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Westlake Legal Group > Transport

Neil O’Brien: So you want to level up. In what way? And how will you do it?

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2020-01-26-at-11.26.11 Neil O’Brien: So you want to level up. In what way? And how will you do it? Young People Yorkshire Wandsworth wages Unemployment uneml Transport Standard of Living south Sandwell Older people North East North minimum wage London jobs housing Highlights Hartlepool growth Government GDP Equality employment economic growth Culture Columnists chesterfield Birmingham Anand Menon


Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Anand Menon has a telling anecdote from the EU referendum campaign. Making a speech in Newcastle, he said economists were forecasting a plunge in GDP if we voted to leave. He was interrupted by a female heckler: “That’s your bloody GDP. Not ours.”

She’s not alone in feeling that national statistics don’t reflect the experience of her area.  The Prime Minister says he wants to “level up” poorer places. I think that’s great. But how should we measure whether we are succeeding? In fact, why do we want to do this?

In one sense, the answer’s obvious. We just won a huge majority by gaining seats in places we’ve rarely or never held. Places that voted to leave, feel ignored by Westminster and left out of growth. But there are good policy reasons as well.

For Conservatives, the sorts of things we might do to level up (like helping attract new jobs to a town with high unemployment) might be more attractive ways of spreading opportunity than lefty solutions like increasing benefits. Handups not handouts.

Levelling up might mean fixing imbalances caused by government itself: much of the government’s most growth-enhancing government spending (transport, housing, research, culture) is currently skewed towards London.
We might want to level up because a more even distribution of economic activity is correlated with stronger economic growth overall. It’s striking that there are no major economies that are richer per head than Britain and have a more unbalanced economy.

Levelling up could mean regenerating poorer areas, meaning we no longer have resources like land and infrastructure overloaded in some places, while underused elsewhere. People don’t simply leave their homes in the face of local economic problems. That’s particularly true of lower earners who rely more on family networks for help.

Levelling up mean could closing the gap between unemployed workers and job opportunities, again increasing growth overall. A more even pattern of growth might lead to higher levels of wellbeing as well as growth. Do we really all want to cram into London and the Home Counties? Rather than being crowded into tiny flats in a couple of congested cities, wouldn’t we rather spread out, and live in bigger houses with gardens?

But what exactly are we trying to level up where? And how will we measure it?

First, we need to look at smaller areas, not just big regions. We aren’t just interested in the difference between say, Yorkshire and London, but in the differences within them. Places with problems can be right next to places that are booming, although places that are isolated tend to do worst.

Second, we need to take a rounded view of levelling up, not just have one measure. Our measures should include whether we are getting unemployment down and employment up. The data on employment is reliable even for small areas. Differences between areas have shrunk as unemployment has been slashed. But in local authorities like Chesterfield, Hartlepool and Birmingham, the unemployment rate is still over eight per cent – twice the national average.

We could look at people’s own reported well being. But the data from government surveys doesn’t have a big enough sample size to tell you anything reliable about local areas. In so far as there are patterns, there’s not much government can do to influence them: people seem to be happier in more rural areas, but we can’t move the Lake District to London.

Measuring people’s incomes needs to be part of measuring progress – but we need to be careful about what metric we use, because different measures give different results.

For example, whether income differences between areas are getting bigger or smaller depends how you measure income. If we look at Gross Disposable Household Income (GDHI) per head, it looks like Britain is diverging. Between 1997 and 2017 income per head in London raced ahead from 22 per cent to 43 per cent above the national average, while the North East fell further back, from being 14 per cent to 19 per cent below.

But if we look at median household income (based on the governments Family Resources Survey) we seem to see convergence. In fact, if we look at incomes after housing costs, London isn’t even the richest area any more. On that measure the North East caught up, from being 14 per cent below average in the mid 1990s to 10 per cent below, while London fell back, from seven per cent ahead to smack on the national average, and the richest areas, the South East, fell from 14 per cent ahead to just 10 per cent ahead.

Why such a different picture? The key is the word median average. If we look at mean average incomes on the very same measures we see divergence not convergence. That’s because the incomes of poorer workers have been converging, but the incomes of richer workers above the median have diverged. Both matter.

The Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) lets us look at that in detail. It shows that rich people’s incomes differ between regions much more than poorer workers (see graph at bottom).

