I support the UK joining 11 other EU countries including France, Germany and Italy, in introducing a Financial Transaction Tax. This new tax could raise an additional £20 billion annually in the UK alone. This money could be invested in growing the UK economy through funding house building, education and infrastructure. It would help address London’s urgent housing crisis, fund the reintroduction of Educational Maintenance Allowance, and create jobs and opportunities for thousands of workers.

Governments across Europe and in the USA have spent vast sums of money bailing out their financial services. A tiny Financial Transaction Tax is a neat and progressive way for governments to recover some of this money. All members of society are being asked to make sacrifices to restore public finances following the collapse of Lehman brothers and subsequent the financial crash. Our financial services must pay their share too.

As writer in the Washington Post, making the case for introducing the Financial Transaction Tax in the USA, put it “The good news is that it’s a tax so small it could be mistaken for a rounding error. It’s so small, Wall Street could easily afford it and the average E-Trade investor would barely notice it. If this were a tax on coffee, it would cost you $1 for every 800 cups you bought at Starbucks.”

There are many compelling arguments for introducing a Financial Transaction Tax in the UK. A Financial Times opinion piece explains “At a time when many countries are facing budgetary pressures due to the financial crisis, the new tax would contribute towards fiscal consolidation without directly impacting the real economy. The tax might also deter excessive trading and, in the process, promote market stability and long-term investing. Financial services would no longer enjoy an exemption from value-added taxes, thereby reducing competitive distortions. Several countries impose financial transaction taxes, for example, a stamp duty on share purchases has been levied in the UK for centuries.” Compelling indeed.

Critics of the tax argue that it will make the UK less attractive, encouraging financial traders to abandon the UK for other countries. This same argument is used when people call for taxes on bankers’ bonuses. Well, Mr Mayor, I am unconvinced by this argument. I am unconvinced because the UK, London and Islington are fantastic places to live, work and do business.

If the government wants to encourage international business, they should focus on providing our young people with world-class education, training and skills. And you know, it is ironic that the government is probably doing more harm to the UK economy with their regressive attitude towards immigration than a Financial Transaction Tax ever could. Just go to Canary Wharf and see how cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse the workers are, how those leading international companies attract talented people from around the world. These talent individuals make the choice to come to work in London.

Who can blame them?

Voted “The World’s best tourist city” by Tripadviser, London has fantastic history and culture. From our theatres to our football clubs, from our museums and art galleries to our fashion and shopping, London is a top destination and this tax would not change that. We have excellent schools, including some really excellent state schools that any young person would be proud to attend.

Whatever country you come from, your community will be represented in London, where you can enjoy the best cuisines from around the world. We are even in arguably the best time zone for doing business internationally. London is the best place in the world. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I second this motion.

Supporting a Financial Transaction Tax

I support the UK joining 11 other EU countries including France, Germany and Italy, in introducing a Financial Transaction Tax. This new tax could raise an additional £20 billion annually...

With youth unemployment running at just under one million, and 1,500 Islington residents aged 18-24 on job seekers’ allowance, Islington’s Labour council are taking action on jobs and apprenticeships. In Caledonian ward, in particular, there is: the King’s Cross Construction Centre to support local young people into apprenticeships in construction on the King’s Cross Central site; a pre-apprenticeship scheme running to help young people into jobs in painting and decorating; and an apprenticeship programme in bicycle maintenance providing employment and training for young people.

The council’s youth employment strategy, passed by Council in February 2012, set out that by 2015 all young people aged 16 to 18 in Islington would be in education, employment or training, and we would seek to reduce youth unemployment to below 1000 for those aged 19-24. In Caledonian, we’ve taken a big step towards that, with support from the Council, as well as a range of charitable, business and public sector partners.

During National Apprenticeship Week (11th-15th March), we will officially launch K&M McLoughlin’s painting and decorating academy on Brewery Road in Caledonian. This five week voluntary programme sees young people aged 16-24 learn the basics of painting and decorating in work conditions. The programme is a partnership of K&M McLoughlin Ltd, Islington Council and City and Islington College, and has so far supported over twenty young people into employment or apprenticeships. The partnership of an employer, the local college and the council, mean young people can be effectively supported into the programme, receive excellent training, and be ready for a work or an apprenticeship when the programme is finished.

