CEJ Annual Report 2012-13

As usual the CEJ has been active. The CEJ continues to work on the agreed action points developed at the end of the previous year. During the next year we will review the action plan. 

During the year we continued to hold general meetings for the membership. The first was Fernando Scornik Gerstein speaking on the Occupy movement with an emphasis on Spain. Peter Bowman gave an interesting talk on ‘Good and Bad Taxes’. At another meeting Tony Vickers addressed the approach being taken by the taxation policy group within the Lib Dem party.

Ed Randall took on the task of producing suitable Bills with a sub-group for a government introducing LVT.  This important work is continuing.  Our consideration of a branding for the CEJ is currently on hold.  The CEJ held a couple of useful meetings with the Occupy Economics Working Group, the outcome of which was a general acceptance that LVT produced a sensible return to the public of the land value we all create.

Our exchanges with the Treasury civil servants was completed, although it became clear that further progress at that level is not possible unless the Government is interested in pursuing this subject. There remains the need to have a meeting with the Land Registry although a very helpful meeting was held with the PCS union whose members are involved in this work.  Their immediate concern is to avoid privatising the Land Registry, an aim with which we concur. In this context David Triggs produced a very useful paper on the effect of deadweight losses on GDP.

We have maintained contact with both the Green Party and the Cooperative Party, each of whom support LVT.  The Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP) became a member organisation during the year and Paul Nicolson has been working strongly in this critical area of welfare reform which is having a serious effect on many people in and out of work, particularly women,the young and the disabled.  Mark Wadsworth of the Young Peoples’ Party has become an observer at our meetings.  We held a meeting with John Christensen of the Tax Justice Movement (TJN) and agreed that we are partners dealing with different key aspects of the dysfunctional taxation system.

Our contact with parliamentarians continues, mainly through contacts made by both the LLC and ALTER.  We made a submission to the Silk Review of devolutionary powers for the Welsh Assembly but the report took no account of our input.  Following a request from the IPPR, who were examining ‘Rethinking British Capitalism’, both the CEJ and the LLC produced short statements on LVT. We also held a useful meeting with Duncan Weldon, senior economic advisor to the TUC, and expect within a few months to be involved in a wider TUC discussion on economic policy.

Our previous annual report stated that we had plans to hold a series of seminars organised in conjunction with James Quilligan, founder of the Global Commons Trust, which involved a number of organisations concerned with protection of the commons.  One of the seminars was led by the HGF.  Some of us took part in the twelve seminars in May.  This gave us the opportunity to relate to many organisations concerned with the commons, some of whom were involved in considering economic issues.  These included the Occupy movement, the New Economics Foundation, Synthesis, the Tax Justice Movement, Civil Society Forum and the Institute for Public Policy Research.  We adopted for examination the description of land as ‘commons – a vehicle for meeting everyone’s basic needs in a roughly equitable way’.  Noting that historically the commons had been annexed over centuries by the rich and powerful we also appreciate that this process is continuing by disassembling the commons to serve global marketisation interests.

These Quilligan seminars were followed up by a further eight in October.  At this stage the commons was explained in greater depth as the shared resources of humanity, despite its continuing exploitation to serve the interests of a small minority.  The CEJ held an economic conference as a key part of these seminars. This was designed to examine key aspects of the economy recognising that the economic system is seriously failing to meet the needs of the population.  These aspects covered the dysfunctional taxation system; banking and financial services; and the issue of money supply and interest rates.

Our conference was planned for discussion in break-out groups, recognising that significant changes had to be made in these areas if we are to achieve an economy that serves society’s needs.  Whilst the conference provided for serious discussion it could only indicate some of the approaches to different areas of the economy.  As a result the CEJ decided to develop policies in the areas covered, involving the speakers and chairs of the three workshops used at the conference.  These discussions are currently in progress with the aim of agreeing policies later in the year.  It will then be for the campaigning member organisations of the CEJ to decide the most appropriate way of pursuing these policies within the political system.

During the summer the CEJ became aware that Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton, had managed to table a Private Members Bill on LVT with support from Lib Dem and Labour MPs.  We met with her and helped with lobbying for support.  The PLRG led with this work with Ed Randall liaising direct with her researcher.  A three page Bill was published in time for its first scheduled Second Reading.

Unfortunately, the Bill was ‘talked out’ on three occasions and is unlikely to progress further. It will therefore fall at the end of this parliament.  However, it has achieved considerable publicity and strengthened our links with the Green Party.

Instigated initially by the Tax Policy Working Group of the Lib Dems and with support from Caroline Lucas, the PLRG proposed to the CEJ that a public opinion poll on attitudes to LVT be commissioned.  After considerable discussion the CEJ agreed and, thanks to a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust with matching funds from our member organisations, agreed a set of questions with Ipsos MORI. A representative sample of nearly 1000 people across Britain were interviewed.

The subject of the poll was limited to public under standing of what makes up ‘property’ values; attitudes to council tax and other property taxes including those on land value only (and vacant sites); and how fair these taxes were regarded.  Tony Vickers led on the project but Ipsos MORI had the final say on the questions and carried out the analysis of responses in accordance with their standard methodology.

The CEJ considered whether to publicise the results of the poll which was initially to be for internal use only. After discussion among the member organisations it was agreed that on balance it was desirable to put the full findings in the public domain.  However, it was necessary to emphasise the significance of the fact that when people know a little about LVT they appear to regard it as fairer than other property taxes, whereas those who have never heard of it do not. It was also significant that, while property taxes are generally unpopular, most people understand that the land value component is important.

It is too early to say whether publication of the poll will have made any influence in the policy environment.  It has given a boost to members of the CEJ who believe that a wider, although shallower, public awareness of what LVT is can be useful in helping to achieve policy change.

Towards the year end the possibility of producing a film on LVT relevant to the UK was raised in discussion and work is being pursued to this end.  At the same time the CEJ discussed the importance of using social media, tweeting and face book, to advertise the relevance of using this form of media to attract young people to obtain an understanding of LVT.  These issues are being carried forward.

As always the CEJ members have made intelligent contributions to our work and continue to work hard.  Member organisations have made many useful contributions such as the PLRG on the support for the Caroline Lucas Private Members Bill and also on the LVT poll.  The contribution of the CCMJ with regard to the Quilligan seminars has been exceptional.  Both the LLC and ALTER have continued to influence politicians while we have kept to the principles laid down by the HGF and the SES, with continuing appreciation of the latter’s permission to use their excellent facilities.

John Lipetz 

Chair, CEJ 

April 2013