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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Tees Valley"

Ben Houchen: The Conservatives are the party of towns

Ben Houchen is the Mayor of the Tees Valley.

If the Conservative Party is to have a chance at taking the Parliamentary seats it needs to win in the North it must become the party of towns. Unlocking the potential of the whole north means empowering the 53 per cent of people that don’t live in cities.

The lack of focus on towns, from Blackpool to Billingham, is far from being exclusively a Tory issue. Some of our major media outlets are under the impression that the North begins in Manchester and ends in Leeds.

Indeed, as important as plans are to improve rail connectivity between cities in the North, these don’t feel like an investment in people far removed from the urban centres.

Similar to the focus on cities, is the focus on poverty. The image of large swathes of the north as a post-industrial wasteland filled with abandoned Victorian terraces isn’t just wrong and offensive. It’s actively dangerous. Yes we have our problems and we have a long way to go before we catch up with London and the South East, but we have vast areas of prosperity and productivity that are vastly misrepresented by these tired stereotypes.

It can’t, however, be concealed that many provincial towns are shadows of what they once were. There isn’t one overarching reason for this, but the post-war consensus, 1960s planners, and decade after decade of Labour councillors willing to manage decline have all played their part. As civic pride drained away, so did the Conservative Party’s chances, but perhaps all that can change.

The polls show Boris Johnson is riding high, which puts us in an ideal position to win some Labour seats that Jeremy Corbyn has all but abandoned across the North. Now that Brexit has changed the nation’s political reality and seats gained from the Lib Dems in 2015 may well go back to them, plus a similar situation with some gains from the SNP in Scotland, the Conservatives must make the effort in the towns of the North.

Nobody expects our new Prime Minister to lead our party into the looming general election with the hubris of 2017. He knows just how hard a fight it will be. He has, however, made a good start when it comes to changing attitudes to the Conservatives in the North’s towns. The £3.6 billion towns fund will inject up to £25 million into 100 transformative projects focused on long-term renewal.

The impending election aside, turning around attitudes towards Tories in the towns will require more than just money. People are sick of hearing about the next big scheme to turn things around; they’ve heard it all before, over and over again. A sustainable base in the North outside of the safely blue shires means delivering.

This doesn’t just mean delivering cash, anyone can do that. It means giving towns and rural areas the power and responsibility to turn around their own fortunes.

As the Mayor of a region that has decided to take control of its own destiny through devolution; one that has turned its back on deprivation and the downward course successive generations of local Labour politicians set it on; I know that we can change things in the North’s towns – and simultaneously change attitudes towards us at the same time.

We need to show the world that there is more to the North than just Manchester and poverty, that we are here for the long haul, and that we are serious about turning around our communities. I know dozens of Conservative politicians and thousands of activists across the Tees Valley, Yorkshire, the North West, and even further afield, have always been ready to do their bit. Now I am hopeful that our Government is up to the challenge too.

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

Ben Houchen: Which candidate will show leadership on free ports?

Ben Houchen is the Mayor of the Tees Valley.

Free Ports, Free Trade Zones to give them their proper name, are fast becoming one of the hottest issues of the Conservative Leadership Contest. In fact, of all of the policy ideas being floated by candidates, they could be seen as the litmus test of their commitment to Brexit.

Free Ports exist around the world and take a slightly different form depending on where they are. From South Carolina to Singapore, and from Dubai to Dalian, economic growth, trade and job creation are supercharged by creating areas inside a country’s national borders, which fall outside of its customs border.

Hard financial incentives like tax breaks, tariff inversion, and R&D funding are combined with measures like simplified planning, expedited customs processed and express visas to make these zones extremely attractive to business. They have been used to create growth in previously undeveloped areas, but in post-Brexit Britain they can be used to turn around the fortunes of our least competitive regions.

Since the idea of creating Free Zones when we leave the EU was first mooted by Rishi Sunak, the MP for Richmond whose North Yorkshire constituency borders my Tees Valley Region, they have caused great excitement in pro-Brexit and pro-market circles, and all the disdain you would expect from the Left.

While Conservatives, some of the more sensible Labourites and even Scottish Nationalists have got behind the idea, seeing the jobs and growth it can yield, some individuals who would like to see the economy operated as an arm of the Government have trotted out the same old, tried and tested anti-trade tropes.

Free Ports are about creating areas where manufacturing will flourish, particularly in industries like renewables and chemicals, where British companies need a level playing field with foreign competitors. They would mean thousands of well-paid jobs, all of which protect our world-leading employment rights. Plus, even when you take into account the cost of tax breaks, the Treasury would make a net gain.

Not quite the dens of tax avoidance and warehouses full of stolen art that the left would have you believe Free Zones area. Some have even gone so far as to suggest they would endanger worker’s safety and environmental protections. The proposal I have presented to both candidates sets out, clearly, a system of economic regeneration for use in a developed country, not the dystopian vision certain parties have tried to create

My policy ‘white paper’ offers our next Prime Minister one of the tools they need to rebalance the UK’s economy and let some of the poorest regions stand on their own two feet. It isn’t right for proud people, people who make things, to have to rely on London and the south east to subsidise their public services, and it is laughable to think wonks in Westminster will have the answer to this.

Free Zones are a policy developed in the North for the North, and other regions that haven’t experienced the growth London has. My proposal suggests up to six possible sites across the UK, which could create 70,000 jobs and add £4 billion to the economy.

As the Mayor of the Tees Valley, you would expect me to put my region first, but this policy really comes into its own on a national scale. However, the idea of a pilot Free Zone on Teesside makes sense for two reasons, it would have the largest positive economic impact of such area in the UK, and thanks to the South Tees Development Corporation we have a secure site, next to a port, where work can start tomorrow.

I have made no secret of my support for Boris Johnson in this contest, because I believe he has the positive global vision that post-Brexit Britain needs, and he’s not just saying this, he really believes it. I have also made no attempt to hide my admiration for Jeremy Hunt, whose service in the Cabinet has been exemplary.

Free Zones, as well as being a huge opportunity for Britain, can pay dividends for both candidates. By unequivocally backing a policy of Free Ports, with a pilot Zone in Teesside, Boris can take a step towards realising his vision for Brexit, while Jeremy can remove any doubts about his commitment to leaving.

You can read my full policy proposal here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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