Think Tanks
18 Sep 2013 11:39:06

Nick Faith: Osborne should use the Lloyds sell-off to put money in all our pockets

Nick Faith is Director of Communications at Policy Exchange. Follow Nick on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-09-18 at 11.37.22Expect to hear about living standards – stagnant pay packets, zero hours contracts, a lack of affordable housing, rising energy and water bills – from Ed Miliband in Brighton next week. The Labour leader knows that his party’s greatest electoral advantage is painting the Conservatives as looking out for their wealthy friends, not hard-pressed families struggling to get by even when the national economy is seemingly on the road to recovery.

Osborne knew he had to pre-empt Labour’s attack. Last week, he delivered an important speech. He signalled that while the economy was showing positive signs of life, much more needed to be done to ensure that everyone in the country could benefit from the proceeds of growth. The real challenge for the Chancellor is to show the British public that he can deliver on his promises. To do that he will need to announce a coherent set of economically sensible policies that cuts through to people already deeply disillusioned with politicians and distrustful of big shiny policies.

Continue reading "Nick Faith: Osborne should use the Lloyds sell-off to put money in all our pockets" »

10 Sep 2013 06:41:44

Philip Booth of the IEA: There's a threat to growth, despite the recovery. Here's what it is - and how to counter it.

Professor Philip Booth is Editorial and Programme Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Screen shot 2013-09-09 at 18.44.44George Osborne capitalised on some good economic news in his speech yesterday. He argued that the economy has turned a corner, though he emphasised that risks remain.

If we are turning the corner, however, we are turning it slowly. After the Great Depression, the UK economy shot back to growth, and a little more than five years after the Great Depression ended the economy was back to where it would have been if there had been no depression at all.

Contrast that performance with the Great Recession. Not only have we not made up for the lost growth since 2008, we are actually producing less today than we did before the crisis. Arguably, it is the worst recovery from peacetime recession in British industrial history. In past recoveries, the economy has grown rapidly out of recession. Similarly, we should have had growth rates of over 2.5 per cent in the last two or three years.

What has happened? Firstly, there has been a banking crisis: recessions caused by banking crises are often worse than recessions caused by other factors. However, unlike in the 1930s, when we had a balanced budget, a small public sector and a liberally regulated economy, the current government presides over a very different policy background.

Continue reading "Philip Booth of the IEA: There's a threat to growth, despite the recovery. Here's what it is - and how to counter it. " »

3 Sep 2013 17:43:33

IEA, TFA, CPS, TPA, PEN, BBW and the ASI write to the Government about the Lobbying Bill's "fundamental failings"

By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.

As reported by Guido, a range of think tanks and campaign groups have this afternoon written to the Government expressing concerns about the impact of the Lobbying Bill on their work:

We wish to highlight our grave concern about the Government’s Lobbying Bill, a piece of legislation that poses a significant threat to legitimate campaigning freedom of speech, political activism and informed public debate.

Part II of the bill threatens the ability of charities, research and campaigning organisations to inform the public debate, fulfil their missions and raise awareness of important issues. The current drafting would capture a huge number of organisations who would not presently be considered as relevant to electoral law and who do not receive any state funding. It also threatens to dramatically expand the range of activity regulated far beyond any common sense understanding of commercial lobbying. 

We do not regard the Cabinet Office’s assurances as sufficient given the widespread legal doubts expressed from across the political spectrum. It cannot be a prudent approach to legislate on the basis of assurances that enforcement will not be to the full extent of the law. The exceptions offered are unclear and unconvincing.

The lack of clarity in the legislation further exacerbates its complexity, while granting a remarkably broad discretion to the Electoral Commission. The potential tidal wave of bureaucracy could cripple even well-established organisations, while forcing groups to reconsider activity if there is a perceived risk of falling foul of the law. This self-censorship is an inevitable consequence of the bill as it stands. 

We urge the Government to reconsider its approach and to urgently address the fundamental failings in this legislation.

Yours Sincerely,

Mark Littlewood, Director General, Institute for Economic Affairs, Simon Richards, Director, The Freedom Association, Tim Knox, Director, Centre for Policy Studies, Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive, Taxpayers’ Alliance, Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN, Emma Carr, Deputy Director, Big Brother Watch, Eamonn Butler, Director, the Adam Smith Institute

3 Sep 2013 17:08:25

Jonathan Lindsell: Here are some ideas for renegotiating our relationship with Europe, Mr Cameron

Lindsell JonathanJonathan Lindsell is EU research fellow at Civitas. He tweets and blogs personally here.

Fog and mirrors. That seems to be Government policy on the EU. Was the Bloomberg speech a sign that Cameron is Europhile, or a smiling assassin who’ll praise Brussels while he sticks the knife in? Is the ‘Review of Competences’ a useless vanity exercise, a placebo to muffle the Liberal Democrats, or a veiled attempt to write a ‘shopping list’? Does Hague’s support for the Fresh Start Group illustrate tacit Cabinet approval of their demands?

More importantly: is ‘renegotiation’ a ploy to stay in, as the government waves token concessions in the public’s face? It could equally be a plot to justify exit, if Number 10 purposefully sets renegotiation hurdles higher than Europe can feasibly jump.

It’s understandable that the government shies away from clarifying its EU position – last time they tried, it backfired with Mark Harper’s disastrous ‘GO HOME’ ad campaign. Much better to be vague and (relatively) popular than specific and ‘#racist’.

Recent Civitas publications have sought to put substance behind the renegotiation smogscreen, to hold Whitehall to account in the future and spur Dave to action at present. February’s publication summarised different EU yearly costs, from regulation (£20bn) to CAP (£10bn) to migrant benefits (£55.2m). David Green, Civitas director, wrote What Have We Done? on the importance of true parliamentary sovereignty. He traced our history to demonstrate the British people’s hard-won ability to dismiss ineffective governments – an ability we no longer hold, and must regain.

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2 Sep 2013 12:28:15

Sam Bowman: The trouble with Help to Buy? It's a demand-side solution to a supply-side problem

Bowman Sam NEWSam Bowman is Policy Director at the Adam Smith Institute. Follow Sam on Twitter.

Britain is in the grip of a housing crisis. House prices may have fallen a bit since 2008, but so have incomes. In many parts of the country prices are rising steadily, particularly in London, where house prices have risen by 3.5% over the past year. And over the past fifty years house prices have risen well above inflation: Shelter has pointed out that if grocery prices had risen at the same rate, the price of a whole chicken at Tesco would now be £51.

To address this, the government has launched the 'Help to Buy' scheme. This consists of an 'equity loan' for home buyers, where the taxpayer will lend up to 20 per cent of the value of a newly-built home interest-free for five years, and a mortgage guarantee scheme, which offers banks insurance on mortgages they make with loan-to-value ratios of 80 per cent or above – in other words, where buyers have made a deposit of less than 20 per cent of the value of the house.

Continue reading "Sam Bowman: The trouble with Help to Buy? It's a demand-side solution to a supply-side problem" »

11 Jul 2013 17:39:58

Ben Walker: Is the Jobcentre up to the job?

Ben Walker is a researcher at the Centre for Social Justice

Screen shot 2013-07-11 at 17.30.00The guiding principle of the Government’s welfare reform agenda is that work is the surest route out of poverty. We champion this principle at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), and that is why we designed Universal Credit to make sure that work always pays. It is vital that people get the help they need when making that journey from welfare into work.

However, if we want people to make that transition, it is essential that government provides the right support. In our latest report, Up to the Job? we question whether Jobcentre Plus (JCP) is providing the service that claimants, businesses and taxpayers need.

One of the key problems with JCP is that it only measures how quickly a claim for benefits is closed. On the face of it, this seems sensible, but what this measure fails to grasp is whether people move into work, claim another benefit or just stop claiming benefits altogether. Based on this measure, the JCP does perform well (75 per cent stop claiming within six months and 90 per cent within a year) but it ignores the high levels of churn in the system with many claimants constantly cycling in and out of work.

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8 Jul 2013 17:16:45

Richard Wyn Jones: If our political class continues to ignore the English Question, UKIP could prosper

RWJProfessor Richard Wyn Jones is Director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. He is an expert on devolved politics and is one of the co-authors of the newly published IPPR report England’s Two Union: And Anatomy of a Nation and its Discontents. He is happy to confirm the suspicion that he is, indeed, Welsh.

