There's a great deal that's good about modern Britain. We eat better food, most of us live longer, and we have neat gadgets with which to enhance our lives. But there are some things that have been wrong for a long time and are still wrong:
1. The shortage of UK housing and the lack of affordability for first-time buyers is caused by a shortage of land on which houses can be built. The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act has strangled cities by its excessive restriction of new building. Non-green land within the green belt – distressed land and farmland - should be given building permission, and the 1947 Act replaced by a presumption of permission, with procedure for objections to be heard and ruled upon. Within cities rights should be given to add an extra storey to existing dwellings.
2. The tax code is absurdly over-complicated, serving only to keep tax lawyers and accountants in business, and even they don't understand all of it. It should be simplified, with a minimum of rate bands and an end to the complex exemptions and allowances. Income tax rates should be low enough to incentivize, both at top and bottom ends. Business taxes should be low, with investment in new equipment and machinery taken off taxable income to boost expansion and productivity.
3. National Insurance is a costly anachronism. It is income tax by another name, but governed by different rules, rates and thresholds. What is called the 'employer contribution' is a fiction, since it comes from the wage pool that would otherwise be available for employees. National Insurance should be made parallel with income tax, starting at the same threshold. If government shies away from revealing the true level of income tax by merging them, NI should be renamed 'Employment Tax' and levied alongside Income Tax and by the same rules.
4. The 'war on drugs' has failed. Prohibition promotes street crime and makes drugs expensive and untrustworthy. Teenage gang members kill each other in turf wars. The prisons are packed with drug offenders. They overload the courts. The ban on cannabis and ecstasy sets millions of ordinary people at odds with the police. Legalization would enable quality control, better prevention of underage use, and it would augment tax revenues. It would save billions as it freed up the prisons and the courts, and would enable addiction to be treated as a medical, rather than a criminal, problem.
5. Energy policy in Britain is confused and incoherent. The EU Renewable Energy Directive requires us to reach 20% from renewable sources by 2020. This has led the UK to require companies to use expensive sources such as wind power, and has led to both businesses and private homes paying higher bills. The government wants to cap energy prices by law, and there is a real chance there will be insufficient energy to meet UK needs. In fact solar has been falling rapidly in costs, and fracked gas offers the chance to replace oil and coal for lower costs and far less pollution. Instead of capping prices, the government should give energy companies the freedom to innovate and remove barriers to new entrants wanting to compete.
6. UK transport leaves much to be desired. We are spending billions on the High Speed Two rail links, and not enough on improving infrastructure elsewhere. Meanwhile road transport is headed for electrification and autonomy, and the UK should be accelerating the switch by promoting the facilities needed to support this, and by removing the regulations holding it back. Other innovations that need to be planned for and encouraged include the use of delivery drones and of people-carrying drones as urban taxis.
7. Departure from the EU will give the UK the chance to customize its immigration laws. The overall cap on numbers has been unfortunate in that, unable to restrict flows from the EU, the UK has made non-EU nationals bear the brunt. This has included students and much-needed skilled workers in order to bring down overall numbers. As we leave the EU and regain control of our immigration system, the UK will be free to consider removing limits on people from Canada, Australia and New Zealand (the CANZUK area), to exclude students, and to have a points system that favours skilled incomers from anywhere.
8. Education at school level is improving, thanks to the role of Academies and Free Schools in breaking up local authority control and in extending choice to more parents. It provides a good basis for moving to a Swedish system where parents can choose between state and private schools, taking the state funding to the school of their choice. The private schools can be both profit and non-profit ones, and the government should facilitate their establishment by removing some local authority obstruction and red tape. At university level the loans system should be changed to one where the fees are paid by government, and the student signs an obligation to have repayments made when they are earning enough.
9. The National Health Service doesn't work. The model of free state universal care paid from taxation and controlled centrally does not work. Its founders blithely supposed costs would go down as people's health improved. In fact the demand is potentially infinite. The overall budget makes it a zero sum game in which procedures have to compete for funds. Ones given what they see as insufficient priority will always wave shrouds on TV and demand more funds. The NHS should continue to be free at the point of use, but should be replaced by an insurance-based system serviced by private providers.
10. There should be a more flexible and encouraging approach to innovation. The Financial Conduct Authority's 'sandbox' approach allows firms designated within it to innovate financial products without the wide regulation that applies to larger, more established firms. A similar scheme should do the same for new technologies. Much of the future will be made by driverless cars, drones, aerial taxis, genetic engineering and other innovations, and it is important that government acts to prevent local authorities restricting new business models to protect existing businesses, and does not do so itself. The EU has shown itself unsympathetic to new models such as Google and Amazon, but a post-Brexit Britain should be more receptive to innovation, whether in machines, in medicine, or in business models.