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22 Sep 2013 09:17:02

Dominic Raab MP: This week's fire brigade union action shows why we need strike law reform

Dominic Raab is the Member of Parliament for Esher & Walton

Screen shot 2013-09-22 at 09.12.00I have huge admiration for the job done by my local fire and rescue service (which I visited twice recently to see first-hand how the profession is changing and hear about local challenges).  So, I was disappointed to see the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) call a strike for Wednesday, based on their new pay and pension arrangements. The FBU rehearse their case for strike action here, and readers will make their own mind up whether or not it is warranted. I believe strike action is irresponsible. The deal offered by the government is reasonable, given the pressure on the public finances, and wider fairness towards other public services, not to mention workers in the private sector.

The FBU say 18,277 members voted in favour of striking, which is almost 80% per cent support – although that is 80 per cent of those who voted, not 80 per cent of those balloted. Equally, not all FBU members are involved in the strike. Northern Irish members were not balloted. Nor were ‘control’ members. Still, according to the FBU’s 2012 annual report, the total number of FBU members (excluding those in Northern Ireland) is 39,571. That suggests that most FBU members balloted have, in fact, refused to back strike action - unless there are over 3,000 ‘control’ members.

I called up the FBU on Wednesday and asked if they could give a precise figure for the total number balloted. They promised to get back to me. Having heard nothing, on Friday I called again. Their press officer (a nice chap) assured me the figure was ascertainable, and they would get it to me by close of play that day. Still, I heard nothing. So, I tried one final time, and put it to the FBU that there weren’t likely to be 3,000 control members. I was eventually told the figure of 39,571 was ‘about right’ as an estimate of the total number balloted but – yet again – they would provide a precise figure shortly. They never did.

As a matter of transparency, I find it surprising that the FBU did not have to hand the total number balloted. I can’t recall any strike since 2010, where that figure was not publicly available. It’s possible the FBU may later cobble together a figure showing they do in fact have support from a majority of their members. But, given my due diligence and the response I received, it’s reasonable to assume they don’t.

That brings back into play the debate about strike law reform, and the need for a voting threshold of support from 50 per cent of balloted members for strike action to proceed. Since 2011, I have been arguing in favour of such reform here and here – in particular, for emergency services where the scope for disruption is so acute. In short, if union bosses can’t muster majority support from their own members, why should they be allowed to disrupt the hard-working majority across the country?

It’s worth remembering that unions expect all their members to strike, whether or not they voted in favour. So, a threshold would also inject some democratic legitimacy into their own internal process. Far from an attack on rank and file members, it would empower them. Union bosses say MPs backing strike law reform, with less than half the vote themselves (as most are), are hypocrites. That is chaff. The fact is that everyone affected by the decisions of their MP gets to vote for him or her. But, the wider public affected by strike action don’t get a say in a strike ballot. The power to strike (and the immunity from being sued for the consequences) is unique to union bosses. It allows a minority to wield considerable power over the majority. That is why a safeguard is required to prevent abuse.

When I first raised this in Parliament, in 2011, some suggested it was an attempt to rekindle old battle lines from the 1980s, and that the public wouldn’t support reform. That year, we suffered the most days lost to strike action since the poll tax riots of 1990. YouGov polled support for the reform at 2 to 1 in favour. By, September 2012, it was three to one in favour.  The case for reform remains as compelling as ever. As this week’s FBU strike demonstrates, the hard-working majority need protection from the disruption and chaos threatened by out-of-touch union leaders wielding undemocratic strike powers.

22 Sep 2013 08:57:48

Kathy Gyngell: Conservatives have capitulated to the feminist lie on families and marriage

Kathy Gyngell is Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies

Screen shot 2013-09-22 at 08.52.33Saving the family is as desperate as saving Private Ryan. It may already be too late. In twenty years time the graveyard may be silent but for tombstones - no one to reflect on whether the battle was worth it. New figures show that belief in marriage has collapsed. Only half those 25 years ago believe a couple should marry before having children according the British Social Attitudes Survey

This follows a new all time marriage rate low, half all births  (47.5 per cent) outside marriage; three million children in single parent households – mainly mother led; and record numbers of 45 to 64 year olds  (two and a half million) living alone with no spouse, partner or children to comfort them. 

