Wednesday starts with a trip to the Labour Policy Forum on Local Government, Housing and the Regions. A good crowd with the three relevant ministers: Nick Raynesford, Keith Hill and John Prescott. I thought it was very useful to hear the views from ministers. I have covered the housing ground on an earlier post "give me shelter". The Regional policy is to go for elected regional assemblies like in London, Wales & Scotland. The North-East is first up for a referendum in November. The ministers are very bullish about getting a yes and they see this as giving a big lift to the next two referenda (North-West and yorkshire) which will go ahead next year after problems with postal voting are sorted.
Raynesford outlines a ten year vision for Local Government. This has two planks:
1. More decentralisation of service BUT requiring continuous improvement in performance.
2. a localist agenda - how do we get people involved in their communities?
He also talks about reform of council funding (ie Council Tax). He wants to reform CT but needs to "take it carefully to avoid a poll tax disaster". He also taking a careful look at returning the Business Rate to local authority control but big business is dead against it because they need to be able to plan costs across the whole country with certainty. Businesses don't vote either, so councils may be more likely to up the business rate. Need to give business certainty, he says.
On Local Income Tax he says that LIT is more administratively difficult than the Libdems let on. He reckons it will take five years to introduce and it will only cover people on PAYE, not people with large assets. He also appreciates that there is an issue with pensioners who are asset rich and income poor - the Department of Work and Pensions are looking into this one.