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Westlake Legal Group > Public Sector

Andrew Haldenby: Even after austerity, shocking amounts of money are wasted by underperforming state bodies

Andrew Haldenby is the co-founder of HW, a public services consultancy.

The politics of tax-and-spend are reasserting themselves. Several commentators, including the Editor of this site, have pointed out that the Government wants to square three circles: spending more, taxing less and yet keeping borrowing and debt under control.

Something has to give. Paul Johnson of the IFS has said that extra spending inevitably means higher taxes. Others have rightly noted out that the tax burden is already at its highest since England won the football World Cup. As a result, the smart money seems to be on a relaxation of the borrowing limits.

But there is another option, hinted at by Dominic Cummings in his Policy Unit recruitment blog. He said that successful recruits would find “trillion dollar bills lying on the street”. He is on the right track. There is more money locked up in poorly-performing public services, hiding in plain sight, than the receipts of just about any tax rise available.

This applies even to public services that faced budget cuts in the austerity years. Earlier this month, the police inspectorate reported its annual efficiency ratings for the 43 forces. 12 of them, accounting for over £4 billion of spending, “required improvement” or were “inadequate”.

The inspectorate concluded that arguably the most important manifesto pledge, of 20,000 extra officers, could be just a sticking plaster: “gaining more officers will only mask poorer performance if forces fail to solve long-standing problems”.

On the same day, the National Audit Office found that the Prison and Probation Service, which spends £2 billion a year, cannot be relied on to provide prison places of the right quantity and type. In 2016, it promised to deliver 10,000 new places by 2020. By last year, the aspiration was down to 3,600 places by 2023-24. Because the estate has not been reorganised as planned, some serious offenders “live in low-security environments relative to their higher risks”. Without a different approach, the Government can’t be confident that its new pledge of 10,000 extra places will be delivered.

On the bigger budgets, the NAO has warned that the NHS, which will spend £150 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, hasn’t shifted to the modern model of care that was planned in 2014. The Office has also consistently questioned the ability of government to get value from the £280 billion spent on private companies each year. The £20 billion spent on defence procurement is a particular example, thankfully in Cummings’ sights.

Across the piece, we are spending £10 but only getting £6 or £8 back. What is needed is a Government that relentlessly asks the difficult questions about what public services cost, what they should achieve and whether they are doing it – in other words, how to put cash to value.

This would be a new departure for Whitehall and Westminster, appropriate for this new Government.

It would surprise a lot of voters that the Treasury, for example, isn’t very interested in how well the money is spent. Michael Barber’s must-read 2017 Review nailed it: “The Treasury too has historically placed greater emphasis on inputs rather than outcomes. Of course, it is necessary and right that the Treasury should count the pennies – someone has to – but that should surely not be its only focus, even in hard times. There have been a variety of attempts in the last forty years to broaden the focus beyond inputs but these have tended to be temporary and separate initiatives rather than irreversible changes in either the core processes or the culture.”

Some may say that the opinion polls have shifted since the austerity era, and voters now want to see higher spending. That is true and certainly Johnson is a post-austerity Prime Minister. But voters want higher spending not as an end in itself but as a means to make services better. If they pay higher taxes for services that don’t improve, they won’t be delighted. In addition, with net debt at over 80 per cent of GDP, the Osborne roof has not been fixed, regardless of the weather. The economy is vulnerable to whatever is coming around the corner.

Most importantly, ignoring the search for value in public spending would be to miss out on the wonderful prospect of a Cummings revolution. The country is now led by a set of politicians that are ready to shake the government up if it is not delivering for people. They want a new approach to science and to the English regions that drives up tax receipts due to higher growth, not higher rates. This is a precious moment that didn’t exist in (say) 2010. Let us not waste it.

Step forward an empowered Number 10-Number 11 Policy Unit, with the data scientists able to discover exactly which services and budgets are making a difference? Would it be even better to embed such an approach across Whitehall? Should we change the role of accounting officers so that government departments work together rather than for themselves? These are great questions for the Budget, rather than waiting for a Spending Review later in the year.

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

Tania Matthias: The Government must put NHS workers at the heart of its policy

Tania Mathias is an NHS doctor and former MP for Twickenham.

Boris Johnson’s success is already remarkable: while the message Get Brexit Done was powerful, the top line message on the NHS was for many people equally remarkable.

Londoners who remember the Johnson mayoral years know that this Government will deliver, and that means for the first time this century there is a real opportunity to reassure an electorate who have said they lost trust in politics.

Ironically, if the Government achieves this, all political parties will benefit from the restoration of trust between Parliament and the electorate.

Already there are many predictions about how Johnson will be described in history. There is an extraordinary opportunity, not seen for 71 years whereby, he could do for NHS and social care workers what Margaret Thatcher did for people living in council homes. In 2024 the Conservative Party will have looked after the NHS for 49 of its 76 years, and on the 75th birthday it can be possible for people working in the NHS to say they have never had it so good.

For that to happen, to seal the Conservative deal for people working in the NHS and care sector, Johnson’s policies need to address employee satisfaction, employee retention (including career progression), and employee health. Building 40 new hospitals is very worthwhile, but the invisible benefit of making a workforce that is proud, healthy, and wants to come to work every day will be a bigger monument to the Johnson administration.

