- Globalisation is seen to be a threat, allowing commercial pressures the unfettered ability to promote consumerism at the expense of all other values. The solution is not to throw away the material benefits of civilisation but to re-instate in new forms the connections between the economy, society and the political process. Apart from ‘internalising’ external costs by reforming the taxation system, the best way to reduce them is to make the impact of economic decisions as direct and localised as possible. We must decentralise economic policy, localise production as much as possible and give everyone affected by companies’ activities a say in how they are run.
- At the heart of this vision is the ability of the community to retain the wealth it creates. Credit unions and community banks invest savers’ money in local schemes on favourable terms. They should be supported so that wealth can re-circulate within local communities. Wessex Regionalists envisage new-style County Banks taking the place of the big high street banks as they withdraw from their branch networks. Locally-owned and controlled, investing only within their own county, or in joint schemes crossing its boundaries, the County Banks would form colllectively a confederate Bank of Wessex, whose function would be to insulate (not isolate) the region’s economy from the vicissitudes of the global economy.
- Wessex Regionalists stand apart from ideological debates over public versus private ownership. We recognise that different communities face different circumstances, to which a variety of models of ownership may be appropriate: state, municipal, private or co-operative. We believe that local preferences should be respected and we oppose the use of legislation or financial pressure from central government to force local authorities to sell community assets. What works will be protected. We support legislation to safeguard building societies against de-mutualisation. Assets built up by past generations are owed to future generations and should not become windfall profits for carpet-baggers. We also support the development of co-operatives and community-owned ventures of all kinds, wherever they can be shown to be economically viable. Future development must be based on increasing local enterprise and encouraging local innovation. Such approaches will keep more money in the area and lead to a more successful and vibrant local economy.
- There are different kinds even of private ownership. We champion the view that ownership and control should be as local as possible. We recognise that the economics of production mean that some sectors will be national, European or global in scale, but reasons for concentrated ownership must be demonstrable and it must be shown to be in the public interest. The distinctiveness of Wessex will be stronger if economic activity is owned and controlled from within the region. This is particularly true of those sectors with the most visible presence in the community and those with a close relationship to the landscape of Wessex, and its environment generally. Examples include agriculture, food & drink, the media, retailing, tourism, transport and utilities. We support stronger powers for the Competition Commission to prevent undesirable mergers and take-overs and wish to see local and regional distinctiveness taken into account as a factor in its decisions.
- Ownership is one thing; control is another. There is a need for industries of regional importance to be regulated in the public interest. We see scope for the Wessex government to develop a regional plan for integrated transport, working closely with the train company for the new Wessex franchise, other train operating companies and the local bus companies (see Chapter 4 below). We would expect to see similar plans for renewable energy, for water management, and for other regional resources. Whatever the structure of ownership, it is unacceptable that vital services such as energy, water and transport should be run solely for profit without regard to environmental protection and social need.
- The boards of large companies must be required to publish annual reports on the environmental and social impact of their company’s activities, including an inventory of resource use and emissions. The reports will need to be as rigorous as traditional financial accounts. Company law should be changed to give all stakeholders – workers, consumers, local residents, suppliers and shareholders – a say in how the company is run. Corporation Tax should become more progressive with higher rates for larger companies.
A regionalist government in Wessex will:
- support the formation and foster the growth of a Wessex-wide, community-owned banking system
- support small and medium-sized businesses through reducing unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy; simplifying tax procedures for small businesses, including VAT-free trading (as recommended by the Federation of Small Businesses); and introducing a scheme of low interest loans for small businesses, making use of local and European facilities
- seek the reform of company and competition laws to place greater environmental and social responsibilities on companies operating in Wessex.
Meanwhile, the Wessex Regionalists will:
- work with those seeking to establish community-owned financial, service and trading enterprises, developing in particular the links between them necessary to sustaining a regional economic consciousness.