The Blog
Thursday, 10 April 2014 09:13

It is the time of the year again when we ask you – our supporters and sympathisers – to tell the world what you think about Britain today. The survey asks 10 questions and should only take around 5 minutes to fill in. Some of the questions are:

 

What were the best announcements in the Budget?

 

What is the biggest the challenge facing the UK?

 

What are your views on immigration and the EU?

 

What is the biggest impediment to the Conservatives wining a majority in 2015?

 

What should we do to build more houses?

 The survey helps us to formulate our ideas, and tells people what liberal Conservatives are thinking. The results often gain national press coverage.

 To take the survey, please click here.

Tuesday, 08 April 2014 06:53

Tax is not very interesting, right? Wrong. Yesterday we were delighted to host Ben Gummer at one of our Drink Tanks. We knew that as one of the new generation of Conservative MPs who is moving Conservative thinking forward, he would draw a decent crowd - which he did. We were less sure whether telling everyone that Ben would talk about tax transparency would increase of decrease attendance!

At the beginning of his talk Ben promised us that tax transparency was interesting and he was right. Most of us pay tax, but we don’t really know where the money goes. We have a rough idea that it is spent on schools, hospitals, the police and welfare but are unsure as to what proportion goes where. For example, 63% of people over estimate the amount the UK plans to spend on international aid.  (The amount is £10b per year (1.4% of Government spending).

Ben wants tax to be simple. “I’d like to see a merging of NI and income tax, as this will make it easier for people to grasp what they are paying.” He also wantsthe Government to tell people where their money goes. Thanks to his campaigning 24 million people will be sent a breakdown of where their contribution is spent.

For Ben this will help to reconnect people with how we are governed. “Transparency will make people more interested in politics, and more involved in what the state does… Because people will know where their money goes they will have a more direct relationship with the State.” The State will less likely be seen to be something foreign, which is over there doing its thing to us. We will be shown what role we have in it and have a better idea about what the priorities of the Government are. As the tax transparency graph becomes the norm political parties may need to put pie charts into their manifesto, showing what their proposals means in terms of where our money goes.

Ben is part of a group of MPs who are trying to transfer what they see in everyday life into politics. People expect more and more information to be available to them. Itemised billing is something that happens in many different areas, whether it be your phone or shopping bill. The private sector has shown it can be done and there is no good reason why the Government shouldn’t follow.

At the last elections the Conservatives tried to co-opt the slogan ‘Power to the People’.  Making Government more open and transparent is one of the best ways to show people how we are governed.

Nick Denys is Head of Digital at Bright Blue. His Twitter handle is @betapolitics.

Monday, 07 April 2014 05:54

Matthew Plummer is a professional photographer and an amateur adventurer.

 

Reading David Cameron's Telegraph piece on his vision for a reformed European Union found me reflecting on a conversation I had a decade ago with my friend Paul. I'd been in New Zealand for the past five years and was in the final throes of packing up to move back to London. Paul was – with the help of a lot of beer – telling me what a whale of a time I was about to have.
 
“Europe's changed, mate,” he explained. “You can fly anywhere for a tenner. A flight to Zagreb costs less than a train ticket to Manchester. Girls, parties, culture – it'll all be on your doorstep once you're back in London.”
 
He was right. At the drop of a hat Michael O'Leary and Stelios did more for European integration than decades of Brussels edicts could ever have hoped for. If you're under the age of 40 you're part of the Ryanair Generation – with workmates from Poland, Hungarian girlfriends (or boyfriends), stag weekends in Prague and summers spent on the Adriatic coast.
 
On the face of it Cameron's 2017 referendum isn't a big deal for us: we're more concerned about finding work, getting qualifications, the cost of transport, buying houses and falling in love. 'Banging on about Europe' isn’t on the radar. But our international outlook also means we know just how unrealistic the whole notion of 'ever closer union' is, given our first-hand experience of the huge cultural diversity across the Continent. This sits uncomfortably with a sense that our destiny lies with Europe. The current Ukraine-Russia crisis is the perfect illustration of this dilemma. British sympathies are overwhelmingly
with the pro-West faction in Ukraine, and whatever is left of Ukraine after Putin has dissected the country will be desperate to join the EU, which – given Kiev's current predicament – is entirely understandable.
 
The genesis of the European project lies in the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community in the aftermath of World War Two, which aimed to build security through trade. Six decades on from this the Ryanair Generation's natural instinct would normally be to welcome Ukrainian accession with open arms. Yet this is obviously not going to happen given the unitary design of today's EU, with its high barriers to entry. Ukraine is even
more corrupt than Russia and its economy is smaller than Romania's, despite having double the population. Ukraine in the EU would be an administrative catastrophe, with a bonanza of passports for sale from dodgy officials, and destructive brain-drain of the country's brightest and best heading west to secure better wages and better life prospects.
 
As things stand full EU membership is an unrealistic dream for Ukraine, which is a pretty damning verdict on the introspective political cadre in Brussels. David Cameron's agenda for reforms has the potential to get the EU heading in a more sustainable direction, which as anyone living in Lviv or Kiev knows can't happen soon enough. The Ryanair Generation wishes him well.

 

Do you agree with Matthew? If you want to write a blog for Bright Blue email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Tuesday, 01 April 2014 19:34

Elliot Dunster is the Parliamentary Manager of Scope.

Follow Elliot on Twitter.

 

Twenty years ago, Scope changed its name from The Spastics Society.

The word ‘spastic’ had become a term of abuse, and we wanted to challenge attitudes by saying something positive about disability.

Two years before our decision, the Conservative Secretary of State for Social Security, Tony Newton, made an important progressive statement of his own.

He introduced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and sent a clear message that it was to give disabled people "greater independence and greater control over their own lives" (the debate is a fascinating read…)

The Government of John Major was the first to understand that there is a financial penalty attached to being disabled – from paying for home adaptations and disability equipment to taking taxis due to inaccessible transport. DLA was designed to help cover some of these extra costs.

This was a very important recognition. Twenty years on, there is an opportunity for progressive Conservatives to be bold again.

Today, Scope estimates the financial penalty of disability to be an average of £550 per month. It is critical that the payment disabled people get to meet these extra costs is protected, but we also have to look at the ways in which market and policy failures can be addressed to reduce extra costs for disabled people.

For example, mainstream technology has become more affordable and accessible for many, but technological advances have not brought down the high cost of specialist equipment that disabled people need. An electric wheelchair can cost up to £6,000 – not to mention the cost of fixing one when it breaks.

As one lady told Scope, "Christmas last year I had a problem with my wheelchair… I went to the shop and it was going to be a hundred pounds. Well where are we going to find the money for that? But we’ve got to find the money for it because I need it."

Today Scope launched a report which challenges all political parties to commit in their manifestos to improve the lives of disabled people. One of the most crucial aspects of this challenge is for parties to commit to end the financial penalty that disabled people face.

Progressive Conservatives must see this as a real opportunity. The Department of Work and Pensions cannot bear sole responsibility for driving down the extra costs that disabled people face. All Government Departments must look at why these extra costs are so high and what can be done to tackle them.

Disability has not always been a comfortable topic for Ministers in the Coalition Government, with Iain Duncan-Smith in a very different position to that of Tony Newton before him. But in seeking innovation in ways to drive down the financial penalty of being a disabled person, the Conservative Manifesto of 2015 could capitalise on an area in which it has a real progressive history.

 


Views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.

If you are interested in contributing please e-mail  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or tweet @jonathanalgar.

Friday, 28 March 2014 07:10

 

Abigail Wood is Public Affairs Manager for the UK’s largest charity for parents, NCT.

 

Last week brought good news for many parents with the government’s announcement that they would be eligible for up to £2,000 per child to help with the ever-rising costs of childcare. However, the budget did nothing to tackle another strain on parents’ finances: the shockingly low level of maternity and paternity pay.

 

After 12 weeks on 90% of weekly earning, statutory maternity pay falls to only £136 per week. This is around £100 less than you’d earn with a full-time minimum wage job. Having a baby is very special time yet today many new parents spend the early months of their child’s life distracted by outstanding bills and growing debts before they even start thinking about childcare costs. 

 

NCT’s latest research with the think-tank IPPR  found that under government plans to limit increases to maternity and paternity pay by 1% parents will lose around £224 throughout the course of their 39 weeks parental leave. This is enough to pay heating bills for two months - a significant contribution to family outgoings when every penny counts. Parents at home with a new baby need to provide a comfortable level of heating during the day which can cause their energy bills to soar.

 

The research also showed that these new plans will hit the poorest fifth of families hardest. On average, they will lose over three times as much in proportion to their income (1.9% of their net weekly income, compared to the richest households, who will lose 0.6%). If the government is serious about valuing families and the contribution that parents make then they need to increase maternity and paternity pay in line with inflation.

 

This week NCT has heard from families surviving on these low rates of maternity and paternity pay. Some have told us that they are getting into debt in order to buy basics and make ends meet, others are forced to return to work before they feel ready to leave their baby. One family who contacted us told us have a five year old and a new baby. They don’t live an extravagant lifestyle, both mum and dad work and they live in a small flat in Bolton. Tax-free childcare will help them meet the cost of the afterschool club their five year old attends but because her employer only offers statutory maternity pay she will have to return to work when her baby is 14 weeks old – far sooner than she’d like to.

 

NCT has also raised concerns that limiting the annual increase in maternity and paternity pay will reduce further the chances of dads taking up the much-welcome offer of shared parental leave. It’s an excellent policy, but unless it is backed up with better pay, many couples simply won't be able to afford to take advantage of it.

 

So whilst the announcement of more support with childcare costs was a welcome move, if the government is serious about valuing families and supporting them to give their children the best start in life they must take action address the appallingly low rate of statutory maternity and paternity pay.

Thursday, 27 March 2014 09:48

 

During the last General Election there was a lot of talk about whether 2010 would be the first social media election. This was flimflam, mainly promoted by social mediariaty who really really wanted it to be true. 2010 was a modern TV election. The three leadership debates overshadowed everything else.

 

Social media is a fantastic tool for us political anoraks but what happens on Twitter has very little relevance to what happens away from the key board. Social media has grown the Westminster bubble, and made entry into this world easier, but the bubble still exists - signifying the separation of "politics" from mainstream consciousness.

 

TV leadership debates should be standard for all national elections. Television is the number one entertainment medium in the UK. The game show/competition format is one of the most popular types of programme. Politics is a competition of ideas. Politicians need to tell the widest possible audience why their world view is the best, and be willing to face challenges.

There needs to be qualification rules (maybe the debate should only be open to the parties that are polling 10% or over 3 months before the election) and the format be fair, but these are easily resolved details.

The next TV EU election leaders debate is on Wednesday 2 April, BBC2 at 7pm. Cameron and Miliband should take part and the debate be moved to BBC1. We deserve to know what our choice is on 22 May.

 

Nick Denys is Head of Digital at Bright Blue. These views are his own. The behind the scenes photos of yesterday's LBC debate can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 07:20

Carl Packman is an author and Labour blogger. He has observed Conservative modernisation with interest. Here he gives his outsider’s critique of Conservative modernisation.

 

Some nine years after he took leadership of the Conservatives, there is still a quiet debate about what the meaning of David Cameron is. It's a question, in fact, that goes to the heart of what the Conservative party is; indeed it raises some very important questions about what conservatism is.

 

It was Cardinal John Henry Newman, the foremost English religious figure of the nineteenth century, who refused to accept that conservatism was predicated upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. Instead, if you leave something alone you leave it open to an uncontrolled torrent of change. It could be argued that Conservative modernisation under Cameron was a means to control the change in the party's direction, rather than letting it be swept up with the zeitgeist left by the previous Labour government.

 

Indeed Cameron said as much himself in 2006. In a speech that year to the think tank Demos on what modern Conservatism is he pointed out that once the socialism of old Labour was defeated it left the Conservative party with an identity crisis. What would have been so easy for the Conservative party to do, at that time, was simply reflect back the thoughts and opinions of the centre ground. Instead Cameron embarked on a deep and challenging restructure of his party's philosophy.

 

Tory traditionalists felt unnerved by this. Was it wise, critics could be heard saying, that Cameron put to one side the party's more popular doorstep policies in order to convert “Guardian readers” on issues like climate change and civil liberties?

 

However this enquiry rather misses the point, and supposes that Cameron was simply trying to woo another set of voters. After all, if it were just about winning votes then taxation, immigration, and Europe would have been safer ground for Cameroonism. It's quite clear his change in direction was far more ambitious. Take for example sexual equality. It has perhaps gone unnoticed that by the time Cameron was leader of his party most of New Labour’s legislative programme for sexual equality was complete, so Cameron in theory could have appeased his backbenchers and argued that the Conservatives simply have to accept this as a new reality. But he didn't do this.

 

Whatever you think of Cameron's movement towards modernisation, it is difficult not to accept that his primary motive was to develop a principled identity irrespective of the zeitgeist; to defeat “skinhead conservatism” and the “tabloidification” of the Conservatives, not because he had to, but because it was right.

 

Another reality, however, is that it has failed. Membership has halved under Cameron's tutelage. The UK Independence Party, a thorn in the side of the Conservatives, are may win the largest share of the vote in the European Parliament elections in May. The political downside of not reflecting back the opinions of your largest voting bloc in the UK is that sometimes you will have to challenge dominant opinion; and sometimes you will lose.

 

For me however, the biggest loss of Cameron's was failing to pursue a different kind of economy. It was GK Chesterton who once critiqued modern capitalism as being less a nation of shopkeepers, but rather one particular shop. It so happens that in the week Chancellor George Osborne delivered his budget it was found by Oxfam that the UK's richest five families own more than the nation's poorest 12 million.

 

An economy based on a more equitable share of property, or an ownership state, has been lost. Back in late 2013, it was with almost certain delight that Jon Ashworth MP wrote in the Telegraph asking Cameron to admit it, “Your modernisation project is dead and buried”. While as a Labour supporter I might delight at the fact the Tories will struggle in the next general election, I find it disheartening that Cameron failed to temper the right wing of his party – particularly as this has always been what I wanted to do in mine.

 

Do you have a view on Carl’s blog? If you would like to publish a blog on our website please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Monday, 24 March 2014 12:46

Caroline Escott is Programme Director and Head of Government Relations at the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association.  Ownership Day is on 25 March 2014.

