2011 has been a year of steadying the ship. 2012 should be a year of radical reform. Far from hovering over the brake peddle, Cameron should place his foot firmly on the accelerator.
Reforms to planning, taxation, welfare, and education while encouraging need to be bolstered. A new narrative should be forged of not just a modernising but a radical government.
A government determined to hand power, money and opportunity back to the people, mainly through taxing less, spending less and deciding less. Allowing communities and individual to do more, spend more and decide more.
Below, I outline four radical reforms the government could undertake to achieve this:
1. Abolish the Green Belt
Key Fact: Still over 80% of British land is used for crops, grazing, forestry and other agricultural uses.
The battle against the green freaks is being aptly fought. From casting out the bossy, top-down ‘brown-field first’ rule, to the ruthless simplification of the 1,000 pages of central planning regulations down to just 52 the ministers responsible – Grant Shapps and Greg Clark haven’t done a bad job.
In 2012, though the mother of all damaging rules must be abolished. The green belt simply has to go.
This may seem radical, since it is viewed as the holy grail of Britishness. In the eyes of the middle classes the only thing stopping the evil capitalists from grabbing their precious green fields. Or the last remaining weapon in the fight against that dreaded ‘urban sprawl’.
In reality though the green belt is merely an overly-simplistic club used by regional strategists to beat out prospects of development. This club, in the most simplistic and rudimentary fashion traps millions of hectares of perfectly good British land in the ultimate Bermuda triangle of planning regulations.
It isn’t like ‘green fields’ are an endangered species, they still constitute well over 80% of Britain. Instead, as a regulatory tool the Green Belt acts like a comforting blanket in the minds of the few. To the many though who have the misfortune to live in areas covered by this psychological blanket development is skewed, house prices rocket, travel problems arise and labour market headaches appear. Simply locking up vast amounts of land and throwing away the key does not work, and should be abolished.
2. Large Tax Cuts – Abolish Capital Gains & Inheritance Taxes
Key Fact: Britain has fallen from the fourth most competitive economy in the world for the extent & effect of taxation in 1997, to 84th in 2010.
Britain has become, especially compared with our position as a leading free-market economy, uncompetitive when it comes to taxation.
Moves are being made to address this – increasing the income tax threshold to £10,000 and staggered cuts in corporation tax are helpful. Even more radical action on taxation is needed.
With these four measures: holding International Development spending at £5 billion over this Parliament (£12.7bn); holding International Development capital spending at £1.4 billion (£1.3bn); freezing education spending at 2011/12 levels (£5.3bn); and finally doubling the speed of the spending cuts to the department for (or under Vince Cable against) Business, Innovation and Skills (£4.05bn)
As a country we could take a significant leap forward in restoring our Thatcherite tax competitiveness. First by abolishing capital gains taxes. Capital gains taxes are charged on the profits of property, shares and other investments. In the United States while many presidential candidates talk of abolition, the Lib Dems are pushing forward a steep increase in the tax. Abolition would see the City of London revive its corporate profits, bringing jobs, investment and tax revenue flooding into the economy.
Second, let’s do away one of the most immoral taxes of all – inheritance taxes. This will send out a simple message. If you save for the future, are financially responsible and wish to leave, therefore, the remnants of your personal financial responsibility to your children the exchequer will not penalise you.
3. Devolve Welfare to create ‘Neighbourhood Welfare’
Key Fact: If we were to divide our social security budget between the bottom 10,000,000 families, we could give them ￡14,000 each.
Welfare has spiralled out of control. Everyone knows it. Money supposed to end up in the pockets of our poorest citizens reverberates around a national bureaucracy whose sole goal is self-preservation.
Welfare is no longer about genuinely providing the poorest with a British standard of living but instead about maintaining graphs on the annual budget which provide the illusion of ‘progressivism’.
While the Coalition has been doing some good with schemes such as the Universal Credit the only way to truly break this apparatus is to abolish it. In 1996 Bill Clinton did the same, with welfare being simply devolved.
In the UK welfare was localised for centuries, with the justification that it is better for taxpayers in Torbay to pay for the alleviation of the poor say within Devon as well as that apparatus placed on a local or county level would be best able to decide the welfare priorities in that area.
For those who say this will encourage councils to set terrible welfare budgets, therefore shifting their recipients onto their neighbours welfare bill – if we are allowing councils the ability to freely set social service provision (without negative effects), why can’t we do the same for welfare?
I propose that our social security budget should be split up into block grants, handed to county councils, cities or partnerships of unitary authorities to decide the eligibility, the welfare payment for each eligibility and the mechanism for distribution – be it through state or non-state agents. Local discretion will see best practice spread, the large bureaucracy defeated and involvement of non-state agents encouraged.
4. Supercharge School Freedom: Abolish Department for Education
Key Fact: Fewer than half of those sitting GCSEs in English and Maths gained grades higher than a D.
Schools reforms are coming along nicely. The academies programme, which is itself a supercharged version of Blair’s original reforms is designed in part to sweep away local authority meddling from the schools system, handing parents and teachers control of schools.
In 2012 I’d propose that Michael Gove should go the full distance, why stop at liberating schools from the clutches of the local authority? The Department for Education should be abolished.
There is nothing that the Department for Education actually does that couldn’t been done more effectively by either local communities, individual schools or occasionally other departments. Central government should stop creating teaching and administrative policies on behalf of schools. Parents should be handed the grants currently distributed by local authorities and government based on a parental voucher system used in Sweden.
Just as education can’t just be left to one style of state controlled producer, so education can’t just be left to one style of producer freed from a portion of state control. All of tertiary concerns of the department should be split up to provide them with a new focus. Skills and further education should join full-time the Business Department. Children and families on the other hand should join Work and Pensions. Most importantly abolishing the department would create a fresher sense of plurality, competition, freedom and parent power which would ultimately boost school quality.
(image: Path and steps above Heron Way, Torquay. The path on the right runs all along the upper edge of The Willows development, Torquay, through the narrow sliver of green belt separating the estate from the adjacent lanes. © Copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)