Chris Wilford: Tax has grabbed the headlines. But post-EU, it’s regulations that the UK urgently needs to address.

12 Jan

Chris Wilford is Director of Financial Services Policy at the CBI, and on its Management Board, as well as an Area Officer for South East London Conservatives. He writes in a personal capacity.

Sovereignty was one of the most powerful cases for the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, including the power to set our own rules. Whilst many British policymakers spent much of the last 30 years attempting to build a large and accessible single market for our goods and services, an increasing chorus was highly critical of what was felt to be a top-down, unbending and sclerotic EU approach to regulation.

From bendy bananas to ditching imperial measurements and, more latterly, the advance of the acronyms including MiFID II and GDPR, enough was enough, they sang. A more Global Britain would have the agility and dynamism to set its own rules, build on its own strengths in areas such as financial services, and set the direction of travel in new areas such as artificial intelligence and green technologies to all our benefit.

Rules matter; they provide the framework for our daily lives, be it ensuring windows are robust, food is edible or the financial system stable. Regulation aims to keep us safe and is what much of our economic activity rests on; they are the plumbing for our economy. At a global level, if you set the rules, others are engaging with products and services on your terms, with consumers and companies adapting accordingly.

The Obama Administration in the United States, facing into a century of challenge, made a strategic play to set the rules of the game in key markets. It launched negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for the Atlantic and the Trans-Pacific Partnership for the Pacific, the latter surviving in some form following Trump’s withdrawal of the US. The thinking was that economic decline could be staved off and power shored up by maintaining core markets operating to the rules you set.

The EU has also been active in developing and protecting its market. As the UK left, it started the long journey of pulling away from this regulatory orbit, forging its own path, but also preparing for the inevitable pull of trade gravity into other orbits and how to manage this process through trade agreements and dialogues.

The UK is therefore facing into two major challenges regarding its economic plumbing. First, re-regulation to transpose EU legislation into our law and ensure everything, from audit rules to our financial framework, can continue to function whilst capitalising on the UK’s new powers.

Second, new regulation, be it to tackle online harms, fuel the green revolution with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) rules for businesses, or deal with new technologies such as artificial intelligence.

Ian Duncan-Smith’s Taskforce on Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform was alive to the challenges and the need for proportionality and an outcomes-based approach. With a government in a hurry to deliver on its manifesto, dealing with a pandemic whilst wanting to demonstrate it has started to level up, this has led to a flood of consultations and reviews across a huge swathe of the economy businesses dealing with a huge range of pressures – from supply chain challenges to new ways of working – are grappling with this surge as well as an increasing tax burden to deal with the fall out of the Covid crisis.

This surge at pace is overwhelming and the danger is policy that counters the Government’s aims of a more agile and competitive country slips through. Rather than seizing the opportunities of Brexit, the Government and British business would spend the next ten years unpicking bad rulemaking whilst others forge ahead.

For example, recent audit and governance reform proposals added huge extra burdens to the role of a director, making it unattractive. The Government revisited this area following industry feedback and more workable proposals are being brought forward. Many in business are asking what the rush is. It’s better to get this gigantic exercise – much of it such as a new subsidies regime happening relatively under the radar – right than have regrets at our leisure.

The Government rightly appreciates that Parliament does not have the capacity of its European counterpart with regards to regulation – the focus has been on setting frameworks and improving scrutiny mechanisms of how regulators regulate – but more needs to be done.

First, slow things down. Whilst government wants to achieve much, it should now take its time. With significant parts of the manifesto delivered, including getting Brexit done, the focus should be on establishing what isn’t working and where the most opportunities lie, prioritising accordingly.

Second, join things up. Technology is blurring the traditional boundaries between sectors whilst areas such as ESG cut across a range of sectors. Some of this vast regulatory exercise in arcane areas of the economy may not be the most attractive to ambitious Ministers, but these economic nuts and bolts really do matter. A cross-Whitehall taskforce headed by Number 10 should undertake the prioritisation exercise and keep an eye on progress.

Third, co-create policy with business and listen more cannily to their concerns. The swathe of consultations at the moment often seem in danger of being a rubber stamp exercise. Officials collaborate closely with industry through an existing network of forums and taskforces, this stretches so far Ministers may well forget it is a resource available to them. Whilst much is heading in the right direction, the prioritisation exercise undertaken by Number 10 should also listen to these voices and look to co-create policy with them from early stages.