People working in London who are on the 10th percentile of incomes (i.e. only ten percent of people earn less than them) earn 16 per cent more than people in the same position across the country. However, high earning Londoners at the 90th percentile, earn 54 per cent more. And these differences for higher earners have been getting wider. In 1999, top earning Londoners were “only” 40 per cent ahead of the national average.

It may be that poorer people’s incomes are crunching together while richer folks diverge because of a combination of the rising National Living Wage, tax cuts aimed at the bottom end, and the growth of tax credits & Universal Credit. All of these help a greater proportion of people in poorer areas, while changing things less for higher earners.

But we should measure what’s happening across the board in poorer areas, not just for the poorest people there.
ASHE is probably the best measure of whether we are really “levelling up” earnings. It is generated from tax data, so has much more detail than other measures. It lets you see that people in the Huddersfield constituency earn much less than people in Leeds East, and that incomes have grown more in Hull than Barnsley.

True, it doesn’t let you see benefit income, but levelling up should focus on helping people sustainably earn more, not increasing benefits. Crucially, it lets you look at the distribution of earnings, not just a misleading average that might not tell the full story.

Finally, when we are measuring progress, we need to have a sense of what the counter-factual is. With radically different qualification levels and very different age profiles, different areas are unlikely to grow at the same rate. In Wandsworth 70 per cent of people have a degree. In Sandwell in the Black Country, just 20 per cent. The average age in Sheffield Central constituency is 26. In North Norfolk, 54, because so many are retired. These patterns can change over time. A place can attract more young graduates. But we need to have some sense of what the initial baseline is if we are going to realistically work out if we are making a difference.

“What gets measured gets managed”, they say. If we really want to level up, it’s crucial to be clear about what we are trying to achieve and how we are going to measure it.

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HS2. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because…

The Conservatives originally supported HS2 as a modernisation symbol during their opposition years.  It would run north from Heathrow along the M40 corridor as an alternative to a third runway at the airport.  Now we are on course to have both that runway and HS2, if Boris Johnson gives the scheme the go-ahead after a review panel’s report.

That muddle over purpose is the right place to begin reviewing where HS2 has got to.  Once they took office, David Cameron and George Osborne promptly reverse-ferreted (reverse-tracked?) on the scheme, and almost immediately adopted Andrew Adonis’ plan – remember him? – to run HS2 from Euston to Birmingham and beyond.

The best part of ten years on from that decision, the critics have been proved right on costs.  Three years ago, the Taxpayers’ Alliance estimated that these would come in at some £91 billion, not the £55 billion originally stated.  The latest calculation is £100 billion.  The price could be even higher.

This site has long argued that the plan is the white elephant of white elephants – that HS2 comes with environmental, visual and communal costs; that mid-to-late twentieth century technology may be out of date by the mid-to-late twenty-first, and that one doesn’t need a high speed service to update the West Coast main line.

It would have been far better, as the ConservativeHome Manifesto argued six years ago, to scrap the scheme and re-direct the planned public investment in its entirety to a Northern Infrastructure Fund, providing core finance for a generational programme for transport and communication links between key urban centres.

Osborne is still defending HS2, and his rationale remains narrowly political – avoiding anything much to do with delivery (such as taxpayer costs and passenger use) and concentrating almost entirely on perception (such as what cancellation might mean for the Government’s image).

This is to reheat the argument that has driven the scheme: that Britain should commit itself enthusiastically to grands projets, that a U-turn would be a morale-sapping admission of failure, and that HS2 is a symbol of Conservative commitment to the north and midlands.

It is a case that will weigh heavily on Boris Johnson’s shoulders as he contemplates responding to the review panel – and to Lord Berkeley’s minority report claiming not only that the costs are out of control but that the figures have been fiddled.

The Prime Minister will be sensitive to the claim that if he, the “Brexity Hezza”, U-turns on HS2 then any big future scheme he advances – a land bridge to Ireland; his beloved new airport in the Thames Estuary, some Ozymandian space exploration enterprise – will be mocked out of its own headlines.

Junking the plan would also open him to accusations of betraying the Midlands and North.  As it happens, Conservative MPs are divided about the scheme, and no less north of the Watford Gap that anywhere else.  But there is a knotty political problem in the West Midlands.

Our columnist Andy Street is committed to HS2, and is up for re-election this spring.  Is Johnson really going to pull the rail line from under his feet?  The West Midlands Mayor is only one illustration of a broader issue.  Our readers will be aware of sunk costs.  These are by definition financial.  But welcome to the world of sunk political costs.

