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Andy Street: What the West Midlands wants from the new Government

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

In the few days since he entered Downing Street, British politics has been re-energised by Boris Johnson. From his speech on the steps of Number 10 last Wednesday to his appearances in Parliament and across the country during the following days, the Prime Minister’s words have brought a sense of optimism that engages people.

And that optimism is being built upon an emerging ambitious agenda for our country. Here in the West Midlands we need to seize and shape the energy of the new Government to support our plan to deliver the renewal of our region.

By working together we can unleash the potential of our people to achieve future success. My top ten ambitions for this Government are:

1. Policing: We all know that crime, violence and anti-social behaviour have ruined too many lives here. So, I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s pledge to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers, and was pleased that he chose to come here, to the West Midlands, to reinforce that commitment. Our communities want to feel safe and live crime free – this is the first test of Government. These extra officers will go a long way to making that happen. In May, our region will elect a new Police and Crime Commissioner. We need our first Conservative PCC to ensure the Government’s commitment is backed by a local drive to put more resources onto the frontline.

2. Infrastructure: Here we know that improvements in transport infrastructure help spread access to opportunity, as well as encouraging inward investment into isolated communities. For us, that already means re-opening train stations that have been dormant since Beeching, expanding our Metro network and identifying strategic road investment. That’s all good, but there is now the prospect of a game-changing investment in our public transport infrastructure. The Prime Minister talks of doing for city regions what he did for London – that’s music to our ears!

HS2 plays a central role in this too – not as a competitor for investment but as a driver of it. A recommitment to it, possibly alongside the Leeds to Manchester high speed line is essential to raise our productivity, ignite our regions and keep us competitive on the world stage.

3. Community revival: In tandem with infrastructure, the economic face of our forgotten communities – their town centres and high streets – are also key to revival. The Prime Minister’s £3.6billion pledge to revitalise 100 towns and cities across the UK chimes with the concerted approach we have taken to help high streets across the West Midlands’ seven boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

However, these ‘forgotten towns’ also suffer from skills gaps. Impressive pilot schemes to better equip people for working life, from apprentice funding to digital retraining, need to now be delivered on a greater scale. We must ensure our young people can’t fall through the gaps in the system, as all the evidence suggests that the opportunities 16 to 17-year olds are offered determine the rest of their lives. The ‘Forgotten Towns’ fund should be for them too.

4. Education: The new Government’s intention to ‘level up’ educational funding across the nation will help give more of our young people opportunities. I know this pledge will be particularly welcome in Solihull, where this issue is acutely felt.

5. Health: the commitment to our NHS is vital, building on that of the previous Government – and that means getting key projects like the new Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Sandwell completed. It also means exploiting technology to prevent disease and as the country’s 5G tested we stand ready to lead that charge.

6. Housing: Meeting the UK’s housing needs provides a massive challenge, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s call for more investment to improve quality of life and drive growth. We are already showing strong growth in house building, and we lead the nation on reclaiming derelict brownfield sites.

However, more must be done to encourage developers to include more affordable housing. Of the 14,500 homes built in the West Midlands last year, only 18 per cent fell into the affordable bracket. Regions like ours need an Affordable Housing Deal to address this – possibly on the GLA model.

Of course, measures to tackle the problem of homelessness go hand-in-hand with this issue. It is now clear that freezing housing benefits since 2016 has contributed to homelessness in the West Midlands. There should an increase in the local housing allowance element of Universal Credit, to stop people falling behind on their payments and being evicted. Losing a private tenancy as a result of getting into arrears is the most common reason to become homeless.

7.  Equality: With such a diverse population, inclusivity is one of the central themes of the Urban Conservatism we are creating in the West Midlands. Serving every community is vital – whether geographic or demographic – which is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s clear commitment to championing equalities.

8. Innovation: Securing the industries and jobs of the future is also critical. I have been heartened by the new Prime Minister’s clear belief in the power of technology to create real opportunity and it was great to see him identify battery development as an example. As the age of electric motoring dawns, the automotive sector can transform both our economic and environmental future. So, we must back JLR, the new National Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry and reclaim the title of ‘Motor City’ for the electric era. Key to this is our aim to open a Gigafactory in the West Midlands, to manufacture the batteries needed to power next generation vehicles.

The West Midlands was the first region in the UK to draw up a Local Industrial Strategy, setting out a roadmap for growth over the coming decades. At its heart lies clean growth, a key part of responding to the Climate Change crisis. The Industrial Strategy is perhaps the real legacy of Theresa May’s Government and must be built upon.

9. Brexit: We must honour the decision of the British people on Brexit and back the new Government’s efforts to secure a better deal for our nation and region, as the evidence is clear that a No Deal would be damaging to our manufacturing and exporting region.

