Three Berkshire Liberal Democrat members are playing a leading role in their party's tax policy review, which began this summer and will feature in at least three debates at next week's Party Conference in Brighton. They belong to a fast growing campaign group ALTER (Action on Land Tax & Economic Reform), which includes Nick Clegg and two other Cabinet members (Dr Vince Cable and Ed Davey) as Vice Presidents, with Eastleigh MP Chris Huhne as President.
ALTER is launching its proposed 'tax shifting' strategy "Lo-Tax" at a fringe meeting next Sunday at 1pm at The Grand, with speeches by Party Deputy Leader Simon Hughes MP and Lord Oakeshott, who made his fortune managing international property portfolios and is an adviser to Dr Cable. "Lo-Tax" involves lowering existing taxes on earnings and profits, by introducing a new tax on high value urban locations. This new Land Value Tax would have a tax-free Homestead Allowance for owner-occupiers, transferable to low earners living in high value homes. It is a development of Dr Cable's Mansion Tax.
At a motion on Housing policy on Wednesday 26th, the last day of the Conference, the former Leader of Reading BC Lib Dems and member of the Federal Policy Committee, Gareth Epps will propose an amendment that calls for a Vacant Land Tax - precursor to Lo-Tax - which councils could levy on any urban site that has planning permission for housing but where construction has not started within 12 months. The amendment has the support of Newbury Lib Dems, whose Vice Chair Cllr Dr Tony Vickers is also Vice Chair of ALTER. Another Newbury Lib Dem, Dr David Cooper, is editing a series of leaflets that explain the merits of Lo-Tax and how it would affect different sections of society.
"The Lo-Tax ideas have support right across the political spectrum," said Dr Vickers, a chartered surveyor who also runs a network of researchers on land reform: the Professional Land Reform Group. The newly appointed Conservative Planning Minister Nick Boles is among those on the right who have publicly called something similar. Brighton's Green MP Caroline Lucas has a Private Members Bill due 2ndReading in November, which is co-sponsored by two Lib Dem MPs and a Labour back-bencher.
"To get the housing the country desperately needs, Government has to use stick as well as carrot," said Mr Epps. "It isn't the fault of council planners that we're now seeing almost no houses built. It is largely because there's no holding charge levied on owners of valuable sites who speculate very long-term on future land price rises. We need new ways to recycle pension funds and other money, ignoring banks and using councils as active agents of regeneration for housing."
Dr Vickers and Mr Epps are on the Lib Dems Tax Policy Working Group, which has a closed consultation session on tax at the start of next week's Conference.
Notes for Editors:
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 Inequality; Housing; Economic Growth