Vince at the conference

Hear it as it is from the man who in 2003 asked the then Chancellor Gordon Brown:

Is not the brutal truth that with investment, exports and manufacturing output stagnating or falling, the growth of the British economy is sustained by consumer spending pinned against record levels of personal debt, which is secured, if at all, against house prices that the Bank of England describes as well above equilibrium level?

Just a little bit of national politics on this blog, but I think it helps to explain why I decided that I could join the Libdems.
One set of reasons is at local level, the Libdem group at Council that I know quite well and like, but it would be pretend naivity to ignore that what we do to further our local group does not reflect on the chances of success of another level of political activity. And I’m comfortable with that.

Vince Cable’s speech at the Libdem conference is an important one, he’s possibly the most popular politician in Britain today and what he said today could greatly influence the direction that this Country must take for the future. I surely hope so.

My favourite bits from his speech (link to transcipt):

The unemployed must be found productive work. We should learn from the experience of Scandinavia and other countries where the alternative to long term unemployment is a guarantee – and a requirement – to work, or for young people train or study. There is no shortage of socially useful tasks – improving homes, environmental projects, care work – which can be undertaken on the basis of voluntary sector and local government initiatives. There are also some imaginative private sector schemes like the plan to create half a million IT jobs. There must also be more apprenticeships to ensure that the next generation learns skills and trades: real, not financial, engineering.

And what has so far prevented this from being rolled out effectively? Lack of leadership and vision.

Later in the speech he also says:

We must also lead the debate on tax reform as a Liberal government did a century ago with the People’s Budget. We should aim to shift the tax burden further from income – work, savings and innovation – onto pollution – the green tax switch. Switching taxation onto financial pollution – questionable transactions of no social and economic value. And onto land values instead of penalising productive investment. But at the heart of our tax plans must be a commitment to social justice.

For me the key there is on the “land value” reference, that’s where money for productive investments are trapped.

This is so relevant to Lewisham. But we could think of Lewisham as a metaphor for much of Britain. Look at what Lewisham Central and its fringes are today, commuter corridor, a dormitory without a daytime economy to speak of.

Each day of the week during the day half of the population is at work in central London, the other half hasn’t got any money to spend, and a very small local economy it can be involved with.
There are no restaurants, they can’t survive because there are no workers to sell lunches to around and this means only half the income of restaurants of more vital areas.
Lewisham High Street that connects Lewisham Centre to Catford could be a splendid and vital boulevard, it is instead something of a fried chicken alley dotted with pound shops, pawn shops and betting shops.
Some heroic exception resists, but they are indeed exceptions, and occasionally one of them falls, it is a much rarer event that a new one opens.

And where is the root of the failure to lift it above what our Council planners think of as a “vocation” and I call instead a condition?
It’s in Gordon Brown’s big idea of ten years ago, when he decided that houses had to become surrogate pension funds, artificially inflating the figures of growth when they were instead only inflating a housing bubble that brought us where we are.
From that moment all valuable sites in Britain became the target of property developers on a mission to build as much residential as they could and Councils were frogmarched to help them and a balanced approach to planning took the backseat.

In this disfunctional central Lewisham the big focus on the redevelopment of that area has been much to the detriment of the attention that the local authority should have paid to the rest of the borough, where the people live. Because local authorities are very efficiently “streamlined”, so when they think of one thing they can’t think of another.

Vince Cable is right, we need to unlock the money invested in housing so that it ends up invested in ways that help a balanced growth, even within our towns and centres, there is so much potential and talent and expertise among us, and with this crisis much of it is at the park kicking cans.
Because where they could have set up trade and work they built houses instead.

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