Tag Archives: UK

How can Parliament reconnect with the public?

By Graham Reid

9th June 2013

A democratic nation needs a Government that has been elected by a positive vote of its people and NOT the distorted result of either a large protest vote or many not voting at all. The UK is currently at great risk of such distortion in 2015 unless MPs of all major parties reconnect with voters. This is not to say that minority parties (some gaining much new support from the disillusioned) are not valid. There is a place for them and they give a voice to those who feel forgotten.

Articles are now appearing tinkering with the details of MPs pay and conditions, the place of lobbyists in the overall scheme and the perils of minorities in power. However, I have yet to see anyone suggesting a larger reform to a system that would be both welcomed by the voters and attract suitable individuals to stand for election.

Very basic questions need to be asked not least because the current system is an anachronism that is falling apart at the seams.  For a start, the parliamentary system should resemble voters normal way of life, pay structure, behaviour, holiday entitlement and responsibility. Here are a few questions:-

Why do MPs only sit in the Commons for 135 days a year and then complain that there is not enough time to debate important legislation?

The USA has a population of 316m; the UK – 63m. The USA has 435 in their lower house and 100 in the Senate so why do we need 650 in the Commons and 763 in the Lords?

Why are “expenses” so easy to define and administer in UK corporate life but seemingly impossible in parliament?

Why is the behaviour of MPs in parliamentary debates and during Questions to the PM at a level that would not be tolerated in any school in the land let alone a serious company?

What is a reasonable salary for an MP who actually undertakes the duties and what higher reward should be given for extra responsibilities?

I would suggest that all parties agree to a full review during the course of the next parliament (2015 to 2020) with the new system being in place for 2020 onwards.

My suggestions, for inclusion in the debate are:

400 MPs plus 100 elected to an Upper House – boundary commission to define the constituencies.

MPs to work 52 weeks of the year with a week off at Christmas plus 5 other weeks holiday during the year to be taken as agreed with Party Whips (plus public holidays). Sound familiar to the rest of us?

House of Commons to sit 51 weeks of the year from 0930 to 1830 Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday, 1030 to 1930 on Mondays to allow distant MPs to arrive and 0830 to 1630 on Fridays to get home.

Constituency work will be undertaken on days and times agreed with Party Whips in advance when “pairing” will be in place for votes but at least 65% of MPs will be in the debating chamber at all times.

Expenses will be allowed as for employees for companies – i.e. wholly necessarily and exclusively in the course of duties undertaken upon production of receipts. This would include travel between constituency and Parliament as well as cost of overnight expenses on a pre-agreed scale (also on production of receipts).

Basic salary for an MP to commence at £100,000 pa increasing in bands for Junior Ministers, Chairs of Select Committees, Senior Ministers, Whips, Members of Cabinet, Secretaries of State up to £300,000 for the Prime Minister.

As the Speaker and party leaders appear totally unable to control the disgraceful behaviour of MPs, including Ministers, it would appear sensible to leave the current debating chamber as a museum, rather than lavish huge expenditure on the proposed modernisation, and use that sum instead to create a new chamber in say Westminster Hall with MPs sitting in a half circle facing the Speaker and his team rather than the confrontational face-off as at present. Of course, if adult behaviour was insisted upon and enforced, then the current chamber could continue!

These changes might give voters a sense of MPs “living in a part of the real world” and hopefully lead to some respect being accorded to them rather than the current total contempt

In the absence of agreement to a responsible change, I fear that current minority parties do not even need policies to ensure that their support in 2015 will at the very least “skew” the resulting composition of Parliament to the detriment of democracy and the good of the British people, They deserve better than that.

 

 

 

UK-(Dis)location of Industry policies

JR Max Wheel

15th April 2013

 

In the bad old days, (60s and 70s) teaching of economics usually required study of location of industry policies – Government inspired interventions to locate industry to areas of low employment. It was a widely accepted notion that industrial location could and should, be influenced by State intervention, since invariably it knew best and of course, this was the response to the “inevitable” market failure. This was largely knocked on the head as we shifted to a service based economy and for the manifest failure of Governments to pick winners, in fact it was more about political influence than anything useful.  However in the UK’s now utterly lopsided economy we have much of the economically active population jammed into the Southeast, and in large industrial (and ex industrial) conurbations.

Why should this continue to be the case, both from a social and economic perspective- our communications having been transformed, one can just as easily run a service business from the Hebrides as from Highgate?  Industrial location is different given the space, infrastructure and capital investment in usually heavy industry and the record is generally awful, from Steel works in Scunthorpe, Ebbw Vale and Corby to feeble attempts to prop up an ailing and dysfunctional automotive business is Merseyside and the West Midlands. These ill-founded efforts have now succumbed to the forces of international competition, but the deskilling and lack of prospects in many areas do require a radical rethink. The UK is not short of exceptional engineers, but it is short of engineers period. Instead of distributing public sector jobs across the wastelands of former industry, the Government could adopt a far more enlightened approach, which rises above just weak efforts at re-training, and change the tax rates to incentivise relocation. Clearly, this has to go hand in glove with a workforce both willing and able to sustain such relocation, but it is a powerful incentive.

Ireland used low tax rates very successfully to attract corporate moves, much to the distaste of both Westminster and EU bureaucrats. The same approach could and should be applied to local authority business rates, that killer of the nation’s High Streets. The High Street issue is almost a separate one in its own right, and it needs far more than well-known celebs like Mary Portas to opine about what works. Towns have been hollowed out over decades by shopping centres and supermarkets and now by online purchase, they need life and energy breathed back in and to do so requires them to be the engine of better-balanced urban landscape. People live and lived in cities and towns and walked and cycled to work or took public transport, where are the incentives to attract back people and not just a jumble of poor social housing, but a quality mix of the two. It works in the Netherlands and elsewhere, so why not in Britain. It is a mix of lazy thinking, lack of commitment and utterly out of date planning laws. A quick glance at almost any British market town will reveal a nasty ring road racetrack encircling a dying nucleus of retail and other premises.

So why not opt for a variable corporate tax system rather than distributing pork-barrel public sector jobs. It will cost money and it has to be a medium-term strategy but to adopt it, would give local people a say and an interest in future prospects, attract house builders to build affordable  developments and not squash as many dwellings as possible on every available bit of green or brown belt land. Designs should reflect excellence of design, quality build, proper insulation and value for money. New Labour flirted with this with the infamous £60,000 house from Lord Prescott, nothing happened.

Something radical has to be done if one-half of the country is not to become an industrial theme park dedicated to the glories of the Industrial Revolution. Stimulus requires much more than distant infrastructure projects, important as they may be and it needs to happen on people’s doorsteps so that they are not looking at the near impossibility of buying a house at five times their income.

I am sure that HMRC and the Treasury is not short of finding a way to balance the revenues from overheated hot spots and to spread the opportunity and wealth somewhat more evenly as well as making our regions and cities more attractive places to live and work.