Electoral Registration in Edinburgh

Standard

On 17 January, Ian Murray MP wrote to the Assessor & Electoral Registration Officer concerning the moves to Individual Electoral Registration.

The move away from Household registration may mean that some people fall off of the register, and lose their chance to vote.

Ian said: “I am very pleased with this comprehensive reply from those in charge of the registration for Edinburgh. I still remain concerned that a number of people will still be vulnerable to fall off the register in time for the General Election.”

“In the next 14 months we have three important  choices ahead of us: the European elections, the referendum on separation, and the General Election in May 2015. Of course, I encourage every person who is eligible to make sure they register, then use their vote as we make important decisions about the future of our country.”

Read the document here.

Ian Murray MP backs local pubs during vote in Westminster

Standard

Local MP Ian Murray today joined Labour colleagues in Parliament in backing local pubs across Britain by voting to introduce a new code to support small landlords and give consumers greater choice.

 

An estimated 26 pubs are closing each week in Britain and the large chains of pub companies (PubCos) have been accused of giving landlords a raw deal, with many paying over the odds for their alcoholic products.  Labour today dragged ministers to the House of Commons in an Opposition Day debate to demand that the Government introduces legislation in this year’s Queen’s Speech to support local pubs.  Labour and Mr Murray are calling for legislation to introduce a statutory code protecting small landlords and ensuring they are no longer exploited in their relationship with pub companies.

 

As campaigners have demanded, the code must include a free-of-tie option, open market rent reviews and an independent pubs adjudicator. This would give every landlord the choice to go free-of-tie, allowing licencees to operate in a more competitive market.

 

A statutory code is being supported by a broad coalition including the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the Federation of Small Businesses and trade unions.

 

Ian Murray said; “I spoke in the debate today as I feel passionately that Pubs are vital hubs in our communities none more so than in South Edinburgh and are valued strongly by local people, but due to the Tory-led government’s inaction and broken promises on backing small landlords, they are closing at an ever-increasing rate. 

 

“This costs jobs, especially for young people, and hits the local economy by an average of £80,000 each time a pub shuts.

 

“We need to back our local pubs. That’s why, a year after ministers promised action on this issue which still hasn’t materialised, I voted again for a statutory code to be put in place, including a non-tied option for publicans.

 

“It’s time for the Tories to take real action to support small landlords otherwise our area risks losing more pubs, and more jobs.”

You can read the whole speech here. 

Only Labour can be trusted to strengthen the minimum wage

Standard

This article was originally posted at New Statesmen:

Can you imagine earning £1.75 an hour for a hard day’s work?  How is a person expected to live on such a sum? And that the employer who paid that sum was doing it legally. This is not a rhetorical question to shock, but was evidence taken from a woman, who had worked as a home worker for over a decade, by the Low Pay Commission in the late 1990s when considering the level of the minimum wage.

Fifteen years have now passed since the introduction of the National Minimum Wage and cases such as these are now thankfully illegal. It is undoubtedly one of Labour’s proudest achievements in government and it is undeniable that it has been a huge success for employees and employers.

The contribution of those Labour MPs who sat late into the night to ensure this crucial legislation passed should not be underestimated. Whilst Tory naysayers bitterly opposed the minimum wage, Labour persevered to ensure that it became a political and economic fact of life. Many of those who opposed it back in the 1990s are now in ministerial posts, like then Tory backbencher Michael Fallon, now Business minister, whose scaremongering claim in 1997 was that the minimum wage “will add costs to British business”. The Tories argued that increasing wages at the bottom would cost more than a million jobs. It did nothing of the sort.

It gave more than one million workers an average pay rise of 10-15% and now nearly two million workers directly benefit from the minimum wage, around one worker in ten. For women in particular, a group in the UK workforce often most susceptible to low pay, the national minimum wage made a significant impact. And over the years, studies have repeatedly shown that the minimum wage has had no adverse impact on aggregate employment, individual employment or unemployment probabilities.

Now the Tories pretend they love the minimum wage, all in an attempt to once again detoxify the conservative “brand”. But the problem of low pay has got worse under this government. Families are on average £1,600 a year worse off since David Cameron took office in 2010 and the value of the minimum wage has declined by 5% under his watch, contributing to the cost-of-living crisis that has engulfed the country. But this government have failed to notice, let alone take the action we need.