10. Devolution: Finally, if we are serious about supercharging our regions and rebalancing the economy, the principles raised in Michael Heseltine’s recent Empowering English Cities report must be addressed. Our regions need a single pot of funding, where we can decide on our own priorities. The West Midlands should also be able to retain some of the taxation raised here to build a more sustainable local economy.

The new Government faces many challenges, but our new Prime Minister has spoken to the issues that matter to us here in the West Midlands. I look forward to us locally playing our part in delivering on them.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alan Mak: Conservatism 4.0 – Four freedoms should define the Conservatives in the digital age

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founding Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A century after the invention of steam-powered machines in the mid-18th Century, the world’s industrial landscape changed again. The 1870s saw the emergence of new sources of energy – electricity, gas, and oil – heralding the start of a new industrial revolution.

This meant disruption in traditional factories and an upheaval in working conditions. For the first time there was automation in urban workplaces, rather than just a displacement of rural jobs.

It was at this crossroads in our country’s history that Benjamin Disraeli was finally able to articulate his vision for One Nation Conservatism that he had advocated for much of his political career, aiming to unite factory owners and factory workers behind one political message.

His Government achieved domestic reforms that still resonate in the modern context: a Factory Act to protect workers, relaxation of bank loans to give credit to the masses, and the first rights for workers to sue employers in the civil courts.

In less than a decade it was Disraeli’s ‘One Nation’ Conservatism that made the greatest advances in adapting the Party’s policies to the Second Industrial Revolution, swifter than any previous government had been in the 100 years since the First Industrial Revolution.

The lesson that Disraeli gives us modern Conservatives is that we must be bold. In the digital age we should not be afraid to once again re-shape Conservatism, and be radical in response to some of the novel challenges posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, just as we have in the past.

As a Party, and as a country, we need to find solutions to issues such as the market dominance of a small number of tech firms; the ethical questions posed by advances in science and medicine; and changes in workplaces where robots and AI-powered machines will become pervasive.

We also need new messages to fight back against populism and appeal to parts of the electorate that feel they have not had the opportunity to share in the success of our growing economy.

Just as Disraeli enacted his One Nation vision, our next Prime Minister has to help Britain get to the future first by embracing technology to deliver prosperity. Whilst new policies will be needed in response to a dizzying array of new technologies, and a much-changed societal and economic landscape across Britain, four freedoms – four guiding principles – should define our Conservative approach to governing in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (‘4IR’).

1) Economic Freedom

Key to success in any industrial revolution is ensuring continued economic growth. Every government, including future Conservative administrations, should always work to raise living standards, create jobs, and spread the benefits of globalisation, of which the 4IR is just the latest and fastest phase.

We need to ensure the UK remains a country where businesses thrive. The success of the ‘Big Bang’ in the 1980s was due to Thatcher’s willingness to deregulate and allow innovation to flourish, and we must adopt the same approach to innovation in the 4IR.

We need to have world-class digital infrastructure, as important today as the canals and viaducts of previous industrial revolutions. The groundwork has already begun – we have started to build regional tech hubs, and the roll-out of full fibre broadband and 5G is underway – but this coverage needs to be comprehensive across the country and delivered more rapidly.

Our competitors certainly aren’t wasting time. For example, Singapore has developed a clear strategy to take advantage of the 4IR leveraging open cross-border data flows, 22 transnational free trade agreements, and a strong ethos of policymaking in collaboration with the private sector, all whilst building one of the most tech-savvy workforces on the planet.

Conservatism 4.0 should prioritise the key infrastructure and skills necessary to give our people and businesses the freedom to flourish in the new economy. There is no reason why Britain should fall behind given everything we have going for us.

2) Personal Freedom

Whilst Singapore enjoys undisputed economic success, the country is listed by the Economist Intelligence Unit as a flawed democracy. In pursuing rapid economic growth in the 4IR, we must not allow technology to be used as a tool to erode our cherished freedoms and democracy, nurtured over hundreds of years.

With artificial intelligence and growing inter-connectivity through the Internet of Things, protecting our personal freedoms is key and the second important principle underpinning Conservatism 4.0.

Smart speakers are now recording in our homes and apps track our every movement. In the wrong hands, this information could damage or endanger people – so we must be on the side of the consumer and the citizen when it comes to protecting this data.

We should be delivering a smart state – not big government. A willingness to intervene to prevent social breakdowns is legitimate, but as a Party we should recognise that as far as possible people should be free to make their own choices.

The internet, initially seen as a place to share knowledge free from government control, is becoming ever more closely scrutinised. We need to be clear to what extent the Government can and should be regulating our online lives – and it is a debate that has be conducted in the open.

A new generation of tech-savvy politicians will bring fresh ideas and thoughts to that debate. But ultimately, we should be cautious about curtailing free-speech and content online. China’s online oversight of its citizens’ private lives would never be tolerated in this country. But we need to recognise the power that new technology can have in the hands of big tech firms or over-mighty governments. Our Data Protection Act, passed last year, was a positive reform that gave power back to the consumer.

