4 December 2012

Mind the Gap between the Train and the Bus

Chris Dillow writes that the richest households spend 20 times more than the poorest households on train fares, but for bus fares there is little difference between the spending of the rich and poor. This is evidence that Philip Hammond was right when he said (to much hand-wringing) the railways are a "rich man's toy".

Now, we all hear about how much train fares have increased over the years, with above-inflation rises becoming an inevitability. Every year the announcement of train fare rises is a major news story. Politicians are always keen to be seen taking a stance against train fare rises and be seen on the side of commuters.

What we don't hear about anywhere near about are bus fare rises. I don't know why, especially given the impact of these fare rises hit the poorest households far more than train fares. As Will Straw pointed out on Left Foot Forward a few months ago, bus fares surged even more than rail fares during Labour's period in government.

There are far times more bus journeys taken than train journeys. There were 5 billion bus journeys in England alone last year, compared to 1.3 billion rail journeys across the whole of Great Britain.

Despite this, MPs have basically ignored the relentless increase in bus fares. Compare the Google results for "MP rail fares" and "MP bus fares" to see how little attention the latter receives.

If our politicians really want to show they're on the side of the hardest-pressed, they ought to pay a lot more attention to the buses.

9 July 2012

Nick de Bois Wants More Time Spent Discussing Lords Reform, Except When He Wants Less

Enfield North's MP Nick de Bois has put his name to a letter from a bunch of Conservative MPs trying to block the long-needed House of Lords democratisation.

The letter calls for much more of parliament's time to be used for "full and unrestricted scrutiny" of the Bill. So despite having spent nine months consulting on a draft bill, these Tories want to spend even longer trying to make sure the reforms that all parties promised are the right reforms.

Fair enough, right?

So how come Nick de Bois asked this back in February?

How can the Government justify consuming so much parliamentary time to push forward House of Lords reform at the expense of more pressing legislation?

Well, what is it? Should we be spending more time or less time on House of Lords Reform? It seems that Tory MPs are very flexible about the answer to this question.

13 June 2012

A Minister for Liberty

The back of Lib Dem membership cards leaves us in do doubt what our core values are - liberty, equality and community. Our mission is to ingrain these values into British society. As part of this, we need them ingrained into the heart of government.

The UK executive has a whole department dedicated to Communities. There is also an Equalities Office within the Home Office, albeit with a narrow anti-discrimination remit which is far from encompassing the whole wide topic of equality.

However there is no Ministry or Office which is dedicated to looking after our liberty. If we're to entrench our values while we're in government, what better way than to create an office and a government minister fighting the corner of liberty.

13 May 2012

Are the Tory Right Really Bothered About Distractions?

Peter Bone and his right-wing ilk have been touring the studios this week making their concerns over House of Lords Reform known. Their key argument is that using Parliament's time to push through reform now would be a huge distraction from the the Coalition's main job of reducing the deficit and getting the economy back on time.

What's odd is that earlier this parliament, Peter Bone and his comrades Philip Hollobone and Christopher Chope were very busy presenting a long list of Bills containing a whole host of populist right-wing measures.

I don't doubt that they're entitled to raise issues that they think are important. But surely, by their own argument, arguing about the finer details of abolishing the TV licence, providing tax relief on private medical insurance and so on was a distraction for the government which ought to be spent dealing with the economy?

Or could it be that they don't believe their own arguments and are saying anything to avoid having to bring a bit more democracy to our beleaguered political system?

Don't get me wrong, they're absolutely within their rights to raise concerns about the proposed reforms to the House of Lords (although let's not forget that the manifesto they stood on for the previous three elections committed Conservative MPs to Lords reform). But can't they do it on an honest basis?

Then again, maybe they've had a change of heart and now don't want the government to be drawn into Parliamentary battles over legislation that isn't aimed at the economy. Therefore I'm sure they'll avoid taking up Parliament's time by trying to impede the House of Lords Reform Bill's progress.

20 January 2012

Bad News on Redistributing Supermarket Salaries

Zoe Williams's article on top vs. bottom-end supermarket salaries is interesting and full of good intentions, but I fear it doesn't lead us anywhere useful.

Her argument is that supermarkets don't pay their staff a proper wage (perhaps because of in-work state benefits), which allows them to make excessive profits and pay their CEOs an exorbitant salary. To these CEOs she cries out, "To grab so much in excess of what you could ever spend or need, at a cost of so much hardship, to so many people, defies comprehension."

She also gives us lots of handy numbers: the supermarkets' workforce is 900,000-strong, and the CEOs' salaries are as follows:

• Justin King, the CEO of Sainsbury's, receives £3.2m a year;
• Philip Clarke of Tesco, £6.9m;
• Dalton Philips, of Morrisons, £4m;
• Andy Clarke of Asda's pay is not in the public domain.

I'll be generous and assume that Clarke earns as much as the 'market leader', i.e. the Tesco CEO salary of £6.9m. That gives us a total CEO salaries of the big four supermarkets of £21m.

Redistributing that CEO income equally amongst the full supermarket workforce would give each supermarket employee just £23 extra per year. While I don't dispute that Every Little Helps, I'm unconvinced that less than 50p per week would make a significant difference to the lives of ordinary shop-floor workers.

There are serious inequalities in our society which need tackling, but all this focus on people's incomes distracts us from the real source of systemic unfairness - inequality of wealth.

Meanwhile, if we are to aim for high levels of social mobility, then while education and equal opportunities are vital, they are only enablers to the only way social mobility is ultimately achieved - income.