Budget 2017 – Demos Responds

Claudia Wood, Director: 

Green Belt reform

Green belt reform is overdue. We need a strategy to look systematically at green belt – to separate the ‘green and pleasant land’ from the inaccessible bits ofwaste ground – and to protect the former and free up the owners of the latter to sell to housing developers. We also need to look at land prices, ring fencing unused land in town centres (e.g. NHS land) and planning process and land taxes, and green belt.

Stamp Duty reform

Stamp duty exemptions for first time buyers will only increase the ability of buyers to pay more for property, inflating already exorbitant prices, without necessarily increasing build volumes. The Government needs to focus more on fixing the fundamental issues on the supply side – and the question is whether this give away can be offset.

The Announcement of a Review Into Housing Approvals

Demos welcomes the decision to announce an urgent review into the gap between planning approvals across the country – an issue we highlighted in 2015, in a report on NIMBYism demonstrating that the areas with the greatest need for new housing – particularly in the South East of England – were the least likely to grant housing permissions. We have found there is significant scope to improve these approval rates by increasing local residents’ engagement in the development process.

Universal Credit

Reforms to Universal Credit waiting periods and advances are welcome but several additional expensive fixes will be needed to get Universal Credit fit for purpose. Next up: sorting out withdrawal rates.

NHS

The NHS funding boost offer is a classic example of how governments of all persuasions, motivated by short term pressures and grabs for voter popularity, willfully undertake a damaging segmentation of three deeply entwined policy areas – social care, housing and the NHS. Social care didn’t even get a mention. Throwing cash at the NHS without reform to all areas will only create a black hole. They need to be taken together.

Claudia is a longstanding expert in housing, health and social care policy. She recently published a report on fixing supply-side problems in the housing market.

Ian Wybron, Head of Social Policy:

Alchohol Duty 

Plans to increase duty on high-strength, low-quality alcohol could signal a change in the government’s stance on price and tackling alcohol harms – a small nod, perhaps, to the landmark decision last week in Scotland to introduce a Minimum Unit Price for alcohol.

Demos research shows that price can indeed be an important factor in declining alcohol consumption – but policy solutions will need to be more rounded, focusing too on the social and environmental factors contributing to harmful drinking.

In 2016 Ian published a report exploring the drinking habits of young adults in Great Britain.

Alan Lockey, Head of Modern Economy:

Devolution 

The Budget provided an important recognition that the Government still believes in devolution. The announcement of new devolution deals and the broader strategic vision for the South East Growth Corridor are both welcome developments.

However, on the Transforming Cities fund the devil will be in the detail. It is disappointing that the Chancellor directed 50 per cent of it based entirely on a governance arrangement – the money should be targeted to those with the strongest plan to embed truly inclusive growth across their cities. Equally, it is to be hoped that the money comes without strings and is not ring-fenced on, for example, local transport projects. City leaders should be trusted entirely to deliver the best policies for inclusive growth in their area: that is what devolution is supposed to be about.

Furthermore, London seems an unusual place to pilot 100 per cent business rates retention. The pilot should be expanded so that we have a more diverse mix of areas.

Alan Lockey, Head of the Modern Economy Programme at Demos, recently published the Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index measures the current performance of a range of the largest UK cities, and all Local Enterprise Partnership areas in England, against a basket of ten indicators based on the views of the public and business as to what is key to economic success and wellbeing.

The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media: 

Investment in Research and Development 

Hammond has announced an intention to fund new expertise in artificial intelligence, and, encouragingly, recognises that there can be no new generation of bright young AI experts unless UK institutions retain the expertise needed to teach them. This will be no mean feat, and the UK will be in competition with the giants of silicon valley for our top academics, but the investments announced here are a good start.

Self-Driving Cars

The budget this year is firmly intended to position Britain as an independent leader in new and innovative technology; it is no accident that much of the focus has been around getting self-driving cars onto our roads, a notion which neatly encapsulates a feeling of both technical expertise and regulatory daring. As with the announcement earlier this year for new funding of battery technology, much of this investment is in areas which look promising, and could, if encouraged correctly, do a great deal for the UK’s reputation for innovation.

For this to work, however, a keen eye must be kept on those wishing to take advantage of any change in the law. We know from Uber’s tussle with the State of California back in January, after their self-driving cars were found running red lights, that firms are likely to push the boundaries on any new powers. Public perception of the danger posed by these vehicles will be key to their success, and a thoughtful regulatory approach will need to accompany extra funding.

The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at Demos leads the study of how the rise of the digital world affects politics, policy and decision-making. Partnered with the University of Sussex, it is both a research hub and technology lab, building new ways of exploring the role of social media in social life, from democracy, participation and counter-terrorism to hate crime, health, and disaster response.