With auto-enrolment, the rise of defined contribution (DC) schemes, and George Osborne’s announcement a few days ago that “no-one will have to buy an annuity”, the rate of change in the (dry, jargon-filled but important) pensions arena over the last few years has been mind-boggling.

 

As a almost 30-something, I have become used to the regular, and increasingly shrill, media and government reminders that I need to start putting aside as much as I possibly can into my pension otherwise I’m unlikely to have a sufficiently large income to keep me in cruises and cocktails (I am nothing if not aspirational) in my twilight years.

 

I’m not the only one worrying about what kind of pension I’m going to retire on and George Osborne clearly thinks that trying to allay public concerns on pensions is a vote winner - at least with the 60+ years demographic.  This is why our government should be doing everything it can to encourage ‘active’ asset ownership, and why, despite the off-putting jargon, we should all be making sure our pension funds protect the value of our savings by becoming active owners.

 

By ‘active’ asset ownership – also known as ‘stewardship’ – I mean the process of improving company performance through use of shareholder rights by pension funds and other ‘asset owners’, in order to safeguard people’s savings.  There is a growing body of academic evidence to show that engaging a company in dialogue on risks connected to mitigating climate change can affect investment value.   In ‘real life’ terms, you only have to think about the impact of the Deepwater disaster on BP’s share price - and the knock-on effect on the value of those pensions which were invested in BP -  to realise that investors need to be aware of the full breadth of environmental, social, governance and other risks in order to protect people’s savings.

 

All of which is why Tuesday 25th March this year sees the second annual Ownership Day, organised by the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), which aims to raise awareness of the financial benefits of ownership investment strategies with pension funds, policymakers and the public.  We do so with support from our members, industry experts and a cross-party group of MPs including Paul Uppal and Laura Sandys (Conservative), Stephen Timms (Labour) and Mike Crockart, Michael Horwood and Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat).

 

But industry action itself is not enough.  Although there have been some promising moves on the government front to encourage investor engagement, including the Financial Reporting Council’s Stewardship Code and the Kay Review of Equity Markets and Long-Term Decision-Making, there remain significant regulatory and policy barriers to growing the value of the public’s pensions through active ownership strategies.

 

This year, UKSIF is calling for the public sector to lead the way on active asset ownership, from asking MPs to encourage local authority pension funds to sign up to the free-of-charge Stewardship Code, to urging politicians, regulators and civil servants to clarify the legal duties of pension fund trustees and other asset owner decision-makers so that they are incentivised to engage with investee companies on environmental, social and governance issues.

 

We all – industry, policymakers and the public – need to ‘get engaged’ on Ownership Day.  Yes, pensions policy is dry.  And yes, there’s a lot of jargon to wade through. But if you, like me, want a good and steady retirement income, then the issue of how well your pension fund engages with the companies it invests in is far too important to ignore.

Friday, 21 March 2014 08:52

Something is troubling me. There is a disconnect between how young adults believe the world should be and how it is. This gap does not exist because Generation Y has an overly romanticised notion of how society should operate – bread and peace for all. In fact the opposite is true.  They are aware that life is tough, that thanks to a Credit Crunch which they did not cause young Britons are going to be the most indebted in history. Generation Y knows they will have to work into their 70s, not be able to afford a home until their 40s and be net contributors to the welfare state. They have every right to be frustrated and angry about the world which was given to them.

Am I troubled by the potential for social disorder? No. Instead of protesting Generation Y are professionalising. They are thinking about what they need to do to succeed against their peers.  As the Economist observed: “Just as the construction of the post-war welfare state helps to explain the collectivist instincts of old, today’s economic adversity and dwindling welfare payments appear to be forging a generation of dogged individualists.” There is a sort of Wild West frontier mentality – we are prepared to take risks to succeed. 80% of 16 – 30 year olds believe they will start their own business in the next five years.

Am I troubled by the ability of young people to make a better future? No, not in the slightest. Recent research from Demos found that the biggest concern for teenagers is unemployment and access to work. It also found that rather than moping around, feeling sorry for themselves, teenagers are building up their CVs and getting skills. This is a generation that knows what the problems are and is prepared to do something positive to counteract them.

What troubles me is that this belief in reward for endeavour, plus individual responsibility, will be smashed when it comes into contact with the working world. As inequality increases social mobility decreases. As the gap between potential earnings between different careers increases it become ever more important to professional parents that their children secure the same lucrative careers as them. Last year, as I was strolling through Lincoln’s Inn Fields, I noticed that in front of me a smartly dressed women was coaching her (at a guess) 16 year old son how to impress at an internship interview. He was being told things that they do not teach you in State school, such as the right language to use with lawyers. I don’t blame the lady for wanting what’s best for her son, but the bigger picture represented by this moment is that it is becoming harder for those who don’t have access to inside knowledge to place their first foot on the ladder.