Tax has grabbed the headlines as the it reaches its highest level for 70 years. That said, regulation must not be forgotten. Let’s get our economic plumbing right – we certainly have enough other challenges to be dealing with.

Ryan Bourne: It’ll take decades, not years, to determine whether Brexit was a success

1 Dec

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

“What would need to happen for ‘Economists for Brexit’ to become ‘Economists Against Brexit’?” the FT’s Chris Giles asked us in July 2016.

It was a good question. And some economically-minded leavers seem near their switching threshold already. Fraser Nelson last week wrote of his disappointment that an ‘open’ leave of expansive free trade deals and deregulation isn’t being delivered by Boris Johnson.

Britain is failing the “testable thesis” of Global Britain, he argued, with the limited ambition of re-heated EU trade deals, modest trade liberalisation with allies such as Australia, and stasis on data and financial regulation leaving him asking: did I vote the wrong way?

For classical liberal Remainers, of course, a free-market Brexit was always a delusion. David Gauke argues it was an anti-Thatcherite endeavour by definition. By erecting new trade barriers with Europe and removing constraints against interventionist industrial policies, our EU exit repudiated the 1980s revolution. Those who supported Brexit for free-market reasons were misguided, as current events confirm.

Prospects for a classical liberal economic revival are undoubtedly bleak for the near future. Nevertheless, Nelson and Gauke’s conclusions seem to me startlingly premature about Brexit’s overall legacy. And the reason why relates to the answer I gave to Giles’s question five years’ ago: the substantive issue in the Brexit referendum was not “what will we do?” immediately after leaving but “who will decide what is done?”

As such, it’s a category error to think “oh, if Johnson does X or Y, then Brexit will have been a mistake/a roaring success.” Brexit is a major shift in our governing system that can only really be judged by looking at comparative outcomes between Britain and the EU over decades, not years.

Brexit, in other words, is a major constitutional change in where decisions are made and who makes them. It was not a simple policy question. Yes, these repatriated powers can be used for good or ill and how they are deployed will wax and wane depending on the zeitgeist at any given time. But Brexit’s success or failure hinges on whether, overall, the institutions of British Parliamentary democracy produce better outcomes over long periods than a Brussels bureaucracy would have.

As a major constitutional change, it’s just as erroneous to judge Brexit by a few initial trade policy decisions as it would be to judge American independence in, say, 1785, or post-communism reform in Eastern Europe in 1995, or UK EEC membership in 1978. As Johnson was a leading leaver, it’s natural to conflate his agenda with Brexit itself. But that is to mistake the current policy winds as immutable laws that will forever dominate our political economy.

Gauke’s take is particularly misguided, because it simply looks at the timeline of what has happened post-Brexit and ignores the broader context of trade policy around the world. The U.S. hasn’t Brexited, but adopted large tariff increases under President Trump anyway, which have been maintained by a Biden administration that is also beefing up “Buy American” rules.

The EU, likewise, is adopting an aggressive anti-American agenda against Big Tech, while Emmanuel Macron has been the driving force of a pan-European protectionism that uses the veil of environmental laws for keeping out poor countries’ agricultural products.

Now it would be churlish to imply that Brexit wasn’t supported by some on protectionist grounds, nor that the act of Brexit hasn’t facilitated some protectionism. But in the broader global context, the free trade rhetoric of the UK government, and Tory member support for vocal free-traders, is an anomaly. And even if the Government’s actions on trade don’t always live up to it, the long-term question is whether Britain will end up more open on trade than the relevant counterfactual where we remained within an EU, not some nirvana that doesn’t exist.

At the time of the press conference, Giles interpreted my argument on this line of reasoning as a faith-based argument for Brexit. Economists for Brexit appear to think Brexit cannot be a bad move, he concluded, because it was merely the freedom to make decisions. Even if Brexit went wrong and led to a socialist Britain, it was the politicians to blame – not Brexit itself. “From that I conclude the group doesn’t really have much of an open mind,” Giles concluded.