On the Bemerton estate in Caledonian, Get More Bikes will this week open their bicycle maintenance workshop – a social enterprise delivering bicycle maintenance and cycle safety training, delivered by apprentices supported by experienced staff. This programme aims to employ young people from across Islington, but particularly those living on the Bemerton, as apprentices in bicycle maintenance, while serving the public and cyclists travelling across London. This will all happen from what used to be empty garages on the Bemerton, and is supported by the Council and the Bemerton Villages Management Organisation (BVMO), and run by the social enterprise Get More.

In Caledonian, we also have the King’s Cross Construction Skills Centre on York Way, which is run through a partnership of Camden and Islington Councils and Carillion. So far, seventy Islington residents have benefited from the training programme, which includes apprenticeships and more specialist training. The Team Cally ward partnership also manages a job brokerage scheme, the BIG Alliance, supported by Islington Giving, Macquarie and Argent, and run by the East London Business Alliance (ELBA). This programme supports Islington residents into employment by working in partnership with large firms to develop training and work placements which lead directly to jobs. The programme runs for two years, and already has some notable successes with large employers in the City of London and on the King’s Cross Central site.

For National Apprenticeship Week and beyond, in Islington, and particularly Caledonian, we are making sure that youth unemployment is tackled, jobs and training sought, so that each Islington young person can find the education, training or employment that suits them.

Islington and National Apprenticeship Week

With youth unemployment running at just under one million, and 1,500 Islington residents aged 18-24 on job seekers’ allowance, Islington’s Labour council are taking action on jobs and apprenticeships. In...

Local Government cuts have finally made the news. The difficult decisions that Eric Pickles has forced on authorities like Newcastle and Birmingham underlines the double unfairness of the Tory-led Government’s undeclared war on councils. First, council budgets – that pay for popular services like libraries, children’s centres and, crucially, social care – have been cut more than any other bit of the public sector. Second, that Mr Pickles has chosen to cut councils in the poorest area far more than those in Tory-voting leafy shires.

As Labour council leaders get together for the party’s annual Local Government conference there is a growing consensus that the traditional model of local government is broken. Unless there is a dramatic change of direction in Government policy, within a few years Councils will simply no longer be able to provide the services we are legally obliged to, such as decent care for the elderly and disabled children, let alone services like culture and youth clubs that we aren’t.

In the short term, a fairer distribution of the existing resources would help. More affluent areas need to shoulder their fair share of the cuts. But this is only a sticking plaster. There are three fundamental challenges: 1) that the cost of social care, the largest part of local government spending, is spiralling upwards, 2) that many local councils are very heavily dependent on central Government for most of our funding, and 3) the Council Tax system is broken because the regressive nature of the tax means it is an invidious choice to increase it. The last Labour Government ducked all of these issues. The next one cannot.

But there is more to this than doom and gloom. On the whole, Local Government has responded very well to the scale of the cuts imposed on it. Already the most efficient part of the public sector, councils have found ways to save money and improve services that out-of-touch and sclerotic central government bureaucracies could never.

The last time Labour was in opposition some of its local administrations were an embarrassment to the party. Now Labour in Local Government has become the most dynamic part of the labour movement at campaigning and developing policy. Our challenge is to show how local government can meet the interests of local residents and businesses.

Labour has to recognise that local areas are different. At times, we’re scared of the accusation of services being a ‘postcode lottery’, and lack the courage to argue that areas with different needs actually need different services. Take housing: Islington as a inner London borough with a huge disparity in local incomes is concentrating on the creation of affordable rented homes to stop everyone other than the super-wealthy being forced out. In Oldham there is a greater need to encourage the local private housing market and concentrate on attracting aspirational families into the borough who will support the local economy, drive up standards in schools, and, bluntly, broaden our council tax base when we currently have 80% of our properties in the lowest council tax bands.

