Thursday 19 February 2015

My election wishlist

None of the items below is sexy, but I think they are all necessary and will have a surprising effect on accountability, efficiency, the quality of the services we receive, and the amount of tax available to pay for them.

Welfare policy
Whatever the words employed, current welfare policy is about demonising and impoverishing claimants. We want a society where everyone who is not working, either because there is no work, or because they are too ill or disabled to work, is guaranteed a decent minimum without fear of constant harassment.

Civil service capacity
We've been outsourcing busily for thirty years. That's an entire generation. But the capacity of the civil service to monitor the tens of billions of pounds in those contracts remains unacceptably low. We need to beef up the contract control functions of the civil service so that it is capable of ensuring that every profit making contractor delivers the service that we are paying them for.

FOI for all government contracts
Much of our tax money is wasted through sloppy procurement of public services from private contractors. (Example: SERCO had to repay £200 million due to overcharging on offender monitoring contracts.) We need to extend freedom of information provisions to all contracts awarded by central and local governments, so that we can see what is going on with our money, and neither ministers nor contractors will be able to hide behind the fig leaf of commercial confidentiality. Yes,  it's not sexy, but it will make a much bigger difference to both our services and our taxes than most people think.

As many staff to tackle tax avoidance as benefit fraud
Benefit fraud costs us approximately £1.2 billion a year. Tax evasion costs approximately £70 billion a year. The DWP claims to employ 3250 people chasing benefit fraud; HMRC claims to employ 300 people chasing high earning evaders. (Other figures are available.) We need to ensure that as many resources are put into chasing tax evasion as benefit fraud. And we need to see that the proportion of tax evasion cases taken to prosecution equals or outstrips the proportion of benefit fraud cases.

And then when we wake up exhausted the day after election day, I wonder what our red lines should be. Just a few observations here. I have very few things that I would call red lines. I don't think our tax ideas need to be there (I don't think a further raise in the level of personal allowance is the best thing to do for low paid people). There has been a certain amount of speculation about the LibDems not having the stomach for another coalition with the Tories. I don't feel that way. If the electorate deals us those cards again, then we have to play them. The country is not in the delicate state it was in in 2010 so we can afford to take longer and play harder if we think it right to do so. Alternatives like confidence and supply are more open than they were in 2010. There is one area where I would foresee difficulty if I were in the negotiating team. I do not see how we could tolerate being in another government with Iain Duncan Smith. It's not about stomach: I can imagine being in the same room as him. But his lethal combination of vindictiveness and incompetence directed at the poorest and most vulnerable is the very opposite of liberal government. If we enabled him to take another five years to bully poor people, sick people and disabled people, we could no longer call ourselves liberals.

No comments: