LABOUR HAS NOW PLACED the central questions of economic ownership and control back on the political agenda for the first time in a generation. Questions like “who owns our economy?”, “in whose interests is it run?” and “how can we improve it by working collectively?”
Rebecca Long-Bailey and I commissioned the Alternative Models of Ownership report to start to address these questions. We have known for decades how leaving the economy in the hands of the market can deliver mass unemployment, rising inequality, regional and environmental neglect and financial insecurity. Communities and families are being pulled apart by the extraordinary pressures of precarious work, low pay, and, too often, rising debt. And for the first time in decades there is a widespread belief that the young and future generations will be worse off than their parents.
If we are going to deal with the root causes of these problems we need to take back real control over our lives and the economic decisions which are central to them.
One way of putting that power in the hands of people is through supporting the growth of the co-operative sector. Our manifesto last year pledged to double the size of the co-operative sector. Working with the Co-operative Party we have now commissioned an independent report from the New Economics Foundation think-tank and are convening an expert group of activists and co-operators to form an implementation group which will engage with the co-operative movement, road test our ideas and identify what support from a Labour government will best support and grow the co-op sector.
Local Economic Strategies
Following the example set by Cleveland, Ohio, and others in the US, Preston’s Labour council is now starting to turn its local economy round by ensuring money spent by the public sector stays local rather than flying off to distant shareholders.
By redirecting procurement spending to local suppliers, the council has delivered a £75 million boost to Preston’s economy, and £200 million across Lancashire as a whole. This extra spending helps to support over 1,600 jobs in Preston alone. To build on this success, the Labour Party is setting up a Community Wealth Building Unit to give Labour councils knowledge, advice, and practical support in adopting creative methods to secure and provide vital services for communities in the face of austerity.
Elsewhere in the public sector, we are looking at what is needed to fix the increasingly obvious failures of the privatisation era. The collapse of Carillion was a reminder of the dangers of believing that the solution to improving public services lies in expanding the spread of the market.
We can see today the damage that the privatisation agenda has wreaked:
» Private water monopolies paying out more in dividends than they make in profits.
» Rail fares rising faster than wages, while passengers endure overcrowding and British Rail-era rolling stock.
Guided by our belief that the fruits of our collective endeavour should be shared and enjoyed by all and not a select few, Labour will put these industries in the hands of the people.
But we need to do better than re-invent the past. Our socialism has never been about public ownership for the sake of it, but because we believe that nobody knows better how to run these industries than those who spend their lives with them.
The next Labour government will put democratically owned and managed public services in the hands of those workers and of those who rely on their work.
UBI and UBS
In this 21st century, the possibility of widespread automation has led to a resurgence of interest in the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). UBI recognises the importance of making sure that everyone can live well, even in a society where the relationship between work and income has become less straightforward.
The Social Prosperity Network at University College London has also released a report on Universal Basic Services (UBS), recommending that the principles of UBI should be used to provide UBS. They asked: “why should we have healthcare and education provided free at the point of use, but not other essentials of life?”
We committed in our manifesto to the building of a National Care Service and a National Education Service, free at the point of use. Why shouldn’t we extend this principle of universalism further? Radical questions, of course, but important ones which we as a society will have to ask ourselves sooner or later.
Shadow Chancellor, MP for Hayes and Harlington, Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and Chair of the Labour Representation Committee. John has been involved in Labour Briefing since the early years.