I guess Jo Swinson is seen as a far more friendly face to Lib Dem activists than say Danny Alexander who always does badly in polls of party workers, for it is she who has written to ask us for our views on jobs and growth. Time will tell if this is a genuine attempt to engage members or if it just looking for confirmation of a plan many -I suspect most of us- feel is unbalanced. So its time to 'get it off your chest' as all the best FOCUS leaflet say:
Good evening Ms Swinson
Liberals have argued for generations that the current distribution of ownership in industry is the impediment to creating sustained growth and jobs. Pumping more money into a structure that has failed us is not the answer. As long as
PLC's key concern is increasing shareholder value that long will they take unreasonable risks and ignore long term job creation and the building of sustainable enterprises (and perpetuate a gross mal distribution of wealth)
The Ownership Commission report http://www.mutual.co.uk/news/ownershipcommission/ laid out the link between ownership and business growth. Co-Ownership/Employee Ownership is central to getting growth going again it is not a 'bolt on' after the shyster capitalists take their profit. They identified the growth of middle sized businesses -almost completely lacking in the
economy but essential to the German success-as a priority. UK
The Liberal Party used to argue that control of a company should not rest with the owners of capital alone. We argued for a common register of company members including employees and shareholders on equal terms who should elect the Board of Directors. Our present
PLC model is the most regressive in Europe .We need to recapture the initiative on this issue. Employees should not be politely asking if they can buy a few shares, their contribution to company success should be acknowledged and their rights to help direct the company entrenched in a reform of company law.
So the highest priority must be to plot a pathway from our present unsatisfactory model of predatory capitalism to one where the dominant form of ownership is employee ownership. Richard Wainwright used to tell Liberal Assemblies that the state of affairs we favoured was one in which 'labour hired capital'. We need to return to that vision.
I hae me doots that people that folk want hear that they have got things wrong but frankly the scale of ambition in the house building programme is embarrassingly small and hardly begins to address the scale of the challenge either in housing investment or job creation. The same is true of infrastructure plans. Of course there are some individual projects we welcome but with unacceptably high rates of unemployment and social division we need to recognise that vastly more needs to be done. Personally I cannot see that deficit reduction should be perused as the single over-riding aim of economy policy. Full employment used to be our measure of success. We need a 'balanced scorecard' approach to judging economic recovery, total emphasis on one indicator is disastrous. As the Yellow Book declared: 'We believe with a passionate faith that the end of all political and economic action is not the perfecting or the perpetuation of this or that piece of mechanism or organisation, but that individual men and women may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly'
I would welcome a national infrastructure bank to help fund these initiatives as I understand Vince Cable has suggested. I had hope that out of the banking collapse we would see the re-emergence of local/regional banking. Once again the model of ownership for Liberals should be central to this argument. More banks owned by shareholder seeking maximum profit is not the solution. We need a different type of ownership. One of the worst things Thatcher's crude neo liberal creed accomplished was the destruction of the Mutual sector. We need actively to recreate financial institution owned by their savers who have long term objectives. When Jo Grimond and Robert Oakeshott returned from visiting the Mondragon Co-Ops in the late 1970's they identified the Workers' Savings Bank 'Caja Laboral Popular' as a key to building a better economy. This bank and its business support activities have created100 new worker owned companies with 100 000 jobs. It has been describes as the most successful entrepreneurial support agency anywhere in the world. The outcomes the have achieved in job creation and sustainable companies puts to shame all our venture capitalist.
- A radical plan to bring about employee ownership -including preferential treatment when it comes to new government lending and credit facilities, tax advantages in selling businesses on to employees when founders retire etc
- A national infrastructure bank to assist funding a dramatically more ambitious programme of house building and investment in rail etc
- Abandoning deficit reduction as the only aim of economic policy and recognising that we need a basket of indicators including full employment to measure our progress
- development of local/regional mutual banking sector to attract local savings and invest in local enterprises
- put back up Keynes's portrait in the Treasury!