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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Technology"

Alan Mak: A new tech scrappage scheme will boost productivity

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founder of the APPG on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, governments around the world including those of Japan, Germany and the US responded to calls to help struggling car manufacturers by introducing popular scrappage schemes. After new car registrations declined by 30 per cent in the UK in the first quarter of 2009, the schemes saw demand bounce back, while dirty, polluting old cars were consigned to the scrapheap.

Now there is media speculation about a new car scrappage scheme – drivers will be given up to £6,000 to swap their petrol or diesel cars for electric ones – designed to provide a shot in the arm for the UK electric car manufacturing sector in the wake of Coronavirus.

Yet focus should also be given to how the Government could launch a similar scheme to help factories and businesses investing in the latest technology. We must use this period of recovery to press the fast-forward button on helping our businesses to improve their performance by adopting new technologies quickly, accelerating processes that would have otherwise taken many years into a much shorter period.

Just as the Government ushered a brand-new fleet of cars onto our roads a decade ago, a new scrappage scheme should be introduced for old and obsolete IT, tech and machinery. By particularly focusing on the adoption of robotics, it would achieve the dual ambitions of boosting productivity, and giving our businesses the cutting edge in international markets post-Brexit.

More British firms need to follow in the footsteps of innovators such as Ocado, who have created one of the most advanced automated warehouses in the world. Ocado’s newest fulfilment centre uses automation to pick 200 items per hour of labour time using its hive system – far outstripping traditional supermarket competitors.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerates, for British manufacturers and suppliers to keep up with international competitors, they must upgrade the machinery and software that is powering the workplace.

Yet automation and the adoption of new technology is an area where the UK needs to improve if we are to boost the nation’s productivity and economic growth after Coronavirus. Research published by the International Federation of Robotics shows that the UK has a robot density of 71 units per 10,000 employees – below the world average of 74 units – ranking us 22nd globally. Europe’s most automated country, Germany, has more than 300 units per 10,000 employees.

Whilst the critics will always fear job losses from automation, as we recover from Coronavirus, we can create high-wage employment through robotics. I’ve visited factories, such as Harwin’s manufacturing site near my own constituency of Havant, that have successful re-trained factory workers as high-skilled robot operators. We must rebut trade union leaders and others holding back change and hindering the adoption of new technology.

Just as a car scrappage scheme was brought in to safeguard the car manufacturing industry and protect demand in its vast supply chain, a tech scrappage scheme also has the potential to boost the fast-growing UK tech and robotics sector. Businesses that could benefit include Tharsus, the Blyth-based robotics company that supplies Ocado’s automated warehouse, which is now one of Europe’s fastest growing technology firms.

While individual businesses know the products that are right for them, a tech scrappage scheme can and should promote world class British engineering and high-end manufacturing by creating more demand.

Every UK business could benefit from upgrading technology and IT, but key to the success of the car scrappage scheme was incentivising people into the new car market by making them more affordable. To be eligible, the car had to be at least ten years old and many of those taking part in the scheme would never before have bought a new car. The same must be implemented for a tech scrappage scheme. The Government needs to target the least productive SMEs that have never before invested substantially into the latest robotics, software, automation or information technology.

Research published last year based on a survey of 2000 business owners showed that 46 per cent of small business owners believe technology is more important to their business than people. Just as we incentivised car owners into the market, a new scrappage scheme will give SMEs the confidence to make the tech upgrades their businesses need.

There would be environmental gains too. Just as polluting cars were taken off the road through scrappage, businesses would have the opportunity to replace diesel-fuelled machinery with cleaner and more energy efficient alternatives.

As our country bounces back from Coronavirus, and the focus shifts from health emergency to economic recovery, the Government must continue to focus on not only supporting businesses in the short term but arming our businesses to be ready for the long term impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Our economic recovery must be both green and digital – a scrappage scheme for IT, tech and machinery achieves both goals.

This is the third in a three-part series on how to boost our economy after Coronavirus.

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

Alan Mak: Reform capital allowances and R&D tax credits to fire up investment and create jobs

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founder of the APPG on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Improving Britain’s productivity is key to both our economic recovery after Coronavirus and enhancing our global competitiveness post-Brexit. The best lever for firing up Britain’s productivity is incentivising more investment in the latest IT and software, new plant and advanced machinery – all proven catalysts of growth and efficiency. Failure to direct billions of pounds into these fundamental building blocks of our economy will hold back our recovery.

The State cannot be expected to do all the heavy lifting, especially given the Government’s substantial spending commitments to help the country through the lockdown and beyond. Instead, it must be businesses that take the lead, especially SMEs who have traditionally made up the “long tail” of unproductive companies.

Rather than a safety-first approach of hoarding cash, postponing investment and hunkering down, businesses must be incentivised to invest more in the coming months. This must be an economic recovery powered by bold investment decisions that create jobs, upgrade technology and boost productivity.

The dampening effect on capital expenditure (capex) and investment caused by Coronavirus is already large and destructive. One investment bank estimates that £23 billion has been slashed from this year’s capex budgets already, whilst the Bank of England predicts a 26 per cent drop in business investment for 2020. In 2009, as the financial crisis erupted, the fall was 16 per cent by comparison. Some of the country’s biggest employers such as BP and HSBC have already started cutting investment.