Every new hospital needs to have employee and expert input in the design so that the people working there have the gyms and rest areas that are commonplace in organisation and institutions like Google and the Turing Institute. Putting employees at the centre of all NHS and care sector policies could give the Prime Minister his equivalent to the original Right to Buy – i.e. a policy with an effect that lasts for generations.

I, for one, am looking forward to Baroness Harding’s report on the NHS workforce. Baroness Cavendish made excellent proposals for people working in care. Now the Health Secretary – and if it is Matt Hancock we know the NHS and social care are in good hands – can speed on with policies for staff so that the NHS is the employer of choice for all job seekers.

The Government is committed to bursaries: already under Jeremy Hunt we have more medical schools in Sunderland and Lancashire, and that investment can be built on to continue to strengthen regions beyond the existing NHS centres of excellence.

Other policies for people choosing to work in the NHS could include: an ‘NHS passport’ for people coming from outside the UK to work in Health Service and social care; starting a real top class management training centre for the NHS; recruiting actively for the 300 careers in the NHS; and budgeting for sabbaticals for employees every seven years if they return to the NHS or care sector so that the NHS becomes the employer of choice for people in fields of management, cleaning, catering, technology, robotics, IT and many, many more allied health roles.

Yes, the NHS and the care sector is all about patients and people using the service-  but to be the best for patients and users the employees need to be the healthiest and happiest of workforces.

The Health Foundation has said only ten per cent of our health is down to the NHS so lifestyle, mental well-being, diet, and other factors should be continued to be audited by the government. Preventative medicine can improve and if there is an NHS point of contact on the high street – a pharmacy or health practice – there can be screening hubs for all. An ambitious Government could also introduce two days of annual leave for everyone to ensure people make time to attend screening appointments, whether it’s at the GP hub or the high street NHS ‘shop’. Mental well being that starts in schools, universally available and on high street drop-in centres would also be a revolution worthy of a grand Johnson legacy.

The Prime Minister is already stepping into the high heels of Thatcher, and by 2024 there is a real chance that trust in politics will be restored – especially if the NHS and care sector has been prioritised and the Government puts the people working in them at the forefront of all health policies.

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

Neil O’Brien: Policies for a new Britain – in which the central point for new Tory MPs is moors on Sheffield’s edge

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

The rain fell. As the weeks of the campaign went by, bright orange Halloween pumpkins rotted on doorsteps, while Christmas decorations gradually went up. Across the country floods came and receded. The short days got even shorter.

A man in a beautiful big Georgian house with a very large Apple Mac in the window told me that we had ruined the country. A man in a bungalow on an estate told me that he’d voted Labour his whole life, but this time he would be voting Conservative.

Leaflets went soggy in the drizzle. Towns and villages turned on their Christmas lights. More rain fell, and then, at the end of it all, there was a flood tide of a different kind. A blue tide, sweeping across the country, particularly in the midlands and north.

That flood has washed away old familiar landmarks. The Beast of Bolsover is gone. Jo Swinson is gone. Jeremy Corbyn is going. The “People’s Vote” campaign has shut down in the light of… how people voted. “Workington Man”, much discussed at the start of the campaign, really did turn Conservative, and sent Mark Jenkinson to Parliament.
Laura Piddock, who’d vowed never to be friends with a Conservative, was replaced by one: Richard Holden.

The Conservative Party has been profoundly changed by the election. Since 1997 we’ve gone from having from three per cent to 34 per cent of seats in the North East. From 13 per cent to 43 per cent of seats in the North West. From 13 per cent to 48 per cent in Yorkshire. From nought per cent to 35 per cent of seats in Wales. And from 24 per cent to 75 per cent of seats in the West Midlands.

Our new intake are 30 per cent of the parliamentary party. And their seats are different. In 2001, we had just no seats in the 30 per cent most deprived constituencies in England. In 2010, we had 24. Now it is 49 of those seats. In 2001, we had just 14 seats in the most deprived half of England. Now we have 116.

Look at the change another way. Average out where in English Conservative MPs elected in 2017 represented, and the centre point was down in the Speaker’s leafy Buckingham constituency. Average out the newly elected Conservative MPs in England in 2019, and the central point is out on the wild and windy moors on the edge of Sheffield.  It would take you a long time, but you can now walk almost the whole length of the Pennine Way without leaving a Conservative constituency.

The Prime Minister also has the chance now to go on an epic trek: one to change the face of British politics forever.
It goes without saying that we need to keep our promises on GBD (Getting Brexit Done) and the NHS. But we can’t let Whitehall just KBO with business-as-usual.

I don’t think we will. The signs of last week’s earthquake have been there for some time, and people like Dominic Cummings have the most been attuned to them. Even some of the 2019 strategy has been road-tested before. Under Cummings in 2001, the no euro campaign ran “Never Mind the Euro, what about our hospitals?” flyposters, riffing on famous the Sex Pistols album cover.

In the James Frayne/Dom Cummings led-campaign against the North East Assembly in 2004, the campaign had a strong anti-politics-as-usual slant, with ads condemning the cost of the proposed “talking shop” for ordinary people.
But now we have a majority, how to respond to the dissatisfaction that’s been growing for so long?

