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Westlake Legal Group > Regionalism

WATCH: “It’s not for government to step in and save companies that simply run into trouble,” declares Johnson

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Eddie Hughes: Yes, let’s move CCHQ resources to the regions. But do so authentically.

Eddie Hughes is MP for Walsall North.

Last month’s produced the largest Conservative majority since 1987, ended the Brexit impasse and saw the emergence of Blue Collar Conservatism – now the true voice of hard working people up and down this country. It’s vital that we demonstrate that we are worthy of the trust that these voters have placed in us.

With this in mind, one proposal being considered is the idea of slimming down the Conservative Party’s Central Office (CCHQ) in London and moving its resources to the regions. But this must go beyond mere symbolism. If we are going to set up a CCHQ in the regions we must do so in a manner that does not patronise nor condescend to those we are seeking to serve.

We can learn a number of lessons from the BBC’s decision to relocate large parts of its operation from London to Salford in 2011, in an attempt to create more specialised content and to boost their approval ratings in the North.

The BBC’s plans to better serve its audience in the North, by having northern people creating television shows that would appeal to a northern audience, appear not to have been realised. The 2017 National Audit Office report found that a total of 894 members of the existing London staff had been paid relocation allowances worth a total of £16 million – with just 39 people from Salford having been recruited to work at the new Salford based HQ. What’s the point of re-locating if you’re still almost exclusively employing people from London and not the area you’re moving to?

Dominic Cummings is thinking along the right lines. His blog proposed an unorthodox approach to the recruitment of new staff for Number Ten. I’m not suggesting that we adopt the same approach for the regional CCHQ office, but it would be appropriate to experiment with new ways of identifying talented people who may not naturally apply for such roles.

A similarly unorthodox approach has been adopted by a number of leading organisations, keen to move away from restricted talent pools, often exclusively made up of students at Russell Group universities with at least a 2:1 degree. Instead, they are choosing to focus on school leavers and unearthing the hidden talent that already exists in the labour market.

The publisher Penguin Random House, for example, has removed the ‘degree filter’ from its recruitment process, so that academic qualifications no longer act as a barrier to talented people entering the industry. Job applicants are encouraged to demonstrate their potential, creativity, strengths and ideas.

The advertising firm J Walter Thompson (JWT) has enacted an innovative recruitment process, moving away from its reliance on university leavers as its default source of talent. JWT has adopted a ‘blind CV’ recruitment, which will no longer be looked at until the candidates are whittled down to a much later stage. Instead, applicants are now asked to answer six questions which demonstrate their skills and suitability for the job, and their answers are used to assess them for interview selection. This has led to JWT focusing on candidates’ skills and talents rather than academic opportunity and achievement.

What surprised me most of all is how forward-looking our Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) has become. The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) recently ranked MI6 in the top 75 UK employers who have taken the most action on social mobility. In a bid to attract talented individuals who might not otherwise consider themselves to be suitable candidates, MI6 has launched a new recruitment programme aimed at increasing the number of female, ethnic minority and working class recruits.

Rather than focusing on academic credentials, candidates are being judged on the suitability of their skills to the role with job adverts focusing particularly on their problem-solving abilities, enthusiasm, team spirit and their determination to make a positive impact. MI6 continues to work hard to broaden its appeal and has committed to create a workplace that is representative of the country it serves. The Conservative Party would do well to follow its lead.

If we really are becoming the Party of Blue Collar Conservatives, capable of representing and reflecting the voices of hard working people up and down this country, our Party must be the change that we want to see.

The Prime Minister gets it. He has said many times that former Labour voters have “lent” us their votes for this election. So if we are to deserve their continued support, we need a wholesale upheaval of CCHQ, not just short-term, virtue-signalling tampering.

In December 2019, the Conservative Party took down the so-called Labour red wall across North Wales, the Midlands and Northern England. If we get this right, we have a once in a generation chance to obliterate it forever, to put the Labour Party into the dusty history books and to put in its place a Party that truly cares, understands and is equipped to improve the lives of so many people.