John Downer’s pro-HS2 piece on this site last year is a useful introduction to the concept.  At one level, the article on behalf of the scheme from a group of business leaders was what it said it was – an account of how one job-creating project can produce job-creating spin-offs.

At another, it told a story of how there is now what Ike Eisenhower might have called an HS2-Industrial Complex: contractors, suppliers, archaeologists – even, apparently, environmentalists.  To mix metaphors even further, it’s a gravy train with many fingers in it.  Furthermore, Phase 1 of the project is already under way.

Department of Transport officials have previously mulled pulling Phase 2 of the project – or at least Phase 2b, which would run HS2 from Crewe to Manchester and from the West Midlands to Leeds.  One friend of ConHome told the site that “this would be a very British solution – a half-built railway”.

It would make Johnsonian sense to do it all the other way round: in other words, announce that Phase 2 will be undertaken first.  There have been briefings that such will be the decision.  But even if technically viable that would be to abandon Street – unless a reason can be found to put a decision off mañana-style.

We are not at all sure about these briefings.  Paul Maynard, the Rail Minister, is said to be supportive of the scheme.  Dominic Cummings is instinctively sceptical about it but has his eye on other matters.  And then there are those sunk political costs: that mass of interwoven lobby interests.

It needs no genius to point out that the idea of sunk economic costs is a fallacy.  That of sunk political costs may be too.  Johnson will never be more powerful than in these first few months after his great election victory.  If he wants to tell the HS2 lobby to take a running jump, there will never be a better time to do it than now.

And we would.  But the Prime Minister is bound to be asking some very hard questions.  These will include: how many alternative schemes for the Midlands and North are anything like “shovel-ready”?  If our aim is to ensure that Red Wall seats gain visibly by 2024, how many would do so, were HS2 to be scrapped?

For all these reasons, we suspect that the scheme will get the go ahead – perhaps with some fig leaf to hang over the rising costs; possibly with some apparent new gain for the North.  And Street will sail towards his poll in May with a good chance of being re-elected.

“I fear the worst,” one HS2-sceptic within Number Ten told this site yesterday.  Steve Barclay said on The Andrew Marr Show that his “gut feeling” was that the plan will go ahead.  Cabinet Ministers like Barclay don’t usually advertise what their stomach is telling them without good reason.

“We’re here because we’re here because we here because we’re here,” the old First World War song had it.  So it may be with HS2.  It’s here because it’s here – because a mass of political as well as taxpayer capital has been poured into the scheme.  And more will come.

Slow train coming; fast train coming.  On and on and on HS2 is likely to go, consuming taxpayers’ money like the furnace in some old steam monster, belching out its over-runs like black smoke – with a mass of reports and inquiries panting along in its wake.  It’s a high price to pay for this legacy from Cameron’s modernisation project.

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WATCH: Barclay asked whether HS2 will go ahead

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Nicholas Boys Smith: The housing mission that Scruton and I pursued is inspired by a quest for beauty

Nicholas Boys Smith is director of Create Streets, a Commissioner of Historic England and chairs the Government’s Building Better Building Beautiful Commission which will be reporting soon.

Housing was secondary to Brexit in the general election, but is of fundamental importance to improving local prosperity, generational and regional opportunity, sustainability and quality of life.

In a famous essay, the philosopher Isiah Berlin cited the Greek poet Archilochus: “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one important thing”. Our political debate on housing has been a housing hedgehog; focused on the crucial issues of supply of different types of housing (for sale, rental or social), but neglecting the wider role that houses, towns and places play in our individual lives, in generational opportunity and in local and regional prosperity. Our debate should become a housing fox. It should consider how the wider role of what we build and where affects wellbeing and prosperity.

Take the example of our personal health and wellbeing. Where we live has a measurable and increasingly predictable effect on our physical and mental health: on how much we walk, on how many neighbours we know or on how tense we feel on the quotidian journey to work or school. Design affects us from the air we breathe to our ultimate sense of purpose and wellbeing. The presence of such heterogenous variables as street trees, clear block patterns, a legible street network and facades that most people find attractive with colour, some level of symmetry, complexity and composure can all be associated with more walking and less crime, with better health and more support for development. And it’s a question of social justice too. Rich people experience more beauty than poorer people. And benefit from it.

Take a second example – very pertinent after the general election: the economic prosperity of our towns and the regional distribution of jobs and towns. Successful towns are first and last a place where people wish to come to meet, to converse, to buy, to sell and to be amused in the process.