Once we get Brexit done, we should be conspicuous in the use of our new freedoms. We could axe the hated tampon tax or cut VAT on fuel. We can improve animal welfare, banning live exports and puppy smuggling. We could end the absurd practice of paying child benefits to children living overseas. We could help small business, reviewing legislation that curtails lending like the CRD IV and Solvency 2. We could replace bureaucratic EU regional development funding with something better, and end the environmental waste of the CAP and Common Fisheries Policies.

Things like the review of sentencing and end of early release are key to showing the county is under new management.

But the question I am most interested in personally is whether we can have a bold enough economic policy that people in the newly gained Conservative seats can see the difference in five years’ time.

Let’s be clear: many of the places we’ve gained have suffered economic decline for many decades. There is a good economic case for levelling up: there are no major countries that are richer per head than Britain and have a more geographically unbalanced economy. More balanced growth is stronger. But to get it, we need to mobilise in an unprecedented way.

I’d suggest four ways to level up.

First, rebalance the government’s most growth-enhancing spending. Spending which most spurs growth is too concentrated on places that are already successful. We should rebalance spending on innovation, transport, housing and culture to lift the performance of poorer areas. Government should rethink the focus on current demand levels and current strengths which creates a vicious circle for less wealthy areas.

Second, we should recognise that Britain has de-industrialised more than any other G20 country since 1990; that the UK’s tax system is currently uniquely hostile to manufacturing and other types of capital-intensive businesses; and that this has a particularly negative effect on lagging parts of the country which are more reliant on manufacturing.

Despite its small share of overall GDP, manufacturing makes an outsize contribution to productivity growth and compared to professional services is more likely to happen outside city centres.

While manufacturing accounted for around a quarter of productivity growth nationally since 1997, it provided 40-50 per cent of productivity growth in poorer regions like Wales, the West Midlands and North West. More generous capital allowances would help lagging regions, but currently EU rules limit the places in which we can offer such allowances. Let’s use our new freedom.

Third, lets recognise the centrality of private sector investment in growth. Moving public sector jobs around doesn’t cut it. We need private inward investment. That means souping up DIT and making sure we are using every weapon including tax breaks to attract higher end private sector jobs to poorer places.

The highlight of the Conservative manifesto for me was the pledge to invest a stonking £3.2 billion a year in R&D by the end of the Parliament. But unless we spend differently, it won’t benefit lagging areas.

So, fourth, we have to shift the balance of government R&D: from mainly in universities to more happening in firms. From fundamental research, to more applied (like in China and the Asian economies). And from half the core budget being spent in three cities, (London, Cambridge and Oxford) to a distribution more in line with the geographically balanced spending of the private sector.

And more. We should learn from the Connell Review and the way the US uses ringfenced budgets for innovative procurement to put rocket boosters under small tech firms. We should build up innovate UK and make it easier to get SMART grants too.

Obviously, there are a zillion other things: sorting out the over-expansion of low-value university arts courses and under-investment in apprenticeships. Building on funding to fix run down town centres… there’s masses to do.
But above all, somewhere in Whitehall there has to be a strong central point to make all this happen “by any means necessary”.

We start with a huge river of goodwill from this election. Now we need to channel it to get the wheels turning again for places that feel left-behind.

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

Fabio Conti: Our manifesto shows why NHS workers should back the Conservatives

Fabio Conti is a GP in West London and a former Ealing councillor.  He contested Ealing Southall in the 2017 general election.

A work colleague asked me recently: why, as someone who works in the NHS, they should vote Conservative? The Conservative manifesto demonstrates why: It places the NHS rightly centre stage.

The NHS has come to define Britain, and working in it as a GP I am reminded every day about what an incredible job it does.

The manifesto highlights that the beating heart and greatest asset of the NHS is its over one million staff. Therefore, commitments for 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more doctors in General Practice, and 6,000 more professionals such as pharmacists and physiotherapists working in GP practices across the country, backed up with £34 billion extra funding a year, are vital in making our health service fit for the future.

There is a real sense of pressure within the Health Service, with increasing demand and an increasing work load, morale can often be low. The acknowledgement in the manifesto of the need to boost morale is important. The big increases in the work force will play its part, but also a commitment increasing funding for training is essential. Enabling staff to grow and develop throughout their careers is key.

We know that ill health, both physical and mental, is multifactorial, and therefore it is exciting that the manifesto commits to extending social prescribing – an area that is prominent in the NHS Long Term Plan – through the growing primary care networks.

Social prescribing looks to address the non-health causes of ill-health. It can be a driver to building resilience, tackling isolation and guide people towards further help and support. A scheme in Rotherham demonstrated an improvement in the wellbeing of participants and reduction in demand for health services.

There are also commitments in the manifesto on improving care in mental health and for people with learning difficulties, extending the Cancer Drug Fund, raising standards in maternity care, and promoting uptake in vaccinations. This is an exciting agenda for the future, even before mentioning the infrastructure commitments for new hospitals and hospital upgrades.

We can’t think of the NHS without also thinking of social care. Pressures within social care have a direct impact on the NHS, that is why the commitment to build a cross-party consensus to develop a solution to tackle the extraordinary pressures within social care is so important. Finding a long-term solution has been kicked into the long grass by successive governments of all colours, it is now time to deliver this, and working cross party is the only way to achieve it.

