Regional development is a key priority for Liberals and we would encourage further grants and tax incentives for businesses to settle outside of London and the Home Counties. Improvements to the nation’s infrastructure and transportation systems will help to ease the log-jam around London and further encourage development in other areas.
Liberals recognise that some industries, such as Cornish tin mining, make a distinctive and disproportionate contribution to regional economies. Public and private investment in these industries needs to continue.
Liberals have identified the following as keys to national prosperity:
- A well-educated and well-trained workforce, adaptable to changing practices, with a stake in the enterprise they work for and with job satisfaction. Liberal policies to improve the education services and for District Training Boards for the training of young people and the retraining of adults, together with Liberal ideas for profit sharing and works councils would help to achieve this aim. Tax rebates would be offered to companies to defray in-house apprenticeship and training costs. Liberals recognise that any industrial policy must be formulated with priority being given to improve the status of teachers, engineers and scientists within our community;
- The most up-to-date machinery and industrial plant available. Computers and robots are taking over a lot of the jobs that workers used to do. This has advantages as many of the jobs being automated were either tedious, unpleasant or demeaning. What does matter is that the wealth created is distributed fairly. This is why a sharing of profits and decision making is crucial, together with a more flexible approach to retirement, hours of work and job sharing. To ensure priority is given to new investment, a Cabinet Committee for Industrial Policy would be created to oversee an industrial credit scheme offering cheap, long-term finance and a national innovation policy for research and development. Liberals have also long campaigned in favour of workers’ co-operatives and feel more encouragement ought to be given to their creation by making available low interest capital funds;
- The maintenance of our infrastructure. As part of a programme of industrial recovery, Liberals call for programmes to tackle the backlog of maintenance of our waterways, road, motorway and railway networks;
- A stable economy. Industrialists cannot plan for the future when high interest rates prohibit investment in new plant and technologies, or when wildly fluctuating exchange rates affect prices of imported raw materials and the ability to compete in the international market place;
- Positive help for small businesses. Liberals have long recognised the importance of small firms which employ over 25% of the workforce. Facilities already on offer must be extended so as to allow them to accumulate profits for ploughing back into the business, to give them access to management advice, and to relieve them of some of the bookwork and red tape. We wish to strengthen the Chambers of Commerce and Trade to enable them to perform a role similar to that played by the CBI on behalf of large firms. A senior minister of Cabinet rank should be appointed to oversee government assistance for small firms.
Liberals believe that the European Union’s rights to take action to prevent the misuse of economic power to stifle competition through undesirable take-overs needs to be strengthened.
The Aerospace Industry
Liberals recognise the importance to British industry of the growing market in space related technologies. We believe that investment and support for research and development initiatives are essential to ensure that UK companies are in a position to benefit from future developments. To this end, Liberals support continued UK investment in European Space Agency (ESA) projects, increased government support for launcher development and manned space projects and a commitment to the International Space Station.
Liberals note the increase in air traffic world-wide, in both numbers of passengers carried and in freight tonnage, and are concerned about atmospheric pollution being generated by the engines of heavier-than-air craft. We believe that new technology and materials that were not available to pre-war engineers now present an opportunity to develop a new generation of air ships which rely on helium gas for lift, rather than the thrust of aircraft engines and therefore have the potential to provide environmentally friendly air craft ideally suited for the transfer of heavy freight and passengers “door-to-door”, for ferrying emergency supplies to disaster areas and for patrol duties. We feel that that the Government should be doing more in liaison with the aircraft industry, the Military and airline passenger and freight operators with a view to promoting airship construction and development.
State and Private Ownership
We deplore the way in which the debate about state versus private ownership has dominated political thinking on the subject of the UK economy for over 50 years. Liberals judge each case on its merits and without preconceived ideas. We believe that certain industries cannot easily be made to serve the wider interests of society if they are run for profit only, especially if the nature of the service creates a natural monopoly. We opposed the privatisation of the utilities, railways and coal industries and are opposed to any plans to privatise the Royal Mail.
Liberals believe that the current structure of the water industry is not compatible with the best interests of society and would seek to return the industry to public ownership. However, we do not believe that the re-nationalisation of successful businesses such as British Telecom is in the best interests of consumers or the shareholders.
Liberals would like to see experiments with new ideas of ownership and control including:
- Government help for employee co-operatives and profit sharing schemes in the form of tax incentives, soft loans and grants;
- legislation for employee involvement in decisions affecting the business they work for in fundamental ways, such as mergers and take-overs;
- more opportunity for employee and community involvement in the running of state owned enterprises;
- legislation to ensure that those with personal pension funds are informed as to where their funds are ultimately invested;
- a relaxation of the unduly restrictive rules on local authority Direct Service Organisations to enable them to win work outside their authority provided they do so at no cost to the taxpayer (that is to say that they can profit by the work won);
- allowing state owned enterprises to raise private capital;
- companies with over 50 employees to have supervisory boards elected by employees and shareholders on the basis of an electoral college with 50% of votes each;
- enhanced powers for the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to investigate cases without needing a referral from the Secretary of State.