But too few of England’s town centres are places where anyone would choose to be. They have lost their purpose. And they need to find it again. This is categorically not just a tale of former industrial towns. Take Maidenhead in Berkshire. It should be humming. In England’s self-proclaimed ‘silicon corridor’, it is only 20 miles from London and down the road from Windsor with Eton College and, well, the Queen. Where could be richer? Jobs abound.

And yet the centre is not humming – certainly not with people. The train station is cut off from the town by a furious dual carriageway, by acres of parking and by lumpen office blocks. Fight your way through to something that passes for a town centre and you immediately find empty shops, failing shops and strip bars. Up the road, the high street is assertively deserted for such a large town, has units to let and a meagre collection of chain stores. It ends abruptly in (yet another) dual carriageway. Amidst such neighbouring wealth, Maidenhead town centre is not a place to be or meet but a place to drive through – and fast. Prosperous neighbours from surrounding villages or suburbs meet elsewhere.

Hundreds of other towns would tell similar tales, many with the added savagery of industrial decline and the lack of secure jobs. Working for Amazon may be cleaner than working down a mine, but it is a lot easier to get fired. Not all towns are deprived. But nearly all are less prosperous then they could be. Visits to town centres have fallen by 17 per cent over the last decade. And more than one in 10 shops have stood empty for over a year. Meanwhile their populations are ageing. In the 30 years up to 2011, British small towns and villages lost over a million under 25s and gained twp million over 65s. Large cities gained over 300,000 under 25s and lost around 200,000 over 65s. Towns are for baby boomers. And cities are for millennials it seems. The town centres of many large cities (above all London) have flourished over the last generation. Small town Britain has, largely, aged and withered.

If we want to help some towns revive, everyone understands that local education is critical. Good education correlates with job-creation ten years later. Connectivity (rail, bus and road) is also crucial. (And busses are normally the best bang for your buck.) However, soft infrastructure is always critical. Successful towns need to be clean, pleasant places in which people want to live, work, spend time, set up businesses, raise children. Some of this is inconvertibly the role of the state which, after all, owns the public realm. This is true regional policy not naïve ‘regional development policies’ to ‘pick winners’ or subsidising employment where it would not otherwise go (the jobs tend to end when the subsidy evaporates).

This is why the interim report of the Government’s Building Better Building Beautiful Commission which I have been chairing alongside the hugely missed Roger Scruton argued that the aim of Government policy should be supporting place-making across all tenures and places. This will mean moving from the assumption that beauty is a property just of old buildings to the assumption that everyday beauty is a controlling aim in all that we do, and that new buildings, places and settlements can, indeed should, be beautiful.

To achieve this, we identified several priorities for the framework that government sets via buildings regulations, planning policy and fiscal policy. Among these were:

  • Beauty first. Beauty and place making should be a collective ambition of the planning system. Great weight should be placed on securing them in the urban and natural environments.
  • A level playing field. We urgently need to reduce planning risk to permit a greater range of small firms, self-build, custom-build, community land trusts and other market entrants and innovators to act as developers within a more predictable planning framework. More predictable design policy and standards should remove a degree of speculation on negotiating down planning requirements to increase land values.
  • Places, not just houses. In striving to meet our housing targets we should be building real settlements and walkable ‘mixed-use’ places for all our daily needs. This might require changes in legal and tax regimes that could better support a long-term stewardship model of land and infrastructure investment and moving more of the democracy upstream from development control to plan making.
  • Regenerative development. Developments should make existing places better, not just minimise harm. Local policy should encourage the redevelopment of retail parks and large format supermarkets into mixed ‘finely-grained’ developments of homes, retail and commercial uses which can support and benefit from public transport.
  • Early collaboration, not confrontation. There is enormous scope to encourage the use of deliberative engagement, and design processes, to support wider community engagement in design solutions. Digital technology can really help here.

The polling, pricing and focus group data consistently shows that the sorts of places we’ve been making for the last 70 years are normally less popular and less valuable than most of our historic towns. A toxic cocktail of technology (we can build huge ugly sheds very cheaply), confusion about the role of the motor car in the city (for three generations we thought town centres were places for cars – they aren’t), increasing labour costs (making detail and ornament expensive) and modernist fashion (eradicating the past and the human scale rather than working with it) have all combined to ruin old places and build news ones that most people reject if they can afford to. Mapping selection effects in cities does not make pretty reading for fans of suburban cul-de-sacs or modernist anti-street planning.

