Remember to wash your weeds
As we move into the new year most of the complaints received by my team have been about problems with rubbish collection. The new system is far less efficient than the previous system and as a result frailer people who need help moving around the large wheelie bins are finding that their rubbish does not get collected. People who have the temerity to put their weeds unwashed (with too much soil) into the recycling bin are being told to wash their weeds
(which I find to be a rather odd requirement) and there remains large amounts of fly tipped rubbish on the streets - although much less in Yardley than other areas. To save time the operatives are deciding from time to time to leave rubbish because the bins are not that full and people who would rather not have wheelie bins are forced to have them even though the operatives merely take the black bags out of the bin to save time.
This is a real issue to be considered within the context of the debates about how public services are to adjust to continued austerity. In Birmingham the Labour Adminstration appear to have ignored the need to be cost effective and efficient and are merely trying to do what they would do if austerity did not exist and then add cuts on top.
Internationally it now looks possible although I would not say probable that the Greeks are going to elect a party to run the country who believes that having a "money tree" policy (as in money grows on trees) rather than a monetary policy is an effective way to run the country. Investors are already running scared of this and it will be interesting to see how long any Syriza government would last if they do actually win the elections. What the Greek situation demonstrates is that governments need to have the confidence of people willing to lend them money (the markets) to be able to cope. This in many ways is the key metric of any economic plan as it affects the interest rate paid on government debt.
Nationally the need over time to balance the books is more widely recognised. Labour still don't admit the errors that they made previously. However, we are at least having greater clarity as to what strains of austerity are being offered in this year's general election.
Earlier this year I blogged about the fiscal smoking gun
. That blog post links to a spreadsheet
which looks at the national accounts in terms of percentages of the national cake. It is this debate that is now starting up for the general election.
The relatively small numbers of digits as to the percentage of the GDP in total managed expenditure by government are the key battleground for the General Election. I was reasonably comfortable with the plans in 2010 as they aimed for around 40% of the GDP spent on public services. Outside the crisis period the Labour governments from 1997 had the following percentages: 37.8, 36.8, 36.1, 34.3, 37.7, 38.6, 39.3, 40.3, 40.6, 40.4, 40.5 (7-8). The forecast in the Autumn Statements include (outturn 13-14 41.5) 40.5 39.5 38.2 36.9 36.0 35.2.
Labour are making the claim that this takes things back to the 1930s. The figure of 35% quoted by Ed Miliband in his speech here
is in fact more than the figure for 2000-1 under Tony Blair (34.3). It remains, however, that driving this down (particularly with certain departments ring fenced) is something that I would not agree with. I am worried about the impact on local services particularly local government. However, it is not the small state sort of GDP that you get in China (23.9) or Chile (23.2). George Osborne may be right to state that the proposed reduced spending is the same in real terms as in about 2002-3. However, the proportion of GDP is relevant as well as the real terms spending.
The autumn statement also looks at the figures from the perspective of whether they are fair. Table 2.f in the analysis (which can be found here
) finds that the tax policies including VAT are progressive by expenditure decile. It should be noted from this that the tax levels for the top expenditure decile have gone up whereas other deciles have gone down. Furthermore the net effect of welfare and tax both direct and indirect is income positive for all deciles other than the richest 10%. It remains that the minimum wage should be increased and we need to see higher wages across the economy, but equity in sharing the burden is important as well.
That does not mean that everything is perfect, but it does demonstrate both that the coalition has been concerned about ensuring that the burden is fairly shared, but also that the coalition has delivered on this.
There have been debates about the growth in food banks and whether this is as a result of government policy. If you look at The Trussell Trust's web page about how they started
you will find that they say: "Paddy investigated local indices of deprivation and ‘hidden hunger’ in the UK. The shocking results showed that significant numbers of local people faced short term hunger as a result of a sudden crisis. "
The recent research from JRF found that most users of food banks used food banks as a result of a crisis. What we cannot tell from the statistics, however, is what the growth in usage would have been were the provision to have been static. This was debated in parliament recently here.
If Labour do localise Housing Benefit in the same way that Council Tax Benefit has been localised (see ippr proposals
) then we are likely to see things being a lot tighter for social housing tenants with many more having to contribute towards their rent even if they get fully means tested benefits.
My experience, however, is that at the moment when normally people are getting the right benefits then generally there is no need to go to a food bank. Situations where people are not entitled to benefits or any public support are different. However, that is a matter of public policy.
Internationally there have been really tragic events such as the attack on a school in Peshawar. The extreme atrocities that are the modus operandi of ISIL and the Pakistani Taliban must be brought to an end and the world should unite against this.
Although not as extreme there seems to be a sad movement away from the rule of law in Bangladesh. I don't think that this will be resolved without new elections under the caretaker government system.
The movement towards recognising Palestine may just give a glimmer of hope of a possibility that Israel recognises that it needs to operate within limits. As the stronger actor in this conflict they need to hold themselves back. This conflict as is often the case is underpinned by a desire for revenge amonst elements of the population on both sides of the conflict. The desire for revenge is often stronger than the desire for peace. This results in the sabotage of any negotiations for peace. People will not, however, often admit the truth about this. Hence as with many places international humanitarian law and the principles of human rights need to be followed to enable peace negotiations to have a chance of happening in earnest.
Sadly the problems in the family division with skewed evidence continue and we have cases like that of a grandmother given a prison sentence for hugging her grand daughter.
Back in Birmingham my office has been busier with almost 4,000 cases being opened during the year. We also now have a couple of hours of pro-bono legal advice and in January will be having a specialist benefits advisor available for a day a week.
In Parliament I have been busy including attending 44 Delegated Legislation Committees as well as five select committees and a few bill committees and the rather esoteric Standing Orders Committee. (this was during the 13-14 session - I think it is likely that I attend more committee meetings than any other MP). I have continued to chair the commons side of the DWP parliamentary policy committee and campaigning more generally on issues.
To conclude I would like to wish everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year.
Addendum: I have since writing this discovered that the claims about spending being at 1930s levels from the perspective of a %ge of GDP were originally made by the OBR, but relate only to RDEL and not AME. Hence Ed Miliband's speech was wrong because it made the wrong assumption. I think the OBR report is misleading, however, as many services are provided through direct payment systems such as DLA and Housing Benefit. That appears in AME, but not RDEL. Also Total Managed Expenditure (the percentages used above) includes RDEL, CDEL and AME). AME also includes locally raised funds which are significant.
Further Addendum: There was a completely new dataset of TME figures published by the ONS in November which has different TME %s. The lowest of these is in fact 1999-0 at 35.9. I am looking for the audit trail of the changes.