Tuesday 28 May 2024

Six no brainer policies for the next Government

 Whoever takes over when the next government is formed faces some monumental challenges. It will not be an easy time for whoever wins. However, having said that, I believe that there are six policies that any incoming Government should pass ASAP, that will deliver real change, make the UK a better place and clearly demonstrate that the drift and lack of leadership of the last few years is at an end. What are they.

1. Water companies. It is ridiculous that they are pumping raw sewage into our rivers and streams, causing a situation where almost no waterways are safe. Why are they doing this? Because it is cheaper than investing in the system to prevent it. Fixing this is the easiest thing in the world. Water companies should face fines that are so expensive that it is cheaper to fix the problem. I would also make it a criminal offence to hide, not disclose or not investigate sewage discharges, with top officials having personal culpability. I believe that this would lead to the problem being fixed in one parliament.

The Guardian reports today that water companies are putting in for huge rises.

Estimates of bill increases requested by companies

  • Southern Water – 91% to £915

  • Thames Water – 59% to £749

  • Hafren Dyfrdwy – 56% to £676

  • Severn Trent – 50% to £657

  • Wessex Water – 50% to £822

  • Yorkshire Water – 46% to £682

  • Dŵr Cymru – 43% to £702

  • United Utilities – 38% to £666

  • South East Water – 35% £330

  • Pennon – 33% to £644

  • Portsmouth Water – 31% to £157

  • SES – 30% to £315

  • Anglian Water – 29% to £682

  • Northumbrian Water and Essex & Suffolk Water – 26% to £530

  • Affinity Water – 25% to £294

  • South Staffs & Cambridge Water – 24% to £221
    Source: Consumer Council for Water
    Data note: The figures are estimates which include forecasts for inflation of 2% a year up to 2030 to requests from water companies submitted to Ofwat.

If like me you live in an area where the company is Affinity water, £59 of that will be gobbled up. If you live down the road in Colindale, almost all of it £275 extra will be gobbled up. The mismanagement of the economy and the water companies means that there is a postcode lottery for all of us. There is no choice. It is a monopoly. We can't do without water and sewage. All of these companies pay huge dividends, mostly to offshore investors. These companies flood our rivers with sewage. It couldn't be clearer that not only is it unfair on many. It doesn't work. 

2. Rail companies. We have somehow managed to create the worst possible environment for customers on the network. The government effectively owns the railways, and subcontracts private companies to run them. The government sets the timetables and prices and decrees staff pay. The contractors get a fixed fee to operate the system with a guaranteed profit thrown in. There is no incentive for them to innovate. Fares have gone through the roof and services are often very unreliable, despite huge investment in new trains and new systems. Bringing operations in house would mean that the taxpayer saves the money it gives to the private companies in profits. Once this is done, we need to get to grips with putting the network back on its feet. I am not totally opposed to private operators, but these should only run where there is capacity and untapped markets that the state operated providers cannot or will not exploit.

3. Housing. There are 700,000 empty dwellings in the UK. Many of these are just being sat on as investments. When people are sleeping on the street, this is criminal. I would make all properties lying empty for more than six months, liable for swinging property rates. I would exclude properties where there has been a death until the estate is settled, as this can drag on, but in all other cases, I would make it hugely expensive for owners to leave homes empty. This would offer many people a home. I would also take measures to address landbanking by developers. This practice means that homes that could be built, are not, so that developers control the supply and keep prices high.

4. The NHS. I would seek to end the outsourcing culture and reliance on contractors and agency staff. NHS trusts are paying huge fees to companies to cover gaps in staff. The NHS should only ever use such contractors to cover short term emergencies. I believe this would ultimately save billions that could be used to make the NHS great again and pay nurses and cleaners etc a decent wage.

5. Energy. I would pass a law requiring all new homes that can accommodate them to have solar panels installed as well as battery systems. This would cut energy bills for residents and help the UK become carbon neutral. If the panels are designed in at build, it is far cheaper than retro fitting them. I would also supply grants to cover the costs of insulating lofts for all properties worth under £1 million that are not properly insulated. This again will help with the UK's energy efficiency and ultimately lower all of our bills.

6. Education and careers. I would review school curriculums and ensure that these are fit for purpose, delivering young people into the workplace who have the skills required to do the jobs the economy needs. As someone who employs young people and school leavers, I am often shocked at how ill prepared young people are for work. Even basic things like understanding their tax codes etc are not taught.

As far as I am concerned, one of the biggest problems in UK politics is how few MP's have ever had jobs in the real world. I have spent my working life balancing the books, reading spreadsheets, doing VAT returns etc. Can I make a suggestion. If any of the candidates knock on your door, ask them what they do for a living. Too many MP's now simply have worked in politics. They work as special advisers to the Prime Minister and other ministers. They spend their lives in a bubble. They really have no clue what the concerns of ordinary people are, or how changes affect them. Take, for example, the latest plan from Rishi Sunak to change the tax arrangements for pensioners, which will allegedly make pensioners £300 a year better off. Sounds great doesn't it? Well as mentioned above, for many, all this will do is simply pay for the increase in water bills. It is all very well for parties to say that their changes will make you better off, but if, like me, you have a family balance spreadsheet, with all of our bills and income on, you soon realise you are being conned.

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