Conservatives may have enjoyed the obvious discomfort of the BBC when it was forced to admit last week that it had failed to give due prominence to concerns about very high levels immigration into the UK because public attitudes were not consistent with the “liberal bias” of corporation programme makers.

But it is not only liberals, or socialists for that matter, that can find some public attitudes so challenging to their own biases and preconceptions that they find it easier to ignore them. Perhaps the most glaring example in contemporary British politics is attitudes to the anomalous – and, in English eyes, iniquitous – position of England within the post-devolution United Kingdom. When it comes to England, with very few exceptions, the British political class as a whole seem to find denial or displacement much easier than serious engagement.

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8 Jul 2013 13:13:19

Tim Knox: How to double up on Heathrow - without a penny of public money

Tim Knox is Director of the Centre for Policy Studies which today publishes Double up on Heathrow: a simple, privately funded, affordable and achievable solutionFollow the CPS on Twitter.

Screen shot 2013-07-08 at 13.05.33One of the moments of great joy in the think tank world is when you come across a brilliant idea that is both eminently practical and ideologically attractive.

The pamphlet published by the Centre for Policy Studies today, Double up on Heathrow certainly meets both these goals. It is, firstly, a fatastically simple proposal which would almost immediately double capcacity at Heathrow while also alleviating many of the environmental and noise concerns of current residents. This can be achieved by extending both of the existing runways up to a total length of about 7,000 metres and then cutting them in half so that each runway becomes two full-length, runways, allowing simultaneous take-offs and landings. The number of available slots at Heathrow would almost double, thereby reducing delays and improving the airport’s resilience and efficiency. Importantly, this would also allow some runway alternation throughout the day.

Such a scheme would – in infrastructure terms – be remarkably quick to develop: significant new runway capacity could be completed within five years. For local residents, it would also be quiet  – the extra capacity could allow the airport to open later in the morning and could enable innovative noise reduction techniques. Very few, if any, new areas would be brought into the airport’s noise footprint. In addition, early morning arrivals could land more than two miles further west, reducing noise over London.

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26 Jun 2013 15:03:47

Rolling blog of think tank reaction to the Spending Review

The TaxPayers' Alliance

Taxpayers'_Alliance_logoMatthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:

"The Chancellor has announced some welcome savings which will ease the pressure on taxpayers now and in the future, including some sensible changes to the welfare system and an attempt to end the absurdity of pensioners on the Costa del Sol getting the Winter Fuel Payment. Tens of billions of pounds are still being wasted by bloated bureaucracies each year, so there is plenty of room for further cuts. Unfortunately Mr Osborne is still boasting about squandering enormous amounts on foreign aid and vanity projects in the energy sector, while other developed economies are showing more restraint.

"The best news was on public sector pay. At the moment public sector staff get more generous pay than their counterparts in the private sector and gold-plated pensions. Mr Osborne has taken an important step towards delivering a fairer deal, although he is still planning to increase the pay of bureaucrats already receiving more than the private sector workers who pick up the bill.”

Institute of Directors

IoD LogoCommenting on the Spending Review, Graeme Leach, Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors, said:

“The Spending Review leaves business feeling like Oliver Twist. More please, Chancellor. Please could you go further and faster with spending restraint? Please could you shift even more expenditure from current spending towards infrastructure? Please could you widen the welfare cap to include pensions? But please could you also do less ring-fencing of spending in departments such as the NHS.”

“The Chancellor made many welcome announcements in the Spending Review, including the 1% limit to public sector pay growth and the intention to curtail automatic pay progression - regardless of performance - within the public sector. This, combined with previous policies aimed at decentralising public sector pay,  is creating a quiet revolution in public services. Taken together with the commitment to accelerate the free schools programme, the Spending Review had a radical supply-side dash.”

Confederation of British Industry

John Cridland, CBI Director-General, said:

CBI Logo"The Chancellor has carefully walked a tightrope of protecting growth, while making sizeable savings to pay down the debt. Infrastructure is rightly singled out as the most effective engine for growth, as we urged. While the Government talks a good game on infrastructure we’ve seen too little delivery on the ground so far. It is critical we see a real pipeline of projects announced tomorrow, so investors know what schemes are going ahead, where and when."

“Other pro-growth areas including science, innovation, skills and exports have also been shielded from cuts. The £185 million boost for the Technology Strategy Board - a crucial anchor for innovation - is particularly welcome. With stretched government finances it is tough but necessary to target automatic progression pay in the public sector. It is encouraging to see that Government will have greater control of the welfare budget through the new cap."

“The next big challenge to address is the issue of ring-fencing to ensure that efficiency flows across all parts of the public sector.”

24 Jun 2013 10:52:16

Nathan Gamester: Andrew Mitchell's case for international aid

Nathan Gamester is a Programme Director at the Legatum Institute.

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 10.01.22Today, in partnership with the Legatum Institute, Andrew Mitchell has published a pamplet, A safer and more prosperous world, laying out his vision for British international development. The pamphlet marks Mitchell’s return to the political stage; his first major intervention since resigning as Chief Whip last October.

Opposition to the Government’s development policy – especially among Conservatives – is well documented. At a time of slow economic recovery and budget cuts right across Whitehall, the commitment to increase spending on overseas aid has never been more controversial.

Many who question this policy ask whether it can be justified when so many Britons are suffering at home. There is often talk of aid cash “sloshing” around the international system only to end up in the pockets of corrupt government officials instead of going to those who actually need it.

To those sceptics, Andrew Mitchell’s message is clear. Firstly, we have a moral duty to help those who cannot help themselves. Secondly, this old view of how aid works is wrong. Aid does work, argues Mitchell. It is not simply about “soft-hearted altruism”. Rather it is about protecting our own national interests and ensuring our own security. And aid gets results.

Mitchell’s pamphlet is a timely reminder of an area of government policy in which British people should take pride. If you are a British taxpayer, then right across the developing world are children who have been vaccinated against a multitude of deadly diseases because of you. Today millions of children are going to school for the first time – because of you. Fewer women are dying in childbirth – because of you. More AIDS sufferers than ever before have access to antiretroviral therapy and are thus living with, rather than dying from, their disease – because of you. British people should be proud of this.

And to those who believe the government spends too much on foreign aid when it should focus on domestic priorities, Mitchell’s pamphlet contains a welcome message: the future of British aid lies not with DFID but in the private sector:

“In my view it is not an unreasonable proposition to suggest that in 50 years’ time CDC [the Government-owned Development Finance Institution] will be seen as the principal British development structure, rather than DFID. Nothing would more eloquently demonstrate the success of development policy as countries graduate from aid with their own equity and debt markets funding their future development.”

On the issue of international development, there is no doubting Mitchell’s expertise. For most of the last decade he has been the chief architect of this area of Conservative policy. He spent five years as shadow development secretary followed by more than two years as Secretary of State until the Prime Minister decided he wanted Mitchell permanently in Westminster as his Chief Whip.

News of his departure from DFID came as a surprise to many (although today’s pamphlet suggests that he has unfinished business with this area of policy). In Government, it can be rare to find senior ministers who feel a strong sense of both calling and enthusiasm for the portfolios to which they have been assigned. Andrew Mitchell, however, seemed well suited to International Development.

It was back in 2009 that the Conservative Party published its comprehensive Green Paper, One World Conservatism in which much of what is now government policy was set out: the focus on wealth creation as the most important driver of development; the recognition that peacekeeping and conflict prevention are fundamental to development; the need to ensure value for money and accountability for every penny spent; and perhaps most controversially, the commitment to increase the UK aid budget to 0.7% of national income.

It is to the Government’s credit that it has stuck to these principles despite the very challenging economic situation and the very real political opposition. This commitment has recently earned praise from Bill Gates who hailed the UK for “displaying moral leadership in front of the world.”
Many people who have served in government can take credit for ensuring Britain keeps its promise to the developing world. But perhaps the most significant of those is Andrew Mitchell. Mitchell has been called many things over the last six months, many of these it now appears were untrue. However, his lasting legacy – and perhaps one of this government’s most significant legacies – will be the commitment that is being shown to the world’s very poorest people.

Nathan Gamester is a Programme Director at the Legatum Institute. Follow Nathan on Twitter.