It is time to fix this now and help set a framework in which society can create more homes in better and more beautiful places that are popular and good for us. This is, ultimately, the only politically viable way to build the homes that the young generation so desperately needs. It would also support the rebalancing of our nation’s prosperity by encouraging fewer go-getters to flee to the big cites and hot spots.

The dog that didn’t bark in the last election was housing. There are obvious reasons for this. (Brexit). But our undersupply of housing is not going away. Any government that wants to be re-elected will need to fix it. But doing so is a complex problem not just of numbers but of quality, place and wellbeing. We need to be a housing fox not a housing hedgehog.

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

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Sponsored Post: Rail Delivery Group: 1,000 extra trains set to boost communities across Britain in 2020

This is a Sponsored Post by the Rail Delivery Group.

A better railway is crucial to delivering prosperity in every part of the country, connecting communities and transforming regional economies. As we enter the new decade, the rail industry stands ready and determined to play its part in delivering improvements across Britain.

In 2020, train companies are undertaking a massive upgrade of trains to improve journeys for passengers and enable more frequent services.

By the time we next sing Auld Lang Syne, people will be travelling on 1,000 extra train carriages. An estimated £20 billion will have been spent running and upgrading the railway, improving vital infrastructure like tracks and signalling.

Nine operators spanning the length and breadth of the country are introducing new and upgraded rolling stock. In total, the industry has pledged to deliver more than 8,000 new carriages by 2025 – equivalent to replacing over half of the country’s train fleet, new for old.

Along with 1,000 extra trains, the rail industry has introduced an extra 1,000 services per week for 2020. Each extra train means a town, village or city is better connected. A person able to get to a new job. A business linked to a new market. In many cases, much faster than ever before.

New carriages will offer more seats, better Wi-Fi and improved accessibility, making journeys more comfortable and the time people spend on the train more productive. Improved technology on board new carriages will be able to improve journey planning for passengers, with better information about where their train is and which carriage to board to get a seat.

Importantly, this investment will be felt in communities across the whole country, not just in London. With the long-awaited retirement of Pacer trains, long held up as a symbol of chronic underinvestment in the region, the North of England will see a major portion of the new carriages being rolled out this year.

Across Northern, TransPennine Express and Merseyrail routes, more than 150 new trains are being introduced to make rail travel across the region a better experience and provide the North with the infrastructure it needs to allow communities and businesses to grow in the decades ahead.

Investment is also furthering rail companies’ commitment to make the railway more accessible to more people. All new trains on Merseyrail and Greater Anglia’s lines will feature unassisted access and automatic ramps between trains and platforms, improving accessibility for disabled passengers.

Over the last 25 years the railway has supported economic growth and shifting patterns in how people live and work. Now, we need to take it forward again to ensure it delivers for the next 25 years.

The huge investment in new trains and extra services is just part of the picture. The rail industry is committed to bigger, structural change too. We look forward to the forthcoming Williams Review and rail white paper.

Together and with government, rail companies are ready to deliver the once-in-a-generation reform that is needed to make the railway more customer-focussed, joined-up and accountable.

Find out more about the new trains coming on track at www.bigplanbigchanges.co.uk/new-trains

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Here’s the need-to-know info on Metro’s upcoming closing of Four Orange Line stations

Westlake Legal Group metro Here’s the need-to-know info on Metro’s upcoming closing of Four Orange Line stations transportation Transport Things to Do Summer shutdown Policy News & Updates News Metro shutdown Metro Platform Improvement Project metro 2020 summer shutdown
© kuosumo / stock.adobe.com

Come May, hundreds of workers in the Northern Virginia region will once again be tasked with finding alternative routes to their daily commutes as a result of WMATA’s three-year Platform Improvement Project.

At the end of 2019, Metro had completed construction work on six Blue and Yellow Line platforms—Braddock Road, King Street-Old Town, Eisenhower Avenue, Huntington, Van Dorn Street and Franconia-Springfield—in phase one of the project.

Next on Metro’s agenda is the renovation of several outdoor platforms on the Orange Line. Vienna, Dunn Loring and East Falls Church stations will be closed for 24/7 construction, while West Falls Church will remain open because it is equipped with two platforms that can be reconstructed one at a time, Metro announced in a recent press release. As of now, the scheduled closures will begin Memorial Day weekend and continue through the end of August.

While at the end of 2019, WMATA was expected to turn its attention to several Green and Yellow Line trains in 2020, the company announced in early December that it would postpone the work and instead focus on changes to the Orange Line, due to scope and cost, according to the The Washington Post.