Some Libertarian minded folk mistakenly believe that the research into Generation Y shows the young to be anti-State intervention. My reading of the evidence is that they want a different sort of State intervention. The young do not want the Government to concentrate on redistributing wealth, instead the State’s role is to ensure opportunity. The question Generation Y will be asking at the General Election isn’t “what will the Government give me?” It’s “what will the Government do to help me succeed?”

Nick Denys is Head of Digital at Bright Blue. He tweets @betapolitics.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014 21:44

Things are looking better. Employment is up, growth will be higher and the deficit is decreasing. But – and this “but” is so important it is worth breaking grammar conventions for – the economy has not mended yet.

The early signs of economic improvement allowed George Osborne to give rewards to those who behave sensibly, such as savers, but the fragile nature of the recovery meant that there could be no big bang give-aways, such as raising the 40% tax threshold.  As the recovery strengthens Government will be able to do more for people, but the economic fundamentals will only improve if the country’s finances are managed prudently. The outlook is still perilous for Britain, but a Conservative Chancellor can carefully navigate her towards the promise land – or so Osborne wants you to believe. The 2015 General Election will be decided by whether enough voters are convinced of this.

Our Director, Ryan Shorthhouse, was a part of Conservative Home’s Budget panel. Here is his reaction to the Chancellor’s statement:

“Stick with us, the Chancellor is saying: we’re the sensible ones. And we’ll reward sensible behaviour – savings in particular. Generally, this was a conservative budget, with a small and a big c. Thankfully, childcare was a big winner, with families on nearly all incomes benefiting from a generous package of measures. HM Treasury sees childcare as a treasure chest, crucial for boosting parental employment and children’s education, thereby enhancing individual and national prosperity in the long-term”

Bright Blue Budget Campaign Wins

  • Increasing the level of the tax-free personal allowance from £10,000 to £10,500.
  • Extending the Pupil Premium, which helps children from disadvantaged backgrounds get a better education.
  • Stating that the country can afford, and should provide, a real terms increase in the National Minimum Wage.

 

Thursday, 20 February 2014 15:34

Cat Hobbs is the Director of We Own It.

Follow Cat on Twitter.

 

At the end of last year, justice secretary Chris Grayling made the right decision about G4S and Serco, removing their electronic criminal tagging contracts after allegations of fraud. But does he need to do more to show he's getting tough with outsourcing failures? We believe he does. We Own It is a new organisation which is campaigning for a Public Service Users Bill to put more power where it belongs - in the hands of the people who use public services. Here are five reasons why you, as a Conservative, might want to support the campaign:

 

1) You believe in markets

The public services market is not a real market. A railway line isn't the same kind of economic good as a cup of coffee. If you want to travel from A to B by rail, there's only one way you can go, there's not much choice. Instead, there's an occasional bidding process between government and companies which aims to approximate competition.

However, the individual who uses the service – you – are not involved in this process and you have very little say. It's the same with other public services, especially because most of them are local, so 'shopping around' would mean a lot of travelling. You, the service user, are not really able to feedback to the market how you feel about the service provided. There are regulators, but can they really work effectively when consumers have so little power?

So if it's not a real market, what do we do about that? We give public service users a voice in the process, so that their needs and wants are listened to. That's what our Bill would do. If it was passed, you would be asked what you want from your services and whether you want them outsourced or privatised (66% of Conservative voters support this). You'd be able to look at bids from different providers and say what you think.

 

2) You believe in giving power to individuals and communities

This Bill would give power back to individuals and communities. It promotes the 'public ownership' option in its broadest sense, enabling mutuals, cooperatives, social enterprises and charities to run public services where that's appropriate. Many of these organisations, in addition to the public sector, are well placed to give time and care to meeting people's basic needs. Our Bill would strengthen the Social Value Act introduced by Conservative MP Chris White, calling on commissioners to account for social value generated in provision of public services. In the 21st century, public services should be about people, not profit, with staff, service users and communities working together and building on existing knowledge to keep making them better. Fewer shady backhand deals, more Big Society.

 

3) You believe in transparency

Atos, Capita, G4S and Serco (the four biggest outsourcing companies) cost us £4 billion last year, yet we, the public, have very little information about them. Despite the current government's focus on open data, outsourced contracts are hidden from the public eye, cloaked in 'commercial confidentiality'. That secretiveness might sound reasonable but it leaves the people most affected by the contracting process stumbling around in the dark. 48% of people simply assume that private companies running public services are subject to Freedom of Information requests, but they're not. The Institute for Government's recent report on public service markets revealed a lack of transparency and manipulation of contracts by suppliers.

As we have seen, the public services market is not a normal 'market', which means the free flow of information is even more important. Outsourcing companies are subsidised by the public purse; why not make it a condition of this that they have to be open with their data? 87% of Conservative voters believe that private companies running public services should be as transparent about their performance and financial data as the public sector has to be. Our Bill would make that happen.

