CEJ Annual Report (April 2011 to March 2012)
The CEJ has now been in existence for over three years. We continue to develop and drive our agenda using the skills and experience of our steering group members and the resources from within our member organisations. The tax system remains dysfunctional and the economic picture remains bleak. Nevertheless, LVT has hit the public arena (particularly in Samuel Brittan’s brilliant February 2012 article in the Financial Times) from time to time and the public are becoming more aware of the damaging effects on the average citizen caused by the economic and political system, through the work of OccupyLSX and others.
We have continued our efforts to influence the Treasury civil servants. We met with the Commercial Property Tax policy team on 19th May. We were informed that LVT was not in the coalition agreement, they do not work on policy initiatives unless requested by Ministers, but they will work with other parties when they are preparing their manifestos. We raised a number of issues, stating that LVT would help any growth strategy, that LVT could ensure revenue income to pay, for example, for raising the income tax threshold. Land values were relevant to the current government given its interest in introducing TIFs (Tax Increment Financing). There was discussion on the winners and losers should LVT be introduced and also on why government found this difficult politically. We explained some of the advantages of LVT and the unfairness of the present tax system pointing to the fact that the Mirrlees Review had shown support for it as did the Greens and the Cooperative party.
After the meeting we were provided with the contact details for the various sections of government dealing with aspects of taxation. As a result we held a useful meeting with the Valuation Agency and have asked a series of questions to the Treasury Income Tax team the replies to which we are now considering. We plan a meeting with the Treasury team working on the introduction of TIFs and will then meet with the Treasury Budget, Strategy and Tax team. We also plan to enter into dialogue with the Land Registry. We intend in particular to raise the issue of dead weight losses caused by conventional taxes which do not arise with LVT.
We held a meeting in Scotland with Cooperative party MSPs which we followed up with a useful meeting with Glasgow City Councillors and the Scottish Greens. The City Council had carried out a very thorough examination of local taxation, ranging across all types of taxes and judging them on the criteria of fairness,efficiency, predictability and local accountability. LVT, as well as property and a hybrid property and land tax, came out highest on these criteria. They recommended pressing the Scottish parliament to allow the move towards property and land taxation. We were advised, however, that, although a move towards LVT was more likely in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, any moves would have to await the outcome of the referendum on independence. We will be seeking further meetings in Scotland with the Lib Dems, SNP and the Scottish TUC.
We now know that there is a Welsh examination of devolution of powers including taxation under the Silk Commission set up by the current UK government. We have therefore put forward a submission to this body. Further, there was a brief debate in Wales supporting LVT as a result of which the Assembly will be putting proposals to the Commission.
We have continued our practice of holding one general meeting each term. In the summer term there was a useful meeting with Tony Vickers and Michael Hawes presenting their views on “How LVT might be implemented” followed by discussion. In the autumn Greg Fisher of Synthesis was invited to speak on “Economics and LVT” with much of the content and debate dealing with complexity theory. In February Peter Bowman gave an interesting talk on “Replacing income tax with LVT”.
We have begun work on producing a draft LVT Bill. A small group has met and are considering developing Private Members Bills, changes to Business Rates under the Local Government Finance Act 1988, valuation issues, previous LVT Bills and Acts and the current Local Government Finance Bill. They will be taking this forward over the coming months.
In the course of the year opportunities for dialogue arose with a range of organisations involved in various aspects of the economy. We introduced them to the work of the CEJ and pointed them to references and resources. This has heightened our awareness of their specific concerns whilst at the same time, by making the case for land value taxation, providing them with some understanding of economic rent. Among such bodies were Synthesis, the Occupy movement, the New Economics Foundation, the Tax Justice Network and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). We intend to take opportunities to make contact with and engage with many other organisations seeking to examine, explain and improve our economic system.
In May we plan to take part in a series of seminars organised in conjunction with James Quilligan, a renowned commons theorist/activist who is Founder of the Global Commons Trust. The title of the seminars is “What is the role of the commons in the global economy? Re-discovering the commons.” Among a wide range of subjects covered over a fortnight it includes sessions on: how to democratise the present system, the political economy, the role of the commons in a new economy, trusteeship and the commons, and an approach to business practice with a final summing up session on the Emergence of a Commons Based Economy.
The HGF (a member organisation in the CEJ) is hosting at the SES one of these seminars as are the New Economics Foundation, Synthesis, the IPPR and others from church backgrounds, think tanks, etc. We hope to be influential in these discussions as well as learning more about the changes needed in society and the economy.
In the summer the CEJ made contact with the Land and Freedom movement who were demonstrating on Clapham Common to highlight the issue of land ownership locally and globally. They campaign against the restriction of access to land. Some of our members met them by arrangement on the common when we sat down and discussed land value tax. They organised the discussion in a circle on the grass. Many of the group heard for the first time of a land value tax as an effective approach to their aims.
In October a large number of protesters set up the first UK Occupy camp at St Paul’s Cathedral, after being removed from the London Stock Exchange (LSX). Similar actions took place in hundreds of towns and cities across the world – with normal citizens standing up against the lack of democracy and the dysfunctional economic system, stating they were “the 99%”.
A number of CEJ members were involved with the OccupyLSX movement with one member permanently camped out and others joining the Occupy Economics Working Group and speaking on land value tax at the General Assembly. As a result many members of Occupy – and other passers by – became increasingly aware of the relevance of LVT as a tool to solving the global economic crisis. The General Assembly discussed land value on one occasion when the majority signalled agreement to the idea in principle and referred the matter to the Economics Working Group. Despite having been evicted from St Paul’s the Occupy participants continue to meet and are still active. The CEJ has produced a document explaining LVT and an entire session of this economics group will be dedicated to land value taxation in the coming weeks.
Some consideration has been given in the last year to the relationship of our generic title to our emphasis on land value taxation. CEJ implies a comprehensive approach to economic justice yet whilst studying, interpreting and advocating LVT, no doubt a significant and necessary change needed towards a fairer taxation system, is not the only measure necessary to create a more just economic system. We will be examining this matter shortly.
Having agreed our mission statement and strategic aims last year we have now developed our action programmes for the four broad areas of our work. The statement is attached in full as an appendix to this report.
I appreciate the broad range of talent within our steering group. The variety of inputs reflect our respective knowledge and interests so enabling a sound cooperative approach within our limited resources. My thanks as always go to the SES for providing us with such excellent facilities for our work.