WMATA is in the middle of its $300 million to $400 million, multi-year capital project to rebuild outdoor platforms at 20 stations, which is discussed in more detail here.

As of now, Metro is still finalizing plans, and has announced it will update commuters with further details in March.

For more Northern Virginia news and culture updates, subscribe to our e-newsletters.

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Ben Brittain: Get Brexit Done and innovate like Israel

Ben Brittain is a Policy and Data Analyst for a regional economic institute. 

The Conservatives were gifted their ‘stonking majority’ by deprived constituencies that are far removed from the growth and economic power of London. The UK is a tale of two economic nations – a wealthy and highly productive London and South-East, and everywhere else, where gross value added more resembles former communist states. It was in these former mining and industrial heartlands of the Midlands and the North where working-class people lent their vote to the Conservatives to ‘get Brexit done’.

The challenge for this new government is to make the economy one whole, bridging the productivity and wage gap between London and the periphery towns of city-regions. The government will want to reward the North and Midlands for their support at the polls. But getting Brexit done is only one step. The next is to embark on a long process of economic revival in these regions, drive agglomeration within cities through transport infrastructure and skills investment.

The Government has the opportunity to level-up productivity right across the whole UK. For that, we must not look not to Silicon Valley and seek to replicate it on the Tyne – but instead look to Israel.

Today, Israel is considered an innovation superpower, with more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any other country except the United States. The Israeli success in innovative industries, such as ICT, is based on an R&D-intensive, novel-product-based, export-oriented business model. One that the UK should adopt to create a post-Brexit, R&D-heavy, exporting economy.

Israel is a hot-bed of ground-breaking technology companies such as Waze and the autonomous driving company, Mobileye, which has been snapped up by Intel for $15.3 billion. These large dominant companies are an exporting successes, but large innovative companies have to start somewhere.

Israel’s success is driven by its impressive start-up culture, and this start-up friendly ecosystem is actively fuelling an innovation economy. Israel started more than 10,000 companies between 1999 and 2014, with 2.6 per cent of these start-ups creating revenues of more than $100 million. Their success is down to reform-oriented policy makers driving change in the public sector, embedding innovation, unafraid of the role of the state as a friend to free-markets and individuals that want to start an enterprise.

The UK needs to embed five elements within its future growth framework to drive innovation. These are: support for start-ups; a substantial growth in the training of scientists and engineers; empower research-oriented civic universities and drive commercialisation within universities, expand access to venture capital, and utilise the strength of government and big-data in regional industrial strategies. All of these interact with each other to drive the process from invention to innovation.

The UK has an unrivalled higher education system that is ready to plug-in to regional economies and drive sector specialisations. To achieve this, BEIS should restart the work of the Smart Specialisation Hub and bring it in-house, to further understand how productivity is evolving in regional firms. Businesses are best placed to lead in the identification of new opportunities for growth, and many regions are already developing highly-productive sector clusters, which should not be hindered by central government imposing their own industry preferences. Instead, local industrial strategies should identify current productivity strengths and seek to implement necessary supportive interventions and create the correct ecosystem for their growth.

A culture of people, business and universities fully attuned to research and development is required, as is leveraging long-term private sector commitment. Regions should focus on what they are good at – such as the automotive industry in the West Midlands – prioritise research and innovation investment in a competitive environment, and implement policies that are strategic, based on a shared vision for regional innovation and development (such as the development of UK’s first Tesla-style battery gigafactory in the West Midlands which will build on current agglomeration).

Creating dynamic and innovative clusters in regions previously neglected and cut-off from London’s success will ensure the success of Brexit is the success of Wales, the North and the Midlands. If there are greater opportunities for high-skilled, well-paying work in innovative companies, focused on exporting, catalysed and fuelled by free-ports across the region, in industries such as space, AI, life-sciences, health and clean energy, then London will no longer suck the life out of those regions. More local residents will have better paid jobs, with more disposable income to spend in local high-streets, meaning the physicality of neglected towns in places such as Darlington and Walsall can be overcome.

The nation could be one economic success story; a real One Nation Toryism. To do that the Government will need to get Brexit done and Innovate like Israel.

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Susan Hall: In 2020, we must offer a positive and progressive alternative to Labour-run London

Susan Hall is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.

