23 Sep 2013

Balls, creches and capital spending

Labour’s new policy of 10 extra hours of free childcare isn’t universal. Unlike the 15 hours currently given to parents, the new additional 10 proposed by Labour would only be claimable by families where both parents are in work or in a single parent household the relevant parent was in work.

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That’s something think tanks have looked at over the years and fought shy of not least because they don’t think it would be a good or welcome idea for creche managers to vet employment details.

At a Brighton creche we found parents attracted by the idea. If Labour was looking for a cut-through issue that showed they have a “retail offer” in the political jargon the first signs were this worked. But I found mothers and, back at the conference centres, veterans of the Blair/Brown years in power, who think that Labour could score points on the “cost of living” agenda but still fail on the “economic credibility” test. It needs to be winning on both.

In his ‘tough medicine’ section, Ed Balls warned starkly of more pension rises – hard to imagine he was referring simply to the ones already booked. His warning that HS2 might be axed by a Labour government has been coming down the tracks for a while. The Second Reading of the HS2 bill in the Spring could now turn into an interesting political moment given the number of opponents and sceptics on the Tory benches.

Ed Balls also gave what looked to me like pretty strong hints that, even allowing for the pick-up in economic growth, he was minded to spend more on infrastructure in 2015 if elected. He promised repeatedly to stick to his promise not to borrow for more day-to-day or current spending.

But on capital spending he said: “…we need more long-term investment – and we will assess the case for capital investment as we prepare our manifesto”…

And “… how can it make sense for George Osborne to be planning to cut infrastructure investment in 2015?”

Doesn’t sound like a man building up to a rallying cry of “let’s freeze infrastructure investment.”

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