The Tory-led government is not doing enough to enforce the minimum wage. Despite ministers promising to name and shame firms which aren’t paying, not a single firm has been named so far. Incredibly, this government have made more announcements on naming and shaming firms that flout the minimum wage than actually naming them. Since 2010, three separate ministers have repeated three announcements on the policy.

Today, we have yet another re-announcement, that fines on businesses that don’t pay the minimum wage will rise to £20,000, a repeat of remarks made by David Cameron in November last year. Whilst it’s a small step in the right direction, following Labour’s lead, and in response to the opposition day debate we have called this week, we need the government to back up its empty rhetoric on enforcement with real action. A recent report by the Centre for London found that only two employers in four years have been prosecuted for paying below the minimum wage, despite evidence that over 300,000 people in the UK are earning less than the legal minimum.

And the Lib Dems are no better. At every turn since 2010, they have supported measures making it easier to fire not hire people at work. Vince Cable didn’t vote for the National Minimum Wage and later admitted that he’d had “reservations”. In 2003, he warned that raising the minimum wage would set a “dangerous precedent”.

The next Labour government will strengthen the minimum wage. In September last year, Ed Miliband announced a review into low pay, led by Alan Buckle, formerly Deputy Chairman of KPMG International, to examine how to restore the value of the minimum wage and promote the living wage.

And in November, Ed Miliband outlined how a future Labour government will provide tax incentives for employers that sign up to become living wage employers in the first year of the next Parliament through new “Make Work Pay” contracts. We also need to see higher penalties for rogue companies who don’t pay employees the minimum wage and far more effective enforcement, including by giving local authorities new powers. Penalties against those rogue employers should be higher and we would set them at £50,000 – a real deterrent to the minority of businesses that exploit workers and undermine firms that do the right thing.

These measures will enable us to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis. But this is also about more than pay. The way to get the social security bill down dramatically is to get people into work with proper wages.

It is no surprise that in 2010, the National Minimum Wage topped a poll of political studies academics to find the best policy of the last 30 years. Labour created it and Labour will strengthen it for all of the low-paid people around our country, working together with representatives of both employers and employees to find a consensus and moving together towards the shared goal of making work pay. And it is Labour that will take proper sanctions against those that do not pay it.

Royal Mail was sold on the cheap

Standard

This article was originally posted at Politics Home.

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment, Ian Murray MP argues that Vince Cable should be judged by his own criteria: three months on it’s confirmed: Royal Mail was sold on the cheap.

On October 11, the day of the flotation of Royal Mail on the London Stock Exchange, Business Secretary Vince Cable was asked on the Today programme directly about the immediate jump in the share price to 450p, indicating that the Government had severely undervalued it. In a dismissive response, he said: “It’s of absolutely no significance, this is forth and speculation…what really matters in terms of value, is what it looks like in three months’, six months’ time.”

Well, we have now reached that milestone – it is three months since the UK’s prized national postal provider, the Royal Mail, was privatised for £3.3bn. The rise in Royal Mail’s share price since the flotation has been huge and it closed yesterday above at 560p, over 70 per cent higher than the330p price at which the government sold the taxpayer’s stake. The price has remained well above 500p since October. It’s hardly surprising given that the initial offering was oversubscribed by some 20 times – adding to concerns that ministers priced the company far below where they could, leaving the taxpayer short changed at a time when services are being cut and when families are struggling with a cost of living crisis.

Major banks including Citibank and JPMorgan, alongside analysts Panmure Gordon, valued Royal Mail significantly above the price at which it was sold, suggesting valuations as high as £4.5 and £10bn. The Business Secretary has said that taxpayer value was ‘central’ to the government’s strategy in selling Royal Mail but given the extensive consultation with institutional investors and banks which took place, both he and the Prime Minister have serious questions to answer given that we know they considered – and rejected – increasing the offer price at the eleventh hour.

