Conservative manifesto promises public sector redundancy reforms and beefed-up HMRC anti tax evasion unit

Written by Richard Johnstone on 25 November 2019 in News
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Party manifesto promises "the days of Whitehall knows best are over" as it pledges white paper on English devolution

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The Conservatives will introduce new regulations allowing public sector employers to claw back redundancy payments when “high-paid public servants move between jobs”, according to their manifesto.

The proposals, launched in Telford this weekend, did not specify the level at which this would claw-back would be set.

Speaking at the launch of his policy plans in Telford, prime minister Boris Johnson also promised that the Conservatives would complete the UK’s exit from the European Union by the end of January, tabling legislation to do so before Parliament rises for Christmas.


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The plans to claw back redundancy payments if officials return to public sector work is a long-standing policy pledge, mooted by the Conservatives in government in 2016.

However, it was not mentioned in the most recent Treasury move to introduce a £95,000 cap on redundancy payments, which initially been part of the same package as the clawback plan.

The manifesto stated: "We will ensure redundancy payments can be clawed back when high-paid public servants move between jobs."

Among the other pledges is a commitment to create “a single, beefed-up anti-tax evasion unit in HMRC that covers all duties and taxes, from individual errors to deliberate noncompliance”. The unit would be put on a statutory legislative footing to have the powers to tackle evasion.

The party also promised to publish a white paper on English devolution, to decentralise power across the country.

“Our ambition is for full devolution across England, building on the successful devolution of powers to city region mayors, police and crime commissioners and others, so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny," the manifesto stated.
 
“This is an agenda which shows that the days of Whitehall knows best are over. We will give towns, cities and communities of all sizes across the UK real power and real investment to drive the growth of the future and unleash their full potential.”
 
Other pledges include the creation of an independent Office For Environmental Protection and introduce UK-specific legal targets, including for air quality, and a promise for the UK to reach net zero for carbon emissions by 2050.

There is also a promise to guarantee a job interview for veterans for any public sector role they apply for, and a promise to “support start-ups and small businesses via government procurement, and commit to paying them on time”.

Public spending pledges made by the party include 50,000 more nursing bursaries and increasing the number of GPs in order to provide 50 million more surgery appointments.

The party also reiterates previous pledges made by Johnson when he was running to become Conservative party leader and prime minister in June, which include recruiting 20,000 more police officers, increasing schools spending, and moving to a points-based immigration system after Brexit.

Johnson has also pledged to not raise income tax, VAT or national insurance contributions. The party pledges to raise the national insurance threshold from £8,632 to £9,500 next year, with an aim to increase it to £12,500 – albeit without a time commitment. This would match the NI threshold to the income tax personal allowance.

However, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank said that the triple tax lock pledge was “perhaps the biggest, and least welcome, announcement” in the manifesto.

“That’s a constraint the chancellor may come to regret. It is also part of a fundamentally damaging narrative – that we can have the public services we want, with more money for health and pensions and schools – without paying for them. We can’t,” he said.

Where “the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos were notable for the scale of their ambitions the Conservative one is not”, Johnson added.

“If a single budget had contained all these tax and spending proposals we would have been calling it modest. As a blueprint for five years in government the lack of significant policy action is remarkable.

“In part that is because the chancellor announced some big spending rises back In September. Other than for health and schools, though, that was a one-off increase. Taken at face value today’s manifesto suggests that for most services, in terms of day-to-day spending, that’s it. Health and school spending will continue to rise. Give or take pennies, other public services, and working age benefits, will see the cuts to their day-to-day budgets of the last decade baked in.”

The IFS added that the lack of a plan for social care, after Boris Johnson promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all” on the day he become prime minister, was notable.

The Conservatives have pledged £1bn in extra of funding every year for more social care staff and better infrastructure, technology and facilities, but rather than propose systemic reform committed to “urgently seek a cross-party consensus in order to bring forward the necessary proposal and legislation for long-term reform”.

IFS chief Johnson hinted this might be unlikely. “After two decades of dither by three of the main parties in government it seems we are no further forward,” he said.

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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