But that’s not what this argument says. Some leavers are no doubt dewy-eyed for national democracy in all aspects of life. Giles Fraser has said he’d support Brexit on a point of principle, whatever the consequences. I remember talking to a senior Vote Leave staffer who similarly said he’d rather a long Corbyn premiership in a sovereign Britain than a Conservative government within the EU.

Yet that’s not why free-marketeers supported Brexit, nor the best liberal case for leave. No, the best case said that, over the long-term, Brexit would lead to better outcomes for openness, economic freedom, and liberty here than with Britain in the EU precisely because of the institutional differences between the two.

It would obviously be great if we were making inroads with a free-trading agenda and meaningful regulatory reform. The key question though is whether we were more likely to get that over time in or outside of an EU that itself will be changing.

Despite recent events, I would still take that long-term Brexit bet. The British Parliamentary system, for all its faults, has been shown to error-correct substantively when it’s clear major government mistakes are made, in a way the institutional stasis of the EU often prevents. The prospects for better governance reform here are only heightened by politicians no longer being able to hide behind blaming Brussels for what are usually domestic errors.

I still think Britons’ broad regulatory instincts are more permissive than seen collectively in Brussels (as evidenced by the faster vaccine approval and the more liberal approach to genetically modified foods). So even if active deregulation proves politically infeasible, more open regulatory frameworks on new issues, such as AI, driverless cars, and future service industries can leave us better off than if ensnared in Brussels’ orbit.

What’s more, global markets are more likely to discipline small countries towards attractive tax, trade, regulatory and migration systems – changes often hard to make when coordinating with 28 states first.

Of course, I could be wrong and so in 30 years’ time writing mea culpas admitting Brexit was a fundamental error. But it seems hasty for Brexiteers to want to write-off a major constitutional change less than two years in, or indeed for Remainers to be unable to contemplate a world where the EU is not the absolute pinnacle of economic dynamism forever.

Robert Halfon: Skills shortages cost the UK billions a year. Re-setting our education system can change this – and boost pupils’ prospects.

17 Nov

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Last month, the Chancellor delivered a historic budget that cemented ambitions for a skills revolution.

I wish the new team leading the Department for Education every bit of luck. They have taken on some of the most profoundly important challenges as we begin to build back better.

‘Schools’ and ‘skills’ must be the two most important words in the Government’s vocabulary as we transform our education system. They are the key to delivering our mission of creating an economy that works for everyone.

Of course, we must retain our focus on education recovery. The pandemic has had an apocalyptic effect on the life chances of our young people. However, even before our schools closed their doors, there were signs that the education system was failing to support those most in need. Disadvantaged pupils were 18.4 months behind their better-off peers and the progress made on closing this attainment gap had come to a faltering halt.

But educational catch-up is not all. In order to meet our skills ambitions, education must adequately prepare pupils for the world of work. It is estimated that skills shortages in the UK are costing us £6.3 billion every year because previous governments have not given skills the priority they deserve. New Ministers have inherited an education system that is at odds with the demands of our modern economy.

Whenever I speak to employers and business leaders in my constituency, they say they want individuals with the knowledge required to do the job, but they also need to have strong skills, be good communicators, excellent problem-solvers and strong team players.

From Harlow to Huddersfield, local employers get the importance of skills. In towns like mine, there’s a strong vocational and skills culture: my constituents are proud of apprenticeships and skills, and what’s more, employers attach immense value on skills beyond academic qualifications. The Government’s own Employer Skills Survey reveals that academic qualifications are just one small part of today’s recruitment process. Employers across the country place the most value on technical, practical and so-called ‘soft’ skills.

Despite the name, these skills aren’t soft at all. Pupils need skills like resilience, financial education, oracy and teamwork to secure jobs and thrive in employment. In a recent survey of the UK labour market, looking at the data from 21 million job adverts, communication, planning and organisation skills were in the greatest demand from employers. In an increasingly digital world where AI is king, these skills will become even more important.

The keystone to education must be about providing young people with a ladder of opportunity so that they can go on to gain fulfilling employment, job security and prosperity for themselves and their families. Despite the fundamental link between education and employment, we currently give these skills scant attention in our education system.

But it does not have to be like this. Some schools are bucking the trend and blending knowledge with practical skills.