In practice this means IT systems and software – now at the heart of every business – being used for longer. Machines normally replaced every decade will have their life extended. Trucks and vans will be allowed to age. Outdated buildings that offer no room for new employees will be kept on. Research and development (R&D) could stall.

Reductions in investment not only have negative consequences for our country’s GDP, jobs and productivity, it also damages our capacity for R&D and our reputation as a nation that innovates for the future – key to our leadership of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Reforming and adapting two existing incentive schemes – the Annual Investment Allowance and the R&D Tax Credit – would have a major impact in reversing this decline in business investment and productivity.

Introduce a new Annual Investment Allowance ceiling for green or digital investments

Capital allowances enable a business to deduct the cost of qualifying items from their profits, lowering their corporation tax bill. This incentivises investment in key productive goods from machines to laptops.

The Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) is the annual cap on such deductions and its level has varied dramatically in recent years from £25,000 in 2012 to £500,000 in 2015. Until December 2018, the AIA was £200,000 but it was raised to its current £1M level from January 2019. The £1 million level is due to expire this December.

To encourage a green recovery and investments that focus on digitisation, the AIA could be allowed to fall back to the previous £200,000 ceiling, except for certain types of capital expenditure that achieve environmental or digital goals which would still benefit from the £1 million special ceiling. Replacing a diesel-powered machine on the factory floor with one powered by electricity, or digitising a production line by adding new software powered by artificial intelligence (AI), could be examples of investment that would be rewarded by the new special AIA ceiling.

Alongside the introduction of a special £1 million ceiling, the scope of what can be claimed through capital allowances should also be expanded to take account of the growing digital dimensions of every business. For example, digital tools purchased on a subscription basis (such as monthly website hosting costs) should benefit from relief not just one-off investments in physical goods (such as buying a new machine).

Increase R&D tax relief rates for SMEs and widen the scope of the reliefs

R&D tax reliefs support companies that work on innovative projects in science and technology, and enables the cost of qualifying projects to be reclaimed from HMRC. They’re especially effective for digital start-ups, who get a tax break and much needed cashflow back for critical work.

From April this year the relief rate is 13 per cent, but the lion’s share of R&D tax relief is claimed by large, research-intensive businesses. SMEs can currently claim up to 14.5 per cent in certain circumstances, but incremental increases such as this do not have a dramatic effect on investment appetite.

Often the most cutting-edge innovation, especially in the digital sphere, is carried out by small teams and growing start-ups – not just multinationals. To encourage more micro businesses and SMEs to pursue more R&D, new and much higher rates of relief should be introduced. For example, a rate of 25 per cent for SMEs with fewer than 150 employees, and 35 per cent for SMEs with fewer than 50 employees.

What qualifies for relief must also be broadened to include more of the digital tools that software developers use, including software testing tools and data analytics software. In addition, cloud storage fees, user experience development work and the cost of buying data sets needed to train algorithms for AI-driven start-ups should also be tax deductible.

Britain is currently 19th out of the 37 industrialised nations in the OECD when it comes to R&D investment, spending 1.7 per cent of GDP against the OECD average of 2.4 per cent. To match world leaders including Germany and Japan, who invest over three per cent, we must urgently update and expand our R&D tax relief regime.

This is the second in a three-part series on how to boost our economy after Coronavirus.

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

James Roberts: Big state spender Roosevelt shouldn’t be Gove’s new role model

James Roberts is Political Director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Our de facto prime minister, Michael Gove, has been a busy man. On Tuesday, he was in the Commons explaining Mark Sedwill’s sudden departure. At the weekend, he delivered a much-vaunted address to the prestigious Ditchley Foundation, joining a long line of luminaries: Mark Carney, David Milliband, John Major, Chris Patten, to name but a few.

Sparing the blushes of the distinguished Ditchley crowd, Gove didn’t mention Brexit much. But what he did deliver was a rare tour de force about the challenges facing Western governments, delivered with daring incisiveness by the Government’s ‘Hand of the King’. If the ever-authoritative media talking heads (and rapidly-departing civil service barons) want to know what ‘hard rain’ that nasty Dominic Cummings has in store for them, Gove’s lecture was a good place to start.

He didn’t pull his punches. For the ‘Forgotten Man’, faith in the system has been broken, “compounded by cultural condescension and insulation from accountability”, with the policy-making elites in political parties and the civil servants in the dock.

Reasonable demands, or taxpayers’ money to be well spent on accessible public services that actually work have been ignored. The top tiers of mandarin management are stuffed with like-minded PPE-ists, dripping in self-reinforcing groupthink, preaching every form of diversity going – except diversity of thought.

Gove described with brutal accuracy the tendency to coalesce around a cosy Westminster consensus, perpetuated by media commentary and pressure group plaudits, with almost non-existent evaluation of real world delivery. But the government eco-system is dying – its credibility eroded away by constant deforestation to feed an insatiable 24 hour media cycle, the whims of easy-choices-only politicians and the childish tantrums of the Twitterati. The spirit of intellectual challenge has been driven out of the forest, with generic generalists climbing high and genuine innovators buried in the undergrowth.

He’s bang on. As Matt Ridley identified back in 2013, policy-making has long been broken: sometimes little more than a string of special interest spending demands; elaborated on by so-called experts; written into submissions by pedantic pen-pushers; approved by malleable ministers; and made into law by preoccupied politicians.

