Thursday, 24 November 2016

Grassroots Survey on Mr Hammond's First (and last) Autumn Statement Key Policies: Lincoln

So after a day of chewing over the measures announced in the Autumn Statement and having conducted an in-depth discussion of key measures with 4 Millennial Professionals from the Lincoln area, I've found that there was a fairly lukewarm and mixed response with no actual change to voting intentions within my control group of 2 Labour voters, one firm Conservative and one Conservative considering UKIP voter. Fuel duty freeze, Savers bonds and Digital infrastructure investments were well received but the Insurance Premium Tax increase from 10 to 12%, the lack of clarity over whether housing and transport investments would filter to places like Lincoln and the pitiful £0.30 rise in the National Living Wage were panned quite forcefully.

I wanted to see whether these patterns would be reflected in a wider, more random sample group so designed a quick poll to be conducted in Lincoln, targeting Millennial Professionals specifically (between 18 and 34). This poll did ask whether the participant had voted to Remain or Leave in the EU on June 23rd and what their voting intentions were before they heard the Autumn Statement and what they would be after hearing/reading about the Autumn Statement. Participants were allowed to decide on each policy whether they strongly agreed, agreed, were ambivalent to, disagreed or strongly disagreed with it so each row added up to the total number of voters. No coaxing or exchange of views with participants were given until the survey was completed.

Millennial constituent views in Lincoln matter because Lincoln is a bellwether (or marginal) seat; the incumbent Conservative MP Karl McCartney has only a majority of 1,443 votes (or 3.1%) and turnout at the 2015 election was at 63.2%. Labour gained 4.3% on the 2010 General Election result when Lincoln was won by Karl McCartney from Labour's long standing MP and "Blair Babe" Gillian Merron so there is momentum for a possible change at the next Election. It's also interesting to note that UKIP gained 10% in voter share in 2015 with the Liberal Democrats the only party to lose vote share in Lincoln by 16%. I wanted to see whether the Lib Dems or Labour could gain voters as a result of the Autumn Statement hence why voting intentions questions were asked.

Summary of results:

Number of participants in survey
120
Most Strongly Agreed Policy:
£23 billion extra for research and development (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering).
Most Agreed Policy:
Income tax threshold rise from £11,000 to £11,500 from April 2017.
Most Ambivalent Policy:
Equalise NICs for employee and employers at £157 a week from April 2017.
Most Disagreed Policy:
£7.6 million to help renovate Wentworth Wood house-inspiration for Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice”.
Most Strongly Disagreed Policy:
£94m a year for Brexit Civil Servants.


Opinion:
Number of votes:
Strongly Agree
869
Agree
653
Ambivalent
344
Disagree
341
Strongly Disagree
313
Total number
2520 (21x120)

Brexit:

Remain Voters
73
Leave Voters
47

Voter intentions before Autumn Statement:

Labour
46
Conservative
58
UKIP
2
Green
10
Liberal Democrats
2
Other
2

Voter intentions after Autumn Statement (as of 24/11/2016):

Labour
52
Conservative
41
UKIP
3
Green
15
Liberal Democrats
5
Other
4

Analysis:
  • Participants were generally positive towards measures announced in the Autumn Statement, with investments in science based Research and Development, local transportation networks and digital infrastructure including £1bn for superfast broadband scoring very highly in Lincoln.
  • Participants were sceptical of some of the more nuanced measures announced by Mr Hammond; for example the announcement about Wentworth Woodhouse's connection to Jane Austen being tenuous as released by the Guardian probably increased number of voters who disagreed with giving £7.6 million to one heritage project specifically because they regard it as being tokenistic. A number of participants after the survey asked whether there would be extra money for heritage projects in Lincoln such as the Cathedral but no such funding has been specifically announced by the Treasury or by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport or the Department for Communities and Local Government.
  • Participants did pay attention to announcements such as £3m funds from the Tampon Tax being given to Comic Relief to women's charities; a few asked why the funds couldn't be given directly to those charities instead of using a "middle man".
  • Participants were generally unimpressed by employee salary sacrifice/ benefits in kind schemes being made taxable on items such as gym membership or health screening. 34/120 strongly disagreed with the policy and 25/120 disagreed with the policy.
  • Labour and the Green Party appear to be the parties who might gain the most as a result of yesterday's Autumn Statement, with 6 extra voters for Labour and 5 extra voters for the Greens. Despite a relatively favourable showing in the majority of policies (1,522 combined total for those who strongly agreed or agreed with key Autumn Statement measures) the Conservatives lose 12 votes from these Millennial Professional voters. This suggests that policies such as raising the rate of Insurance Premium Tax from 10% to 12% and setting aside £94m for civil servants to deal with Brexit paperwork did not go down well in Lincoln, despite announcements on Income Tax threshold and National Living Wage (NLW) increases. A few participants commented after the survey that they believed Labour would be bolder in terms of both Income Tax threshold increases and NLW increases.
  • Several comments were made after participants finished the survey about the fact that there was no extra funding proposals announced to help fund NHS Mental Health Services or any extra funds to help Lincolnshire County Council deal with the cost of Social Care for elderly residents and adults with disabilities. One participant (a Conservative who declared they would now vote Labour) said that they believed the local city council might increase council tax again in April to cover Social Care costs and that they could barely afford the council tax as it currently stands.
Detailed breakdown by policy:

