Over the coming months, Backbench will be partnering with Torrin Wilkins, Director of Centre Think Tank for a series of comment pieces. In his column, Torrin will explore prominent policy issues – some of them related to the latest news and others related to his longer-term projects. We’d love for Backbench readers and commentators to respond to Torrin’s policy analysis and ideas, so if you would like to contribute a response, please email editor@bbench.co.uk.  

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The Labour conference this week has been quite something to watch. One thing we saw was more policies which gave us a glimpse of what Labour will now look like. As Keir Starmer tries to set out what his vision for the Labour party, I will use this article to explore the policies and whether they are any good.

My verdict on the policies themselves is mixed. Some were good, some were bad, and others were essentially tasters of what will come later. Here are my thoughts on some of the policy announcements:

The end of business rates is a good thing but what next?

The conference saw an announcement that business rates would be scrapped. Whilst this is good news the question it left me with was what next? I have long supported a proportional property tax which would see business rates and council tax replaced with a new single flat rate on properties. Instead, the pledge only went as far as scrapping the tax, a good start but what really matters is the replacement.

A higher minimum wage is good but £10 seems about right.

One of the big debates was what the minimum wage should be. Labour members backed a £15 minimum wage although the real living wage is closer to £10 an hour. For those over 23 the rate is currently £8.91 which still leaves a gap. My view is that Labour would be best to fight for £10 an hour but to ensure everyone, regardless of age, is paid the same amount. Beyond that level I would probably leave it up to collective bargaining rather than the government.

An Office of Value for Money is a good idea.

Labour proposed “A new “Office of Value for Money”” to ensure public finances are being spent properly. I quite like this idea and its similar to the Office for Regulatory Simplification that we support at Centre. Whilst is needs more detail the basic idea of an office to ensure public money is spent well, especially after the scandals involving government contracts, may not be such a bad idea.

Removing charitable status from private schools is a trade-off.

The new policy from Labour is “Removing the charitable status of private schools would make them pay an estimated £1.5bn a year in tax” and investing this back into the education system. Removing this would be a trade off as those private schools that are charities do need to release certain information to the charities commission as you can see here for WALHAMPTON SCHOOL TRUST LTD. as an example. If this ends up with more people in the state system then it may also end up with some of money going towards funding those new places in state schools. However, this likely wont be many students so shouldn’t cost too much. This is something to consider on balance and something I’m still not totally convinced on yet.

Extra spending on the environment is good but it’s not all about the money.

Labour has committed to an extra “£28bn a year on greening the economy” which is obviously a good start. However, I think something labour can’t forget is that this isn’t all about how much money is spent on a greener economy, taxes need to play an even larger role. Whilst the investment in a ““green” the UK steel industry by investing £3bn over 10 years in decarbonisation” is very much welcome some of the money could be raised by simply taxing environmentally harmful practices. Being clear on this would be a good way to show how the transition is being funded.

Tough talk on crime won’t solve the issues.

We all know the Blair years were almost famous for the ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ slogan and we seem to be back there again. Whilst there was some focus on tackling the causes of crime increased police funding was also a large subject. For instance there was the idea of police hubs in to “…crack down on antisocial behaviour” which seemed like an attempt to bring back the image of being tough on crime. 

The issue here is simple, Labour can easily end up going too far. Focusing on tougher sentencing for instance sounds good but isn’t really what reduces crime. What we really need is rehabilitation as they have in Norway and actually reduces reoffending rates. If Labour wants to be tough on crime it may well do that but it could easily end up being weak in outcomes.

As you can see, my view on Labour conference is mixed. They have created some good policies but there is still a long way to go and in some cases, especially on crime, they have to be carful they don’t go too far.

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