‘Doing something’ is the name of the game. If social media demands it, laws can be changed. If the media suggests it, money can be found. The Forgotten Man – that is, the taxpayers who pay for all this – be damned. Their preferences are secondary or even, as Gove suggests, absent entirely. A quick reference to ‘taxpayers’ money’ seems often enough to settle the consciences of Tory ministers, as they implement evermore expensive government intervention, because a hashtag told them to.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance knows calling this out doesn’t win you many friends: you can count on one hand the number of policy-makers willing to go against the grain. At DEFRA, lest we forget, Michael Gove was quick to join the chorus of environmentalist big spenders, navigating Theresa May towards a non-negotiable £1 trillion net zero commitment (which by our reckoning no government department has any idea of how to achieve). But then, there’s no zealot like a convert.

But a form of zealotry is exactly what government reform needs. The so-called ‘Rolls Royce’ civil service has broken down by the roadside. On that front, Gove wasn’t short on bold solutions. As our landmark polling last year with ConservativeHome’s columnist, James Frayne, showed, more than six in 10 working class taxpayers agree with the suggestion that we should move more central government offices and jobs outside of London.

Almost three quarters of them believe that all civil service jobs should be open to applicants without a degree, perhaps hoping to break the hold of the hapless humanities graduates. A hard-nosed look at value for money is vital, too.

Gove namechecked numerous programmes, including his old chum David Cameron’s £1 billion National Citizenship Service, which could benefit from a proper quantitative analysis of success and failure. There should be nothing noteworthy about a politician taking aim at programmes, like the £920 million Troubled Families scheme or (Gove’s own) Pupil Premium, and asking if these really delivered for taxpayers. But in the punch-and-judy pantomime of the current political debate, this feels revolutionary.

The same can be said of some of his other policy proposals. In a speech so wide ranging it would usually have a Prime Minister worried, Gove called for  planning reform to fast track beautiful development, better use of data in the NHS, transparency on court and school results, reviews for failed anti-radicalisation programmes, interrogating defence procurement contracts and accountability on the impact of aid spending. Many of these things should be music to taxpayers’ ears.

But the implications of all this are far from clear. As the punters know, policy outcomes matter more than policy processes. Reviews often come to nothing. Promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. The devil’s in the detail. What does Gove actually want to achieve?

Does turning to more data in the NHS mean only allowing for government-made track and trace apps, which inevitably fail? Does it follow that reviewing a failed social programme results in it actually being abolished, and taxpayers getting their money back? Does accountability for aid spending mean cutting back the £15.2 billion cashpoint in the sky, or simply swapping money between dodgy dictators and wasteful NGOs?

he voters we polled wanted foreign aid reduced and reallocated to other priority areas such as the police, the NHS and schools. Very few people care how the sausage is made – they just want aid cut. But that’s an uncomfortable view in SW1, and incidentally not one that Michael Gove shares. It’s the same with the majority (68 per cent of C2DE voters) who backed abolishing the BBC licence fee. When he becomes inconvenient, or wants things that really upset the Westminster village applecart, the Forgotten Man is once again forgotten. Politicians just come up with better ways of ignoring him – the endless reviews and the broken promises.

In that sense, Gove’s speech could easily have been given by a much more fitting figure for the Ditchley Foundation: Tony Blair. Like Gove, he reached for the model of America’s big spending New Deal, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. New Labour offered innovation, clever solutions and new public service delivery models, with a pledge and a commission for every occasion. Gove and his Cameronite contemporaries looked on in awe, while most Conservative voters were horrified at the economic paternalism, metropolitan condescension and fiscal vandalism of the Blair years.

Many still believed that reams of government data and endless initiatives can never outgun the free and rational choices of millions of individuals. Their ears still rung with the mocking rebuke of Ronald Reagan: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Endless cash flow means that civil servants, not taxpayers, still made the rules. The TaxPayers’ Alliance itself was founded to take a stand.

Blair paid the price for ignoring his own voters, and taxpayers got sick of the Westminster consensus he created – ‘expert’ policy tsars, expensive PFI, and constant right-on crusades – arguably leading up to the EU referendim result in 2016. For a man so intimately involved in that campaign, Michael Gove may sadly be in danger of starting off down the same path. Replacing Oxford-educated experts with world-beating data whizz kids, or swapping a programme here with a review over there, won’t change the Blairite policy-making consensus – unless there is fundamental change of political intention at the top.

Britain’s forgotten taxpayers need Michael Gove’s intentions to be as bold as his analysis.

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

Alan Mak: Britain should champion a new Five Eyes critical minerals reserve system

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founder of the APPG on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The on-going trade dispute between the US and China has put the spotlight on so-called “critical minerals”. We in Britain cannot afford to be passive observers. Instead, we should take an active interest in this key strategic and economic issue, and play a leading role in safeguarding access to critical minerals, both for ourselves and our Five Eyes allies. Ensuring our scientists, manufacturers and technology businesses have a secure and reliable supply of critical minerals is vital for Britain’s leadership of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Critical minerals consist of the 17 Rare Earth Elements (REE) recognised by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, with names such as promethium and scandium, plus other economically valuable but relatively rare minerals such as lithium and cobalt (used in batteries), tungsten (used in defence products including missiles), bauxite (the source of aluminium) and graphite (key to battery production).