In order to deliver this investment in public services we need a thriving and dynamic economy. This is what a Conservative Government will deliver. As history has shown us, the failed policies of the past presented by Corbyn will sink our economy – and therefore our public services too.

So if you want to see the NHS improve and grow in the years ahead then the only choice on the 12th December is to vote Conservative.

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

Jack Airey: The next Government should revitalise Key Worker Housing

Jack Airey is Head of Housing at Policy Exchange.

For a long time, it was common for certain public sector workers to be provided a home as part of their job. Housing support used to be included in salary packages of Metropolitan Police officers, for example, either as free or subsidised accommodation or a paid housing allowance. Firefighters, teachers and nurses have also been eligible for subsidised housing schemes.

Support with finding a home allowed people whose job necessitated them to be close to the community they serve to do just that. The outgoing Labour Member of Parliament for Poplar and Limehouse, Jim Fitzpatrick, has spoken of how “When working as a firefighter in the 1970s, I was provided a home… [It] allowed me to get on with serving the public rather than worrying about next month’s rent.”

Although many of these homes have been sold off over recent decades, the extreme costs of buying or renting a home in some parts of the country in relation to public sector wages means that it is time to look again at how vital local workers can be supported with housing.

Many of the most valued and important front-line public sector workers are simply struggling to live in or near the community they serve. Instead, vital local public servants like police officers, teachers, nurses and firefighters have to commute from further and further away. This is a danger to local public services, making it more difficult to recruit and retain staff at the same time as impacting service delivery.

The NHS is a case in point. Recruitment and retention challenges are causing a high rate of vacancies for a range of roles which means that NHS trusts are using more short-term agency staff – at significant taxpayer expense. Staff health and well-being is also a major concern. Nurses, for instance, report that long shift work is a burden on their health and causing tiredness that puts their lives at risk if driving home after work.

The cost of housing compounds these issues in places where it is most unaffordable. Healthcare workers are competing for the same homes as private sector workers who are often better paid. It should come as no surprise, then, that four in ten nurses plan to leave London because of high housing costs.

The Metropolitan Police Service is similarly challenged by the cost of housing. Up until recently, the Met had a policy of recruiting new constables that had lived in London for a minimum of three years within the last six. This was because the police needs a workforce that understands and reflects the communities it serves. Past recruits who did not come from London were much more likely to transfer to another force outside the capital after a few years, lured by cheaper housing and family links. The Met’s residency criteria have now been relaxed, largely because they could not attract enough Londoners to apply. Again, the cost of housing is a deterrent to people choosing to work in a vital public service.

There are some public sector workers, of course, that require no housing support at all, either because they earn enough money or because they live in a place where the cost of housing is affordable relative to public sector wages. However, for the many vital local public sector workers who are struggling to pay next month’s rent or save enough to buy a home anytime soon, a helping hand would go a long way. The next government should commit to helping them as part of their housing agenda.

A report published today by Policy Exchange, the think tank I work for, outlines some of the steps the Government can take to support nurses, police officers and other vital public sector workers like firefighters and teachers in the housing market. We argue for the Key Worker Housing policy (first introduced by the Blair Government but later dropped during the Coalition era) to be revitalised.

This initiative allowed certain public sector workers – those who met ‘Key Worker’ eligibility criteria – to access affordable homes. It included demand-side measures, like equity loans, and supply-side measures, like funding for new Key Worker homes built for intermediate rental and for discounted ownership.

The Blair Government’s Key Worker Housing scheme had its flaws. Eligibility criteria for Key Worker Housing, for example, sprawled wider than necessary. A more narrow focus is needed in the criteria on workers from the local area who genuinely are a necessary part of the community infrastructure. The guiding principles of the Key Worker Housing programme, however, offer the next government a platform to support front-line public sector workers whose job requires them to live close to their workplace the chance to do so. A mix of new measures is then required involving local authorities and housing associations.

Reforms are firstly needed to increase the stock of Key Worker homes. Future capital funding programmes for Affordable Housing should be directed more towards the building of Key Worker homes. Public sector landowners like the NHS should also be encouraged to partner with housing associations that can build and manage affordable homes reserved for local Key Workers on their surplus land and property.

Local authorities and housing associations in areas where high housing costs are causing the most acute staffing challenges for front-line public services should, secondly, give greater priority to local Key Workers when allocating social housing. This will provide Key Workers a more immediate opportunity to access an affordable home.

Lastly, the Government should announce a Met Police Key Worker Housing Deal. This would be an important part of the Met’s recruitment drive, especially if the proposed 5,000 new officers are to come from London. To this end, London’s Affordable Homes Funding Programme should be topped up by £70 million to help finance the building of 2,500 affordable Key Worker homes specifically reserved for Met officers. Ministers should also consider extending the Forces Help to Buy scheme – this is a more generous version of the standard Help to Buy scheme – to help Met officers buy a home in London.

Both candidates hoping to lead the country after December’s election talk a lot about boosting public services and supporting vital public sector workers. Revitalising Key Worker Housing would show that they mean it.

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

Nick de Bois: Conservatives must not fall into Labour’s trap on the four-day week

Nick de Bois is the former MP for Enfield North. He was a member of the Government’s Serious Crime Task Force until his appointment as Chief of Staff to Dominic Raab at DExEU. He is the author of Confessions of a Recovering MP.

