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The ‘policy vacuum’ at the heart of levelling up

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Two years after he first started talking about it, the prime minister’s levelling up agenda is still looking remarkably policy-light.

This week, MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee said that levelling up risks becoming an “everything and nothing policy”. That verdict came after the lack of detail in the recent big speech on the flagship policy prompted Labour to charge Boris Johnson with serving “empty waffle”, while one Conservative MP admitted that levelling up is an ambiguous phrase that “means whatever anyone wants it to mean”.

What’s clear is that, two years after Johnson first started talking about it, there continues to be a policy vacuum at the heart of levelling up.

This might be understandable if there was a shortage of interventions that the prime minister could pick up and run with to achieve a fairer Britain. Yet no such shortage exists. Indeed, one policy that ticks all of the boxes is increasingly being talked about by MPs on both sides of the chamber.

This week, MPs on the housing, communities and local government committee (HCLG) backed an overhaul of council tax, which they rightly called out as “an increasingly regressive tax that penalises those in more deprived areas”. In the place of council tax, the select committee MPs are backing a fairer system that would deliver for voters in the so-called red wall and beyond. “The government should consider options for wider reform of council tax and business rates, including possibly replacing them with a proportional property tax,” their report states.

The MPs’ concern over council tax tallies with research showing that residents of constituencies in the north and Midlands clearly receive the worst deal under the current system. By backing a proportional property tax, the committee’s 11 MPs are voicing their support for a fairer system that should be central to any credible levelling up agenda.

Research shows that across England, around 76% of households would benefit under a proportional property tax set at a flat rate of 0.48% of a property’s value. Across all the 44 so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats in England which the Conservatives gained from Labour in 2019, 97% of households would be better off as a result of the policy, with an average saving of £660 per year.

The select committee report frames proportional property tax as a long-term option but there is no reason why the policy could not be introduced in the near future. A simple proportional property tax as designed by the Fairer Share campaign would be revenue-neutral, maintaining the amount that the government can put towards our services, while simultaneously leading to lower bills for millions of people. There would also be significant safeguards in place to help the so-called ‘asset rich, cash poor’, such as the option to defer payments at notional interest rates until point of sale.

While opponents of a proportional property tax point to practical issues, such as annual valuations, work done by the International Property Tax Institute shows that there is no technical problem with revaluation. At present, hundreds of jurisdictions use some sort of automated valuation model to aid their property tax systems.

As he searches for policies to anchor the levelling up agenda, the prime minister does not need to look far to see why proportional property tax would do the job better than most. This week’s HCLG committee report comes after the liberal Conservative Bright Blue group also recently backed an annual proportional property tax on the current value of houses. Conservative MP Kevin Holinrake said: “Introducing a proportional tax on property in the UK would be an excellent way for our party to demonstrate our commitment to levelling up and to do something meaningful for the many new constituencies we have won across the country”.

If levelling up is not an everything and nothing policy and is really a serious policy programme, the prime minister could prove it tomorrow by putting proportional property tax at the heart of the agenda. In doing so he would be implementing a policy that would not cost the Exchequer and has been shown to deliver real-world levelling up benefits to households across the country. As Johnson himself might say, he would be advancing a plan that is “oven-ready”.

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Policing review says violence against women is as important as terrorism

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A new report says tackling violence against women must be considered as much of a priority for the police as anti-terrorism.

The report, undertaken by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), was commissioned by home Secretary Priti Patel in the wake of the murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in March this year and recommends a “radical shift” in the way crimes against women and girls are considered.

It further expressed “grave concerns” regarding the number of cases closed without charge, “major gaps” in the data recorded on offences, and the “staggering” degree of variation in attitudes toward domestic abuse across police forces in England and Wales.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, the report’s author, Zoe Billingham HM Inspector of Constabulary said that, “ There is a real sense, I think, in the wake of this epidemic of violence, that enough is enough. There needs to be a whole new way of dealing with this and this is what we set out in our report today”.

Although acknowledging that the police had vastly improved in their response over the last 7 years, Billingham said, “We are not going to police our way out of the breadth and depth of the crimes that are being committed against women every day” stating that “we think there needs to be an uplift in the prioritisation of the violence against women crimes”.

The report also found that the total of investigations into sexual attacks against women shelved because of ‘evidential difficulties’ tripled from 4,326 cases in 2014-15 to 13,395 in 2019-20, a figure Billingham described as “eye-wateringly” high.

She went on to argue that some sexual predators and domestic abusers are ‘laughing’ at the law, as police will often not act against people who have repeatedly breached non-molestation orders.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4 on Friday, Labour MP and former minister Harriet Harman said she gave “all credit to the Home Secretary” for commissioning the review, but said she hoped the government would now take action as a result of the findings, and said the home office must “immediately tackle domestic violence a priority in the strategic policing requirement – which at the moment it isn’t”.

She also said it was “completely not acceptable” that Labour MP Rosie Duffield, who has attracted controversy due to her comments on gender self-identification, may not attend the Labour Party conference due to fear of personal safety.

Ahead of the report’s release, shadow minister for domestic violence Jess Phillips said via Twitter:

“So who is now the Home Office Minister for safeguarding with responsibility for the biggest violent crime type in the UK? Because tomorrow there is a report coming from the inspectorate in to how well that’s going, so they better get reading pretty quick.”

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SNIPEF boosts industrial relations support

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The Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF) has strengthened its industrial relations advisory service with a new appointment.

Read Full Article: The Construction Index

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McLaren wins new Aston Martin F1 factory race

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The Enquirer understands McLaren will deliver the £200m project which will see construction of a new factory and testing wind tunnel at the new headquarters for the Formula One team.

Building work will take 18 months on the scheme designed by Ridge and Partners LLP

Three buildings across 400,000 sq ft will house the team’s design, manufacturing and marketing resource, the brand-new wind tunnel and a factory and logistics centre.

McLaren declined to comment.

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