CEJ Annual Report 2013-14

The CEJ has continued to drive forward its activities based on its action plan.  During the year its main thrust was to develop systems to bring knowledge and understanding of LVT more fully into the public domain.  The two approaches developed, described below, are the use of social media and the production of a half hour film entitled “The Taxing Question of Land”.

The visit to the UK of James Quilligan for a series of conferences, reported previously, gave us reason to set location benefit dues into the wider context implicit in our title Coalition for Economic Justice. Peter Challen, working with Fred Harrison, held three conferences on ‘The Theology of Land’.  This involved using the contents of Fred Harrison’s book ‘The Traumatised Society’ and his essay ‘Homage to Henry George’.

These conferences led to a statement on three interwoven principles for the restructuring of the political economy, summarised as: Restoring the commons [land and public assets]; Removing exploitation from monetary and fiscal transactions; and Generating an adequate livelihood for all citizens. Resources for facing the challenge of tackling a fundamental redesign of the political economy are found at www.sharetherents.org

The IU held a conference in July at the SES under the banner ‘Economics for Conscious Evolution’, subtitled ‘A Geo-Justice Conference’.  The 90+ participants attended sessions on a wide range of themes including: Justice; Funding for infrastructure; institutions and affordable housing; Untaxing production; From public debt to abundance for all; Climate change; Cause and cure; Inequality; and Land trust and eco-villages.

There was also a tour of London covering places connected to economic justice ending with a statement of the IU’s ‘Declaration on Individual and Common Rights’. This was the centenary of the first international LVT conference held in Spain in 1913.  The conference with live video streaming was, for the first time, available to people across the globe. Viewing it is still possible on http://www.ustream.tv/channel/the-iu-conference-2013.

Early in the year David T and John L met with the members of the Public Commercial Services (PCS) union dealing with the Land Registry to discuss matters of joint concern.  The PCS members agreed that a 100% registration of land would be desirable and readily achieveable if the government were willing to push this forward.  The union were concerned that the government was planning to privatise the Land Registry.  We made it clear that the CEJ would oppose such a retrograde step.

David subsequently met the then Chief Executive of the Land Registry in Washington and reported that in the view of the Chief Executive it would be a straight forward exercise, given the political will, to complete the full registration of all landowners to a reasonable timescale given the registry’s knowledge of the technicalities involved.

Towards the end of the year the steering group discussed the consultation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the proposal to privatise the service delivery part of the Land Registry.  It was agreed that the chair should write to Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State of the Department, on behalf of the CEJ setting out our concerns.  This was subsequently agreed by member organisations and sent.  Some member organisations also responded to the consultation.

Dave W and John L visited the RMT for discussion with the head of the union’s economic policy unit how LVT could benefit railway developments.  As a result the union have agreed to fund £4k towards a study showing how LVT could finance not only the construction of large rail projects but also future revenue costs and keeping train fares reasonable.  This exercise is being followed through by Dave W and Ed R.  We are saddened by the sudden death of Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, who supported LVT.

Tony Vickers with colleagues has been working with the network for Social Change and other bodies to plan a series of of events in order to create a Scoping Document for the next UK government setting out what needs to be done to introduce LVT, ie a Paving Programme. This is designed to outline key matters to be addressed such as reassuring people that LVT can: provide a serious amount of revenue; state that it is easy to identify who pays this tax; demonstrate how land value can be separated from building value; identify who would be winners and losers; design a modern efficient database of relevant information; prove that LVT can work  using examples from abroad; and discuss the impact of implementation on land,commodity and housing markets.  Initial funding of £4k has now been received from the Network for Social Change and a colloquium will be held at the RICS in July.

During the year Ed Randall  worked hard to produce three draft Bills on LVT that could be used by an incoming government.  One is a paving Bill and the other two are Bills for implementing LVT locally and nationally.  We will continue to work on these.

When the CEJ sponsored a MORI opinion poll in September 2012 one of the significant outcomes was the discovery that when people are informed about LVT the more likely they are to support it. This encouraged the CEJ to consider how the public could be informed in a wider way and the production of a short documentary film was a suitable option. Early inquiries indicated that the price of such a project could be prohibitive but then Yonatan Higgsmith appeared on the scene. He had only recently been introduced to the ideas of using land rent as public revenue but had quickly recognized the significance and was keen to make a contribution. He offered to make a film at an affordable cost and set about raising money through crowd-funding. The project was then drawn within the remit of the CEJ and an advisory board was set up of DT (HGF) TV (ALTER) DW (LLC, IU) and PB (SES).