The council estate ‘men deserts’ - where children’s prospects are so poor – look here to stay. So too the largely futile but well meaning  ‘early’ and ‘supporting problem families’ interventions (marriage disadvantage reduction policies). For it seems that the case for marriage has been lost, made so forcibly by Jill Kirby at the Centre for Policy Studies, Iain Duncan Smith at the Centre for Social Justice and most recently by the Marriage Foundation.

It seems neither to have influenced public opinion nor politicians.  No surprise as far as Labour is concerned, but for the Conservatives it provided a new psychosocial explanation of fatherless family disadvantage and the pro marriage policy means to rectify it. But from day one in office they backtracked. Why? In a nutshell, the savagery of radical and irrational feminist ideology that laid the family low in the first place.

This intolerance displayed itself last week at the Lib Dems Conference. Not content with killing off the one earner married family, a new Transferable Tax Allowances w termed prejudicial and discriminatory, “only benefiting that minority of couples who conformed to a Tory ideal of what relationships ought to look like”. In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act. So said George Orwell.

Conservatives are not revolutionaries.  They have capitulated to the feminist lie. The public as ever responds rationally to the financial incentives and disincentives confronting them. It is easy to forget how feminism has changed balance between the family and the state over the last 25 years. Harriet Harman’s triumphalist marking of Gordon Brown’s first Budget as, “the end of the assumption that families consist of a male breadwinner and a female helpmate in the home,” culminated in an Equalities Bill (enacted by the Coalition) and one way maternal employment policies and childcare policies

Today, Lord Lawson admits his failure to persuade Mrs. Thatcher to include transferable allowances in their independent taxation reform in 1988 had far reaching consequences. It set in train the abolition of the married couples allowance, and George Osborne’s final death knell for family responsibility for children – capping child benefit.

But these financial blows alone do not account for the scale of family breakdown and dependency in post marriage Britain. In the decade before independent taxation reform the number of single mothers doubled from 330,000 to 770,000, newly supported on lone parent benefit. By 1990, the American Social Scientist Charles Murray noted the emergence of British underclass resulting from this rising rate of illegitimacy.

Its human face was (and is) socially marginal, unemployed men for whom there was no compelling reason to seek work or any incentive to obey social rules – least of all the marriage rule. Politicians, such as  Frank Field, seeing the true costs, were prepared to think the unthinkable. They were outgunned by the Polly Toynbee and Harriet Harman school of feminism. A multi-billion pound juggernaut of working and child tax credits (benefits) was set in motion to redress welfare dependency.   It has increased it.

They have made the married choice harder, the 'couple penalty’ a steeper challenge.  Today, the Marriage Foundation reports 240,000 couples claiming to be apart to get lone parent tax credits worth £7,100.00 (rising to £9,985. 00 where there are two children). No wonder working class people have concluded marriage is not a realistic option for them, with no tax or ‘welfare’ advantages to a marriage certificate.

Only richer folk can afford marriage amongst whom is it rising, knowing it helps cement their wealth and their children’s success. It does not mean the poor are against the idea of marriage. They are not, but not, as one study has suggested, to ‘their’ own men. Their doubt is whether marriage is a realistic option, not a fundamental rejection of marriage as an ideal [1]. 

Yet despite a crescendo of anxiety about the collapse of boys’ morale and performance, feminist solutions to ‘the men problem’ persist. Maternal employment tops their agenda despite a rise in female employment of more than a quarter of a million since 2008 against a male fall of 70,000. Reconstructing men and dissolving gender differences - providing paternity leave, bullying them into becoming domestic helpers, are still the order of the day.

So while the introduction of a transferable tax allowance is essential it is not enough. Feminism has to be reigned back and families freed to decide their own division of labour. A backlash against radical feminism has begun but has not yet arrived at Westminster.  In many crucial respects younger adults are becoming more, not less, old fashioned in their values.

On gender roles younger women have ideas that are closer to their grandmothers than to their mothers. This is what Geoff’s Dench’s analysis of the recently published British Social Attitudes data tells us. Far from the incomplete gender revolution spun by the BSA spun we may be witnessing the start of a counter-revolution. Today it is not the young but the middle-aged baby boomers who hold the most feminist views.

For example younger women (those aged 18-39) are more likely than their own mothers to think a pre-school child will suffer if its mother works, significantly up since 1994. The number who think what women most want is a home and children has doubled in ten years. Half now think that being a housewife is as fulfilling as working for pay.