The REEs have unique magnetic, heat-resistant, and phosphorescent properties that no other elements have, which means they are often non-substitutable. Whilst used only in small quantities, they are key components in a wide range of consumer products from mobile phones, laptops and TVs, and have widespread defence applications in jet engines, satellites, lasers and missiles.

Although they are more abundant than their name implies, REEs and critical minerals are difficult and costly to mine and process. Converting critical minerals embedded in rocks from under the Earth’s crust to separated elements is a complex and costly process which often involves the use of highly concentrated acids and radiation.

China hosts most of the world’s processing capacity and supplied 80 percentemploy of the REEs imported by the US from 2014 to 2017. On average, China has accounted for more than 90 pe cent of the global production and supply of rare earths during the past decade, according to the US Geological Survey.

By contrast, the US has only one rare earth mining facility, and currently ships its mined tonnage to China for processing. Lynas Corporation, based in Australia, is the world’s only significant rare earths producer outside China. Other critical minerals are similarly concentrated in a small number of producer nations. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was responsible for around 90 per cent of the world’s cobalt production in 2018, whilst Guinea dominates bauxite, with around 35 per cent of the world’s reserves.

As globalisation and industrialisation accelerate around the world, critical minerals have become a highly sought-after resource for the high-technology, low-carbon and defence industries. They will play a vital role in Britain’s future plans for economic growth, innovation and green industrialisation, especially as we renew and expand our manufacturing base in the wake of Coronavirus.

Given the national strategic and economic importance of critical minerals, the UK needs to act now and lead efforts to protect our national supply for the future. Neither we nor our Five Eyes allies can remain reliant on one producer for anything, including critical minerals. Here are four steps we should take:

Establish a New Five Eyes critical minerals reserve stockpile

The Five Eyes intelligence sharing partnership between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the USA and the UK has been in existence since 1941 and provides the perfect foundation on which we should develop a new critical minerals reserve that would end our collective vulnerability of supply.

The reserve would consist of inter-connected physical national stockpiles of critical minerals, and then extend to become a processing chain that all partners could draw on. The US already maintains stockpiles, and creating others including in Britain would lead to new jobs. The UK is never going to become resource independent, but through international co-operation we can diversify supply and refine, through innovation, the processing of these elements.

Use our international aid budget to secure critical minerals supplies

As the Foreign Office and DFID merge, the UK can align its development goals alongside diplomatic priorities. We should deploy our international aid to unleash the untapped supply of critical minerals in developing countries, effectively funding the start-up of new critical mineral mines and processing plants. This would enhance our supply of these elements and create jobs, transforming communities around the globe through trade, not just aid. China has already implemented a similar strategy in Africa, for example providing Guinea with a $20 billion loan to develop the country’s mining sector.

Create a new National Critical Minerals Council

The Government should establish a new National Council composed of metallurgists, scientists and foreign policy experts to monitor global trends in critical minerals, and advise the Government on rare earths and its strategic stockpile. Given the national security and defence procurement implications, the National Council’s establishment would help to keep this issue at the forefront of future policymaking.

Become the world’s greenest stockpiler by incentivising private sector involvement in critical minerals processing

The Government should provide funding for greater research into how we can improve the processing chain of critical minerals with a focus on how we can tighten environmental controls in this sector internationally.

The UK should establish itself as the world’s “greenest stockpiler” of critical minerals by offering incentives that encourage private sector investment in recycling processes and reward companies that contribute to the UK stockpile. We need more facilities like the University of Birmingham’s Recycling Plant at Tyseley Energy Park, which is pioneering new techniques that are transforming the recycling of critical minerals such as neodymium, which is commonly found in hard disk drives.

The Coronavirus pandemic has taught us the importance of supply chain security, whether for PPE or critical minerals. With our reputation for scientific excellence, global alliances and diplomatic networks, we can help ourselves and our allies strengthen our access to the key minerals that will power our economic growth and innovation potential for decades to come.

This is the first in a three-part series on how to boost our economy after Coronavirus.

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

Andy Street: Our blueprint setting out the economic ambitions of the West Midlands

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

Last week saw the launch of a blueprint setting out the post-Coronavirus economic ambitions of the West Midlands. As a manufacturing heartland, where draftsmen drew up plans for everything from steam engines to Spitfires, blueprints are in our blood. They illuminate our history. This intentionally ambitious £3.2 billion business case draws a clear trajectory to our region’s future.

As Mayor of the West Midlands, it’s my job to attract as much investment as possible. Rishi Sunak’s bold and decisive actions – notably through the furlough scheme – have provided unprecedented economic support for jobs during lockdown. Now, demands on the public purse are high. All investment must be fully justified, diligently used and – crucially – deliver real results. Every penny counts.

Our region was the UK’s fastest growing outside the capital until Covid-19 struck, and as a hotbed of export, manufacturing, construction and professional services, we play a key role in the UK’s economic success. This new blueprint lays out a powerful business case for how continued investment can spark rapid and sustained recovery, not only for us here but for UK PLC.

Our ambition is deliberate because the stakes are high. Research suggests we could be hit harder than most by the lockdown. When coronavirus struck, the West Midlands was in a strong economic position, with record employment figures and productivity growth well ahead of the national rate. However, our economic mix – dependence on manufacturing and business tourism, as well as a significant contribution from universities – leaves us vulnerable.

By following the blueprint we have drawn up, the Government can demonstrate its commitment to ‘levelling-up’ by backing the people of the West Midlands to deliver.