 

4) You believe in consumer rights

Do you believe that consumers should have some rights? Not only the right to have a say over what happens to services and how to make them better, but also the right to recall providers when they're doing a bad job? Our Bill would introduce a 'right to recall': the government would be required to end private company contracts early when outsourcers are found to be doing a poor job of running public services, following public complaints. 90% of Conservative voters support this.

Ordinary people across the UK are being hit by high water bills, energy costs and rail fares (rising above inflation in Conservative heartlands). Conservative MP Robert Halfon is fighting a campaign to defend consumers from being ripped off by energy companies. Where assets have already been privatised, it's harder to tackle this problem, but we can take action where contracts are agreed by government. Which? recently reported that only 30% of people trust the rail industry to act in their best interests. Isn't it time that government stepped in to defend consumers?

 

5) You believe in saving money

Talking of saving consumers money, what about prudence for the public purse? In public hands, the East Coast line has returned £800 million in profit back to the Treasury. Local authorities across the country are bringing services in-house to cut costs and improve efficiency. Our Bill would require commissioning authorities to look at the public ownership option first and explain the decision to outsource, before putting together a realistic in-house bid. 87% of Conservative voters believe that when a public service is put out to tender, there should always be an in-house bid to see if the service could be provided publicly at better value.

Do you believe in real markets? Giving individuals the power? Transparency? Consumer rights? Saving money? If so, do you think the Conservatives should commit to introducing the Public Service Users Bill? We'd like to hear what you think. Let's work together to stand up for the people who use public services.

 

Views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.

If you are interested in contributing please e-mail  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or tweet @jonathanalgar.

Friday, 14 February 2014 19:23

Kimberley Trewhitt is a Research Director at Reform.

Follow Kimberley on Twitter.

 

Given the evidence around the importance of teacher quality on educational outcomes the Government has put a strong focus on raising the status of the profession and supporting the recruitment and retention of high quality teachers. A key part of this has been the aim to reform teachers' pay and conditions, based on extending freedom and responsibility to teachers as professionals. International evidence demonstrates that the highest performing education systems are autonomous and accountable. Autonomy is important not only to raise the status of the profession, but because of the innovation it can lead to. Reforms to further professionalise the workforce have also been seen across public service areas, for example the Winsor Review of pay and conditions for the police.

Following its recommendations on performance related pay, Michael Gove asked the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) to consider non-pay conditions for teachers - including provisions on working hours (a limit of 1,265 hours of directed time for full-time classroom teachers, which must be spread over a maximum of 195 days), protected planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time, the provision that teachers "rarely cover" and the list of 21 administrative tasks which teachers should not routinely carry out. The STRB reported yesterday that it did not recommend lifting restrictions on working hours, PPA time or "rarely cover" provisions, but it did propose removal of the list of administrative tasks. The Secretary of State has said that he intends to accept the recommendations, subject to the outcomes of the consultation which will now take place.

While recommendations on the list of 21 administrative tasks can be welcomed, the lack of reform on other areas is a cause for concern. Academies already have the freedom not to follow national terms and conditions for teachers and removing the national level prescription would have been an opportunity to extend this to all schools. The provisions around working hours, "rarely cover" and PPA time can impact on quality contact time for pupils, prevent the most effective deployment of the workforce and limit how head teachers manage their schools. A particular challenge is how the provisions impact on the ability of schools to change the hours of the school day and the structure of school terms, without employing significantly greater numbers of staff. This is at odds with changes for maintained schools, which have been granted more flexibility to change the length of the school day since 2011 and from 2015 will be able to alter the structure of the school year. 

Removing the national level prescription would also allow academies and free schools to make the most of their freedoms in practice. In 2012, Reform and the SSAT carried out an extensive survey of academies in England, Plan A+, which showed that some academies are operating lengthened school days and different structures for the school year, yet the changes were not widespread. Of those academies surveyed, 36% planned to/had made changes to the school year, 17% planned to lengthen/had lengthened the school day and 25% planned to/had made changes to terms and conditions. Strikingly, 60% of schools said they did not plan to make use of academy freedoms because the existence of national pay and conditions made it culturally difficult to do so. Those who have made changes have shown that greater commitment can be rewarded appropriately for example through pay or other incentives such as more professional development.

As well as the potential impact these changes could have on outcomes, it is also important to consider the spending context: schools are likely to face greater budgetary pressures in future years, given the projected increase in pupil numbers and the continued pressure on the public finances. There have been significant cost implications associated with the changes introduced since the National Agreement was signed in 2003. For example, the number of teaching assistants has risen from 79,000 in 2000 to 232,200 in 2012. Money will have to be spent more effectively in the years to come and giving schools more flexibility in order to do this would mean they were able to make decisions based on their circumstances.

 

This post is based on Kimberley's recent remarks at the Wesminster Education Forum.


