Liam Booth-Smith is the Chief Executive of the think tank Localis.
While the key issue at the heart of this election is undoubtedly Brexit, Theresa May also has the chance to free her government from the constraints of the 2015 manifesto and shape her own vision of what our post-Brexit economy and public services will look like. Localis has put together a set of recommendations based on our research projects from the last parliament to tackle some of the major problems facing the incoming government.
If Theresa May wants to cap care costs at £85,000 then she’ll need to find the money to do it. A sensible step would be to scrap the triple lock on pensions. There isn’t a powerful enough electoral consensus for funding to be provided through an increase in general taxation, so this is the best option available.
One of the key fault lines of the election will be housing, with Labour pledging to build a million new homes over the next five years – half of them council houses – we should make our own position clear on how the Conservatives will match with the action the recent ambition of the housing white paper. Localis has made the case for a more efficient, less perverse land and property market where local authorities would be allowed to levy council tax on plots allocated for housing which lie dormant. We have also recommended that an incoming government should give local authorities greater discretion when it comes to Right to Buy and borrowing to build new homes. For 20 years policy makers, politicians, financial institutions and developers have shouted for ‘radicalism’ whilst behaving like incrementalists. Now is as good time as any to buck the trend.
Following the unprecedented success enjoyed by the Conservatives in the local government elections, an incoming May government has the opportunity to reinvigorate the devolution agenda as a means to rebalancing the economy post-Brexit. In our report The Making of an Industrial Strategy, Localis identified areas that were economically ‘stifled’ and ‘stuck’ and sought to identify ways these places could be given greater power and control to revive their communities. An incoming Theresa May government should capitalise on local victories to transfer more powers down to strategic authority level. Fiscal devolution needs to be part of the mix, with bespoke tax arrangements for the most deprived areas and more control of public expenditure locally by those democratically elected.
The government’s planned expansion of childcare is a mistake. Instead, government should cancel the planned roll out of an additional 15 free hours to working families and instead focus this benefit on low income families. This would mean low income families could receive the additional free 15 hours for the 3 and 4 year olds plus receive a new 15 free hours for 1 year olds. This proposal would allow government to significantly expand its free childcare offer to poorer families, providing them greater freedom and flexibility in deciding when to return to work or seek additional education. Moreover this approach would cost £64 million less than government’s proposed extension whilst being more sustainable for childcare providers.
Giving more power to local communities, supporting families into better housing and allowing people greater freedom to pursue a career all help to make that happen. Theresa May has the opportunity to remake the Conservative party as the natural home of the working family, the Conservative manifesto should reflect that.