Election spending pledges and magic money trees | Letters

Prof Richard Murphy writes that straightforward tax rule changes could fund Labour’s Green New Deal, but Tony Greaves cautions against the grand schemes parties dream up during election campaigns. Plus letters from Terry Horsnell, Eddie Dougall and Judith Montgomery

Labour’s clear commitment to a £250bn “green transformation fund” correctly puts climate centre stage in this election (Turning on the spending tap: How the parties’ plans compare, 8 November). The usual economic suspects have immediately lined up to wring their hands, worrying about levels of debt and the availability of “shovel-ready” projects. They miss the real points.

The first is whether there are buyers for the bonds that will fund this spending. At present, more than 80% of UK personal wealth is invested in tax-incentivised assets.

In that case simple tax rule changes will drive buyers towards Green New Deal bonds. For example, if the rules on Isas were changed so that all funds saved had to be invested in Green New Deal bonds, and an interest rate of 1.85% (the current average cost of UK government borrowing) was paid then the £70bn that goes into Isas each year could be directed towards the Green New Deal. Simple changes to pension rules could provide the rest.

Second, as for a lack of shovel-ready projects, Labour’s plans include making the UK’s 30m buildings energy efficient while shifting energy supply to renewables. We already have the skills and knowledge to restart this transformation, since many in those sectors lost their jobs when the Conservatives cut support for such activity. Of course, a massive retraining programme will also be required, but if the government makes the money available you can be sure that the shovels will come.
Prof Richard Murphy
City, University of London

• Policies to launch massive programmes of investment made during a general election are only of value if they can be implemented effectively and safely. It is far from obvious that there are huge amounts of unused and available capacity in many of the relevant planning, design and construction industries. We also have plenty of experience of sudden increases in funding resulting in rushed and inefficient, or even dangerous, schemes – look at rail electrification or Crossrail, or the Grenfell Tower.

What is certain is that there will be acute shortages of trained people, from high-level designers, organisers and managers to workers on the ground, and in many cases the usual local objections that will slow everything down. If Brexit happens it will be harder to fill the staffing gaps.

Meanwhile, as politicians dream up grand schemes, austerity will continue as before for all the very local street and community level services that make life better – refuse collection and recycling; street sweeping and litter clearing; parks and play areas; town centres; leisure services and sports facilities; local planning services; libraries; local streets, pavements and street lighting; housing standards; action over antisocial behaviour; environmental health services and anti-pollution; public health schemes; community centres and events … the list goes on.

Councils are getting some more cash but it’s almost all for social care. But for district councils, like those where I live in East Lancashire that have had their annual revenue budgets slashed by up to half in the past 10 years, it’s as grim as ever and getting worse by the year. Austerity is still here and, to judge by the election dreams and promises, it’s here to stay.
Tony Greaves
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords

• The major parties seem to agree on one thing – that now is the time to borrow, and to borrow big. With interest rates low and likely to remain low for some time, I can’t help but agree with them. But over the next decade, it is quite possible that interest rates could rise considerably, and with them the repayment bill. Given all the predictions of the substantial hit to the economy Brexit is likely to cause, surely the best way for us to be in good shape to cope with this is to scrap Brexit and stay in the EU.

So I would urge Labour to direct the bulk of the investment that this borrowing would enable into the areas of the country that have been starved of cash for decades – and in so doing maybe reduce the eagerness of such areas for Brexit.
Terry Horsnell

• There are two glaring differences in the spending pledges by Labour and the Conservatives: the Labour party has been advocating this approach since austerity was instigated by George Osborne, whereas an imminent election has driven this U-turn by the Johnson government (Report, 8 November). And the promises/pledges issued by Mr Johnson are not the most durable, more akin to the longevity of a gnat.
Eddie Dougall
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

• I am thrilled to hear that money trees are suddenly abundant and that a multitude of unicorns have been spotted in the forest. May we never outgrow fairytales.
Judith Montgomery
Stapleton, Leicestershire

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