I am deeply honoured to have been elected by my colleagues, as the new Leader of the Conservative Group, on the London Assembly. I certainly have big shoes to fill; Gareth Bacon has been an exemplary and effective Leader who will make a first-class MP for Orpington.

I am acutely conscious that I have become Leader at an extraordinarily important juncture for our party and city. We needn’t remind ourselves that in May, Londoners will decide whether they want four more years of Sadiq Khan running our city or change with Shaun Bailey. Londoners will also be electing a new group of Assembly Members to hold the Mayor to account – whoever that is.

In the run-up to this crucially important election, our Conservative Group at City Hall will be focussing relentlessly on two things: highlighting Sadiq Khan’s record as Mayor of London, and setting out an alternative and positive vision for London.

There can be no doubt that Sadiq Khan’s tenure as Mayor has taken our city backwards rather than forwards. Over the coming weeks and months, the whole of Khan’s Mayoralty will be picked apart and evaluated, but last year tells you everything you need to know about this Mayor’s inability to run our city competently. In the last full year before the election, you would have thought that Khan would have pulled out all of the stops and shifted his performance up a gear. But instead, 2019 was the year when Khan’s mayoralty took a nosedive.

The first job of the Mayor of London is to keep our city safe, and last year showed that Sadiq Khan simply isn’t up to this job. As of mid-December, a record 142 people had been murdered on the streets of London, up from 133 in 2018. Similarly, the deeply concerning surge in knife crime showed no sign of abating, with the number of offences increasing by nearly 1,000. The sad reality is that an ever-increasing number of young Londoners are being drawn into a life of crime, becoming both the perpetrators and victims of heinous violence. This is nothing less than an utterly tragic trend, and one which Sadiq Khan has entirely failed to reverse.

Regrettably, we have a Mayor who is complacent in the face of violent crime. He has consistently and perversely chosen to spend tens of millions on more City Hall staff, cultural projects, and PR, while simultaneously bringing out the begging bowl and bemoaning government cuts. We have called time and time again for Khan to treat London’s crime epidemic as an emergency by diverting as much money as possible away from the nice-to-haves and investing in more bobbies on the beat. These calls have fallen on deaf ears, but we Conservatives at City Hall understand that Londoners are crying out for extra police officers, not more press officers.

2019 was a year when homeownership became even more of an impossible dream for thousands of Londoners. Official figures show that the Mayor is on course to deliver just half of the number of homes he promised to build during the 2019/20 financial year while failing to start anywhere near enough units on TfL land. The number of family-sized homes built by the Mayor plummeted in 2018/19 – forcing a growing number of Londoners to move out to the home counties and beyond in order to raise a family.

We want to see a fundamental re-think of the planning system in London. Our city’s greenbelt is precious, but there is no reason why brownfield land should be excessively protected. Sadiq Khan’s decision to place tight planning restrictions on disused industrial land makes no sense, and we’d want to unlock this space for new housing. We would also reverse the Mayor’s decision to remove a family-sized homes target; City Hall should be using all the levers at its disposal to ensure that families can afford to live and thrive in our city.

Last year also proved that Khan is simply unable to manage big transport infrastructure projects. Crossrail – which was due to open a year ago – is now overrunning by up to three years at an additional cost of £3.4 billion. The Mayor’s misguided decision to partially freeze fares means that other crucial capacity-boosting projects such as the Sutton Tram or the Northern and Jubilee line upgrades are no closer than they were a year ago.

Next year the Mayor plans to expand the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to the North and South circulars – meaning that anyone in a non-compliant vehicle will have to pay £12.50 to drive within the area. The ULEZ extension takes a blanket approach to tackling the localised problem of pollution hotspots, and this move will have a disproportionately large impact on poorer Londoners who have no option but to drive within the ULEZ for work, medical reasons, or to do the school run. The General Election showed that at a national level the Labour Party has lost touch with its working class voters. The ULEZ extension demonstrates that the Mayor of London suffers from the same problem.

Rather than spending millions on rolling out a tax which would hit poorer Londoners, we would want to scrap the ULEZ extension completely and use the savings to invest in cleaning up our bus fleet. Unlike the ULEZ, these buses could be used in a targeted way to help clean up the air in some of London’s most polluted hotspots. Whoever is Mayor after May needs to take a sensible and objective look at fares: is it right to freeze pay-as-you-go fares when this comes at the expense of transport improvements and doesn’t benefit the millions of Londoners who use travel cards?