As ministers pushed ahead with an ideologically-motivated fire sale to fill the black hole left by George Osborne’s failure – he will be borrowing almost £200bn more than planned as a result of his failure on growth and living standards – it appears value for money for the taxpayer was an afterthought. The banks involved in the biggest privatisation in the UK for decades shared a fee of 1.2% of the institutional proceeds, equivalent to a massive £16.9 million. That is why I have written to the Business Secretary today, asking him to make clear what his plans are for the further discretionary bonus, worth up to £4.2 million, for the underwriters. Given the potential losses suffered by the taxpayer and that Royal Mail may have been so significantly undervalued many will question whether they are deserving of a bonus.

In November, Royal Mail reported that its profits had doubled in the first half of 2013 before privatisation took place. This demolished the Government’s case for its fire sale of Royal Mail in the first place, which rested on a claim it couldn’t succeed in public hands and needed to be privatised for investment to take place. It is now clear that it was thriving in the public sector and profits could more than cover the investment required for modernisation.

In the longer term, the concern will be for services, particularly for rural areas and our small and medium-sized businesses, who rely heavily on its six-day a week, one-price-goes-anywhere service. Ofcom’s finding at the end of last year that Royal Mail is failing to deliver the post on time to a third of Britain’s postcodes, despite charging more than ever for a first class stamp is concerning. It is crucial that we don’t see a shift in focus away from service delivery to maximising shareholder value leading to a poorer service.

On this minimum service standard – the Universal Service Obligation – the Shareholder Executive’s Chief Executive, Mark Russell, said in an interview with the Telegraph that “The key objective of protecting the universal service obligation has been kept…[I]f anything happened to that business [Royal Mail], we’d have to step in…”. The Business Secretary needs to be clear on the circumstances where the Government would step in to protect the service. We warned that the universal service was at risk with privatisation and we still believe that to be the case. That is why Labour would guarantee the Universal Service Obligation, strengthen the relationship with the now separate Post Office and ensure that other postal service operators are subject by the regulator to the same high performance and service quality standards as Royal Mail.

Vince Cable and David Cameron are in denial about their handling of the Royal Mail sell-off. By their own success criteria, it’s time they admitted they got it wrong and apologise.

2014, Labour’s year of…Tackling zero hours contracts

Standard

This article was originally posted on the Fabian Society website, earlier this month.

Better jobs and more secure work are vital to tackling the cost of living crisis facing families across Britain. In our lives work gives us purpose and a sense of worth, and most importantly helps us pay the bills that fall through the letterbox every month.  Employees are the most important part of any business and decent pay is critical to delivering a healthy economy.

However, it should not be the case that any job will do.  We must strive for an economy that benefits everyone rather than the drive from this government to create a low wage, low skilled, low productivity workforce.  Job security and decent pay is good for business but bad business practices and poor pay must be challenged.

Recent falls in unemployment are welcome but this masks an underlying problem of underemployment where there are record numbers of people stuck on part-time hours when many of them want to be in full-time.  Also, increasingly, it involves people being exploited with the most insecure form of employment, the notorious zero-hours contract.  These contracts epitomise the rising insecurity at work.

The number of people feeling insecure at work has almost doubled in the past three years, from 6.5 million to 12 million.  This shouldn’t surprise.  This government’s policy approach to rights at work – castigated as a “Rogue’s Charter” – has fomented employee unease and uncertainty.  Whilst the UK requires a flexible labour market we must restate that we already had the third most liberal employment regime in the OECD before the current governments changes.  Flexibility has always been a cornerstone of the UK labour market but flexibility should not be an excuse for exploitation.

The Labour movement know that the economy fulfils its potential with happy, healthy, employees who arrive at work every day and are made to feel like they have a stake in the business, rather than being treated like cogs in a wheel, make for more productive employees.

I used to run my own businesses.  I know that staff perform best when you give them confidence and stability through clear working hours, responsibilities and proper pay.  From the restaurant where staff input ideas from the menu design to the wine list, take ownership of special occasions and events, and critically, shared in the profitability of the business.  Staff became loyal, loyalty was rewarded, efficiency and profitability increased.