All three political parties are out of touch. The Conservatives should have no need to genuflect the Harman and Toynbee baby boomer generation now it is increasingly out of step. They are no longer modern; and their desire to destroy the marriage advantage for others is perverse.

[i] Dench, G. 2010, What women want: Evidence from British Social Attitudes, London, Hera Trust, p.57

21 Sep 2013 17:44:26

Peter Walker: The consequences of the defenestration of Godfrey Bloom

Peter Walker retired as Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police in 2003.  He now owns SuperSkills, a Construction Training Business in Thirsk, and is on the Westminster candidates' list. Follow Peter on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-09-21 at 13.26.48Hands up everybody who has at any time, said something stupid at work.  Now hands up those who didn't give an accurate answer to the first question.  OK - that's everybody then. That's the issue regarding the Godfrey Bloom debacle at UKIP's conference. Ann Treneman was there and provides a word by word report of the unfolding PR disaster in The Times (£) today.

Like any boss, Nigel Farage blew his top - on television, he looked as though steam was about to come from his ears.  His plan was that this year's UKIP conference would demonstrate it was a grown up party - not just ready to fight the European Elections, but gain momentum for the longer haul to May 2015.  Bloom had scuppered UKIP's plans spectacularly.

Many would say that he has been heading in this direction for some time.  This was not his first gaffe.  He has done it before, and the response from his party hasn't made him change.  In fact, the "happy chappie, booze n' fags" UKIP image has, it could be argued, played to a considerable section of the electorate.  People like entertainment; UKIP has been providing it.

A more composed Farage took to the prime slot on "Today" this morning and two key issues emerged.  After a series of increasingly direct questions from John Humphrys, he ruled out any agreements with the Conservatives concerning the 2015 General Election.  Additionally, he made it clear that UKIP cannot afford to have people behaving the way that Bloom did if they want to be taken seriously.

The former puts us on notice that campaigns in every seat will have to recognise, analyse and deal with a threat to our vote from UKIP.  I live in one of the safest seats in the country, yet meet people on the doorstep who will support UKIP, having moved their allegiance from us.  In my local ward (usually rock solid Conservative), an "unknown" UKIP candidate, who didn't give any impression of actively campaigning, got 25 per cent of the vote.

This means our job in the run up to 2015 gets tougher.  Analysing the UKIP threat ward by ward.  Targeting those that have UKIP voters, so our approach to the renegotiation about and referendum on our place in Europe gets across to voters.  Exposing UKIP's frailties about taxation and spending because of their commitments to spend more, yet tax less.  I'm not sure it's enough to say "Vote UKIP, get Labour" because, whilst that is true, Farage is already deflecting it.
Personal contact.  Give people a "Good Listening To". Understand why their attitudes have shifted.  Put our case logically.  Because the second - arguably more interesting - issue that came from this morning's interview may prove significant.

UKIP have started to rein in their "mavericks".  Their people can no longer say what they like and get away with it.  With that will go their attractiveness to many voters.  Godfrey Bloom cut a lonely figure as he was filmed leaving the UKIP conference having been suspended from the party whip.  But with him went that party's advantage - in being listened to without challenge. From now on, they will have to make their arguments stick in a manner the rest of the parties have always had to - less of the rhetoric and with numbers that add up.  Bring it on!

21 Sep 2013 12:48:21

Mohammed Amin: Immigration is not a racial issue today

Screen shot 2012-06-18 at 11.12.42Mohammed Amin is Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity. Follow Mohammed on Twitter.

For several decades, racists who thought it politically incorrect to attack people for being black or brown instead protested about “immigration”, and wanted to send immigrants “back where they came from”. This desire to repatriate applied irrespective of whether the black or brown person in question was actually an immigrant or someone who had been born in Britain. Such details did not matter, since what the racists were really against was the idea that Britons could be anything other than people with white skins, preferably of Anglo-Saxon origin.

While racists can be found in all political parties, it is a historical fact that every significant piece of legislation promoting racial equality was enacted by Labour governments, usually over Conservative opposition. Meanwhile from time to time some Conservative politicians would come out with speeches making it clear that they would rather people like me left the country, if necessary with the assistance of a repatriation grant. While such racist policies never became official Conservative policy, we had enough such people within our party to ruin our brand with most people from an ethnic minority background. That is why even today if someone is from an ethnic minority, even if they are highly educated or rich, they are much more likely to vote Labour than vote Conservative. If you have not already read it, I recommend Lord Ashcroft's report "Degrees of Separation."

