After five days in Brighton for Labour Party Conference, I came back to Lincoln feeling energised (ok, and slightly tired). Why? Well because, as well as some good one-on-one meetings with organisations with a stake in Lincoln, such as Network Rail, over the last few days Labour have announced policies for government which speak directly to a number of issues raised with me frequently in Lincoln, and I’m looking forward to getting out on the doorstep to talk to people about them.
First, childcare. I speak to lots of parents in Lincoln who are really stretched because childcare costs have gone through the roof, and many tell me they spend virtually their entire weekly income on childcare. If elected in 2015, Labour will support working parents by expanding free childcare for three and four-year-olds to 25 hours per week. As with every policy announced this week, this is fully costed and would be paid for by an £800 million rise in the bank levy.
Second, apprenticeships. I meet far too many people who say they want to work but they can’t get a job. They hate being referred to as “scroungers” by Cameron and Osborne: some have applied for hundreds of jobs, but there isn’t enough work to go round. Labour’s policy to dramatically increase the number of high quality apprenticeships would help deal with this and would fit alongside the previously announced Compulsory Jobs Guarantee. In 2015, a Labour Government would make the offering of apprenticeships a requirement of every big government contractor. We’d also say that for every migrant worker from outside the EU employed by a large company, that company has to offer an apprenticeship too.
Third, cutting business rates. Many shops have become empty over the last few years as small and independent businesses have gone to the wall. Credit is hard to come by, and overheads can be crippling. The government should doing more to support small businesses – they’re the lifeblood of the economy. Labour announced this week that, instead of offering a corporation tax cut to larger firms, we’ll cut business rates for small businesses in 2015 and freeze them again in 2016.
Next, a series of measures to tackle low pay. Ed Miliband committed to ending the abuse of zero hours contracts and strengthening the National Minimum Wage.
The cruel and unfair bedroom tax would be scrapped, paid for by clamping down on tax loopholes in the construction industry, ending the ‘Shares for Rights’ scheme, and reversing Osborne’s tax cut for hedge funds. We’d also commit to a largescale house building programme — something the country has needed for decades.
However, the policy which has grabbed headlines is the proposed energy price freeze. It’s well-acknowledged that Britain’s energy market isn’t working for ordinary families and businesses. Bills have risen by almost £300 for families since 2010, businesses say it’s the second biggest cost they face and wholesale price decreases aren’t passed on to consumers.
When a market isn’t competitive and harming consumers, it is government’s job to act. So the next Labour Government will reset our energy market immediately with a new tough regulator to stop overcharging and, while we put that in place, we will freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017. The freeze will save a typical household £120 and an average business £1,800.
One more measure to end on — fiscal discipline is essential. That’s why Labour have committed to no additional borrowing for day to day spending, and have asked the independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility to audit every commitment in our 2015 manifesto – the first time any political party in Britain has ever done so.
We’re still over a year and a half from the General Election and there’s a lot more work to do but, with these policies as a foundation, Labour have shown we’re on the side of working people who want to get on, and that’s how we’d govern too.