As we enter 2020, memories of 2019 will leave Londoners in no doubt that Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty has been at best a retrograde step for our city and a worst an unmitigated disaster. Under my leadership, the London Assembly Conservatives will continue to offer a positive and progressive alternative to Labour-run London and work flat out to ensure that the Khan years become nothing more than an aberration in London’s political history.


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Tom Tugendhat: The three foreign policy actions that Johnson should take now that he has this huge majority

Tom Tugendhat is MP for Tonbridge and Malling and is one of the leaders of the One Nation Group.

The moment a revolution happens is often only clear with hindsight. Last week’s landslide needs no time for review. It was a lightning bolt releasing an energy that has jolted Parliament and our country into action – and could kickstart new partnerships around the world.

For the first time in a political generation, the UK has a leader able to make a mark on the world. With a five-year term looking certain, a voice tested on the G7, the EU and NATO, and with the ability to legislate others can only dream of, Boris Johnson is positioned to achieve what he has previously only spoken about: Global Britain.

He now has the mandate to act to make this more than a slogan.

 Over the coming months many will focus – rightly – on the EU trade talks. They are going to determine much of the change that is coming to our economy and the relationships our businesses build with the world.

But despite its proximity and economic weight, it won’t be in Brussels that our future is written, but here in London. How we decide to act will shape our future.  

To harness the storm, there are three things we should do now.

The first is to build a new partnership of democratic powers. The creation of a new alliance of those orbiting between the might of the US or China would see mid-sized democratic nations – the Mid-Dems – defend the rule law and economic system that has made us largely prosperous and peaceful since the Second World War. As newly freed-spirits, we can lead a new way of working together. On defence, there is no doubt that our American alliance is the underpinning of our sovereignty, but on trade? That’s where China’s importance grows.

China poses its own challenges. We want closer trade relationships, but the absence of the rule of law, the undermining of civil liberties, the lack of respect for intellectual property and more, leaves little chance to freely exchange ideas and deepen relationships.

That’s why a networked alliance is what we should be looking for. Together with other Mid-Dem countries, such as  Australia, Chile, Germany, France, South Korea and Japan, we can build a partnership to defend the rules that have made us all stronger, working together on climate change, and protecting us all against the whims of powers more inclined to use leverage than law.

Working together would help reawaken many of the existing institutions. In the United Nations, for example, where the US has played less of a role than many of her allies would like, China has become dominant. Buying votes on UN bodies like the Food and Agriculture Organisation may not sound a good investment until you factor in the influence it has on UN members dependent on aid who will be voting in the upcoming ballot to lead the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

As companies like Vodafone know well, WIPO controls international use of frequencies that modern technology relies on, and sets the norms to prevent the IP thefts now normal in China. Beijing is slowly taking control of the existing international order as America steps away. We need to work with like-minded states to protect what matters and contain what doesn’t.

As well as new partnerships, we should join existing bodies, like the TPP.  Opening talks with the members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, as the new club of 11 states was recently renamed, would expand our horizons. Setting a new trade agenda without aiming for the harmonisation of the European Union will give us reach. Though the geography sounds distant, shipping costs are near historic lows, and our alliance with countries from Mexico to Japan, who have already invited us to join, would build on existing trading relationships and demonstrate to suitors that Britain has options.

That’s the only way we’ll get the deals we need. If we look like beggars, we’ll get crumbs and would be selling ourselves short. We have a huge market, a skilled workforce and some of the most innovative technology in the world, matched with the rule of law and the firm expectation of five years of stable government. So we’re in a stronger position than anyone to benefit from the network building TPP.

The third decision we must take is to invest in ourselves. A house divided makes easy prey for other and the fractures in the United Kingdom are clear for all to see. That’s why the One Nation agenda is so important. Uniting our country so that we’re more than a city state of London with a UK hinterland is essential to everything we seek to achieve. Investment in rail, road, communications and education are as essential to our future prosperity as reforming the Foreign Office.

The new strategic policy review could bring all this together. For the first time in decades the levers of British influence – defence, diplomacy, aid and trade – could sit alongside domestic efforts in education and infrastructure to give the Prime Minister the strength to act.

While Emmanuel Macron has pension problems and a looming election, Donald Trump is going through impeachment and a coming poll, and Angela Merkel has already announced her resignation, Johnson can look out with confidence at the coming five years certain his majority and with a more distant horizon than any of his global peers makes.

This is a chance Britain can grasp to shape not just our home but our world. I’m confident that the Prime Minister can bring his words to life and make Britain global again.

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