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21 Sep 2013 06:30:05

Rory Meakin: We must acknowledge that our planning rules stop homes being built

Rory Meakin is Head of Tax Policy at the Taxpayers Alliance and was lead researcher to the UK Tax Commission. Follow Rory on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-09-20 at 17.08.13Natalie Elphicke of Million Homes, Million Lives wrote earlier this week on this site, about the pressing need for more homes, saying that planning is not the problem that is stopping enough homes from being built. It’s great that she is bringing attention both to the root cause of the housing crisis and the problems it causes for people’s lives. She is right to call for Land Registry data to be made freely available, and right to identify tax as a major part of why house builders aren’t building enough houses. But we need to be realistic about the fact that planning restrictions are restricting builders and developers, too. Opening up Land Registry data and cutting taxes will help, but they won’t be enough alone to provide the million homes that Natalie Elphicke rightly says we need. So we must acknowledge the effect that restrictions are having on the supply of new homes and then we must look at what kind of reforms might help us get the homes we need.

Restrictions restrict

The entire and only point of the planning system is to stop certain buildings being built (and to stop a small proportion of existing buildings from being demolished, for heritage reasons). All the planning system does is approve applications for permission to build things, or refuse permission. It does this for homes in three main ways.

First, in urban areas, it stops applicants from building as many homes as they’d like to, on the grounds of the size of the proposed buildings. Secondly, in rural, commercial and industrial areas, it stops applicants from building as many homes as they’d like to, on the grounds that the law often demands that the land in question cannot be used for residential purposes. Thirdly, in all areas, it stops applicants from building homes that fail to meet various criteria such as expected energy efficiency, room dimensions and provision of space for things such as bicycles & bins, "amenity space" (typically in the form of a garden), and payments to fund government projects such as affordable housing or local infrastructure.

In every instance, these planning restrictions have one of two possible effects. Either the restriction has no effect because it stipulates that applicants must do what they would have done anyway. Or it stops applicants from building what they would have built, leaving them with the choice of either modifying their applications so that they satisfy the restriction, or abandoning them because it’s not worthwhile any more. Abandoned projects obviously result in fewer homes being built. But the result is the same in the other cases, too. In many cases, the restrictions directly restrict the number of homes that can be built. But even in cases where the system simply imposes additional requirements that the applicants would not have chosen otherwise, this reduces the profitability and risk of home-building which, in turn, means that asset managers allocate less capital to home building and more to other uses.

Most of these restrictions have very obvious benefits, particularly to neighbours. For example, they mean that people who already have a country home of their own get to keep unspoilt views across fields while those who already have their own home in urban areas get to keep development on their neighbours’ land at a density of their liking. And many of the restrictions, perhaps all, may be worth the cost they impose on applicants and the reduction in the housing supply that entails. After all, very few people are calling for the planning system to be abolished entirely. But it’s no good pretending that the laws of economics are mysteriously suspended in the housing market. We can’t just pretend that the costs don’t exist just because we think they are worth it for the benefits they give us.

Planning reform?

So what sort of reforms could make the system less restrictive so that it allows more homes to be built while maintaining the restrictions that people value most? First, we should look at unnecessary nanny state regulations on things like environmental efficiency, the dimensions of rooms and the provision of space for gardens, bicycle storage and bins. Adults who buy homes are old enough to decide for themselves what they are prepared to pay for on questions like these. And on environmental requirements, the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme and other energy taxes mean that the objectives are already covered.

Secondly, we need to look at planning conditions which act like taxes. Section 106 agreements, the new Community Infrastructure Levy and affordable housing requirements impose a substantial burden on developers. They stop some projects and make investment in the others less attractive, which in a cruel irony ends up making homes less affordable.

Thirdly, we need to look at where we allow the extra homes we need to be built. There are two main options, high demand urban areas and the green belt. There is no getting away from the fact that we have to either intensify our cities and suburbs or build on more of the greenbelt. Those who want to preserve the greenbelt should look at relaxing planning restrictions on the scale of buildings in urban areas. Instead of restricting building heights to whatever the neighbours have, the rules should allow new buildings to be a little taller, allowing cities to gradually adjust as demand for more housing increases. It’s one thing to object to a sky-scraper next door if you live on a suburban street. But we can’t carry on freezing the heights and bulk of buildings in an area just because they made sense in the past. We need to seriously consider reforming planning concepts such the definition of whether the scale of buildings are “in keeping” with their surroundings.