We need to do everything we can to get back on our feet quickly and return to the levels of success we were enjoying before the outbreak hit. That means driving a rapid economic recovery, safeguarding more than 135,000 jobs while building thousands of new homes. It also means learning the lessons of the financial crash of 2008/09, and listening to business.

Investment is crucial. However, while we need significant investment from the Government – £3.2 billion over the next three years – this is broadly in line with the £2.7 billion investment we have secured since 2017, which supported strong economic success here.

Our business plan is to build on our success and on the investment we have already attracted from Government, while leveraging much more private and public sector investment locally, including from our universities.

The blueprint sets out a business case for investments, while outlining the economic benefits they would deliver. For example, it directly supports our automotive sector by harnessing clean technology and electrification. A major investment package, including £250 million towards a Gigafactory producing state-of-the-art batteries, will unlock 51,700 green jobs.

The building of HS2, next year’s Coventry City of Culture festivities and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games present opportunities to create jobs for local people. By accelerating major infrastructure investment and supporting the recovery of the tourism and cultural sector we can unlock 33,000 jobs.

Then there is the West Midlands’ growing reputation as a hotbed for health research. By investing in healthcare innovation we can protect 3,200 jobs, while improving the health of our population.

Improving transport, housing and digital infrastructure will play a key part in a rapid recovery, while laying the foundations for future economic strength. We can build better transport and digital links to drive productivity and create thousands of jobs in construction. Schemes include extending rail, metro and bus routes, with cash for enhanced digital connectivity and to accelerate fibre connectivity in deprived areas. Reopening long-closed railway stations will better connect people to employment opportunities, attract investment into once-isolated areas and improve productivity.

The West Midlands has pioneered the regeneration of brownfield sites to tackle the housing crisis, while protecting the environment. We even have our own regional definition of ‘affordable housing’ applied at planning level by the West Midlands Combined Authority. We want to build 35,000 new homes – 15,000 of which will be affordable – with a focus on housing key workers. Plans include using a £200m investment package to regenerate derelict eyesores and £24 million for a new National Brownfield Institute in Wolverhampton, which will be a centre of excellence for land reclamation.

Investment to equip people with the skills needed for the future aims to help get them back into work. This includes helping 38,400 young people obtain apprenticeships and work experience, retraining 20,000 workers for in-demand sectors such as health and social care, logistics and business services, and upskilling 24,000 for jobs for the future.

Finally, we want to back the region’s businesses with support schemes – including helping them navigate their way through the post-lockdown world – creating or safeguarding 43,900 jobs.

This ambitious business case is based on our region’s experiences not only of recovering from the last downturn, but on the successes of the last three years. The blueprint has been developed as a team effort between the region’s local enterprise partnerships, universities, business groups and local authorities.  Crucially, some of our biggest employers have also shared their insights about how the region can play its part in securing a strong national recovery, putting central investment to good use.

For the UK to fully recover, all of its regions must recover too – creating a stronger country with a more robust, balanced economy.

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

Polling snapshot. Is the statues and history fracas helping to solidify the Conservative vote?

Westlake Legal Group polling-snapshot-is-the-statues-and-history-fracas-helping-to-solidify-the-conservative-vote Polling snapshot. Is the statues and history fracas helping to solidify the Conservative vote? ToryDiary Technology State Schools Sir Winston Churchill Sir Keir Starmer MP schools Redfield Winton Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Marcus Rashford jobs History employment Edward Colston Education Economy Culture children British history Boris Johnson MP

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2020-06-20-at-17.51.43 Polling snapshot. Is the statues and history fracas helping to solidify the Conservative vote? ToryDiary Technology State Schools Sir Winston Churchill Sir Keir Starmer MP schools Redfield Winton Opinion Pollster Opinion Polls Marcus Rashford jobs History employment Edward Colston Education Economy Culture children British history Boris Johnson MP

Source: Politico

Our newslinks of Monday June 8 carried reports of the violation of Winston Churchill’s statue and the destruction of Edward Colston’s.

According to Politico’s poll of polls above, the Conservative poll rating had been sliding slowly since about April 23rd, when it stood on 51 per cent, to June 2nd, when it reached 43 per cent.

Today is June 20th, the best part of three weeks later, and that Tory rating is still 43 per cent – for all the recent dramas involving children’s meals, the NHS App, closed schools, falling vacancies and so on.

The Politico chart doesn’t take into account a Redfield Winton poll released yesterday, but that shows the same concluding figures as the graphic: Conservatives 43 per cent, Labour 38 per cent.

Explanation One: until the effect of closures and sackings work their way through the economy, there is a floor beneath which the Tories won’t fall of 40 per cent or a bit above – all other things being equal.

By the same token, there is a limit to which Keir Starmer can squeeze the Liberal Democrats and others, so for the moment there is also a ceiling above which Labour can’t rise.

Explanation Two: the race and riots row is helping to solidify the Conservative vote, now that Boris Johnson, after an uncertain initial response, is gradually toughening up his position.

Similarly, it is helping to pause the progress of Starmer, who after all decided, as the Prime Minister did not, to be photographed “taking a knee”.

Or maybe a bit of both. As academic like to say, “we need more research,” but it is noticeable that the Tory rating, having fallen by about seven points, seems to have stabilised for the moment.

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

David Gauke: Big Government is back. It didn’t work before. It may not now. Here’s why we should be wary of it.