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Damian Green: Labour’s dishonest attack on us this week will only work if we narrow our appeal

Damian Green is a former First Secretary of State.  He is Chair of the One Nation Caucus and MP for Ashford.

The cover of Labour’s Conference Guide this year is full of the usual upbeat (and of course impractical) promises: “More doctors and nurses”, “Free bus passes”, “Reduced class sizes”. You only have to turn the page to find what they really want to talk about-a distortion of what today’s Conservative is about.

The Welcome to Conference message contains a familiar dishonest litany. “The impact of almost ten years of Tory austerity is clear; in work poverty, Universal Credit, NHS Funding Cuts, regional inequality, and acts of malice like scrapping free TV licenses”……”We need a Government that will work for the common good, not just to reward the rich.”

Of course it’s unfair propaganda. The new element is that Corbyn’s Labour seeks constantly to make this attack personal. They want to create an atmosphere where every individual Tory must by definition be cruel and unfeeling, as well as rich and posh. From the “Never kissed a Tory” badges to Labour MPs saying they could never be friendly with Tory colleagues, the Labour attack is a calculated part of modern culture wars. The aim is not just short-term political advantage, but a long-term wish to make individuals who espouse Conservative values seem unfit for decent society. The more this attack succeeds, the more difficult it is for us to attract new supporters, particularly young supporters. So we have to refute it strongly and effectively.

As ever, the most effective argument follows the rule “show, don’t tell”. Throughout its history, the Conservative Party has been at the forefront of social reforms which have helped the poor and disadvantaged, flatly disproving the Labour thesis. Paul Goodman is writing a series of articles on ConHome this week showing this repeated phenomenon.

Modern history is equally full of evidence of this vital strain of Conservatism which seeks to bind society together by ensuring that no one is left behind. Some of the most neglected communities in the country in the early 1980s, from East London to Liverpool, have been utterly transformed by the practical energy displayed by Michael Heseltine. Where there was once dereliction and despair, there is now prosperity and hope, thanks to Conservative Governments.

The Environment is another issue where lazy or malevolent commentators assume the left must have the best tunes. In fact, the first prominent British politician to realise its central importance was Margaret Thatcher. Bringing the story more up to date, David Cameron was equally seized of its importance (at least in his younger, more idealistic days). We still remember the huskies. The current Conservative Government will certainly continue this honourable tradition, and we should all publicly proclaim it. Vote Blue Go Green should be a slogan for the ages.

We should also be relentless in pointing out how the children of poorer households have benefitted from Conservative education reforms over recent years. All of this was outweighed by the anger of teachers at the last general election over spending levels during the period of austerity, so it is very important that the extra spending that will be made in schools in the coming years is accompanied by a continuing commitment to reform. For example, Michael Gove’s Free Schools are a great innovation which would certainly be killed by a Labour Government.

Equally, for all of its teething problems we can be proud of Universal Credit. The best argument for how it is helping benefit recipients is the historically low level of unemployment. The fact that it is always better to work, and always better to work longer hours, is the biggest single change in the benefit system since Beveridge, and it is good news for those on benefits as well as for the general health of society. Work is always the best long-term route out of poverty, and we should happy to argue with the Left on this point.

So we are able to show numerous examples where practical Conservative policies are hard-headed but not remotely hard-hearted. By contrast, they are helping people who have no advantages make the most of themselves and share in rising prosperity. Now we have moved out of the period of austerity this is an easier argument to make, so we can be more aggressive in calling out Labour’s attempts to demonise all of us.

At the same time, we must be vigilant in not giving Labour the chance to claim that the moderate Conservative tradition is in danger. This is not the article in which to discuss in detail the removal of the Whip from some of my colleagues, but it is absolutely the place to remind us all that the One Nation tradition is a central part of conservatism, and its underlying insight that the Conservative duty is to bind society together is more important than ever in these troubled times.

The biggest task for any Conservative is to convince a dubious electorate that properly regulated capitalism is the best system both for creating wealth and for spreading it fairly. We will need the maximum number of supporters, and the full breadth of all Conservative traditions to make this argument with force. At a time when Labour is determined to convince the non-political majority that Conservatives are basically evil, it is more important than ever that we demonstrate on a daily basis that we are the normal, decent majority in this country.