Just as the White Paper on Online Harms has opened up discussion on what content should be available online, a debate has to take place in other similar areas too. But any future Conservative legislation should always place weight on individual liberty and freedom if we are to make Conservatism 4.0 work in the digital world.

3) Innovation Freedom

Conservatives should always be the Party that backs innovation and favours new technologies. We must be dynamic and digital – and unlike Labour, we shouldn’t tax robots or ban popular disruptive services such as Uber.

We should be focused on creating the most pro-tech business environment in the world, and that means being unafraid of cutting corporation tax to make our country investment-friendly whilst giving our home-grown talent a positive tax environment in which to succeed. With our world-leading universities we can create more world-leading British tech-firms in the coming decade, replicating the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in Silicon Valley.

To be on the side of the entrepreneur we need protection for innovators that fail first time round. In America, tech entrepreneurs can wear failure as a badge of pride. Here they might be less well celebrated for their efforts.

Conservatism 4.0 has to be about creating an environment where innovators are given space to flourish – and that includes the right tax environment, regulations that allow innovation and experimentation, and a more supportive culture for those that take a risk. Freedom to innovate for companies and individuals is key to Conservatism 4.0’s ambition for more entrepreneurs and more new businesses.

4) Democratic Freedom

Democracy should always be our most treasured freedom. But in the digital age, we need to think about how we can renew and engage citizens in the democratic process.

Across the world we see the power of technology propelling populists on both the left and right, often focusing their attention on people who feel disenfranchised from politics and ignored by incumbent decision-makers.

Conservatism 4.0 should be about giving people more opportunities to engage with those in power through technology. But to truly renew our democracy for the 4IR, citizens must be free to use technology to engage more deeply with the political process.

In Spain, one of Madrid’s most successful projects is the Decide Madrid platform. It allows residents to propose, support and vote on policies for the city. So far more than €260m has been allocated to over 800 projects, from new nurseries to solar panels on city buildings.

Meanwhile in Taiwan, there is a digital system in place to bring together citizens and government to collaborate on legislation relating to new technologies. Issues such as the regulation of drones, Uber, the online sale of alcohol and revenge porn have all been debated.

While not every issue is suitable for these kinds of projects, digital platforms can be used to enhance our democracy especially when considering local issues or the challenges faced by technology.

Democracy is a freedom we should never relinquish. But in order to ensure it isn’t assailed by populists we need to look to technology – not as a problem, but as a way to enhance and invigorate democracy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In the same way that Disraeli set out a compelling and unifying political brand that refused to differentiate between classes, Conservatism 4.0 is about bringing together a country much changed by technology based on four freedoms that benefit everyone. Businesses free to trade and disrupt existing markets, citizens free to live their private lives, innovators free to develop new ideas, and democracy renewed by citizens free to participate more meaningfully.

By adapting Conservatism for the Fourth Industrial Revolution our Party can maintain its ability to govern for the whole country, acting as an antidote to populists that want to throw-up barriers to the world and socialists that believe in a state-controlled economy.

Conservatives have always believed in freedom, and by adapting our approach for the new social and economic landscape shaped by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we can make it our rallying cry for continued electoral success in the digital age.

This article is the last in a three-part series explaining why adapting to a society and economy shaped by technology is key.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alan Mak: Conservatism 4.0 – We must ensure that no-one is left behind by the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founding Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Stanley Baldwin said the Conservative Party stood for “real England” – a Party defined by voluntary organisations and Christian patriotism, little platoons and big national causes.

His Conservative Party of the 1920s faced an upstart opposition in a Labour Party that had usurped the Liberals to become the second party of British politics. Outlining the growing threat from Labour, Baldwin described them as being for a nation of class divisions and over-mighty trade unions.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has come full circle and is once again challenging the success and legitimacy of our free-market economy.

A century on from Baldwin, and despite being the natural party of government, our Party has often struggled to break out from its vote base of shire counties and market towns. It’s over 30 years since we won a majority of over 21 at a general election.

But there are signs of change. Our electoral success in recent years has been driven by securing more votes in Labour’s industrial heartlands. Dudley, Mansfield, Copeland and Teesside have all elected Conservatives in recent years, whilst the West Midlands and Tees Valley have elected Conservative Mayors on a region-wide basis.

This Conservative momentum in areas once dominated by trade unions and the Old Left shows that our message of hope, personal freedom and low taxation can re-define our path to a majority.

Yet our progress in these Labour heartlands is not concrete and shouldn’t be taken for granted. A pro-Leave electorate that has trusted another party for so long will be looking to the Conservatives to not only deliver Brexit, but ensure they are not left behind by the next big technological revolution either. As I said in yesterday’s article, this commitment must be a central tenant of Conservatism 4.0 – Conservative ideology for the Fourth Industrial Revolution [4IR].