A traditional conservative response to Labours promise to introduce a 4-day week would be to rubbish it as unworkable, and fraught with difficulties, particularly for small business.

In short, essentially a classic left wing intervention to implement unrealistic costs on the enterprise economy in a clumsy attempt to win worker votes. After all, four days’ work for five days’ pay – what’s not to like?

However, before Conservatives rush to dismiss this latest policy announcement as economic madness, it’s worth noting Labour’s pitch is not just an economic one. It is also an appeal to a fast-changing work ethic in employees that employers up and down the country will recognise.

But first, the economic case for the four-day week deserves examining. On one point that both left and right will agree is that UK productivity is woeful, and John McDonnell argues a reduced working week will solve that problem.

Productivity has indeed basically flatlined since 2007, and the UK remains way behind our fellow group of the worlds seven leading economies – the G7. This in part explains why wage growth is poor, despite welcome recent improvements.

It means profitability of ‘UK plc’ is less than it should be, and that our workforce is broadly under-achieving – although this should not be confused with being lazy, as so many political and media commentators imply.

The upside to this grim summary is that by improving productivity we are presented with a win-win for government, business and employees.

For example, according to the 2017 Stoddart Review a one per cent productivity gain would represent, across the economy, an additional £20 billion national output. Translated further, that would represent a reduction in annual deficit of £8 billion (it currently at £17 billion) and add another £250 a year to an average pay packet, whilst companies’ profits could increase by £3.5 billion.

The key question for McDonnell’s approach is: would a widespread, top-down imposition of a four-day working week deliver that increase in productivity? In short, the answer is almost certainly no.

This is because it cannot and will not work on a uniform basis across all businesses and workforces, and the strain on the public sector would be huge. The evidence clearly supports that contention.

Advocates of the reduced week often point to the success of Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand. They manage over £200bn of assets, and the CEO argues that the policy has improved staff wellbeing and dramatically improved productivity.

But at the other end of the scale earlier this year the Wellcome Trust rowed back on its plans to implement a four-day working week, announced to much fanfare in April. They gave the not-unreasonable explanation that it became evident to them that work could have become harder for employees in back-office and support functions, such as IT, finance, and human resources. Two large organisations, two very different responses.

Even less ambitious programs for reducing the number of working hour have met huge difficulties. An example is Gothenburg’s municipal local government, which trialled a six-hour working day (reduced from eight). They did see significant wellbeing advantages in healthcare workers, but recognised employers would struggle to meet the costs of reducing working hours yet maintaining a 24/7 healthcare provision.

“Could we do this for the entire municipality? The answer is no, it will be too expensive,” said Daniel Bernmar, the Left Party councillor responsible for running Gothenburg’s elderly care in 2017. Imagine the financial challenge of introducing a four-day working week into our biggest employer: the NHS.

Labour’s proposal mandating a four-day working week through a complex series of measures simply won’t be right for every business or organisation, as the Wellcome Trust and others have found. It is a recipe either for chaos or for a massive climbdown should the Opposition ever come to power.

What should the Conservative response be? Both business leaders and employees are not stupid and will recognise the sop to employees Labour are making for what it is, an election bribe. But equally, when Labour talk about building a society where we don’t “live to work, but work to live” it will strike a chord with millions of people.

Therein lies the answer as to how Conservatives should respond to today’s Labour announcement: advocate a progressive and light-touch regulatory approach to flexible working that goes way beyond the current focus on maternity and paternity rights.

It may be politically attractive to focus on rights for parents, and we have done some great work from which to build on. Yet it is plainly inadequate to stop championing flexible working there and Conservatives, not Labour, should be filling the policy vacuum on the issue.

Such a move makes both economic and political sense. It is striking, for example, that flexible working is presently pretty much the preserve of white-collar workers.

Conservatives would do well to recognise that the relatively untapped benefits, both for employees and national productivity, of the blue-collar worker being able to enjoy flexible working are substantial and politically attractive. As workforce management consultants Quinx identified in their report “Powering the Power House“:

“If a greater proportion of UK employers took steps to address barriers to the recruitment, retention and productivity of workers in manual and elementary service roles in the as yet relatively conservative Blue Collar workplace, estimates show up to 7.6bn of productivity growth”.

That’s quite a contribution to the productivity gap Britain faces.

Both attitudes and the compotion of the workforce have changed dramatically in the last decade, and whilst some employers have been slow to recognise this political parties have been even slower. It is time for Conservatives to take action.

As Karen Mattison from leading employment specialists Timewise noted after the publication of their 2018 employee survey:

“The fact that flexible working has been seen as a women’s issue has not done women or businesses any favours. Today’s new research shows once and for all, that flexible working is a preferred way of working for both men and women at all stages of their working lives.”

Most strikingly the Timewise employee survey also noted, and many employers will recognise:

“Today’s workforce not only want flexible working they expect it. It’s time for businesses to get smarter and use flexibility as a tool to attract and keep the best people. Those who lag behind in adapting how they hire, will risk losing out on millions of skilled workers.”

Government, take note.