Even in the short term we should remember that the Liberal Democrats attract some normally Conservative voters in the same way that the Brexit Party does. We need to be careful on both our flanks. A strategy of delivering Brexit and simultaneously demonstrating that we can improve public services to the benefit of everyone is not just the best approach for the coming election, but the most convincing way of dismissing the Labour smear about our underlying motives.

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

Neil O’Brien: How to rebalance Britain’s unbalanced economy – by levelling up, not levelling down

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Even Brexit, it turns out, is about location, location, location. Ben Ansell, an Oxford professor, has found that in wealthier areas, where the price of a house averages £500,000, 70 per cent voted to remain. Poorer areas, where the average house price was £100,000, were an exact mirror image, with 70 per cent voting to leave.

Like a disclosing tablet, the EU referendum highlighted the different economic experiences of different places over recent decades: booming London and the most prosperous home counties voted to Remain, as did Scotland, the next richest part of the country. The reviving cores of our large cities did likewise. But smaller towns and cities, the countryside and coastal places voted overwhelmingly to Leave, as did Wales.

In response, Boris Johnson recently set out his ambition to “level up” poorer areas in a fantastic speech in Manchester. It’s the right thing to do – and it makes political sense too. The 2017 election saw us losing ground in wealthier-but-Remainy areas, and gaining former Labour seats in the midlands (and north) which we’d never gained before. We have huge potential to win in seats where people have felt taken for granted and left behind for many decades.

The economic case for levelling up is clear too. There are no G20 countries which have a more regionally imbalanced economy than the UK and are also richer than the UK. Conversely, all large countries that are richer per head than the UK have a more balanced economy.

In other words, a more balanced economy is a stronger one. In a highly unbalanced economy, resources like land and infrastructure end up overloaded in some parts of the country, and under-used in others, which is costly and wasteful. Given that workers (particularly lower skilled people) don’t simply move away from their families in the face of local economic problems, having greater distances between unemployed workers and job opportunities may well compound problems matching people to job opportunities. There might even be compounding mechanisms: if some areas have high unemployment that can lock in patterns of worklessness.

But to bring about a more balanced economy, there are two big lessons that the Prime Minister must draw from previous successes and failures.

First, the crucial thing is to attract private sector employment – particularly jobs that are knowledge and investment-intensive. The work of academics like Enrico Moretti and think tanks like the Centre for Cities shows how gaining “brain jobs” in the private sector has a much bigger multiplier effect than just moving public sector jobs to an area.

Tax breaks for inward investment can be very effective in attracting in new investment, which is why most other countries offer them. Within the UK, probably our most successful ever regional intervention was Margaret Thatcher luring Nissan to Sunderland with a mix of investment tax breaks, lobbying and the offer of cheap land (an old airfield). It’s now one of the most successful plants in the world.

When people think about regeneration, they often start with plans for a new tram or shiny cultural facility, which tend to be popular, and can indeed help growth in areas that are already motoring along. But such investments aren’t going to do much for areas where the economic engine has rusted up and needs restarting. Detroit famously built a fancy monorail intended to fight its economic decline: but in a city where every factory was gone it remained largely unused, drifting through a city that looked like it had been bombed flat. Without private sector investment, there’s no demand for it or anything much else.

Second, different things work in different places and a different set of policies are needed for our towns than our city centres. During the 1970s and 1980s the “inner cities” were a byword for decline. But in recent decades capital cities and the centres of other larger cities have outperformed other areas, right across the world. The shift from a manufacturing to a professional services economy (plus the growth of universities) revived the centres of our cities.

There are still many problems to solve in our cities, but the places that have struggled the most in recent decades have been rural areas, smaller towns and cities, and the outer parts of large cities (even outer London). Places on the coast and places without a university have suffered particularly badly from a brain drain. Labour have tried to capitalise on their discontent with glossy ads like their film “our town”.

What to do for towns is even trickier than helping big cities grow. Though there are trendy small towns from Hebden Bridge to Hay-on-Wye, simply copying ideas from big cities, like “culture-led regeneration”, is often a recipe for failure in small towns.