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

It is all but an inevitably that, post-Coronavirus, we will be in an era of big government. Even before anyone had heard of the virus, it was clear that public opinion had shifted decisively in favour of higher spending. The coalition of support assembled by the Government at the last general election was much more economically left-wing than traditional Conservative support. Polling during the campaign consistently showed substantial support for greater state intervention in the economy from supporters of all political parties.

Covid-19 has accelerated this process. Government spending has surged; the taxpayer is supporting vast numbers of people; the state removed our most basic liberties and, after three months, is only gradually returning them. And the public appears to thoroughly approve. Post-Covid, the political environment is likely to be egalitarian, communitarian and interventionist.

For libertarian, small state Eurosceptics, all of this must come as a bit of a disappointment. Many of my generation were drawn to Euroscepticism because the EU was seen as a force for big government. “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels,” Thatcher said in Bruges in September 1988.

Now free of “dominance from Brussels”, the frontiers of the state appear to be rolling forward at quite a rate. Indeed, on such issues as state aid, the EU was an impediment to government intervention in the economy.

It must surely now be dawning on some libertarian romantics that the reason the UK had failed to pursue a permanent Thatcherite revolution, shrinking the state and turning us into Singapore-upon-Thames, was nothing to do with EU membership, but because the British people don’t want that.

There is a reason why both the Leave campaign in 2016 and the Conservatives in last year’s general election steered clear of setting out a bold, small state, deregulatory agenda.

The public’s enthusiasm for big government appears to be shared by the Government. Much of this is right and understandable. Many parts of the public services do require higher spending. The coronavirus makes the case that we need to be better prepared for ‘black swan’ events – not only pandemics, but also other potential threats such as a collapse of our cyber network, massive power outages or climate change – whether by strengthening our resilience or investing in prevention.

As with the banking crash, Covid-19 reveals that the state will always be crucial in a crisis. The virus also highlights the dedication and expertise of so many people working in the public sector.

But before we rush in to embrace the advance of the state, it is worth remembering why the UK abandoned big government during the 1980s. Other countries have succeeded with a large state, but that has not been the UK’s experience. If big government is inevitable, how do we avoid the failures of the post-War period that was characterised by our relative decline?

Let me give four examples of how the UK’s experience of big government led to bad government.

  • Producer capture. The experience of State ownership of industry in this country was not a happy one. In part, this was caused by a mentality that the interests of the producer – the state-owned industry and its employees – mattered more than the interests of the consumers. For example, by the time we got to the 1980s, the point of the National Coal Board (at least in the eyes of the NUM and its supporters) was to employ miners, not to mine coal that people wanted to buy. This might be an extreme example but involvement of the state can blur objectives, distort decision-making and deny commercial reality. ‘Protecting jobs’ is usually good politics, but too often it justifies tolerating economic inefficiency, at a cost for taxpayers and consumers. Incumbents are favoured, innovative competition is discouraged.
    Economic nationalism. If the state has a big role in the economy, it is all too easy to find ourselves misallocating resources towards so-called ‘national champions’. Foreign competition is seen as a threat to jobs not an opportunity for cheaper and better goods for consumers. With talk of greater self-sufficiency in certain sectors, hostility to China and trade barriers being erected with our principal trading partner, there is a real danger that economy will be less open than any time since the 1960s and ‘70s.
  • Fiscal indiscipline. It is often thought that the turning point for the UK economy was 1979 and Margaret Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister. Arguably, the process started in 1976, when the UK had to be bailed out by the IMF and a Labour Government had to cut spending. In the end, high levels of spending have to be paid for but that is a lesson that usually has to be learnt the hard way. Big government is expensive.
  • Growth-destroying tax policies. If you cannot fund big government by borrowing (and, ultimately, you cannot), you have to raise taxes. Some taxes are more damaging than others, which is why the Treasury is advising the Chancellor to focus on property and consumption taxes rather than taxes on income or profits. The history of big government in this country is that this type of sensible advice is often ignored and talent and investment goes elsewhere.

The point I am making is not that big government inevitably results in all of this happening, but that there is a tendency for this to happen. Indeed, all of this did happen the last time the UK experimented with big government until it was all swept away by Thatcher.

The 1980s was a painful era for many communities – including some areas that voted Conservative for the first time last year – but the accumulation of inefficiency during the big government era contributed to the pain when economic reality could no longer be denied.

Other countries have avoided these difficulties. The Scandinavians collect high levels of tax in an economically efficient way (hands up all those in favour of VAT at 25 per cent with very limited zero rates?), have very open economies (sorry, but EU – or at least EEA – membership helps) and have a tradition of constructive trade unionism (which was not our experience when trade unions were strong).

If the UK is going to return to the days of Big Government, it is going to need to think very carefully about how it does so without returning to the mistakes of the past. Our previous experience of Big Government started with talk of the white heat of technology and embracing innovation. It ended up as a nostalgic, inward-looking, fiscally incontinent, enterprise-destroying mess. It really does not have to be this way. But it might very easily be where we end up.

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

Andy Street: With more shops opening again, here are high street lessons we can learn from the last recession

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

On Monday, September 22, 2008, I sat in a coffee shop in Victoria, surrounded by the weekend’s papers. Barely a week before, Lehman Brothers had collapsed. Days later Halifax, the nation’s biggest mortgage lender, faced going bust. As Managing Director of John Lewis, I read the alarming headlines and thought: “so what are we going to do?”

