Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Left and Right get self rightous about protecting the rich

At the Conservative party conference we saw two major announcements on benefit reforms to help cut the welfare bill in preparation for the new benefit reforms which will bring in a new universal credit but which will probably prove more expensive.

On the one hand we had a cap on benefits at £26,000 (except for disability grants) and the other issue is that we have a stop on child benefits for people paying the higher rate of tax. The first restriction could have an effect on benefit claimants in many expensive areas, such as central London. The second affects the rich. Yes you are rich if you earn over £44,000. There is no shame in saying it. The average household income in the UK is £22,800 (£19127 in the North east) and only 15% earn above the 40% rate.

Opinion polls show both policies are about as popular as benefits cuts can be, with the Sun poll showing approval ratings of  86% and 86% respectively. So which cut are Labour and Conservative politicans and press going apocolyptic about? The cut for rich people. The idea that higher tax payers should recieve benefits (unless they are on benefits) strikes me as absurd. Both Guardianistas and Torygraph readers are going beserk about it. This country is about protecting the priviledge of the better off. It is clear from the reaction to this that both the Left and the Right share this preoccupation. They want a welfare state that covers everyone, rather than one that gives targetted benefits to the poor and needy. Benefits should be a safety net not a free for all.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Olympics 2012 - I wish it had been in Paris

Watching the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony today and seeing the chair of the organising committee being jeered by the crowd, it makes you wonder on the benefits of holding games such as these where you have to build large amount of stadia for that purpose only. I am totally behind our bid to host the World Cup. We have the stadia and every game will be full.

I have always been sceptical of the benefits to Britain of the Olympics coming to London in 2012. What Britain needs like a hole in the head is further centralisation with massive one off investment in London. A games in one of our regional cities would have been wonderful as it would have prioritised sorting out the many infrastructure needs of our great but massively under invested cities. Back when Birmingham and Manchester bid they were not supported by the UK government but we are supposed to get behind London unquestionably.

But we all have to pay for this cost. Although some of the cost is being met by London Council Tax payers, all of the UK are paying for an increasingly large amount of it through Lottery tickets (whose good cause money would otherwise be distributed to other areas) or good old fashioned tax.

When London won the Olympics, I was worried that we would just see London further cementing its position as the financial black hole that sucks up all the government investment, creativity and capital from the rest of the country. When it happened, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) assured us all that all of the Uk would benefit from the Olympics. We even had sessions at the council I'm on to discuss how we could position Northumberland businesses to benefit. Now ODA figures reveal that the North East has won contracts for £9m for the Olympics. Good news, except it is out of a budget of £5.1 billion and it's the lowest investment by some margin in the whole UK.

Of course it was one of the few non Labour MPs in the region, Lib Dem MP for Redcar Ian Swales, who has raised this. He told the FT, “The north-south divide is already very wide. It would appear the ODA has succeeded in widening it further.”

Ian is urging action to ensure the North East receives more benefit before the games begin. In my view the North East should get compensation for the failed promises. We will be paying through our taxes for a massive debt and yet again we will be propping up the South East and paying for the privilege of widening the North South divide.