Improving connections between city centres and towns might help – Tom Forth has highlighted just how bad we are at this in Britain. The Prime Minister’s new fund to help regenerate town centres is a good move and will make them more attractive. We should do things like re-examine funding historic funding formulas for government spending on science, transport and housing, which are still heavily geared towards supporting London and other areas that are already growing fast. And we should offer devolved economic powers to counties, not just big cities.
The more we can use free market mechanisms to help poorer towns, the more likely we are to succeed.

Looking at Britain as a whole, chronically low investment rates are a big part of our long-term productivity problem. We should cut taxes on business investment across the whole country, and make the UK’s capital allowances among the most generous in the world (at present they’re among the least).

But to level up poorer areas we should go further, and have even more generous tax breaks for investment there, where the problem of low investment and low productivity is most severe. We should also empower the Department for International Trade to take part in the same aggressive tax competition for inward investment that countries in Asia, the US, and our neighbours in Ireland do so successfully. And we should use those tools to encourage inward investment into poorer places.

More generous capital allowances would help lagging regions anyway, even if introduced across the board. 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. Manufacturing requires roughly twice as much capital investment as the rest of the economy, so an investment-hostile tax system hits poorer places harder.

Ever since the referendum, there’s rightly been renewed focus on how to help poorer places. Helpfully there is decades of evidence about what does and doesn’t work. If we can join up an energetic new Prime Minister with the bit between his teeth, plus a new agenda for left-behind places, then we can really get things moving.

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

Ryan Bourne: To help grow prosperity, let’s focus on people and not places – such as towns

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Stian Westlake describes it as the “Strange Death of Tory Economic Thinking”. Conservatives have ceased telling an economic story about why they should govern, and how. Sure, there’s still the odd infrastructure announcement, or tax change. But, since Theresa May became leader, the governing party has shirked articulating a grand economic narrative for its actions.

This is striking and problematic. From Macmillan to Thatcherism to deficit reduction, the party’s success has coincided with having clear economic agendas, gaining credibility for taking tough decisions in delivering a shared goal. But, arguably, deficit reduction masked a secular decline in interest in economics. David Cameron and George Osborne, remember, wanted to move on to social and environmental issues until the financial crisis and its aftermath slapped them in the face.

Now, with the deficit down, economics is in the back seat. Fiscal events are low key and economic advisors back room. To the extent the dismal science is discussed, it’s as a means to other ends, or a genuflect to “Karaoke Thatcherism.”

In short, I think Westlake is right: the Tories do not have an economic story and, post-Brexit, it would be desirable if they did. So we should thank both him and Sam Bowman (formerly of the Adam Smith Institute), who have attempted to fill the vacuum. In a rich and interesting new paper, the pair set out to diagnose our key economic ailments and develop a Conservative-friendly narrative and policy platform to ameliorate them, even suggesting reform of the Right’s institutions and think-tanks in pursuit of the goals.

Such an effort deserves to be taken seriously, though not everyone will agree with their starting premises. It is assumed, for example, that Conservatives believe in markets and want to maintain fiscal discipline, which bridles against recent musings from Onward or thinkers such as David Skelton.

But, again, the key economic problem they identify is incontrovertible: poor economic growth. Weak productivity improvements since the crash have been both politically and economically toxic, lowering wages, investment returns, and necessitating more austerity to get the public finances in structural order. And the nature of modern innovation, arising from clusters and intangible assets, means that growth that is experienced isn’t always broadly shared.

Their agenda’s aim then is to achieve both concurrently: maximize the potential of the economy by taking policy steps on planning, tax policy, infrastructure, and devolution, to increase investment levels, allow successful cities and towns to grow, and to connect “left behind” places to local growth spots through good infrastructure. None of their ideas are crazy. Indeed, I would support the vast majority of them.

And yet, something bothered me about their narrative. In line with the current zeitgeist, they too discuss “places” and their potential, as if towns and cities are autonomous beings. My fear is this focus – shared by those who want to regenerate “left behind” areas – creates unrealistic expectations about what policies can achieve in a way that undermines a pro-market agenda. Importantly, it warps what we should really care about: “left behind” people, not left behind places.