Labour’s crude, authoritarian approach to flexible working, with its focus on a four-day week, may be politically attractive to some. But it runs the risk of introducing a simple left-right divide on that single issue, and we fall into Labour’s trap if our response is to dismiss it out of hand.

A Conservative response can be more nuanced and more practical if we become advocates for progressive, flexible employment practices. There is an audience ready and waiting to respond positively to this message, should we chose to offer it.

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

Neil O’Brien: Corbynomics – and why it means that your house, business and savings don’t really belong to you,

Neil O’Brien is MP for Market Harborough.

What is Corbynomics? It goes without saying that it’s a much more extreme economic programme than Labour have ever had before. And that government will spend, tax and borrow more. But Labour have a lot more damaging, half-baked and dangerous ideas.

No-one is thinking about them at the moment, but the scary thing is that within weeks these ideas could be affecting your house, your pension and your job.

For me, the most frustrating thing is that Labour have identified various important issues, but their proposed “solutions” would make matters worse. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Seizing 10 per cent of all large companies’ shares

Lots of people, including me, worry that current corporate structures create pressures that make managers behave in a short-termist way, squeezing investment to hit short term profit targets and dragging down productivity growth. I’m concerned that publicly quoted firms are beholden to increasingly transient shareholders, interested in immediate returns. They certainly invest far less than privately owned firms who can take a longer-term view.

But my answer to this would be to change the tax treatment of investment, and increase capital allowances so that there’s no disincentive to invest.

Labour’s answer, in contrast, is to forcibly transfer 10 per cent of all companies shares to create a sort of employee-ownership-at-gunpoint.

This is a terrible idea, which would make investment into the UK dry up overnight. After all, if government can steal ten per cent of your shares, what’s to stop them coming back for the rest? Labour protest that the shares are not being stolen – just given to the workers. But that’s a lie, as they also propose that a Labour-run Treasury would take the great majority of the dividends that those shares attract. At the moment, these are owned by savings and pension funds – so the money is ultimately coming out of your pocket.

The total value of the shares stolen by government would be around £300 billion, according to the Financial Times. For comparison, raising the basic rate of tax by one per cent raises £4.5 billion a year, so you can see what a vast tax grab this would be.

Forcing people to sell their properties at a price set by government, and control rents

There are major issues about the balance of rented and owner-occupied property in Britain. We had a long period when the number of properties being moved into the rent-to-buy sector was outstripping the number built, meaning owner occupation fell dramatically. Between 1996 and 2016, the home ownership rate among middle income people aged 25-34 fell from 65 per cent to 27 per cent.

However, in 2015 the Conservative Government reformed the tax treatment of rent to buy and second homes, and in the years since we have seen homeownership rebounding upwards, with both ownership and the rented sector growing in a more balanced way. There are lots more things we could do to grow home ownership.

Corbynista Labour doesn’t really believe in home ownership. They are nostalgic for the world of the 1970s, where around two thirds of households in places like Islington lived in social housing. But they know ownership is popular.
So they have announced the “private sector right to buy”. This will give private tenants the right to make their landlords sell their properties to them at a discount.

In an interview last week, John McDonnell made it clear that government would set the price: “You’d want to establish what is a reasonable price, you can establish that and then that becomes the right to buy,” he said. “You (the government) set the criteria. I don’t think it’s complicated.”

It’s not complicated. But it is deeply unfair. It would be a retrospective raid on people’s assets. People, including some who are not so rich, have invested in property under certain rules, and would have their savings ripped off them, while other people who invested their money in other things would not. This is arbitrary and unreasonable and would I’m sure be challenged in the courts.

Labour would also set rental prices, promising in a recent document that “There should be a cap on annual permissible rent increases, at no more than the rate of wage inflation or consumer price inflation (whichever is lower).”

This is unworkable or will lead to under investment in rented properties. Why spend lots doing up a flat if you can’t charge more for an improved property? We would quickly be heading back to the 1970s, when there wasn’t enough rented accommodation to go round, and conditions were squalid because of rent controls.

Sectoral wage bargaining

With the National Living Wage, the Conservatives have introduced one of the highest minimum wages in the world. For the lowest paid, the National Living Wage plus the cuts in taxes for lower paid people mean that they take home £4,500 more than they did under the last Labour Government – while employment has soared to a record high. We should be really proud of our record.

However, the National Living Wage is still set by an independent body, and as percentage of average pay in the market, so there is a sensible link to what businesses can afford without sacking people.

In contrast, under Labour politicians would just set rates directly. Labour have also pledged to “roll out sectoral collective bargaining”. Labour said it would “fix the going rate” in each industry and “set fair conditions” for the sector. This would represent an end to the system whereby unions negotiate company by company and, instead, give them power effectively to set national standards on pay and conditions. A new government unit would work with unions to bring firms into line.

This means that if politicians or trade unions decide your business is part of a particular “sector” (a pretty subjective question) then you would be in line for a change in wages which your business might simply be unable to afford. The scope for union bullying and endless court cases and demarcation disputes is obvious. In the car industry, wages are high, so a sectoral wage would be high. If I make plastic bits for the car industry but also other industries, is my business in or out of the automotive sector?

Rebecca Long Bailey has also said that “Labour will also legislate to reduce pay inequality by introducing an Excessive Pay Levy on companies with staff on very high pay.” There is no detail on what the rules will be, but the idea of having wages directly controlled by Jeremy Corbyn is likely to deter inward investment.

