CEJ Annual Report 2014-15 (April 2014 to March 2015)

The CEJ has now been in operation for over six years.  At the start of this year the steering group decided, within our overall action plan, that our 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. With hindsight this was probably too ambitious.

The CEJ was pleased to note that, after we had written to Vince Cable MP expressing our deep concern at proposals to privatise the Land Registry, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had decided - not based just on our letter - to keep the registry in public hands. 

The Green party’s private members Bill on LVT to the House of Commons was followed up by Baroness Jennie Jones presenting the Bill in the Lords with, as expected, no further action. 

Some time back, in discussion with Duncan Weldon, then the economics officer at the TUC, he advised that the TUC planned to hold a conference on taxation at which the CEJ and the Tax Justice Network would be represented. Only this year did we establish that this would not take place.  We shall continue to press for such a conference.

Three draft Bills on implementing LVT, prepared by Ed Randall’s hard and effective work and then discussed by the steering group, were then put on our web-site.

The steering group discussed the position of the Systemic Fiscal Reform Group with the CEJ. It was decided that the SFRG should be given observer status and would be represented by Neale Upstone.  

Steering group members attended a conference held by the Finance Innovation Lab.  It was a well run event with some good speakers with break- out sessions organised by the attendees.  No report was produced.

During the year Peter Bowman produced an outstanding report entitled “The Value of Values in Economics – Economics with Justice” which was published in the ‘Globalisationfor the Common Good Initiative’ journal.  The context is, using the approach to teaching taken by the SES, an alternative view of current  economic thinking and teaching.  A copy is on the CEJ web-site.  It was noted that heterodox economics formed an alternative approach. Some of us attended a useful conference at the UCL on the economics syllabus. It was agreed that our summer general meeting would have a heterodox economist, Michael Lloyd, as speaker.

During the year we held three general meetings.  The  first was a talk by Tommas Graves on Money and Interest with contributions from Clive Menzies of Critical Thinking.  A lively debate ensued.  Then in the autumn Paul Nicolson gave an excellent talk on the problems faced by people on benefits and how he took a case to law against the London Borough of Haringey questioning the high charge made for any claim to the local court together with the lack of consultation regarding the procedure used.  A very useful example of action taken at the downstream end. Then in spring Ed Randall spoke on the banking system.  The lively discussion lead to a request for a brief paper on the banking system which we could put on the web-site.

A Colloquium on LVT was held at the RICS on 15th September, with Tony Vickers of the CEJ playing a leading role as organiser and presenter. The Colloquium was the outcome of work that had begun in 2013, involving several members of the PLRG (Dave Wetzel, Yoni Higgsmith and Ed Randall - as well as Tony). The Colloquium depended upon close collaboration between CEJ members, Bob Brass of the Network for Social Change and Professor Sarah Sayce, of Kingston University’s School of Surveying and Planning.  Bob Brass’s financial support for the Colloquium has been acknowledged and warmly welcomed by Tony Vickers on behalf of the CEJ and the PLRG.

The Colloquium was presented with an economic analysis, which showed that a single annual tax based on land values could generate up to £82 billion in public revenues at current prices; a sum sufficient to replace all current property taxes in England and Wales. Invitees were also told that it was perfectly feasible to create a cadastral map, publicly recording and displaying property boundaries and values, upon which a universal system of LVT in England and Wales could be founded. Work on the practicability and desirability of establishing and operating a robust valuation methodology was also commended to the Colloquium.

The Colloquium was attended by 40 invitees, drawn from government, the property industry, think-tanks, journalism and academia. The invitees contributed to a lively discussion in the sessions held immediately after the seven invited papers had been delivered.  This focussed on the technical and policy questions as well as the political challenges which the formal presentations had highlighted. An account of the Colloquium, respecting a modified version of Chatham House Rules, is expected to be ready for publication later in the year.

A small group of PLRG members, led by Tony Vickers, attended a meeting in October with Lord Richard Best at Portcullis House. The meeting had been sought following discussion at the CEJ Steering Group and elsewhere about the role that Lord Best had played in the abolition of MIRAS (Mortgage Interest Relief at Source) in the 1980s and 90s.  Lord Best welcomed the opportunity to discuss what he acknowledged appeared to be ‘very bad politics but very good policy’ in 1985 when he joined with others to build support for its abolition (MIRAS was finally abolished in 2000). Lord Best agreed that the abolition of MIRAS was a potentially valuable case study for all those who wanted to enhance the prospects for replacing bad taxes with fairer and more efficient ones. However, he urged patience and great attention to the way in which reform was framed and presented to policy makers.

Arising from a meeting Dave Wetzel and John Lipetz had some time ago with the economics officer of the RMT, the railway trade union commissioned the Labour Land Campaign for a report on funding the London Underground from LVT.  The report has been written by Dave Wetzel, Ed Randall and Yoni Higgsmith with additional assistance from Carol Wilcox and Heather Wetzel. In July the LLC presented the report "Putting the Underground's Finances on Track" to the RMT. Dave Wetzel also spoke about LVT funding rail infrastructure and services at an RMT Underground conference at the TUC. The RMT responded to the report with a request to include more precise information about how much the tube has contributed to land value and how much it will keep contributing to land value - and then what the increased funding stream could actually pay for in precise terms and who would pay. The response to this request is still being considered.

During the year Peter Challen put before the CEJ a proposal for a Magna Carta 2015.  This is a movement, not a party, for future parliamentary elections based on subsidiarity, confederation and mutual responsibility.  By collaborative dialogue they have produced a manifesto containing an up to date charter to lead to a written and living constitution.  It would achieve a system of democracy avoiding exploitation of land ownership and the use of commodified money by re-establishing basic rights and responsibilities.  The steering group noted that it had to concentrate on its main aim of achieving a land value tax. However, an early meeting would be arranged with a group of the new chartists.

The latter part of the year was less productive due to members being involved in the general election or away for other reasons. As a result there was no progress on getting our message across and there were delays in completing the report on the excellent colloquium and, likewise, for completing the work on LVT for the RMT.  There was also a delay in arranging a meeting with the Land Registry.

Towards the end of the year the CEJ got involved in pressing for LVT in Scotland.  John Lipetz had a meeting with a couple of LVT specialists, Professor Roger Sandilands and Duncan Pickard (an agricultural expert), in Scotland.  As a result, three of us, Louanne Tranchell, David Hirst and John attended a conference organised by the Scottish Land Revenue Group in February in Glasgow which was reported back to the steering group in March.

The background to this was the statement by the SNP leadership that they would examine land reform (not in the way the CEJ would regard as fundamental) and set up a commission to consider alternatives to council tax.  The conference had an excellent number of speakers with useful discussion but was not attended by influential politicians.  The outcome showed that the next step would be for the CEJ and its member organisations to put forward submissions to the commission.  Thereafter it would be necessary to make contact with politicians of all parties in Scotland.  This will form a major part of the CEJ’s work in the following year.

As always we appreciate the excellent facilities provided for us by the SES.

John Lipetz

Chair, CEJ

April 2015