A people-centred narrative recognises that just as firms fail in the face of changing consumer demands and global trends, so high streets, towns, cities, and even regions will shrink too. As Tim Leunig once said, coastal
and river cities that developed and thrived in a heavy manufacturing, maritime nineteenth century world might not be best placed to flourish in a service sector era of air and rail.

A true pro-market policy agenda would admit -and that’s ok. Or at least, it should be, provided we understand that raising growth and sharing prosperity requires adaptation, not regeneration. That means removing barriers for people either to move to new opportunities or have control to adapt their situations to ever-changing circumstances. This might sound Tebbit-like (“get on your bike”), but really it’s just saying policy must work with market signals, not against them.

Today though, interventions actively work in a sort of one-two-three punch against inclusive growth and adjustment. First, we constrain the growth of flourishing cities. Tight land use planning laws around London, Oxford, and Cambridge contribute to very high rents and house prices, and prevent these places benefiting from growing to obtain thicker agglomeration effects.

This contributes to the “left behind” scandal, but not in the way people imagine. When rents and house prices are higher in London and the South East and we subsidse home ownership or council housing elsewhere, it’s low productivity workers from poor regions that find it most difficult to move given housing cost differentials. As a result, they get locked into poorer cities and towns that would otherwise shrink further. That’s why Burnley, Hull and Stoke are the most egalitarian cities in the country, whereas prosperous London, Cambridge and Oxford are the most unequal, even as inequality between regions has intensified.

Having restricted people’s mobility through bad housing policy, we then impose one-size-fits-all solutions and subsidies which dampen market signals further. National minimum wages, fiscal transfers, national pay bargaining, and more, might be designed to alleviate hardship, but they deter poorer regions from attracting new businesses and industries by trading on their market cost advantages. Then, to top that off, we compound the problem further by centralising tax and spending powers, preventing localities from prioritising their spending and revenue streams to their own economic needs.

Now, as it happens, Bowman and Westlake’s policy agenda is perfectly compatible with assisting  “people” rather than “places,” precisely because it’s market-based. They advocate planning liberalisation, a flexible right to buy, and stamp duty, all of which would improve labour mobility. They prioritise infrastructure spending based on benefit-cost ratios, making investments more profitable with sensible tax changes, and devolving more transport power to regions and localities. All, again, will help facilitate areas adapting to changed economic conditions, rather than reviving Labour’s failed top-down regeneration attempts.

But pitching this as a city and town agenda still risks creating the false impression that the net gains from “creative destruction” nevertheless can be achieved without the destruction, and that all places can thrive in the right policy environment.

One can understand why they framed it in this way. Their aim is to persuade the party and its MPs of their platform. Anti-market commentators would call them fatalistic and “abandoning” places if they acknowledged the downside, as if facilitating more free choice amounts to design.

Successful past Tory economic narratives, though, willingly acknowledged hard truths. Deficit reduction entailed tough choices to curb spending. Thatcherism entailed making the case for letting inefficient industries fail. If a new Tory vision is serious about raising productivity growth and spreading opportunity for people, it will have to confront the inevitable market-based adaptation for some places.

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

Andy Street: My seven tests to find the right Prime Minister for the West Midlands

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

So the race is on, and the stakes could not be higher. The prize may be the ultimate one, but the responsibility is daunting: to unite the party, to deliver Brexit, but more significantly – to defeat the twin perils of Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage, to turn our backs on false populism, and demonstrate that the centre of British politics can once again deliver radical thinking and dramatic outcomes for our citizens. It’s been done before, by Macmillan, Thatcher and Cameron, and no less a re-invention is required now.

Against that background, I have decided that instead of endorsing a candidate I should set out seven tests for any future Prime Minister.  These are chosen not from a factional or ideological standpoint, but from what I see doing the job of Mayor. I firmly believe they are in the interests of the people of the West Midlands.