John Lewis was one of the UK’s best-known retailers, and I was a relatively-newly installed MD, having taken over in February 2007, just as the economy started its long slide downwards to recession. We needed a new plan.

Now, as shops reopen this week, retailers find themselves in a similar position, after the Office for National Statistics revealed that UK GDP had plunged by 20.4 per cent in April.

As Mayor of the West Midlands, I know that our region must plan its way out of an economic downturn that has been far more sudden than 2008. Back then, at John Lewis, we chose to not only invest in the values that had always driven us to success, but to seize the opportunity to reshape the business – to choose our own future. I believe the West Midlands can do the same thing today.

Of course, leading one business, in one sector, through a downturn is vastly simpler than the task facing us now as a nation, but as we reopen our shops there are undoubtedly lessons to be drawn from the last time recession hit the high street.

This week’s careful re-opening of more shops is an important step in returning our lives to some form of normality and a vital part in restarting an economy that has been put into hibernation throughout the pandemic. First and foremost, it is vital that we reopen our high streets safely, to give everyone the confidence to return.

Getting this right is crucial to the nation’s recovery post-Covid 19. Retail directly employs nearly three million people. Nearly two thirds of the UK economy is made up of consumer spending – of which retail drives the biggest share.

It also plays an important social role in our communities. For the British, shopping has always been a social activity, from the village shops that act as local focal points to the high street stores that can seem more like family friends than corporate brands. Seeing shoppers returning safely to our high streets will provide a tangible step on the road to recovery.

After 30 years on the high street, retailing is certainly in my bloodstream, and when John Lewis re-opens on Thursday I won’t be able to resist returning, as a shopper, to perhaps pick up a few items from the Solihull branch.

The economic road ahead will be tough. The recession that will no doubt come as a result of coronavirus is very different to the ‘credit crunch’ of 2008. Then, we suffered 18 months of economic figures which worsened almost daily, reaching its nadir with TV images of shellshocked Lehman’s staff leaving their New York HQ, their belongings clutched in boxes.

This crisis has unfolded in a much shorter timeframe, brought on by the necessity to protect people from Covid-19. However, there are parallels between these two downturns that can help us plot our way back to prosperity.

Looking back to that day in the coffee shop, and the weeks that followed, I understand completely the tough decisions retailers now face. It was a painful time. John Lewis’s profit was down 40 per cent and people were losing their jobs.

The question was what to do. Should we hunker down and manage decline, or come out boldly with a plan to move the business forward and secure jobs into the future? I recall that decision came at a meeting at John Lewis in Reading. We went for the latter.

We would continue to invest in our core business – including opening new shops. But boldly, we decided to ‘place our chips on red’ and put our trust in technology, to build a business model for the future – in our case, online. Our difference was an online business linked to our shops with the same brand values.

As a region, the West Midlands can take the same approach, by investing in the strengths that have always delivered growth here, while seizing new opportunities for the future. The Government has done a good job so far in protecting the economy – with the short-term furlough scheme, business rates holiday and other interventions. This gives us a start.

But we must continue to invest in our core business – and that means backing investment in the infrastructure of our country, like building HS2, expanding metro lines, opening new stations and providing new, greener transport options such as cycling infrastructure. We have to continue to support people’s basic need for housing by continuing to reclaim derelict brownfield eyesores for development. We must continue to invest in digital infrastructure, such as the roll-out of 5G.

But then we must invest in the future of business, as John Lewis embraced online trading. For the nation this means investing in the jobs and economy of the future. For the West Midlands, that means taking the lead in developing new electric vehicles and the battery technology that is so critical to their success. John Lewis boldly pioneered multichannel retail – a concept which is now commonplace. The West Midlands can turn to electric Jaguars and a Gigafactory mass-producing the batteries to power the future.

At John Lewis, our plan aimed not just to get us through the recession but to power us into a period of sustained growth. Crucially, this was embedded into the business by engaging our partners and colleagues in the new concept.  Here in the West Midlands, on a much grander scale, our seven local authorities, businesses and communities are drawing together in the same way to develop our own Regional Economic Plan. Unity of purpose is vital.

There is no doubt that our economy is about to change again, and that change will be hard for many people, impacting on jobs and businesses. We must repeat what I sought to do in John Lewis from 2008 – by investing in the core business and the jobs that depend upon it, while identifying and seizing the new opportunities that are so critical to the future.

The reopening of Britain’s traders this week is an important step on the road to recovery and we need consumers to responsibly and carefully return to the high street.

Napoleon famously described us as a “nation of shopkeepers”. He was right – retailing is in our DNA. Now that those shopkeepers are once again putting out the “open” sign, let’s all play our part and help reawaken our economy.

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

Ray O’Rourke: A technological revolution is underway in construction. Here’s how the Government can speed it up.

Ray O’Rourke KBE is founder and CEO of Laing O’Rourke.

Times of great challenge can lead to great change. As ever-larger parts of our economy reopen and we focus as a nation on a return to economic growth, now is a moment to seize the opportunity for transformational change in how we do things.

A strong construction industry will be the foundation of our economic recovery, using highly-skilled workers to build the modern hospitals, schools, homes, offices and transport networks we need. The Government rightly enabled construction sites to stay open – with appropriate protections in place – throughout the lockdown and is now looking at how to bring new projects forward. For an industry that employs almost three million people and supports hundreds of thousands of UK companies this support has been essential. 