The last time our country went through a technological revolution we had a strong leader with a firm ideology. The computing revolution of the 1980s powered Britain to economic success – and political success for Thatcherism. Through deregulation and an unwavering belief in the free market, the City of London prospered from the Big Bang, and our economy was transformed into a services-based powerhouse. From the stuttering, strike-crippled, state-dominated closed market that Thatcher inherited, the foundations were laid for rapid economic growth and the business-friendly, pro-innovation environment we enjoy today.

Our next Leader will also find themselves at an inflection point. They will have to harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as artificial intelligence, big data and automation change our economy and society beyond recognition – and ensure that every community and region benefits from the wealth that it creates. Whilst Margaret Thatcher’s transformation of Britain’s economy for the better is undeniable, there are mining and industrial communities who felt they were left behind as other parts of the country raced ahead. To win a majority at future elections, today’s Conservatives need to attract working class and northern votes, so we cannot allow the positive impact of the 4IR to be absent from any region or for its benefits to be inaccessible to any social group.

The 4IR will radically change how we work, regardless of sector or industry. Instead of dockers and miners being at risk of automation, in the near future it will be call centre operators, lorry drivers and factory workers. With a path to electoral victory that increasingly runs through industrial towns, every factory closure or job lost to robots without alternatives emerging, will make a majority harder to achieve for our next leader.

That’s the reason why, whilst we still have an opportunity to shape the 4IR, our policies must be focussed on creating an Opportunity Society centred around social mobility powered by lifelong learning, high-quality education and skills training for everyone at every stage of their lives. Our Opportunity Society must be more than just a short-term policy objective. It has to be an integral part of the future of capitalism and a key part of Conservatism 4.0.

As robots slowly replace human workers, many on the radical-left are arguing for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a minimum wage paid by the Government to every citizen regardless of their productive capacity. Every single country that has trialled UBI – from Kenya to Finland – has found it expensive and ineffective. Research by the International Labour Office has estimated that average costs would be equivalent to 20-30 per cent of GDP in most countries. In Britain, this would be more than double the annual budget of the NHS, yet John McDonell says a Corbyn-led Labour Govnement would trial it. These are just two of the reasons why we Conservatives should reject UBI as the solution to growing automation in the 4IR.

The truth is work has always paid, and work for humans will always exist. Work drives our economy, multiplies and makes the world richer. It takes people out of poverty and gives them purpose, and this will continue to be the case in the 4IR. In fact, many more new jobs are likely to be created than are lost to robots because the technology of the 4IR will drive economic growth, which in turn will create new and more interesting jobs, especially in new tech sectors such as advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, precision medicines and AI-powered creative industries.

Not enough is made of our job creation miracle since 2010, which has seen our economy put on three million new jobs. As we enjoy the lowest unemployment rates since the 1970s, we need to re-emphasise the value of work and the benefits to be derived from a good job. A UBI would be defeatist, signifying that humans had ceased to be useful in a world of machines, and be the antithesis of social mobility – there would be no need to work hard to move upwards on the income and living standards scale if we are all paid to stay at the same level. A UBI would also stall our economy through either crippling debt on the public purse or new taxes imposed on innovation. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed Robot Tax would simply mean a left behind country – a nation that fails to attract foreign investment and which becomes known for its anti-innovation approach to technology.

Instead, true devolution must be at the heart of delivering an Opportunity Society and making sure no community or individual is left behind. Our next Prime Minister must invest in the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine so regional economic growth is put in the hands of regional leaders. The benefits of the 4IR, from new start-ups to overseas investment, must be enjoyed beyond the “Golden Triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge. As Juergen Maier who led the Government’s Made Smarter Review, argued, it’s about creating an “innovation climate” in regions such as the North.

We cannot expect the heavy industries of the past to return, but instead our focus should be on ensuring the new technologies of the future are exploited in every area of the country to create new jobs and rising skills levels in every community. The Liverpool City Region understand this, and have already taken the initiative. They have launched LCR 4.0, an ambitious plan to support manufacturing and advanced engineering organisations in the region by funding practical support to transform businesses through digital innovation. By helping traditional manufacturers upgrade their technology, they enable firms to stay in business and keep their workers employed by becoming more productive. Conservatism 4.0 should support more initiatives like this.

Moving towards a system of local business rates retention will also encourage further investment in skills and business support from local authorities as they reap the rewards of encouraging local growth. There should also be more scope for local taxation and decentralisation as a central tenet of Conservatism 4.0 to empower local areas to evaluate their workforces and set-up true long-term strategies for delivering local economic growth, building on the work of existing Local Enterprise Partnerships and new Local Industrial Strategies.