This government promotes the opposite, and feed an insecurity that causes great instability in peoples’ lives.  They are already earning £1,600 less a year on average than they were in 2010, working just as hard but for less.  Yet the government would have you think that the overdue growth in our economy means we are back on track. Economic growth must go hand-in-hand with rising living standards.  The challenge that will fall upon the next Labour government will be to permanently restore the link between growth and living standards for all of Britain’s working people.  Because frankly, this government can’t do it.

So where do we start to restore that link?

Security at work should be a priority.  Firstly, we will ban the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts by stopping employers from insisting that those on zero-hours contracts are available for work even when there is no guarantee of any work.  We would also stop zero-hours contracts that require workers to work exclusively for one employer and ensure that employees who want guaranteed hours can ask for a full time contract.  This would be underpinned with a code of practice.

There are instances where zero-hours contracts can work for employees and employers who want flexibility but, while they were once a marginal and niche element of the labour market, this government have made them a norm in parts of our economy.

Secondly, growth in our economy should be matched by a growth in wages.  Take the national minimum wage.  The Tories now claim to be supporters of it, having initially prophesised that it would cost millions of jobs – it didn’t do anything of the sort.  Low pay has got worse under the Tories with average wages have fallen in 40 out of 41 months since David Cameron took office and the value of the national minimum wage has declined by 5 per cent under his watch.

It will take a Labour government to take the next step and strengthen the minimum wage, in areas of enforcement and punishment.  The minimum wage needs to rise faster than it has in the recent past in order to catch up with where it was in 2010. If the minimum wage had increased in line with inflation over this period low paid workers would be earning £20 a week more.

And where have this government been in the living wage?  It’s been too busy giving tax cuts to millionaires to notice.  A living wage would give real security at work and government can take steps to incentivise business to take it up.  As Ed Miliband has set out, Labour will offer ‘make work pay’ contracts to employers all over Britain.  So firms that sign up to paying their employees the living wage,  in the first year of the next parliament will be offered a 12 month tax rebate of up to £1,000 for each individual worker that receives a pay rise.  Businesses that reward employees will win, sharing the benefits with Government.

Come May 2015, I believe people across Britain will make their voice heard that they won’t stand for insecure employment and poor pay and it is only a Labour government that can deliver fairness at work and better living standards for all.

#HitTheTarget

Standard

DT logo-page-001-2

Yesterday, I launched my campaign for a decarbonisation target for energy. I would encourage you to sign up to the campaign here: http://eepurl.com/JJf9D

I began the campaign by introducing a Bill in the House of Commons. You can watch the speech I gave below (skip to 13.28.30).

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=14275

You can read my full speech below, from Hansard:

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the setting of a decarbonisation target for the UK; and for connected purposes.

It is incumbent on this House and every Member to ensure that future generations do better than the generation before. That is no truer than in the area of climate change and the significant impact it will have on communities in the UK and all over the world. We have seen in recent years a considerable rise in natural disasters caused by freak weather, none more so than the recent tragedy in the Philippines. We must not lose sight of the fact that the effects of climate change and high energy prices are felt most acutely by the poorest in our societies. That is why this House should take the opportunity to do all it can to ensure that we decarbonise our energy and make a contribution to addressing the deepening climate crisis.

In the next decade, a quarter of Britain’s power stations are set to close and £200 billion-worth of investment is required to supply the UK’s energy needs. On this Government’s watch, however, there has been a collapse in clean energy investment. The much referred to independent analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows that investment in renewable energy has fallen dramatically since 2010: in 2009, investment in clean energy reached $11.06 billion; this year, investment is likely to be less than $3 billion, which is the lowest level since 2006. Some very high-profile projects have been cancelled or delayed that our energy generation and economy can ill afford to lose. Those figures should disturb any hon. Member who cares about clean and affordable energy.

In October, a group of investors responsible for more than £1 trillion of investment worldwide wrote to the Government to argue that leaving a decarbonisation target out of the Energy Bill inhibits investment decisions and negatively impacts on the UK’s ability to attract the capital needed to update its “ageing infrastructure”. Aviva, one of the UK’s largest institutional investors, has said that a target must be set before 2016—the Government have implied that that will be the date—otherwise investment will be fundamentally affected.