Yet it won’t be enough on its own to get this vital sector back to full health, not least because we have yet to address a fundamental structural problem at the heart of how we build things in this country.

At the moment most construction in this country is still done in a way that the Victorians would recognise – by hand, brick by brick, out on site come rain or shine.

Unlike almost every other sector, construction has yet to update how it works and take full advantage of advances in technology. Now we need to change that.

In April, Laing O’Rourke completed work on several sections of The Grange University Hospital in Gwent, South Wales, allowing a large part of the hospital to open more than a year ahead of schedule.

This early delivery of critical bed-space was at the request of the Health Board, allowing them to have additional beds and wards available as part of their Covid-19 plans. A hospital build that was originally planned to take four years will be completed in two and a half, even factoring in a global pandemic and lockdown.

This has been made possible because the hospital was designed and built using what’s called Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) or what we at Laing O’Rourke pioneered through Design for Manufacture and Construction (DfMA). Both exteriors and interiors were built in sections at our specialist factory in Nottinghamshire and then precision assembled on site. As a result, it was already well ahead of schedule before the Covid-19 crisis, allowing us to hand over large parts early when asked.

Our MMC factory in Bassetlaw is Europe’s most automated precast concrete products facility and since it began production in 2009, it has helped build 240 UK projects ranging from schools, hospitals and rail and road bridges, to residential and commercial developments.

Using this high-tech approach means that 70 per cent of construction on a project now takes place offsite, leading to a huge 60 per cent increase in productivity and a 30 per cent reduction in build time. Importantly, it creates long-term, well-paid, high-skilled and inclusive jobs permanently located in communities across the UK. For much of our workforce, it means they work in the same location day-in, day-out, living at home with their families rather than having to spend months away from home wherever the work is.

It means that, despite many large construction projects still being concentrated in London and the South East, the jobs associated with those projects can be in communities across the Midlands and North of England, with a network of regional production facilities. As the Government seeks to level up investment, new projects in the North and Midlands could be delivered in record time.  

Prior to Covid-19, this Government was rightly focused on investing in our dated and creaking infrastructure and our sector felt on the cusp of a phase of growth. We now need to ensure that this growth still happens and that it is the underpinning of a much overdue transformation of this industry. 

The industry will have to make very substantial investment to achieve this change and to do so there must be a partnership with Government and public authorities. There are three priorities we see that could make a substantial difference.

First, the Government should – as is already being discussed – accelerate the start of those projects which it has already started to commission, getting money flowing into the industry and the supply chain at this crucial time.

Second, the Government and public authorities across the country should improve their own development pipelines – showing the industry the projects they are committed to long-term, persuading lenders that there is a viable pipeline to support their investment.

And finally, it is imperative that the Government now delivers on the commitment it made to prioritise offsite construction in its own procurement. In November 2017 the Government announced a presumption in favour of offsite building with the MoD, DfE, DHSC, DoJ and DfT committing to prioritise tenders with offsite construction components.

But in October 2019 it transpired that not a single health, transport or defence project with any offsite component had been procured in the first eight months of 2019, while the MoJ had awarded only one. DfE had done better with 22. But MHCLG – despite housebuilding being such a huge priority – was notably absent from the list of departments committed to offsite construction.

If the Government wants the country’s regeneration to be as efficient as possible this has to change and this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review provides an ideal opportunity for the Treasury and Number 10 to ensure that this commitment is made across every part of Government. Then put the onus on us to deliver.

At Laing O’Rourke we are excited about the part we can play with our industry in rebuilding this country’s economy and at the same time transform how we rebuild Britain. We look forward to partnering with the Government to do so.

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

JOIN US for our first ever ConservativeHome Live online event with Matt Ridley

I’m very pleased to announce a new venture for our site: ConservativeHome Live, a series of online events in which our readers will get the chance to hear from and put their questions to a range of the leading thinkers, politicians, campaigners and writers in the Conservative movement.

In our first event we will be joined by Matt Ridley – best-selling science writer, prominent Leave campaigner, Conservative peer, newspaper columnist and author of the forthcoming new book How Innovation Works.

I’ll be interviewing Matt, and putting your questions to him, from 7pm to 8pm on Wednesday 10th June, via Zoom, the online video chat service.

We’ll be discussing a variety of essential topics, including: Do politicians really understand science? What has the pandemic revealed about how our national and international institutions work (or don’t work)? What place is there for freedom in a time of lockdown? How can Boris Johnson ensure the UK, outside the EU, is best-placed to encourage the innovation and entrepreneurial creativity that will be necessary to get us out of quarantine and back to growth? I’m sure that our audience will have many questions of their own, too.

We’re excited to be exploring new ways to provide new insights and experiences for ConservativeHome readers, and I hope you’ll join us for our very first live broadcast.

As well as being a new medium for our readers, these events are also a way to help to support us as a company. We provide Britain’s leading independent centre right source of news and analysis, for free, to over two million readers a year. Frankly, like every other media business our traditional revenues have been hurt by the pandemic and the lockdown, and new events help to support the valuable service that our writers provide. I want these events to be as widely and easily accessible as possible, which is why we’ve set a ticket price of just £2.50 for the chance to tune in to hear Matt Ridley’s thoughts and put your questions to him.

To book your ticket today, please click here.

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