Report on the first 15 months of the CEJ (Dec 2008 - March 2010)
Recognizing the seriousness of the economic crisis and the need to avoid its repetition in the future, the organisations concerned with land value taxation came together on 28th November 2008. The list of member organisations is set out below. A motion was tabled for discussion and, after considerable debate, the following resolution was agreed nem. con. (without dissent):
“The current economic crisis highlights, again, the inadequacies of the economic system which is unstable and deeply flawed. It is clear that events are demonstrating the common feature of repeated economic booms and depressions in the speculative rise in land prices.
In order to address this problem we need to suggest to the wider world that it is possible to create a new approach that delivers both economic justice and prosperity for all. This solution must be based upon the annual collection of land value for public purposes.
This meeting agrees that there is an urgent need to convince policy makers of this, and for them to develop (with our assistance) policies to capture unearned land values. Such policies would enable taxes on labour and enterprise to be minimised. Investment in necessary public infrastructure would thus be recovered for public benefit.
We believe, however, that it is unproductive at this stage for our respective groups to attempt to agree how to achieve this. An agreement by the main parties on the need for a nation-wide tax on the value of land would trigger completion of the registration and valuation of land within a single parliament. We therefore commit to trying to persuade all parties to agree to this being a manifesto commitment.”
It was agreed that there were many approaches to the introduction of LVT and that it might be possible to capture land values by voluntary means with or without land registration and valuation. Opportunities would be provided to consider these through general meetings open to members of the various organisations. However, the main task would be to pursue our aims jointly to influence policy makers across the political spectrum. The propositions agreed included the creation of an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to discuss fiscal reform, an approach to the Treasury and holding a seminar at the House of Commons.
The SES and the HGF made it clear that, given their charitable status, they could not take part in party political activity. However, they could consider acting as secretariat for the combined group. The SES kindly agreed to provide the venue for our meetings.
The meeting agreed that progress would be made by a committee of representatives from each organisation meeting on a regular basis. At its first meeting the Steering Group, after discussion, agreed we should be known as the Coalition for Economic Justice. It was agreed to hold a seminar in the House of Commons and set up a sub-group to plan and arrange this. Work would be done with the aim of setting up an APPG as well as approaching key organisations, including the TUC and CBI.
The Chancellor was written to inviting him or his Ministers to attend the Seminar on 24th March entitled “Capturing Land Value to achieve Economic Justice – a Challenge to Parliament”. MPs and Peers were all invited. The speakers were David Triggs, Samuel Brittan, Prof. Iain McLean, Molly Scott Cato, Ashley Seager, Fred Harrison and James Black. Nick Ross agreed to chair the event but was unfortunately taken ill that week so John Lipetz took his place. Vince Cable MP looked in but could not stay for long. The report, which is available on the CEJ web site, was well attended with excellent contributions both from the speakers and audience. The weakness was that very few MPs turned up and only two junior civil servants from the Treasury attended.
The CEJ held two general meetings for the wider membership in May and July 2009. At the first five member organisations presented their different methods of implementing LVT. There was no attempt to agree a shared approach. It was agreed that the CEJ would need to be flexible while holding to its principles. The second meeting dealt with “The scope of economic policy that the CEJ should encompass”. There were three contributors followed by discussion from the floor. It was recognised that the CEJ should engage with bodies dealing with relevant matters such as the reform of the banking system, monetary policy and other aspects of the inappropriate and unsustainable taxation system - and even wider issues such as the environment and welfare. However, it was agreed that the CEJ should concentrate on the principles of land value created by the community and, therefore, LVT and resource rents.
The CEJ continued to pursue the Chancellor, seeking a meeting to discuss our concerns. Despite sending three letters we received a virtually nil response, although we were eventually offered a meeting with a civil servant at the Treasury which we will take up at an appropriate time. We have written to all the political parties with especially encouraging responses from the Green Party and the Cooperative Party.
The Steering Group have been working on other matters: to establish an effective strategy and action plan; and the development of a land charter based on the peoples charter. On the latter the key aspects are to firm up on its purpose and use. Our discussions on the former has made us realise the importance of influencing the public in our work. Hence our moves looking forward to relate to other key organisations concerned about our society and its economic issues.
It is for that reason that we have widened our scope of activity. We have held positive meetings: - with the Equality Trust to follow through the work being pursued on inequalities in our society in the book ‘The Spirit Level’; - with the Cooperative Party to establish their influence politically on LVT;- and with the Tax Justice Network to seek an alliance to establish improvements in the taxation system. We plan to hold meetings with the Green Party and the New Economics Foundation and will seek out other key players with a view to holding a conference with a range of organisations to encourage joint working across the full spectrum of concerned groups fighting for a better world.
It has been encouraging that, during our period of activity, there are clear signs that the case for LVT is becoming stronger. Not only have the Green and Cooperative parties supported LVT so clearly in their manifestos but also the Irish government decided to carry out a valuation of all land other than agricultural land for a site value tax. The land registry group within the PCS union produced a positive report on the registration of land ownership and the Glasgow City Council have carried out a report on local taxation which includes combined property and land taxes as well as LVT. In addition, there is strong support for LVT in the centre left and left wings of the Labour Party and a continuing thrust for LVT within the Liberal Democrat Party, stating that all tax systems must have a tax base which reflects property or land values. We recognise that we are on a long haul but need to remain positive in our approach.
The CEJ held a further general meeting in January 2010 on “Facing issues on implementing LVT” when there were four short contributions covering the relevance of citizens’ income, some of the key objections (apart from vested interest!) and how they can be responded to, valuation issues and methods of implementing LVT at both local and national levels. The meeting reached a broad consensus on our approach which will need to be considered further.
I regard the fact of landing up as chair of the CEJ as a privilege. We may not have ‘dotted the eyes’ on all actions from month to month but I am impressed by the contributions made by all members of the Steering Group. If we continue to use the pragmatism of some members while holding hard to the principles on which our work must be based we will eventually succeed.