Both Oldham and Islington share an ambition to create more local jobs. However if we are going to make progress the Labour Party has to recognise a fundamental truth. The Work Programme is failing not because it is a Conservative policy but because it is an over centralised and prescriptive programme that has no understanding of local labour markets. Sadly such programmes are the default position of central government, including Labour ones. Barely 20% of public expenditure is under the direct influence of local councils. The rest is controlled through a myriad of government departments, executive agencies and outsourced commercial interests all with competing agendas and little motivation to work together. Those involved barely understand any remit beyond a bewildering set of nationally imposed targets and there is absolutely no local accountability to local people either as citizens or consumers.

It will be difficult to reverse this tide of centralism and it has powerful friends in the vast army of lobbyists, advocates and national media who prefer the easy life of having all the decision makers concentrated in the Westminster village. There is also no desire on our part to return to a past when every local decision was made by a council committee. But as the Work Programme and the inability of the NHS to become anything like as efficient as councils shows the current centralisation of power leads to poor decision making and a massive waste of public monies. There are three urgent issues for this or future governments:

First; it is vital that the future way of funding social care is decided quickly with defined financial responsibilities for the individual and local government. Without this, all Councils will be bankrupt within a decade.

Second; recognise the limitations of national employment programmes and devolve the budgets and responsibilities to local councils either individually or as part of a consortium such as the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities.

Third; generate economic growth through much needed infrastructure projects. But crucially, to allow more flexibility that the last Labour Government over the procurement of this work so all of the contracts don’t go to the usual same few major construction companies and myriad sub-contractors that leach money out of local areas.

Our task as responsible local leaders is to make this case before the next General Election and show that we have the knowledge and leadership to transform public services and the economic futures of our towns. We want to work with the Labour Party, cross party through the Local Government Association and with Trades Unions and businesses to make that case. As another politician once said there really is no alternative.

(First published on www.labourlist.org, Thursday 7 February)

A message from local government – 3 urgent issues for Westminster

Local Government cuts have finally made the news. The difficult decisions that Eric Pickles has forced on authorities like Newcastle and Birmingham underlines the double unfairness of the Tory-led Government’s...

Last Thursday I made the following speech at Full Council:

Since the leaked memo last October revealed a secret list of London fire stations facing being axed, Islington Labour has been campaigning hard to save Islington’s Fire Stations. It is testament to this campaign and the strength of feeling among local people that the Tory Mayor Boris Johnson was forced to rethink his plans to close our Fire Station on Upper Street. It is appalling that in one of the most densely populated parts of the country, Boris Johnson is still trying to push ahead with his plans to close Clerkenwell (and nearby Kingsland) fire stations.

We have held numerous street stalls and been out knocking on doors, asking people to sign our petition to Save Islington’s Fire Stations.

You know what, every single person we have asked in St Peter’s, Boris Johnson’s own ward, has signed the petition to save our fire stations from his reckless cuts. People have queued up to sign the petition. Mums and dads have called out all their other family members to sign it. Whatever political party people support, no one supports these cuts to our local fire stations.

The Fire Brigade is facing cuts of almost £65million over the next two years – a quarter of its budget.

London is facing unprecedented cuts to its emergency services. This is due to the irresponsible actions of Tory Mayor Boris Johnson and his Tory friends in Government. Reckless cuts to frontline policing, the fire brigade, the ambulance service and hospital Accident &Emergency departments threaten the safety and security of Islington residents.

The Metropolitan Police’s budget has been cut by 20%. Our local people stations are being closed. Many wards across the borough have lost their dedicated Safer Neighbourhood Sergeants.

The London Ambulance Service has also received massive budget cuts, with hundreds of frontline ambulance staff at risk of losing their jobs. Accident & Emergency waiting times are at their highest levels for years, yet Tory-Lib Dem cuts mean seven A&E departments across London face closure by 2020.

Enough is enough.

London’s fire fighters are heroes. They have selflessly served their community – particularly when the capital has faced its biggest challenges, whether through war, rioting or terrorist attacks. Our fire fighters deserve better. As do our police, doctors, nurses and ambulance drives.

It is reassuring to see Islington residents coming together to send a strong message to the Tory Mayor and his friends in government. Let’s unite to save our local fire stations.

Boris Johnson’s emergency service cuts

Last Thursday I made the following speech at Full Council: Since the leaked memo last October revealed a secret list of London fire stations facing being axed, Islington Labour has...

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