But even if we don’t do this generally, we should consider radical deregulation in neighbourhoods where the planning system has delivered blighted communities. In run down estates and abandoned industrial and commercial areas, town planners should step away and remove all but the most basic of restrictions. The policy should be unashamedly aimed at encouraging private investment by making it as profitable as possible to fix the mess that central planning has creased to fix the mess that central planning has created.

Building homes

As Natalie Elphicke rightly says, planning restrictions aren’t the only cost which we lump onto potential developers. Tax is a big obstacle, too. Whether it’s general tax such as Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax and VAT (on extensions), or more specific taxes such as section 106 payments, affordable housing requirements, Stamp Duty, environmental taxes or fees for placing skips outside the property and planning applications, they all make development less attractive and for that reason reduce the number of homes built.

Cutting these taxes would boost home building. But it doesn’t make sense to further complicate the tax system with a special regime designed to avoid the system’s disastrous effects, but only for certain types of developer. Tax complexity is already a huge problem and making it worse won’t help. And big developers are to a large extent a product of big government. The effect of our tax system and planning restrictions is that only the biggest operators have the efficiency and economies of scale to comply with the rules. Home buyers in free, open markets with rules that apply equally to all should decide who builds their homes, not politicians and bureaucrats trying to fiddle with special rules.

I’m also sceptical that opening up Land Registry data will have a substantial impact, but open data is a good thing and should be the default for access to information the Government holds. That doesn’t mean building national databases but councils should release their planning applications data in a standard format so that people can build their own databases, if they want to.

So yes, let’s open up data on land ownership and planning to greater transparency. And yes, let’s lighten the tax burden we place on home builders. But let’s not complicate the tax system in the process. And let’s be honest and upfront about the effect planning restrictions have on housing supply. That doesn’t have to mean a “free for all”, but does mean only keeping restrictions that are worth the damage they cause. And it means relaxing regulations which aren’t worth the benefits.

21 Sep 2013 06:28:56

Nick Wood: Will Miliband's panda party ever give birth?

Nick Wood is founder of Media Intelligence Partners and former Conservative Party Communications Director.

Screen shot 2013-09-20 at 17.22.22Has Ed Miliband turned into a giant panda? That was the unhelpful but not unreasonable question posed by former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith the other day as she likened Tian Tian's lengthy but unproductive pregnancy to the Labour leader's failure to produce a single policy of note despite a three year gestation.

Next week, at his conference in Brighton, Ed may confound us all by having triplets. But the smart money is on him keeping us all guessing for a long time to come. After the worthy but underwhelming Lib Dem gathering in Glasgow, the political landscape still looks like a scene from Narnia's frozen north.

Nick Clegg and his dwindling band of supporters have been stuck on around 10 per cent of the vote for as long as anyone can remember. UKIP, under the rumbustious Nigel Farage, have fallen back from the glory days of the May local elections but are still in double figures, while Labour holds a narrowing but still decisive lead over the Tories.

Nick, despite some decent press reviews, failed to effect a thaw last week. Can Ed do any better?

Not if he models himself on Edinburgh Zoo's most celebrated if enigmatic inmate. So far the Labour leader has treated his conference speeches as a largely metaphysical exercise. A couple of years ago we had a now forgotten denunciation of "predatory capitalism" and last year, in a bid to steal Tory clothes, New Labour was replaced with One Nation Labour - ironically an echo of Tony Blair's one-time boast that his party was the political wing of the British people.

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20 Sep 2013 13:55:16

Maria Borelius: Why I was wrong about the Euro, am no longer a Europhile - and why Europe needs reform

Maria Borelius is a board member of the think tank Open Europe and a London based entrepreneur. She was formerly a Swedish MP and Minister for Trade. Follow Open Europe on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 10.07.09Ten years ago, Sweden held a referendum on joining the euro.  I voted Yes – and I was not alone. A whole host of business leaders, including the Swedish CBI, the main political parties - both on left and right - and the major national newspapers, all were in favour of joining. The Swedish CBI put a record £45 million into the campaign to ditch the Swedish Krona, as the yes-side funding outspent the no-side by a factor of 10-1.