What do these ideas have in common?

When New Labour left office, a million people had been thrown on the dole, we’d had the deepest recession since the second world war and government was borrowing more than at any time in our whole peacetime history. In the final year alone, they borrowed £7,900 for every family in Britain.

And that was New Labour. Imaging what the country would look like after Corbyn and McDonnell.

Where Corbyn’s ideas really differ from previous Labour leaders is that he doesn’t really believe in the rule of law. Your house, your business, your savings: all these things don’t really belong to you, in Corbyn’s eyes: you have them only as long as the government suffers you to have them, and they can be retrospectively taken away if he sees fit. In the week Robert Mugabe died, we’ve seen underlined just how important the rule of law is. But under Corbynomics, it would be the first casualty.

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

Chloe Westley: Public sector pay – and why centralised bargaining must end

Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

During Theresa May’s final weeks in office, in an attempt to build a legacy which is separate to Brexit, several new policies have been announced. Zero net emissions by 2050, a new quango to tackle injustices, a consultation on paternity leave. And, in what could be one of her final decisions as Prime Minister, the Treasury will announce today that public sector staff will be receiving a pay rise.

Perhaps these are policies that May has always wanted to implement, but never got around to. A sense of urgency and a deadline can often galvanize us into action. Or perhaps – more cynically – she sat down and wrote a list of policies designed to sound virtuous and noble at future panel events, so that she could discuss something other than Brexit. I’m an optimist, and like to think that the Prime Minister really does believe in something, even if I don’t agree with each and every announcement.

But is it reasonable to expect the next leader of the Conservative Party to simply shrug their shoulders and accept all of these new policies? For in addition to building on her legacy, the Prime Minister is backing the next leader into a corner on several issues – including public sector pay.

The £2 billion for this public sector pay increase is expected to be paid out of existing budgets, so it wouldn’t be inconceivable for a new leader to suggest that this money be spent in other areas. However, it would certainly be difficult politically to reverse the decision, and that is perhaps why the Prime Minister has rushed to announce it.

It would of course be preferable to give both public and private sector staff a pay-rise by lowering income tax and allowing everyone to keep more of their money. However, this may be considered too radical by many in the Conservative Party. The modern Party – at least at the parliamentary level – has well and truly shifted away from the free market individualism championed by Margaret Thatcher.

So in lieu of giving every hard-pressed employee a pay rise through tax cuts – both public and private sector alike – it might be nice to think we could target the £2 billion pay rise at frontline staff, not well-remunerated bureaucrats. All too often, those already in well paid positions in the public sector are rewarded with bonuses and pay increases, whilst front-line staff seem to be less of a priority.

For example, the Mayor of London has given pay-rises for top earners in City Hall, with those earning £100,000 salaries up 25 per cent since Khan took office in May 2016. And, in 2017, the TaxPayers’ Alliance revealed that senior managers in the NHS had seen their pay increase three times more than nurses over 7 years.

On the other hand, it must be the case that a handful of teachers are not performing well. At the same time, others will have driven drastic improvements in their classes. Increasing the pay of public sector staff on the lowest incomes might sound desirable, but it also might not be especially fair in terms of performance.

The real culprit here is centralised pay bargaining. It means that pay rises must largely be across the board. Past TPA research showed that ending centralised bargaining can save billions over time.

If the Conservative Party seeks to be the party of law and order, then you might think that it’s essential that some of May’s £2 billion goes towards the retention of police officers with targeted pay rises. In London, we’ve seen that the Mayor can’t be trusted to allocate funds where they are most needed, which has resulted in a failure to tackle crime as effectively as his predecessor. Nationally, you could argue that the government can’t afford to make the same mistake by wasting taxpayers’ money on such unnecessary projects as HS2, on hundreds of quangos and pay-rises for senior bureaucrats – whilst failing to get the basics right.

It’s unlikely that the next Prime Minister will be able to row back on this promise to give public sector staff a pay rise. He may not want to do so, in any case. But,i n the long term, if politicians would like to demand that pay rises go towards those on the frontline, and use them as recruitment and retention for those services or ensure they are based on performance, then centralised pay bargaining will have to be tackled.

More broadly, it’s encouraging that both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson are committed to keeping taxes low, and I hope that in the months ahead Britain will not only be freed from the European Union, but from the 50 year high tax burden as well. Lowering income tax would give every employee in the country a well deserved pay-rise, and be a fantastic way to boost economic growth post-Brexit.

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

The next Prime Minister should scrap the Office for Tackling Injustices

Now that it has happened, it feels as if there was something inevitable about Theresa May’s scramble for a legacy leading her to try to create at least one new quango.

They’re the ultimate ‘legacy’ vehicle: a publicly-funded body which will continue to pursue your agenda – proudly independent of political oversight from your usurpers or political opponents – long after you have left office.

Even as an example of the genre, however, the Prime Minister’s mooted ‘Office for Tackling Injustices’ is an eye-poppingly bad idea. As Guido Fawkes points out, as currently planned it would simply duplicate a range of data-gathering functions already performed, at public expense, by bodies such as the Office for National Statistics.