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Friday, 14 February 2014 13:26

Nick Denys is co-editor of Platform10.org, co-host of the House of Comments podcast, and a member of Bright Blue.

Follow Nick on Twitter.

 

Property ownership is a good thing. It is good for people to own, and it is good for people to aspire to own. Saving to buy a home is a great motivator for future planning. Of course, young people will only save if the goal of home ownership seems achievable.

This is something all Conservatives can agree on. If it is a good thing then it is something that should be promoted. The Coalition has brought in some measures to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder, but more still needs to be done. This is why earlier this week Bright Blue hosted a meeting with top policy makers to discuss what the Conservative's flagship policy on housing should be in the 2015 Manifesto.

 

The case that something must be done

Tackling the affordable housing crises should be a key part of any manifesto. It is one of the main policy areas young people will be considering when deciding who to vote for, or whether to vote at all. The statistics scream that something has to be done. Ipsos Mori found that over 80% of each young people want to own their home, but just 25% of under 35s do. Home ownership is at its lowest level since 1990. 65% of the population is a homeowner, down from 71% in 2003. This is the first decline in history. The average price of a house has increased by 250% since 1950. To put this into perspective, if a chicken had increased by that amount your Sunday roast would cost £51.18. Like Usain Bolt the growth in house prices has pulled away from growth in wages. Today, the average price of a house is 4.5 the average salary. In 1999 the ratio was 3. First-time buyers need to stretch themselves to financial breaking point. They need to take bigger loans, thus become more susceptible to the harm caused by raising interest rates. This makes it harder for the Bank of England to reward savers by raising interest rates. If you want to work out how long it will take you to save a big enough deposit to buy a property, Shelter has created a nifty calculator.

If nothing substantial is done, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation predicts that the number of young people owning their own properties in 2020 will decrease by around 1.1 million to 1.3 million. There are some who believe that it is fine if Britain move towards a continental model where less people own, and more people rent. This academic opinion is detached from the emotional reality that most Britons aspire to own their castle. To be fair, the Minister in charge of planning, Nick Boles, does understand this: “No aspiration is more deeply embedded in the British psyche than the desire to own your own home.”

 

Why has this situation been allowed to develop?

Building houses is easy, it's the politics that's difficult. The rise in house prices is one of the main causes of inter-generational poverty, so it would be good to stop this. Except those who own houses like it when it increases in value. Only 10.6% of the UK is classified as being urban, so there is plenty of space to build on. Except the areas where people want to live is the green belt surrounding our metropolitan centres, and there are always protests against building on the green belt. Many older people live in homes that are bigger than their requirements, so they should be able to downsize. Except there are not enough bungalows and the tax burden makes such a move financially foolish. Building a Garden City or two would create much needed new communities in the South East, at no extra expense to the tax payer as the Treasury will recoup everything it spends. Except those who live where a Garden City might be built are likely to object.

 

Make solving the home ownership an election winner

The 2015 election will be a close one. This means that voting matters and being vocal about what you care about matters to politicians. At Bright Blue we will continue to campaign to make sure the housing issue gets the prominence it deserves. Over the last 20 years not enough new homes have been built. There is no easy answer to the housing problem, but finding the solution will create great rewards, both economically and culturally.

 

Further reading:

  • Paul Kirby: A simple idea to sort out the housing market and make the economy boom for the next 5 years
  • Alex Morton: How to build better homes – for both younger and older people
  • Daniel Knowles: 15 facts that reveal the utter insanity of Britain’s housing market
  • Tim Montgomerie: We need more homes, not easier mortgages

 


Views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.

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Thursday, 23 January 2014 19:32

Katy Wright is the Head of UK Government Relations at Oxfam GB.

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As the world's elite mingle in Davos this week Oxfam hit the headlines with a new report on growing extreme inequality. Or specifically what hit the headlines was the staggering statistic that the total wealth of the 85 richest individuals in the world is the same as that of the poorest half of the world’s population. So that’s 85 people owning the same wealth that is shared out between 3.5 billion others (we like to picture those 85 people inside a double-decker bus).

It feels wrong. But is it in itself a problem? And is it – quite frankly – a bit too lefty for Oxfam to be going on about extreme wealth rather than concentrating on getting charity to the world’s poorest? I don’t think so, and I think the signs are increasingly there that extreme inequality is something we all – left and right, rich and poor (or struggling middle classes) need to take seriously. 

Firstly let’s concentrate for a moment on the feeling that this sort of extreme inequality is just morally wrong. This is not to say all inequality is a moral problem. As the Oxfam report says, some economic inequality is essential to reward risk and hard work. But one only has to watch this clip of Kevin O’Leary - an investor and businessman from across the pond - making the bombastic argument that the poverty of 3.5 billion people is “fantastic” to feel that any moral celebration of such extreme inequality is hard to stomach. Even for the most ardent believer in free markets.