I still remember the shock when we realised we had lost, and I heard stories from close friends about how the campaign managers on the Yes-side buried their faces in their hands as devastated business leaders fumed with disappointment. Long-faced commentators and politicians made sombre TV appearances. A clear majority of Swedes – 56 per cent versus 41 per cent - had defied the establishment and said No to the euro.

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20 Sep 2013 06:51:36

Andrew Lilico: Why we should not ban veils

Andrew Lilico is an Economist with Europe Economics, and a member of the Shadow Monetary Policy Committee

LILICO ANDREWShould Muslim or other women be banned from wearing veils?

First, let's be clear what this question is not about.  It's not about whether Muslim women should wear veils in courtrooms or at airport security or passport control or whilst running dangerous machinery that requires peripheral vision or any or special situation in which there would be restrictions on anyone else's headwear.  You can't wear hoodies in those situations, either, and in most of them you can't wear hats.  But if someone asked: "Should men be banned from wearing hats" you wouldn't think the correct answer is "Yes - they shouldn't wear hats when going through passport control."

No.  The question of whether Muslim women should be banned from wearing veils is the question of whether, in ordinary social situations - when walking in the street, or at work, or in classrooms - they should be permitted to wear veils.  I say: yes, if they want to.

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19 Sep 2013 07:07:35

Chris Grayling MP: Here are the reforms I'm announcing today to support and manage offenders

Chris Grayling is the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, and MP for Epsom and Ewell

GRAYLING CHRIS NWIf you sit with a group of current or former offenders, you almost always get the same message. Most started on crime when they were young, would like to stop, but often do not know how to get their lives back together, and get themselves into a position where they get a stable home and a job. And all too often when they leave prison, the easy option is just to do the same thing all over again.

Crime in Britain today is very different to what it was a decade or two ago. There has been a steady decline in the number of people committing crime for the first time. There are fewer entrants to the criminal justice system. And crime is falling as a result. Better policing, tougher punishments, more thoughtful interventions by the voluntary and public sector, often supported by private sponsorship, are helping steer more and more young people away from the temptations of crime.

None the less, there is a hard core who are different. More and more of our crime is being committed by the same people, going round and round the system again and again. Chances are the person who walks into a prison for the first time will end up back there again and again over the course of the following decade or more. Reoffending in Britain today is moving upwards.  Almost 50 per cent of those who do time in our prisons will reoffend again within a year. And yet we know the things that can make a difference. Stable relationships. Somewhere to live. Mentoring and support. A job.

But our current system is a chaotic mix of the good and the bad. Within probation trusts there are hardworking people doing a professional job in containing crime. Within parts of the voluntary sector, there is excellent work helping to build stability in the life of an offender. However, it’s patchy. And inadequate and chaotic. The Justice Select Committee found recently that only 25 per cent of probation staff time is actually spent working with offenders.  I want a system where probation professionals can focus on what they do best - doing what works to tackle individual offenders' specific needs.

Worse still, prisoners who go to jail for less than a year get no support or supervision at all after they leave – and most go back to a life of crime. There is little relationship between where you are detained and where you will live after your release. More than a hundred prisons, all over the country, send released prisoners back to London. Small wonder there is little or no adequate through the gate support to ensure that prisoners are properly prepared for release and then given guidance when they get there.

That’s why we are pushing ahead with the most radical reforms to our system of supporting and managing offenders for decades. At the heart of the reforms are three big changes.

The first involves extending supervision to all prisoners when they leave prison, and not just those who serve more than a year. There will be no more offenders walking down the street outside their jail with £46 in their pocket, often nowhere to go, and no one to help them. It has been a travesty, and it will stop.

The second involves a massive shake up of our prison system, so we can provide proper through the gate support. In future, almost all prisoners will spend the last few months of their sentence in a prison local to their home.

The third involves the creation of that new type of through the gate support. We’re bringing in the best of the private and the voluntary sectors to reinforce what the public sector does. I want to see a new kind of service emerge, where prisoners are met at the gate by a mentor who has already planned for their release while they were still inside, who has worked out where they will live, what extra support, like rehab or training, they will need, and will serve as a wise friend and supporter to them for a year after they leave.

And crucially, we will give the organisations who deliver that new service much more freedom and much less bureaucracy to operate in – but in return they will be partly paid by results. That’s absolutely the right way to deliver innovative new ideas, but to protect the interests of the taxpayer.