XP is an Outstanding-rated school in Doncaster. They recognise that knowledge and skills depend upon each other so they have tightly integrated project-based learning with an academically-rigorous curriculum. Recently, pupils embarked on a research project to better understand the relationship between Doncaster and the history of its rail industry. At the end, they published a book which has become the third highest-selling local book in the area.

School 21 is another Outstanding school which empowers young people to use their voice, developing oracy skills that employers see as invaluable. They give pupils the chance to give mini TED talks in front of large audiences to develop their confidence and public speaking skills. School 21 also offers pupils real-world learning placements where young people gain professional communication skills through work experience.

These schools are incredible examples of what is possible if schools focus their efforts on cultivating both the skills and knowledge that pupils need. However, they are remarkable exceptions, and not the rule. We need to do more to transform the education system to value skills as highly as knowledge.

First, the Government must double down our efforts to close the attainment gap, focusing additional support with laser precision to reach those most in need. To do this, the Government should review whether pupil premium funding is up to the task. The Education Select Committee heard from experts who said that the support base for pupil premium is too broad. We should reform pupil premium so that it concentrates on pupils in persistent poverty.

Second, we must reform the post-16 curriculum. All children deserve high expectations and a curriculum which stretches them. However, we must make sure that when we’re stretching pupils, it’s always with an eye on securing positive post-16 destinations, rather than idolising a narrow set of academic subjects.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) has led to a narrowing of the curriculum. Subjects like Design & Technology (D&T) and Computer Science are being squeezed out, with entrances for D&T GCSEs down by 65 per cent from 2010. The EBacc needs to be reformed to create a parity of esteem for vocational subjects alongside a rigorous academic offer.

Finally, we must take a renewed look at the assessment system. Our current system was created in a world where children left school at 16 and the skills they needed for life were very different. I propose that we move to a new system where children have the option at aged 18 to complete an International Baccalaureate, which focuses in equal measure on academic knowledge and skills.

The combination of skills and knowledge is not an unattainable ideal. In fact, it is the international standard. Over 150 countries and 5,000 schools already offer the International Baccalaureate. This qualification allows pupils to study a range of academic subjects alongside a skills-based project of their choice. If we want our young people to compete for the jobs of tomorrow, we need a similarly broad baccalaureate that obliterates the false dichotomy between vocational and academic achievement that has unfairly constrained our young people for decades.

The outgoing Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, advised his successors to push forward with a knowledge-based curriculum. In his article published a couple of months ago, he argued that our education system faced a battle between his traditionalist world view, and the ideology of progressives.

I have enormous respect for Gibb. During his time as Minster, he was a relentless champion of phonics, and through his hard work, the proportion of pupils passing Year 1 of phonics screening checks increased from 58 to 82 per cent in 2019.

While I retain a lot of admiration for his legacy at the Department for Education, I believe his article did not fully address the problems the education system is facing.

Nobody will benefit if the Conservative Party wastes our energy on fighting a straw man. We live in a world where we can, and should, equip young people with both knowledge and skills. If we neglect either one, we are setting our children up to fail.

Re-setting our education system to grapple with the demands of the modern economy will not lead to a worsening of school standards – it is the only way that we can achieve our skills ambition and level-up education for those who need it the most.

We promised to deliver a skills revolution. Now we need to make this promise a reality.

Sunak declares Brexit will bring “a renewed culture of enterprise” – conference speech in full

4 Oct

“Whatever it takes.

That phrase and those press conferences were my introduction to so many of you as Chancellor.

It was daunting to face such a challenge in my first days in office.

And what it also meant is that more than a year has gone by before I’ve had the chance to meet you all properly.

That’s why these last few days have been such a joy meeting you all face to face and hearing so many of you say to me…“Wow! You’re even shorter in real life!”

Nothing can ever prepare you to become Chancellor especially in recent times.

 There have been occasions when it really did feel like the world was collapsing.

 In those moments there are certain things I fell back on.

 Yes, my family.

Yes, my colleagues.

Yes, my tremendous Treasury team.

And yes… the person who made all this possible..the person who delivered a thumping Conservative majority. My friend, our leader, the country’s Prime Minister… Boris Johnson.