Oxfam is far from alone in our concern. In fact we’re in rather august company as the World Economic Forum themselves rank widening income disparities as the second greatest worldwide risk in the coming 12 to 18 months. It is also worth reading President Obama’s remarks on inequality in December last year. The Spectator recently carried a really interesting piece from Toby Young who (whilst apologising for sounding like Owen Jones) argued that the super rich’s reluctance to call themselves upper class is really all about hiding their concentration of wealth.

Inequality works to deny social mobility. What is striking about Obama’s speech is his assertion that inequality is now at odds with the great American dream. Whilst the existence of some economic inequality incentivises progress and social mobility, extreme inequality pulls the rungs of that ladder just too far apart. Oxfam’s report highlights the vicious cycle of ‘opportunity capture’ – in which the lowest tax rates, the best education, and the best healthcare are claimed by the children of the rich. This creates dynamic and mutually reinforcing cycles of advantage that are transmitted across generations.

Inequality undermines democracy. This cartoon perfectly captures the politics of extreme wealth – whereby money buys a voice, buys influence, buys favourable policies and so reinforces itself. The mechanics of this may not be transparent to all – but we all feel it. An Oxfam survey found that in the UK today two-thirds of people agreed with the statement ‘The rich have too much influence over where this country is headed’ (See Figure 3 of our report).

It undermines security and growth. A society which contains such different and intractable life chances starts to lose its coherence. The World Economic Forum report directly links income disparities to the wave of uprisings across the world – pointing out that the young are most willing to take to the streets because they feel like they have nothing to lose. Recent IMF findings have suggested that chronic inequality also harms long-term economic growth. 

Ultimately, inequality makes poverty harder to overcome.  That’s why we care about it. All those who care about growth, security, reward for hard work, democracy and moral order should care too.

 


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Friday, 06 December 2013 20:47

Caroline Julian is Head of Research at ResPublica.

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The Government's announcement to reduce energy bills by an average of £50 per household per year will temporarily be a welcome relief - but only for customers of the larger energy companies. The cuts to the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) insulation scheme, which will account for a £30-35 bill reduction, as with other green levies, apply only to those suppliers with over 250,000 customer accounts or 125,000 dual-fuel customers. At present that means only the Big Six energy companies plus First Utility.

In the battle against high bills, many have argued that the Government is threatening the success of energy efficiency schemes, or at least, the public perception of their importance in driving down consumption and therefore driving down costs to the consumer. But might the ECO changes also threaten good competition in the energy market and the Government's support of new and emerging suppliers?

Not long ago, the Energy Minister, Michael Fallon MP, used ECO as a tool to encourage competition, arguing that Government is “looking very hard at how we can encourage the smaller companies to grow; for example, the ECO threshold, which we have already increased once. If we increased it further...that would encourage them to grow.” And had vowed to “light matches under the feet” of the Big Six energy suppliers with a series of measures to boost competition and help smaller companies to poach their customers.

Collective switching has also been harnessed by Government to attract customers toward a better deal, which can often be sought from new suppliers, who do not yet breach the threshold to qualify for ECO. Reducing the cost for customers of the larger energy suppliers, might conversely encourage customers to stay rather than go, based on the new knowledge that their bills will now be lower. As we know from this summer's Ofgem Tracking Survey the proportion of customers who switched supplier in the last year had fallen for the fourth year running for gas (to 11%) and for the fifth year for electricity consumers (to 12%). Perhaps we will see this fall even further.

Cutting green levies with no complementary strategy, or in apparent contradiction to other initiatives, will take us back to a purely 'free market' position in which the larger energy companies are more likely to win. Measures need to be put in place to further enable a diverse market, rather than a return to the status quo.

Facilitating such competition will require a discussion that reaches beyond the narrow debate regarding the cost of energy bills. And Government can to far more than adjust what it controls. Ramsay Dunning (General Manager of Co-operative Energy) has argued for Government to compel that all power generation be traded through a single wholesale market to encourage openness and transparency. He adds that just as we have a single stock market and a single index, the FTSE, we should have a single power market and an Energy Supply Index (ENSI).

I would argue further that Government should introduce incentives to ensure that competition is based on social and environmental value, rather than price alone, to ensure that independent generators, such as community-owned energy and initiatives that deliver significant social and local benefits, are brokered into the market. In Germany, which has over 900 licensed suppliers (compared to our 30), customers are flooding to local energy companies that can deliver more than low cost bills. In Schönau, South West Germany, for example, the energy supplier and distribution network, EWS Schönau, operates as a co-operative where the consumers are also the members (and investors) and in which all energy is purchased from local and renewable sources.

As I have argued previously, turning the market on its head in this manner will deliver a truly transformative solution to our cost of living crisis, rather than a return to the status quo. 

 


Views held by contributors are not necessarily those of Bright Blue, as good as they often are.

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