Of course that won’t work for every prisoner. There are some deeply dangerous and unpleasant people out there, and they will continue to be supervised closely by   a new National public probation service. Wherever there is a serious risk of harm to the public, we will make sure that it is Government and the public sector that watches over that risk.

Today marks a major milestone in the development of our plans. There’s been enormous interest from both the private sector and the voluntary sector over the last few months. We’re now inviting them to state a clear interest in being part of our tendering process. And we’re setting out in much more detail how the new system will work. 

The Conservative Party will always take a tough line on crime. If we are not the party of law and order, we are nothing. But in the interests of our society and the victims of crime, we also need to understand the reoffending problem, and take real strides to solve it. That’s what these reforms are all about. 

18 Sep 2013 06:41:17

Natalie Elphicke: Planning is not the problem that stops houses being built

Natalie is co-founder and chairman of Million Homes, Million Lives, and is a non-executive director of a leading building society. Follow Natalie on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 11.48.55Another day, another demand for a free for all in planning approval for new homes.  A free-for-all in planning is not the answer to increasing the numbers of homes being built. Since John Prescott was Deputy Prime Minister and in charge of such things there has been a relentless call on planning authorities to approve, approve, approve, and the rules have been steadily relaxed.  But approve, approve, approve did not result in build, build, build. Over 280,000 fewer homes were built under the Labour government between 1998 and 2010 than in the previous 13 years of the Conservative government.  More homes overall, and more affordable homes, have been built in each of 2011 and 2012 than in 2010.  More council housing has been built in the last 2 years than over the entire 13 years of the Labour government. 

Low housebuilding has been a longstanding issue in this country, so to blame NIMBYs is a bit lazy. Of course large housebuilders want clean green fields to build 2,000-10,000 homes if they can. But that may not what our country needs or wants in all places or at any cost. Planning officers, councillors and those communities who want sensible planned housing and infrastructure which preserves quality of life and opportunity for all in their community are not the ones holding back housing numbers.

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18 Sep 2013 06:40:32

Robert Halfon MP: How a cross-party campaign for free school meals won the backing of Michael Gove and Nick Clegg

Robert Halfon is a member of the 1922 Committee's Executive and MP for Harlow. Follow Robert on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 21.00.13Some people look at this Government’s education reforms and see them in terms of process. However, as Michael Gove has set out on these pages recently, Academies and Free Schools are more about improving standards than structural re-organisation. If one side of the policy is about standards, the other is getting students through the door in the first place.  Recognising that reforming welfare can take a generation - but that a good education can provide a way-up for disadvantaged children and their families.

Education is everything. Quality education can quickly change people’s life chances. As long as we get pupils through the doors, we can change their lives by increasing their aspirations and providing them with the skills they need. Traditionally, eligibility for free school meals has been an indicator of poverty, with these pupils being outperformed by their peers. This year, the gap in attainment closed slightly, and the number of pupils getting five good GCSEs continues to improve. Last year, 36 per cent of pupils got five GCSEs grades A*-C, compared to 59 per cent of all pupils, and just 24 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals in 2008.

Continue reading "Robert Halfon MP: How a cross-party campaign for free school meals won the backing of Michael Gove and Nick Clegg" »

17 Sep 2013 14:35:11

Adam Afriyie MP: United, the Conservatives can deliver victory

Adam Afriyie is the Member of Parliament for Windsor and Co-Chair of the 2020 Conservatives Economic Commission.

AFRIYIE ADAMWith Ed Miliband’s leadership ratings in the deep freeze and Labour’s dire mid-term polling figures it is easy to forget that an unthinkable Labour Party reoccupation of Downing Street is a distinct possibility. This is a deeply depressing thought when the country is just now showing signs of recovering from their last economic mess.

This risk must sharpen our minds. It must bring conservative-leaning people together. Whatever the differences on the centre-right, we cannot allow a Labour-led government to crash our economy, undo our good progress on immigration and make enemies of competitive British businesses and wealth creators, which are driving this recovery.  We certainly cannot allow our country to return to the tax and spend, big state policies that brought our country to its knees in the first place. Above all, we must be absolutely certain that the British people get their say in an EU referendum sooner rather than later.

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17 Sep 2013 11:33:06

Andrew R.T Davies: Why is Wales's First Minister so silent about Scotland's referendum?