They build on the strong economic legacy of the last nine years and on the value set of Theresa May. They also accelerate the radical thinking started by David Cameron towards devolution, whilst acknowledging the challenges of urban Britain which have persisted whilst government has been focused on Brexit.

So, the West Midlands needs a Prime Minister who –

1) Is restless in tackling the real issues which matter locally

That means providing well-paid jobs, quality housing, and skills for the fourth industrial revolution, as well as facing the challenges of climate change and the future of our town centres. These are the issues that voters care about. They want to see innovation and tangible outcomes.

A new leader will also support and recognise the crucial role of public services locally; the NHS, Councils and the police, and fund each of them appropriately.

The key will be leadership, both to galvanise original thinking and to deliver real change through government at all levels.

2) Understands the Power of Business as a Force for Good

The new Prime Minister will value responsible businesses which create jobs, drive the economy, and support wellbeing. That means giving them what they need: stability, infrastructure, skills, transport, and fair taxation. In particular, hard-working small businesses and entrepreneurs must know that they are valued. We must forge ahead with adopting new technology such as gigabit broadband, 5G and online public services.

3)  Champions realism over Ideology

First and foremost, the new Prime Minister must deliver a Brexit which honours the referendum result whilst meeting the economic needs of the West Midlands. Then they have to win the argument that a modern, mixed economy can work for everyone, and thus deliver the aspirations of the millennial generation. They will be unfaltering in sharing their economic vision and ideas, and thus restore public confidence and hope. While protecting the market’s freedom to deliver, they must be willing to intervene where necessary, for example in the provision of affordable homes.

4) Recognises the Importance of the Regions

With three quarters of The UK’s GDP generated outside London, vibrant nations and regions are critical to our success. Cities, towns and rural communities need the support of Government to create a strong but more balanced economy, and a fairer society.

A firm pledge to support HS2, as part of a comprehensive investment in addressing historic underinvestment in regional infrastructure, is the most clear signal of a commitment to Britain beyond London. HS2 is the modern hallmark of a One Nation party, as it will literally unite the country and drive regeneration in the Midlands and the North. Turning back on this commitment would be unthinkable.

The new Prime Minister will also understand the critical importance of communities who have not shared in economic success, and be a passionate advocate of addressing the underlying issues of driving aspiration and opportunity.

5) Sees the Role All Our Communities Have to Play

Our new Prime Minister needs to be a visible champion of all faiths, ethnicities and under-represented groups. They must demonstrate that they believe in the unique power of communities to work together to create a harmonious country where mixing is a source of innovation and enrichment.

They must be brave and principled in addressing any injustices, as May pledged.

6) Reaches Beyond the Comfortable to Those Who Are Struggling

The new Prime Minister must truly believe that the ultimate test of any society is the way in which it supports the less fortunate.

For example, the British public know that homelessness and the use of foodbanks in the UK today is wrong. They want someone who understands, listens and has a serious plan to sort it out.

They will face up to social challenges: how do we, as a society, support those with mental health problems, and how do we respond to communities blighted by crime and substance abuse? However, all of this requires more than just warm words – there must be a concrete plan of action, with serious Government cash set aside to tackle such issues.

7) Lives life as an optimist

Finally, we need a Prime Minister who believes in Britain, the British people, and our role in the world as an example of liberal values and individual rights.

A new Prime Minister must bring a new lease of life to the country, and a new wave of optimism after the gruelling Brexit debates of the last few months. They must lead Britain as an outward-looking, internationalist country, that takes global responsibility naturally.

He or she must be a unionist, but with a respect for the differences between our nations and regions, cherishing what makes us proud locally, but as part of one United Kingdom.

For us in the West Midlands, this means grasping opportunities such as Coventry hosting the City of Culture in 2021, and Birmingham welcoming the Commonwealth Games in 2022. We need our Prime Minister to be a cheerleader around the world.

Above all else, the new Conservative leader must be someone who can win. We are at a historic moment for the party and the country. Our new leader will need to navigate the waters of Brexit negotiations, and fight Corbyn. But they also need to set out a powerful new domestic agenda which lifts up and inspires communities like ours in the West Midlands. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and I hope that MPs, members, and the country will make a good choice.

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