Conservatism has always evolved and must do so again as we enter a new technological age by putting social mobility and reginal devolution centre stage. They are the two key building blocks to ensuring that every community and region can benefit from technology-driven economic growth. While Thatcherism delivered for the Third Industrial Revolution, we need a new brand of Conservatism to build an Opportunity Society for the Fourth. My final article in this series, published tomorrow, will set out the four principles that should guide us as we re-calibrate Conservatism in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This article is the second in a three-part series explaining why adapting to a society and economy shaped by technology is key.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alison Wolf: The Augar Review takes productivity, Industrial Strategy and skills seriously. Will the new Prime Minister listen?

Alison Wolf is professor of public sector management at King’s College London and a cross-bench peer. She was a member of the Post-18 Review of Education and Funding Independent Panel (the Augar Review) but writes in a personal capacity.

Last week, the Prime Minister launched the Augar Review of Post-18 Education and Funding. Her speech strongly endorsed some of its major recommendations, notably for further education. The media in the room duly directed their questions to issues affecting universities, ignoring the ‘other 50 per cent’ who don’t head straight to higher education. Wider media coverage also focused overwhelmingly on university fees, while various university bodies piled in with criticisms.

There was, meanwhile, near total radio silence from the main Conservative leadership contenders. As a member of the Augar panel, I’m personally relieved that they stayed quiet. A new government does not need expensive ill-understood commitments or ‘not on my patch’ promises, sparked during the campaign by lobbying or leading media questions. However, Augar addresses major issues, affecting our entire population, with large price tags attached. These will be waiting for the next Prime Minister.

A Westminster village take is that the Review was a panic-stricken response to Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to abolish university fees; and that with Labour also languishing among young voters, it’s no longer really relevant. That’s completely wrong. Our technical and adult education are in crisis. There is a growing gap between what the labour market demands and what post-18 education supplies. And polls and focus groups alike show strong public support for vocational and technical provision.

Augar provides what it says on the tin: a review of all post-18 education, and how to pay for it. And the review panel discovered that technical and further education were in even worse shape than any of us had realised. Courses teaching technician and advanced craft skills are vanishing from English education at speed, even though the economy is crying out for these skills. Today’s young people are effectively offered a single choice. A full degree, now – or nothing.

Overall, Augar’s recommendations are designed to reverse this idiocy, and to do so at little extra cost to the Exchequer. But of course, they are made within a wider fiscal context. A new Prime Minister will be heavily lobbied by the powerful education lobbies who represent universities and schools, and are focused on an imminent spending review.

Back in 2010, English universities got a major boost in their finances. Student fees of £9000 (now £9250) gave them a big increase in income per student. Universities have generally had an excellent decade, as one of the best-resourced systems in the world. They have also cemented their position among the world’s very best for quality and research productivity, and are enormously attractive to overseas students, who bring in over £15 billion a year in fees and other spending.

Compare this with the rest of education (let alone with social care). In schools, real spending in the sixth form has fallen by more than 20 per cent per student. Spending on 5 – 16 year olds has meanwhile been held fairly constant in real terms: but costs have risen faster than inflation, so there are plenty of school horror stories with which to fill the pages – and no doubt many more to come before the autumn spending review.

As for further education, which serves the whole non-university adult population from 18 to 85 plus, its funding has been devastated. The core adult education and skills budget has fallen by 45 per cent in real terms since 2010, student numbers have plummeted, and public spending per student is more than six times as high in universities as it is in the nation’s colleges.

This imbalance looks even harder to justify in the light of regional inequalities. Among young people in their late 20s, over half of the London-schooled went to university: it’s under 30 per cent in the North East and the South West. Except in London, young women are enormously and increasingly more likely to attend university than young men. So among young men in the North East, only one in five went on to university; in the South West, less than a quarter. The country’s single-minded determination to reach ‘50 per cent in HE’ has left a lot of people behind with no good alternatives.

Unfortunately, reform will face an additional obstacle this autumn. Universities’ good fortune – which they are, very naturally, defending – was fuelled by an illusion, and the Treasury is now facing the washback from its too-clever-by-half fiscal trick.

Sean Coughlan, the BBC’s education correspondent, described this far more vividly than we did, when he asked, last year: How can you lend someone almost £120 billion and not have a hole in your budget? Or how can you give out £17 billion, only receive back £3 billion and not be any worse off? Answer: When you’re the government and it’s the student loans system.

Student fees are paid to universities through a loan mechanism, and the Treasury decided that loans didn’t need to appear on the books as spending: after all, they would be repaid. But of course, that wasn’t actually true – only some of them would be. Under England’s ‘income contingent’ system, people, rightly, only pay education loans back as and when they earn a certain amount, and a lot will never be repaid. In his 2018 fiscal sustainability report, the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility observed that “The loan book is large and growing rapidly…the value of the outstanding loan book is set to rise to around 20 per cent of GDP by the 2040s.’