The Bill would set in legislation a decarbonisation target to give the energy generation sector the boost it requires by giving it the certainty to invest. That certainty is essential to the researchers and academics, spin-out companies and start-ups, in my constituency. Edinburgh South is home to the university of Edinburgh’s King’s Buildings, a base for pioneering low-carbon development that hosts industries, companies and the university’s world-leading low-carbon technology research and development centre. On regular visits to the campus, it has been made clear to me that future funding depends on a clear policy direction from this Government. I am introducing the Bill to launch my “Hit the target” campaign for decarbonisation.

The Energy Bill has almost concluded its passage through the House, with Lords amendments being considered tomorrow. There has been a robust debate about putting a decarbonisation target into that Bill, and doing so would have shown strong commitment and leadership on this important issue. The target is not, however, just about showing strong leadership in the fight against climate change, but about developing a new and dynamic green economy that puts the UK at the forefront of low-carbon technology, so developing the skills and jobs of the future and diversifying the economy to ensure that it delivers for everyone.

A clear decarbonisation target would help to stimulate green growth in the economy, tackle spiralling energy bills, improve energy security and, of course, reduce our carbon footprint. Not having my Bill might leave households even more vulnerable to completely unnecessary increases in their energy bills, and cause Britain to miss out on vital new clean energy jobs.

I am grateful to hon. Members from across the House for supporting the Bill. Given such cross-party consensus and the fact that the Government want, at least in principle, to set a decarbonisation target, I cannot see why that should not be achieved. My Bill is intended to ensure that the target is put into primary legislation. It is simply not good enough for the Secretary of State—incidentally, he used to support this stance—to be given the power to set a target at some point after 2016, and for the legislation to state that he may, and I emphasise “may”, then decide to set a target.

A decarbonisation target is supported by a wide range of experts, including hundreds of businesses, investors, non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations, faith groups, trade unions and, critically, energy companies, including SSE and EDF. They have clearly stated:

“A sector-specific target for 2030 would give investors a clear signal about the direction of energy policy after 2020 and encourage greater investment in UK-based supply chains.”

Critically, decarbonising power is the gateway to the decarbonisation of other sectors. We can ill afford more of the Government indecision that we have witnessed on feed-in tariffs, which almost brought the industry for solar power crashing to its knees overnight.

If we do not decarbonise the power sector, we have no hope of meeting our climate change targets. The Climate Change Act 2008, brought in by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, committed the UK to a legally binding reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050. To meet the 2050 target, the influential Committee on Climate Change has since recommended that the power sector be decarbonised by 2030. In practice, that means reducing average emissions in power generation from 486g of CO2 per kWh to 50g of CO2 per kWh by 2030.

The danger of missing our carbon targets was echoed by the Prime Minister in 2010, when he endorsed the decarbonisation of the electricity sector by 2030, and said:

“If we don’t decarbonise electricity we’ve got no hope of meeting all the targets that we are all committed to.”

Such a target is also good for consumers. During my weekly surgery just last Friday, a pensioner told me in no uncertain terms that this winter she faces having to decide whether to heat her home or to eat, which is surely unacceptable.

The Bill would sit alongside Labour’s 10-point plan for energy, which will fundamentally transform the energy market in the UK, freeze energy prices and make energy more affordable, while helping the industry to invest and plan for the future. One could say that this is the greenest Opposition ever.

The Bill has three key components: first, that a target will be set in 2014; secondly, that the target will be met by 2030; and, thirdly, taking advice from the Committee on Climate Change, that emissions will be reduced to between 50g CO2 per kWh and 100g CO2 per kWh. The Bill is very simple, but it clearly says that we will give investors certainty, that we care about climate change and jobs in the green economy, and that we want security of supply and cheaper and more efficient energy. Finally, my constituents want it to be implemented urgently, and the House should support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Ian Murray, Dr Julian Huppert, Mark Durkan, Dr Alan Whitehead, Diana Johnson, Ann McKechin, Caroline Lucas, Andrew George, Joan Walley, Albert Owen, Mark Lazarowicz and Sheila Gilmore present the Bill.

Ian Murray accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February 2014, and to be printed (Bill 141).