The script evolved by a process of dialogue between Yonatan and the board and the film started to take shape. The title “The Taxing Question of Land” was adopted. The general direction was to give a broad introduction to the topic including the ethical aspects. Meanwhile the funding target was reached from the crowd-funding including helpful contributions from SES, HGF and IU and smaller contributions from other member organisations and individual members.

A production schedule was set up and filming began. The content was a combination of interviews and animation. The film was completed fairly speedily on time and to budget. The premier was held at the Royal Society of Arts and was well-attended. In the following four months it received 5000 views on U tube. In January 2014 the HGF launched a school poster competition to promote the film. In the following two weeks U tube views doubled to over 10,000. Steering group members have used the film to lead discussions on LVT and this has proved a useful tool. All in all, this has been a very successful collaboration within the CEJ showing how the coalition can work together effectively on a project and bring about a positive outcome.

The other area developed by the CEJ during the year was the use of Social Media.  Will Hartshorn (of LLC) circulated a presentation in May which outlined a route for taking forward the CEJ’s use of Social Media. Several member organisations created Facebook and Twitter accounts for their organisations, and in many cases created individual accounts too. The CEJ itself also created Facebook and Twitter accounts – which act as an alternative communication channel for information. These accounts all link to the CEJ website. The newly created film was considered important enough to place directly onto the landing page of the CEJ website.

The Steering Group agreed to strongly publicise the film in Social Media. Each CEJ organisation agreed to appoint a member from their organisations to take the responsibility of reaching out and promoting an event, with Social Media being used as a key mechanism to promote the event. PLRG have led the way in this activity and are updating their website and writing blogs to promote the film.  They will pass on the baton, with their newly acquired knowledge, on to other member organisations in a round robin fashion thus ensuring the film remains continually exposed in Social Media and that such media are continually used in a variety of ways to promote LVT. 

Three general meetings were held.  Dave W spoke on his proposal for implementing LVT by omitting residential property because of the strong fears expressed by homeowners.  Clive Menzies of Critical Thinking gave an interesting talk on interest rates, one of the areas covered by the conference on economic policies.  Ed R and Tony V were the speakers at the other meeting.  Ed spoke about his draft Bills on LVT prepared for the CEJ and Tony talked about his proposed scoping exercise on LVT.  Suffice it to say there was considerable discussion at each event.

The chair committed a faux pas during the year by sending a letter to The Independant on behalf of the CEJ without getting prior approval.  He expressed his regret and the matter was discussed at a subsequent meeting.  The agreed policy arising was that all letters on behalf of the CEJ to the press and others, as well as press releases, must have prior approval from all member organisations.

Throughout the year Peter C, Tommas and Ed and others did a fair bit of work with John in developing economic policies resulting from the economic conference held in late 2012.  To produce the policy papers on the different areas of the economy – money supply and interest rates, banking and financial services, and taxation, the latter wider than simply LVT, they worked with those people who had contributed to the conference as speakers.  The steering group discussed the papers produced and decided that our general meetings next year will be discussion on the various aspects of the economy covered in the papers.  They will be put on our web-site as discussion papers, given that they do not necessarily reflect CEJ policy.

It was noted that the current method for reporting housing statistics in official reports and the press, is by “household”, and a misleadingly titled “household reference person”. This leads to the public misconception that more people own property than actually do. This is because there are millions of individuals who live in owner-occupied household who actually rent (for example, lodgers and the, steadily increasing, group who are forced to live at home with parents as adults). We will push for a more accurate breakdowns, with more meaningful categories, over the coming year.

The steering group agreed that for the coming year its priorities would be: development of social networks; furthering the impact of the LVT film; achieving wider economic syllabuses in academia; pursuing our implementation plans for LVT; and developing our communications strategy.

As always the members of the steering group have continued to pull their weight using their considerable knowledge and experience.

Thanks as usual to the SES for allowing us to use their facilities.



March 2014