The Office for National Statistics has now called time on this piece of creative accounting. The money that won’t be repaid will have to be accounted for; and so a large part of the universities’ budget will be back on the table in the next spending review, to be fought over rather than safely ring-fenced as not really spending at all.

Until Corbyn suddenly launched his ‘no fees’ policy, there was, finally, a cross-party consensus in this country: the costs of higher education should be shared between the student and the taxpayer, the individual and the community. Politicians should be reassured that there is also strong support for this position in the population at large.

But things do need to be paid for. And in the super-complex world of education financing, it is essentially impossible to change anything without someone losing – and finding some moral high ground from which to attack the change. Augar does its sums and recommends more money for the neediest – cash to get FE back on its feet, to invigorate technical education, to allow adults to retrain and progress, and to reinstate maintenance grants for the poorest students. Its analysis takes productivity, skills gaps and the Industrial Strategy seriously. Come the autumn, we will find out whether a new government does the same.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alan Mak 1) Alan Mak: Conservatism 4.0 – Adapting our Party for the Fourth Industrial Revolution is our greatest challenge

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founding Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Later this year, the international commission that oversees the official geological timechart will meet to debate and decide whether the world has entered a new epoch. The “Anthropocene”, named after the humans that have had such a profound influence on our planet would, for example, sit alongside the Upper Jurassic and Pleistocence (Ice Age) periods and represent the biggest turning point in history for over 500 million years.

Advocates for the Anthropocene say this new distinct era started in the 1950s, identifiable from the radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests, the appearance of fossilised plastics, the rise in carbon pollution from the global post-war economic boom, the pervasive use of concrete, and the rise of mechanised agriculture. Opponents feel none of these changes has been sufficiently impactful to merit a new phase in history – and the debate continues.

In contrast, the start of a new Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in the late 2000s is not in dispute. My previous ConservativeHome series on this topic outlined the historical background and economic importance of the 4IR – the fourth phase of industrialisation after previous eras defined by steam, electricity and then the internet. This latest series of articles, which begins today, outlines its political implications, and argues in particular that adapting conservatism to the politics and society of a Britain radically re-shaped by the 4IR is our Party’s biggest challenge in the coming years – not Brexit.

Like many activists around the country, I spent time during the local election campaign knocking on doors and speaking to voters. I found an electorate keen to talk about a range of topics, not just Brexit: the economy, schools, defence, the NHS. Brexit is certainly the focal point of our national discourse for now, and while it will continue to be the fundamental, short-term issue our new Party Leader must deliver on, a moment will arrive very soon where the Party must pivot to the future – and look beyond Brexit.

As the leadership contest begins, our next Prime Minister, who will take us into a second decade in power, needs to turbo-charge our domestic policy agenda post-Brexit.

The next general election, whenever it comes, will be fought against a Labour Party that has coalesced around a hard-left agenda with clear messages on austerity, state-aid, taxation and the state ownership of utilities. Worryingly, these big state, anti-capitalist arguments have gained traction for the first time in 40 years. Just as Margaret Thatcher defeated Michael Foot’s hard left ideology in the 1980s, today’s Conservatives need to re-win the argument for free markets and stamp out Corbynista thinking before it takes hold.

The battlegrounds for the next election are being shaped by the new, disruptive technologies of the 4IR, sometimes visibly, sometimes not. The underlying forces shaping the contours of our new society and economy – the automation of jobs, the creation of new businesses, regional growth and decline, the skills base in each community – are all driven by new technology. As our lives become ever more digital, our country faces a series of unique challenges that only Conservative values can fully address.

Our Party has to adapt to this new landscape – and develop a new set of positive policies that allows us to deliver on the changed aspirations of voters in this new setting. From helping people secure the new jobs that the tech revolution will create to tackling the downsides of growth such as preventing environmental degradation, we need to develop Conservatism 4.0 – conservatism for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Previous Industrial Revolutions saw Conservative leaders grasp the opportunity to reshape our Party as the country changed. Robert Peel repealed the Corn Laws, heralding Britain’s rise as a champion of free trade, and  Thatcher drove forward reforms that enabled the City of London to renew itself and flourish through the “Big Bang” of technology. Our next Leader must consider how the Conservatives will remain relevant to a new generation of voters whose lives, workplaces and communities are being shaped by artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, drones and a new phase of globalisation.

We Conservatives must adapt to this rapidly-changing social and economic landscape, just as Thatcher and her predecessors did. These four guiding principles should shape the next leader Conservative Leader’s thinking.

1. No community can be left behind

Young people thinking of careers after leaving school or university are now entering workplaces in every sector shaped by artificial intelligence and automation.