Andrew R.T Davies is Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the National Assembly for Wales and an Assembly member for South Wales Central

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 11.22.24In a year’s time, the people of Scotland will go to the polls not only to decide their own destiny but to decide the route we all take as a united country.

For Wales, the United Kingdom is simply too important to dismiss. The Welsh border with England is one of the most porous anywhere – both economically and demographically. Around half of the Welsh population and 10 per cent of the English population live within 25 miles of the border (only 3 per cent of the Scottish population live within the same distance with England by comparison). With this level of interdependence and geographic proximity, it is all the more important to stress how important the United Kingdom really is. It isn’t just a flag or a name – it is about the way we live.

The single market that the UK enjoys has been amongst the most successful of any ever created. Whilst the European continent is almost unrecognisable as a political entity from what it was 306 years ago, the United Kingdom has avoided the same internal turmoil, maintaining its position as a world power - the sixth economy of the world and a cultural and social union united through its diversity. Yet whilst it has existed for as long as it has, it can no longer be taken for granted. There are some in Scotland and in Wales who believe that it holds us back; that it is no longer relevant. They don’t see is how special our Union really is - that Union is about strength of diversity as well as economic and political power.

Continue reading "Andrew R.T Davies: Why is Wales's First Minister so silent about Scotland's referendum?" »

17 Sep 2013 06:31:12

Bad advice is blighting the careers of thousands of young people. Here's how to do better.

Graham Stuart is the Chairman of the Education Select Committee, and the MP for Beverley and Holderness.

Screen shot 2013-09-16 at 16.54.31In October last year, the Education Select Committee visited Bradford College.  Whilst there, I met a young man whose experience typifies a slow-burning scandal: namely, the inadequate quality of the careers advice on offer in our schools and colleges.

He was taking a course to join the uniformed services.  He had wasted the previous year on a course that was not right for him and would not have led to a job in the fire service, which he wanted to join.  To add insult to injury, this young man had found out during the appropriate course that the fire service is now shrinking, and there was unlikely to be a job for him at the end.

The system is failing that young man – and thousands like him.  They need good-quality careers guidance if they are to make informed choices about the courses that they take at school, and their options when they leave. This is particularly true at a time when one in five young people aged 16 to 24 are unemployed. 

However, with a few honourable exceptions, that support is currently not available.  Since September 2012, schools have been legally responsible for securing access to careers advice for their students.  This transfer of responsibility has, regrettably, been a serious mistake.  Schools were not given extra resources to supply careers services.  Perhaps more importantly, they are not rigorously and routinely evaluated on careers advice, so it gets neglected by head teachers.

Continue reading "Bad advice is blighting the careers of thousands of young people. Here's how to do better." »

16 Sep 2013 16:13:17

Cllr Victoria Borwick: Why aren't the Conservatives encouraging more events like Conservative Renewal?

Cllr Victoria Borwick AM is London Assembly Member and Statutory Deputy Mayor.

Screen shot 2013-09-16 at 15.11.06I would like to commend the organisers of the Conservative Renewal Conference in Windsor last Saturday.  An informal gathering enabling delegates to hear, debate and discuss ideas from a broad range of speakers.  It was wonderful to be away from the frenetic body searches, and expense of Conference – is this the way forward?

Far from shunning such grass roots activity, the Party should actively be encouraging local conferences of this nature – if we as a Party want to engage with our supporters who enjoy the opportunity of debate then every local association, particularly in those areas where we have less support, should be encouraged to run their own mini-conferences.  These should be supported by the offer of excellent speakers from the Party.

Windsor attracted about 50 speakers on a broad range of topics, including a thoughtful debate on “what should be the nature of the UK’s new relationship with the EU”, and a good debate on immigration - how refreshing that this is now a subject that we can discuss without rancour.  Two sessions on how to improve our campaigning including hearing about new Kanto software for real time canvassing, data collection and telling – long overdue innovations to making sure we use our volunteers better.  Yes, there are Conservatives out there who want to win and make sure we have the tools to do it.  There were also everal breakout sessions, including on our arts policy, and a well attended session on “marriage and the family”

In spite of the array of speakers, I gather that front bench spokesman were barred from coming to share their vision on their portfolios – a great shame, as I think they would have been well received in a friendly positive atmosphere.  No doubt they may have received some “constructive challenge”, but from those who wish them success in the long term -not backstabbing colleagues who cannot wait to usurp their position.

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