Autumn Statement Proposal
Strongly Agree
Agree
Neither Agree or Disagree
Disagree
Strongly Disagree
Income tax threshold rise from £11,000 to £11,500 from April 2017.
48
45
15
8
4
Tax savings on salary sacrifice and benefits in kind to be stopped (except childcare, cycling, pensions and ultra-low emission cars).
25
16
20
25
34
National Living Wage rise of £0.30 from April 2017.
55
30
5
22
8
Equalise NICs for employee and employers at £157 a week from April 2017.
25
20
55
15
5
Class 2 NICs to be abolished.
45
20
15
17
23
Rise in insurance premium tax from 10% to 12% from June 2017.
10
23
14
30
43
Ban on “up-front” letting fees ASAP.
55
33
12
18
2
£2.3 billion infrastructure fund for housing in “high demand areas” (not areas like Birchwood).
43
30
37
7
3
£1.4 billion allocation to build 40,000 extra affordable houses.
47
28
26
17
2
Fuel Duty rise cancelled.
72
33
3
10
2
£1.1 billion extra investment in local transportation networks.
55
42
7
12
4
£23 billion extra for research and development (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering).
77
27
10
5
1
£1 billion for digital infrastructure. (5G mobile networks and Superfast Broadband).
52
41
14
6
7
£7.6 million to help renovate Wentworth Wood house-inspiration for Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice”.
30
24
20
40
6
Funding for 2,500 prison officers.
37
39
20
22
2
£270 million allocation to help expand Grammar Schools.
25
34
4
7
50
Savers Bond-3 years at rate of 2.2% and can save minimum of £100 and maximum of £3000.
32
27
10
37
14
Cold Calling Bans on “exotic” Pension investment opportunities.
68
34
9
5
4
£3m from the Tampon Tax for Comic Relief to distribute to women's charities.
23
43
20
30
4
No Budget Surplus by 2020/2021.
25
42
15
3
35
£94m a year for Brexit Civil Servants.
20
22
13
5
60

Verdict:
After both the in-depth discussion and survey I've found that voters in Lincoln had a generally positive reaction to measures announced in the Autumn Statement, especially those that allow for investment in national infrastructure. The University of Lincoln may benefit from the £23 bn investment in Science R&D and Lincoln's potholes may be fully repaired with money accessed from the £1.1bn local transportation fund. Cold call bans, funding for prison officers, fuel duty cancellations and modest rises in the Income Tax threshold and NLW. Equally the ban on up-front letting agent fees is welcome; many Millennials rent in the Lincoln area and it can be difficult to save enough of a deposit up to cover reference fees or to help secure the right for their pet(s) to stay at the accommodation of choice.

However, it seems that such individual financial gains may be offset by changes to salary sacrifice schemes and benefits in kind that will include accommodation, health screening and possibly adapted equipment for disabled employees. The increase in the Insurance Premium Tax was unwelcome, especially as it will affect every type of insurance plan- pet owners, house owners, car owners will all have to pay an extra 2% at a time when household budgets are already stretched. The Savers Bond is all well and good for those who can afford to save a few £100 out of their salary...but if you're only on the NLW and pay rents of £500-£600 a month and have children/families to support, your main priority is putting food in their bellies not keeping the Government bond creators happy.

The £270m for grammar schools would have been better spent on improving STEM subject provision in primary schools or Arts provision in secondary schools-both have been sorely neglected in Lincoln schools and as Lincoln has no grammar schools, few respondents were happy at the prospect of money not being available in the pot to help local comprehensive schools improve educational attainment levels.

The lack of any measures to address the NHS funding and staffing crises in at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, lack of extra funding to help improve Mental Health services and Social Care was very much noted by voters in Lincoln. Voters care about maintaining high quality levels of local public services and Mr Hammond clearly chose not to address this directly with the budget. Millennial voter ask- why is there £94m a year for Brexit pencil pushers in Whitehall when we need more frontline doctors, specialist mental health nurses, care assistants, police officers and prison ones? Brexit was a smokescreen for our economic and societal ills and leaving the EU will hardly solve any of our structural issues. We can't blame immigration entirely for failing public services; we rely on immigration to help staff our NHS after all. Millennial voters in Lincoln realise that Brexit was not the panacea it was made out to be..it may help cut "red tape" trade wise and give the illusion of regained sovereignty..but what's the use of that when many Millennials feel their voices are not being heard at Westminster? If the "red tape" businesses identify include the erosion of workers rights and salaries, it is clear that voters will not stand for it. Lincoln workers want better NLW rates, a fairer tax regime, less money being spent on vanity projects and more money being spent on frontline services. Be warned Mr Hammond-you need to make sure public services are fully funded or risk yourself and May and the Conservatives losing out at the ballot box at the next election.