Just take the supermarket industry, a sector that employs 1.1 million people in the UK and which faces radical change. Ocado, for instance, has developed a warehouse in Hampshire dubbed “the hive” that sees robots processing 3.5 million items every single week. Meanwhile in America, the first trials have begun of “Amazon Go” – checkout-free shops where consumers walk-out with whatever goods they like bypassing traditional tills or scanners. Instead, camera-based tracking technology identifies the shopper visually, and the goods bought, and charges their credit card automatically. There are no staff in the “shop” – a radical departure from the high street shop my parents ran which relied heavily on human labour (including mine).

What do these innovations mean for shop workers, and the millions of others who will likely be displaced in similar ways in other industries? Just as in previous Industrial Revolutions new jobs will certainly be created, from app designers to data scientists to robot maintenance workers. Past experience also suggests more jobs will probably be created than are lost as the economy grows. But our challenge is ensuring we equip workers with the right skills to fulfil their potential and secure these new jobs.

That means a renewed focus on STEM skills and a wider strategic long-term plan for skills in our country. I’ve previously set out my belief that we should introduce a Future Skills Review, a big picture analysis of the skills needed for our economy over the next five years – akin to the Comprehensive Spending Review or Strategic Defence Review.

Automation will inevitably impact different areas of the country disproportionally. So our next Prime Minister needs to prevent widening regional inequality. The impact of the decline of heavy industry, especially in the North, is still felt to this day in areas that have struggled to fully recover. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerates, we need to help every community adjust and prosper, getting a fair share of the fruits of economic success. Leeds re-invented itself as a hub for digital innovation, whilst Sunderland is home to Nissan’s highly productive car plant. So a new Northern Technology Powerhouse would be especially welcome in the years ahead, ensuring that it isn’t just the “Golden Triangle” of Oxford, Cambridge and London that benefit from the 4IR.

2. Public services should be more productive, more digital and more accessible

The smartphone generation demands services that are available at their fingertips, whether that’s ordering a taxi or making a bank payment. The average smartphone user can choose from around 2 million apps to download – everything from games to social media.

Technology means life is moving faster, and people’s expectations of similarly fast-movement and responsiveness from their government are rising too. Voters want a Smart State, not Big Government. And because we Conservatives are in office, we are expected to use new technology to deliver better, more efficient public services.

Perhaps one of the least recognised achievements of the Government since 2010 has been the digital transformation of our public services. The UK is currently fourth in the UN e-government league, having delivered more than £2 billion in efficiency savings through digital transformation since 2014.

But we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. We must strive to deliver more efficient public services by fully-digitising them in line with consumer demand. A poll by POLITICO in swing election seats showed that our Party still trails in the core issues ranked as the most important outside of Brexit – crime, housing and health.

We need to consider how we can use artificial intelligence to solve crimes; automated construction techniques to build much-needed homes; online courses to improve further education; and how we deploy apps to transform the NHS into a paperless service, so patients have their test results and medical records on their phones.

As a Party we need to harness technology to improve the delivery of public services and offer better outcomes, recapturing the initiative from Labour politicians whose focus on nationalisation and uncosted (yet endless) spending commitments often drives the debate.

3. Technology can help us become more relevant to younger voters

The age divide in our politics is now well-documented, with a recent Onward report showing 49 per cent of Conservative voters are now over the age of 65.

Yet as separate polling for the Centre for Policy Studies found, young people are still more likely than the general population to think that the Government spends and taxes too much and are not inclined to back nationalisation.

Instead, they want more control over their lives, and that includes over the money they work hard to earn.
In the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Conservatives need to deliver the same message of economic freedom that propelled Thatcherism to unprecedented electoral success. By embracing tech, and making Britain a global tech superpower, we will create more opportunities for young people to start their own business and have a stake in our society by owning capital and generating wealth for themselves and others.

Our next Leader must position Britain as low-tax, high-innovation, pro-tech economy. We must cut corporation tax to attract inward investment – Jeremy Hunt’s proposal to cut our rate to match Ireland’s 12.5 per cent rate is very welcome – and be pro-active in creating a regulatory environment that gives tech companies the freedom to innovate. We must not follow Labour’s example by trying ban Uber in London and Brighton. Platforms used by younger people should be smartly regulated, not shutdown.

We win back younger voters by proving that we are a Party that believes in the future – and that means embracing technology, and the benefits it brings to everyday life.

4. Green growth must be at the heart of Britain’s Fourth Industrial Revolution

The fossil fuels that powered previous industrial revolutions left a dirty legacy which we are only now coming to terms with as we take decisive action on climate change.

The 4IR will be the first industrial revolution that offers the tantalising prospect of clean growth, with renewable energy and the next generation of batteries potentially signalling the end for dirty fossil fuels.

Similarly, carbon capture and storage technology has the potential to limit CO2 in the atmosphere; blockchain to improve accountability across far-flung supply chains; “smart boats” to help fishermen manage their catch effectively; and biodegradable plastics to protect our oceans.