But its worse than that. Like so much of May’s “burning injustices” agenda, ‘OfTI’ implicitly prejudges its own data. Its very name conflates disparate outcomes – which can arise from a huge range of factors, not all of them linked to discrimination – with ‘injustice’. Moreover, since these trends will take decades to solve (to the extent that they are soluble or need solving) its reports will inevitably and indefinitely be a stick with which to beat future Conservative governments and apply leverage to Labour’s levelling-down agenda.

Yet the problems with OfTI go beyond the specific flaws in the design of one particular quangos. This last gasp of Mayisme reflects a broader, deeply problematic trend of politicians outsourcing responsibility to the quasi-independent sector.

Another recent example of this is Jeremy Hunt’s idea of an independent infrastructure commission to make decisions on matters such as airport expansion. Whilst it is easy to understand where this comes from – successive governments have proven utterly woeful at making big calls in this area – it is nonetheless deeply flawed. Not only would it be wrong in principle for voters to have nobody to hold to account for such decisions, but experience suggests that politics would get in the way in any event. Just look at how MPs reacted when the independent body they created to set their pay recommended an increase.

Over the past few years I have written about several dimensions of the quango problem, such as how it erodes political accountability and ministerial responsibility, and suggested possible remedies such as making quango appointments explicitly political.

But I have also written about the fact that Conservatives ought to be much more willing to reverse bad measures when they get the chance, rather than just resigning themselves to any policy which makes it over the line.

To that end, May’s successor should not just kick OfTI “into the long grass”, as the Sun reports. They should scrap it – and get a taste for scrapping quangos whilst they’re at it.

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Clark Vasey: Only Johnson can deliver Blue Collar Conservatism

Clark Vasey is the founder of Blue Collar Conservatism and was the Conservative Candidate for Workington in 2017

Since we first set up Blue Collar Conservatism in 2012, I have worked with Esther McVey to encourage the Conservatives to focus on the working class voters who have been taken for granted by Labour. They have been consistently let down by that party, and have been turning to the Conservatives in greater numbers than any other group. With the election of Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of posh metropolitan socialism followed by the Leave victory in the EU referendum, we were well placed to achieve an historic realignment.  But in 2017 with a Brexit message diluted by unpopular policies we lost ground.

With our failure to deliver Brexit, what was once an opportunity now poses an existential threat to the party. Rather than winning over working class voters we now risk losing them hand over fist to the Brexit Party, as both the European elections and the Peterborough by-election demonstrate.

If we are still in the EU come 1 November, we risk irreparably breaching trust with these voters and offering Corbyn a route to power. Yet if we can deliver a proper Brexit at the end of October, thereby depriving Nigel Farage of his narrative of betrayal, then the potential of connecting with these voters remains. Corbyn does not speak for working- class people and, with Tom Watson determined to turn Labour into a party for metropolitan remainers, Labour are dropping any pretence of speaking for its traditional communities.

This is why Esther relaunched Blue Collar Conservatism earlier this year. Once we have delivered Brexit, we must build an agenda for working people by focusing on the issues which matter most to them. Being on the side of the people who need us most is not only the right thing to do, but is the only way in which we can win a majority. And it is only with that majority that we can keep out the most destructive socialist government in our history, and transform our country with the opportunities which will follow leaving the EU.

I was proud to support Esther in a campaign which put Blue Collar Conservatism on the agenda of this leadership contest. When the dust has settled, people will look back and see that she presented the most coherent and costed campaign in this contest.

This was possible because we applied three simple principles of Blue Collar Conservatism – 1) that resources should be focused on things which really matter to people, 2) that we must always ensure people are able to keep more of their own money and 3) that we must use Conservative policies to grow the economy to enable us to do 1 and 2.

You do not win working class voters by dipping into Ed Miliband’s bag of tricks. We need a Conservative agenda which delivers the things which really matter, not watered-down Labour policies.

This is what Esther did with her calls for more spending on police and schools funded by taking the DfID budget back to 2010 levels. This why Esther talked about public sector pay and fantastic initiatives such as a new Police Covenant. This was about genuinely shifting the dial on these issues which cause us huge pain in constituencies across the country. It was also about challenging orthodoxies within the party such as the 0.7 per cent of GDP on international aid, which would have an important symbolic effect of showing we are listening, and are not just focused on Westminster priorities.

Over the coming weeks and months Blue Collar Conservatism will continue to make the case that the party must win over the support of working people, particularly in the Midlands and the North. Esther’s Blue Collar Conversations pub tour is making its way around the country talking to people who would not normally engage with Conservatives. This is helping us build up a body of ideas which our voters and potential voters actually want. But the most important challenge for us now is that the new leader recognises the importance of this agenda for our party and our country. This is why it was so welcome that Boris Johnson endorsed Esther’s Blue Collar agenda.

When it comes to shaping a popular agenda incorporating Blue Collar Conservatism there is only one remaining candidate in the contest, and that is Johnson. This is not about an individual’s background, but their ability to connect with people and present radical Conservative policies which will make a positive difference to them.

However, first we must deliver Brexit. If we are not out of the EU by 31 October we will never be given a hearing on what comes after, no matter how positive. Johnson is the only candidate who can restore trust on Brexit and deliver Blue Collar policies which will secure a Conservative majority and keep Corbyn out of Downing Street.

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