But the other thing I fell back on is something we all have in this room. Our values. Our Conservative values.

I believe in some straightforward things.

I believe that mindless ideology is dangerous.

I’m a pragmatist.

I care about what works not about the purity of any dogma.

I believe in fiscal responsibility.

Just borrowing more money and stacking up bills for future generations to pay is not just economically irresponsible it is immoral.

Because it’s not the state’s money .it’s your money

I believe that the only sustainable route out of poverty comes from having a good job.

It’s not just the pounds it puts in your pocket it’s the sense of worth and self-confidence it gives you.

So I will do whatever I can to protect people’s livelihoods and create new opportunities too. And when it comes to those new opportunities I am very much a child of my time.

I spent the formative years of my career working around technology companies in California.

 And I believe the world is at the beginning of a new age of technological progress which can bring jobs, wealth and transformed lives

So pragmatism fiscal responsibility a belief in work and an unshakeable optimism about the future.

This is who I am. This is what I stand for. This is what it will take. And we will do whatever it takes.

And there can be no prosperous future unless it is built on the foundation of strong public finances.  And I have to be blunt with you. Our recovery comes with a cost

Our national debt is almost 100 per cent of GDP. So we need to fix our public finances. Because strong public finances don’t happen by accident.  They are a deliberate choice. They are a legacy for future generations. And a safeguard against future threats.

 I’m grateful and we should all be grateful to my predecessors and their 10 years of sound Conservative management of our economy.

 They believed in fiscal responsibility. I believe in fiscal responsibility and everyone in this hall does too.

 And whilst I know tax rises are unpopular, some will even say un-Conservative, I’ll tell you what IS un-Conservative: Unfunded pledges, reckless borrowing and soaring debt.

Anyone who tells you .that you can borrow more today and tomorrow will simply sort itself out just doesn’t care about the future.

Yes, I want tax cuts. But in order to do that our public finances must be put back on a sustainable footing.

Labour’s track record on the public finances speaks for itself. Since 2010, we’ve had five Labour Leaders, seven Shadow Chancelleors and innumerable spending pledges. And in all that time they still haven’t got the message the British people won’t trust a Party that isn’t serious with their money. That’s why they vote Conservative.

We must never forget that the fundamental economic differences between us and Labour run very deep.

Differences not just about debt and borrowing but about how to deal with the real pressures people face in their lives.

And right now we are facing challenges to supply chains, not just here but right around the world and we are determined to tackle them head on.

But tackling the cost of living isn’t just a political sound bite it’s one of the central missions of this Conservative government.

Picture this: You’re a young family. You work hard saving a bit each month. But it’s tough. You have ambitions for your careers… for your children. You want to give them the best more than you had.

Now you tell me: Is the answer to their hopes and dreams just to increase their benefits? Is the answer to tell that young family the economic system is rigged against you and the only way you stand a chance is to lean ever more on the state? Be in no doubt. That is the essence of the Labour answer. Not only does Labour’s approach not work in practice it is a desperately sad vision for our future.

 But there is an alternative.

 An approach focused on good work better skills and higher wages. An approach that says ‘Yes we believe in you. We will help you and you will succeed.” And better still it’s more than words it’s a paln in action. A Conservative plan and Conference it is working.

Governments rarely get to set the tests by which they will ultimately be judged.  

And our test is jobs.

Remember as economies around the world pulled the shutters down forecasters were predicting unemployment to reach 12 per cent. Millions of people were on the precipice of losing their jobs their livelihoods and their homes. Well, the forecasts were wrong.

The unemployment rate is at less than five per cent and falling. That’s lower than France, America, Canada, Italy, and Spain. And we now have one of the fastest recoveries of any major economy in the world. Now it wasn’t that the forecasters had bad models. No.  It’s just their models did not take account of one thing and that was this Conservative Government. Our will to act and our plan to deliver.

An increased national living wage. The restart programme. Sector based work academies. Doubling work coaches. Job finding support. Traineeships. Apprenticeship incentives. Skills Bootcamps. And the Prime Minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee.  

All things we are doing that won’t just help people but will give them the means and opportunities to help themselves.

I believe in good work, better skills and higher wages. I believe that every person in this country has the potential to become something greater

And I know that we.and only we the Conservative Party are the ones who can make that happen.