These are just a small number of the environmental technology breakthroughs that will soon become pervasive.

Britain should be an advocate on the world stage for green growth, helping us bolster our credentials at home as the Party of good environmental stewardship too. The current Government’s 25-Year Environment Plan and commitment to biodiversity has been one of our most popular policy areas since 2017. By committing to ensuring that this new industrial revolution leaves the planet cleaner we can turn green growth in the 4IR into a new source of electoral strength.

All four policy areas matter regardless of Brexit or our future relationship with the EU. The current Brexit debate has meant they are not getting the focus they deserve, but our next Leader should put these principles at the heart of our Party’s response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

By doing so, we can successful help our Party adapt to the new political and economic landscape that technology-driven change is creating, so voters continue to trust us to govern for generations to come.

This article is the first in a three-part series explaining why adapting to a society and economy shaped by technology is key.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

John Downer: Scrapping HS2 wouldn’t help the North, it would cut a vital lifeline to the regional economies

John Downer is a Director of High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL), a group of companies and organisations which is committed to supporting the successful delivery of a world-class high speed rail network in Britain.

Every few months – and more often recently– comes the call to scrap HS2 and spend the money on something else.

And we’ve had it again this week on these very pages, reiterating previous suggestions that the Midlands and the North would be better served by investment in regional transport links.

But, however tempting it might be to spend the budget of a few billions per year on something else, there is little more the Government could do to jeopardise the economic prospects of cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds than scrap a project which is so fundamental to their future economic development.

For the most important thing to understand about HS2 is that it is not just a railway. It is an economic regeneration project (and the most important economic regeneration project in Britain for decades) which is catalysing a whole host of other investments in its wake.

What holds Britain back today is not the connections from big cities to London, but poor connections between the other big cities. Services between cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, and Newcastle are slow, unreliable, and overcrowded – and HS2 is absolutely integral to tackling this.

Remember your visit to Birmingham for the Party Conference in October? The cranes and building works were everywhere. Just outside the conference centre you saw the new headquarters of HSBC. Around the corner PwC is building their Midlands base, their biggest single investment outside London.

In Leeds, you have major new investment from Burberry and a whole South Bank regeneration for which HS2 is intrinsic. There are similar stories in Manchester and Liverpool too. And then ask the city leaders, from all political parties, how important HS2 is to triggering that investment, and unanimously they will tell you it is vital. Indeed, the project has no greater champion than Andy Street, Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands.

HS2 is about giving our great cities of the Midlands and the North the springboard to be the economic powerhouses of the future. Put harshly, without HS2, Britain has no strategy to grow our regional economies and no industrial strategy worthy of the name.

For HS2 trains won’t just reach those cities where the new line is being built. They will link into the rest of the network too, meaning that the services will reach 8 of the 10 biggest cities in Britain, reaching places like Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh that are far from the construction of the line itself.

That’s not to say the other transport investment people call for isn’t needed too. It is. And the Government is to be supported in the priority they are attaching to the Northern Powerhouse Rail project to improve east/west links across the north. But far from being an alternative to local transport investment, HS2 is a pre-requisite for it to be successful.

To take one specific example, the West Coast Mainline is presently jam-packed. Passenger numbers on the route have more than doubled since it was last upgraded just 15 years ago, and there is simply no space to add new trains whether for commuters and inter-city travellers or for more freight off the motorways and onto rail. Building HS2 will move the inter-city traffic onto the new line, freeing up capacity for vital local, regional, and commuter services, so passengers in places like Milton Keynes and Coventry will benefit from HS2 as it will improve their commutes into London and Birmingham respectively.

More widely still, the benefit of HS2 supply chain contracts are already being felt across the UK. Nus Ghani MP, the HS2 Minister, is hosting an event in Parliament next week to meet HS2 suppliers, and they come from far-and-wide, not just from the line of route.

Already more than 2000 companies have worked on HS2. There are archaeologists from Bristol, ecological experts from Cardiff, and earth-moving contractors from Buckinghamshire. There are already two suppliers in Northern Ireland, 25 in Scotland and 65 in the South West. HS2 is a truly national project with truly national benefits, and those benefits will only grow over the coming years.

For these businesses, the costs of cancelling HS2 right now would be enormous. Over 7,000 people are working on the project already, and that will become tens of thousands over the next couple of years, with 70 per cent of those jobs outside London. Cancelling it now would literally mean filling-in the freshly dug holes in Birmingham and Euston, and laying off all the apprentices working on site. Is that a serious proposition?

All things considered, HS2 is about joining Britain back together again, after a number of years when our divisions have been more prominent than our unity. It is essential for the UK, and even more vital still for the Midlands and the North which stand to gain the most.

The project is underway. The train has started its journey. Let’s makes sure it reaches its destination and that taxpayers wring every last ounce of benefit from it.

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