The Liberal Party believes that the quest for full employment cannot be abandoned. It is a paradox of our economic system that while there is a shortage of jobs there is no shortage of work to be done. We do not believe that the solution lies in the creation of a low waged economy nor in “workfare” schemes which force people to work for rates of pay barely above the level of benefits.
However, we do believe that there are options available to the Government which would reduce unemployment significantly. Tackling unemployment must be restored as the top priority of economic management. Investment in training, more flexible working patterns and schemes to bring the long term unemployed back into the mainstream of economic activity are all urgently needed.
The Liberal Party proposes:
- the reintroduction of recognised trade apprenticeships, managed through independent district training boards;
- the enforcement of a wider use of work share schemes and a more flexible approach to retirement and working hours;
- financial incentives for companies to introduce child care facilities;
- the introduction of properly funded and planned community employment programmes, whereby the long term unemployed are offered the chance to return to work by doing a real job of benefit to the community in return for a realistic wage. In all such schemes, the quality of the work and training should be regarded as more important than fast recruitment;
- a change to the Jobseekers Allowance and Social Security rules so that earnings from part-time work do not lead to a disproportionate loss of benefit and that only the interest from savings is taken into account when calculating benefit, with an immediate increase in the diregard rule limit to £50, therefore allowing the unemployed to take on part-time and casual work without risking becoming “criminals”, thus giving an “escape route” from unemployment.
The Liberal Party also proposes that, in the event of an unemployed person creating or finding a job not previously existing they should be entitled to either a grant of 6 months benefit or the continuation of that benefit for six months.
While not supporting deliberate and considered fraud of the benefit system, we believe that the majority of those who find themselves accused of “fraud” do so not because of any serious intention, but due to the failures and inadequacies of the system.
Trade Unions and Employee Rights
The Trades Union movement has a key role in the development of workplace democracy. Worker representatives, shop stewards and trades union officials must be fully trained to adapt industrial democracy to their workplace. Liberals call for the introduction of a “Worker’s Charter”, clearly defining and safeguarding workers’ and trades union rights. Such a charter would include the right of every worker to join or not to join a union, and democratic procedures for the conduct of ballots.
Liberals believe that, whilst employers have a right to protect genuine commercial interests, employees have a right to speak publicly on issues of public interest relating to their employer’s business. Liberals therefore call for the outlawing of comprehensive gagging clauses in contracts of employment or in terms of conditions of work.
To enable individuals to find opportunities for personal development, Liberals believe that people of all ages and in all occupations should be encouraged to take sabbatical periods at various stages of their working lives.
The Minimum Wage
The Liberal Party supports the introduction of a minimum wage, the level being based on reports by the Low Pay Unit. This would be combined with a countervailing reduction in employers NI contributions to cancel the net economic effect on employers. This will simplify the tax and benefit system by removing the majority of wage earners from benefits, thus rendering unnecessary the vast transfer payments involved in the current system.
Liberals believe that membership of a Trade Association should carry with it a guarantee of minimum standards and that as a condition of membership, traders should undergo regular retraining to ensure a knowledge of changes in working practices, health and safety regulations and technology.
We further call for all businesses or persons employed in trades to be registered with their principal local authority on a public register that states their qualifications in that trade.
Liberals have a historical commitment to free trade. Tariff barriers and protection often defend inefficient and declining industries to the detriment of the consumer. We are unhappy with several aspects of the latest GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs) deal which will work to the advantage of the rich nations of Western Europe, North America and Japan at the expense of the poorer countries of the world.
We are concerned at the growth of global companies wielding huge economic power and outside the effective control of any government.
Liberal Party proposals include:
- a real willingness on the part of the UK government to work towards terms of trade which are in the best long term interests of the whole world;
- a UN agency to help regulate the activities of global companies.
Weights and Measures
Liberals are appalled by the treatment of traders and others by the authorities in a seemingly mindless and bureaucratic quest to eliminate imperial weights and measures and to force the adoption of metric measures in areas of life and trade where it is neither in common use nor necessary. We see no reason why imperial and metric measures should not continue to operate in parallel as they have for over a century, leaving science, industry, the markets, trade and the people to decide which system shall be used and under what circumstances. We would legislate to allow the unfettered use of both metric and imperial measures in the UK.