17:10 Thursday 12th February 2015
BBC Radio Cambridge
CHRIS MANN: The pretender to the Chancellorship Ed Balls was in Cambridge today .. and he used an interview with me to launch another salvo at the Government over tax avoidance. It was a wide-ranging chat, held in the aisles at B&Q on Newmarket Road would you believe, which is where the Labour politician was staging an election walkabout. But as blokes often do, we started talking about football.
CHRIS MANN: Ed Balls, welcome to Cambridge.
ED BALLS: Good to be here, and congratulations to Cambridge United on that great Cup run. The whole of the Eastern region including us Norwich City fans were urging you on, so well done.
CHRIS MANN: That’s very kind. Thank you. They’ve got a million and a half quid they didn’t have before.
ED BALLS: That’s true.
CHRIS MANN: You’re a money man. What would you spend the money on?
ED BALLS: I think you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got young people coming through the youth system and getting into the first team, but also maybe moving on to Championship and Premier League clubs and then bringing money back into the club. I think in the end it’s investing in the quality of the experience for your supporters and your youth system which really makes the difference. Now there’ll be some clubs who’ll think why don’t we blow it all on a new striker, but I think that’s always risky and short-termist.
CHRIS MANN: Of course we heard the news this week, five billion quid to go for the new Premiership deal. A lot of money at the top of football of course, but not a lot of money at the bottom. Does it say something about our society?
ED BALLS: I think that it’s good that the Premier League is now the global football league, and that we’re creating jobs and getting tax revenues and winning business from around the world, but it shouldn’t simply be going to twenty Premier League clubs and very highly paid Premiership footballers. It needs to come down through the league structure and down into the grass-roots. And I don’t think when you’ve got that scale of money that it’s right for the ticket prices to be going up and up and up every year. Now some clubs do things in different ways and try and keep the ticket prices down, but I think that fans will say we like the Premier League, but let’s make sure it really works for all fans and all of football. And I think the Premier League and all the big clubs, they’ve got a job to do to show that’s what’s going to happen in the next few years.
CHRIS MANN: I’ve been talking to a couple of customers here in B&Q today, to say what would they want from you if you were to get into government. One of them very concerned about university fees, that you would support universities and help fund them.
ED BALLS: Well I think the one thing that they’ll not be saying in B&Q today is they think I should be designing their kitchen or mixing their paint. I think we tried our best today, but I think the reality is you should trust the professionals on that. But we need to keep investing in our universities, and to make sure that we’ve got the best science facilities. Cambridge is a world leading university and one of our great economic strengths, so I will back Cambridge all the way. We’ve got to make sure that the opportunity of a university education here is open to all young people who’ve got talent and who can make the grade.
CHRIS MANN: So what would you do about fees?
ED BALLS: Well I think there’s a problem at the moment with fees at £9000, because not enough young people from lower income backgrounds with great talent are coming to universities, and actually what we’re now discovering when you look at the figures is that close to half of students leaving with big debts and big loans to repay aren’t paying that money back. and therefore the taxpayer is bailing them out. So we’re looking hard at this. We think we need to reduce the burden on the taxpayer, keep financing our universities, but try and find a way to stop those high fees preventing young people coming. It’s something we’ll come forward with in the coming weeks. I will always be an enthusiast for a graduate tax, and getting rid of the fees and loan system. So let’s see what we can do.
CHRIS MANN: Somebody else I spoke to works at Addenbrookes, which is you know is one of the great hospitals, great research centre. Very concerned about the future funding of the NHS. What will you do as far as that’s concerned?
ED BALLS: All around the UK in December/January there were hospitals under real pressure. But of course Addenbrookes was one of the hospitals which had the greatest strain. And there’s been a lot of waste and confusion caused by all the reorganisation, a top down reorganisation, the back-door privatisation which has come in. We can change that, and we can get things back to being a proper NHS.
CHRIS MANN: Didn’t you change that before? Isn’t this part of your legacy? You fiddled with it too, and you brought in some privatisation.
ED BALLS: I think that it’s fine when you’ve got unused private capacity to use that if you want to get waiting times down. And we got them down from eighteen months for a new hip when we came into Government down to eighteen weeks, not eighteen months. But what this Government did, as well as that big reorganisation, was they started to say every service had to be market-tested with the private sector competing. But we know from the experience of countries like America is that costs us more not less. So we’re going to repeal those laws, and say we’re not going to have a privatisation market test. But the other thing is I’m afraid, it’s common sense, we need more doctors and nurses. Because at the moment there’s too much strain in the NHS, and we’re saying we’re going to put two and a half billion pounds a year in the next parliament into the NHS, money which will come from a tobacco levy on the big companies, and also from a tax on properties over £2,000,000. That would mean 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, and also more care workers so the people can stay in their home rather than having to stay in hospital, because they’re not safe to go home. We need some new investment, and that’s what we’ll deliver.
CHRIS MANN: Also spoke to somebody concerned about the Labour leadership, not sure he can trust Ed Miliband, not sure of he’s the man. What do you think?
ED BALLS: Well I think in the last couple of days he’s been highlighting that the Conservative Party has had rather a difficult relationship with some of their donors, and ..
CHRIS MANN: Your donors too.
ED BALLS: Yes well the Treasurer ..
CHRIS MANN: You can’t throw stones if you’re in a glass house, can you?
ED BALLS: The Treasurer of the Conservative Party has said today isn’t tax avoidance normal? Isn’t that what everybody does? I think most people listening to your programme will think, well I don’t, because I try and work hard and pay my taxes. I’m not sure that kind of attitude is really going to work. Ed Miliband, whether it’s saying we need to have reform in newspapers after phone-hacking, or on this issue, I think he’s led, and he’s been tough, and I think it was right David Cameron gets challenged on these things.
CHRIS MANN: Ed Balls, thank you so much for joining us.