.

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