And our economy cannot be what we need it to be without the courage, creativity and sheer force of will that each new generation brings.

Yet, at its peak just under one in three workers under 25 were on furloug. One in three. That’s one million people who didn’t have the fall back of a career history or a network of contacts and in many cases hadn’t even moved into their first job.

And so what did we do? We created the Kickstart scheme up, running and working in a matter of months.  A landmark programme that is helping young people start exciting new careers. And thanks to our plan young people just like John Chihoro who introduced me today are starting those new jobs in their thousands.

So to give more young people the same chance as John I can confirm we are expanding our successful Plan for Jobs into next year. The Kickstart scheme. Extra support through the Youth Offer. The Job Entry Targeted Support scheme. And our Apprenticeship Incentives. All extended. Because we believe in the awesome power of opportunity. And we are going to make sure that no young person in our country is left without it.

But what we do today .means little if we don’t also have a plan for tomorrow. A plan for the future. A future economy shaped by the forces of science, technology and imagination.

The years I spent in California left a lasting mark on me, working with some of the most innovative and exciting people in finance and technology. Watching ideas becoming a reality. Seeing entrepreneurs build new teams. It’s not just about money.

I saw a culture, a mindset, which was unafraid to challenge itself, reward hard work and was open to all those with the talent to achieve.

I look across the United Kingdom and that culture is here too. In the young people I’ve already spoken about today unencumbered by timidity and orthodoxy.

And it’s there in our willingness to take risks not just on companies but on people.

People with the raw potential to create a wave of the most dynamic high growth companies.

 A wave that will reach the farthest corners of the world.

That optimism that unshakeable belief that the future can be different and better was also at the heart of Brexit.

I remember over five years ago being told that if I backed Brexit my political career would be over before it had even begun.

Well. I put my principles first and I always will.

I was proud to back Brexit proud to back Leave. And that’s because despite the challenges in the long term I believed the agility flexibility and freedom provided by Brexit would be more valuable in a 21st century global economy than just proximity to a market.

That in the long term a renewed culture of enterprise willingness to take risks and be imaginative would inspire changes in the way we do things at home.

Brexit was never just about the things we couldn’t do. It was also about the things we didn’t do.

That’s why we introduced the super deduction a UK first in tax policy which is triggering an explosion in capital investment.

That’s why we created the Help to Grow scheme another UK first to help small and medium sized companies digitize skill up and scale up.

That’s why we launched the Future Fund another UK first in government investment  backing high potential start-ups.

My point is this: Even if you can’t see it yet I assure you the future  is here.

Last year alone the UK attracted more venture capital investment to our startups than France and Germany combined.

And. along with enhanced infrastructure and improved skills we are going to make this country not just a Science Superpower not just the best place in the world to do business. I believe we’re going to make the United Kingdom the most exciting place on the planet.

Take Artificial Intelligence once the stuff of science fiction.  Now it’s reality and we’re a global leader.

The steam engine kicked off the industrial revolution. Computers delivered automation. The internet brought information exchange. And as the latest general purpose technology AI has the potential to transform whole economies and societies.

If Artificial Intelligence were to contribute just the average productivity increase of those three technologies that would be worth around £200bn a year to our economy.

And so today  I am announcing that we will create 2,000 elite AI scholarships for disadvantaged young people and double the number of Turing AI World-Leading Research Fellows helping to ensure that the most exciting industries and opportunities are open to all parts of our society.

New policy focused on innovative technology supporting jobs for the next generation, a sign of our ambition for the future.

Because that’s why we are here. All of us.

That’s why we became members of the Conservative party.

That’s why you all give up so much of your time sacrificing things that are important to you in order to help build a better future.

You know the longer I spend in this job the more I realise that the worst parts of politics are driven by fear

Fear of change. Fear of losing. The fear of being wrong Even fear of the future.

And when people get scared they create divisions. They say you’re either with us.or you’re with them.

But you cannot make progress if you’re pitting people against each other.

That’s what you get from a tired, fearful sort of politics.

We saw it last week in Brighton.

It’s not just that Labour don’t like us. They don’t even like each other.

Whereas we, the Conservatives, are now and always will be the party of business and the party of the worker. The party of the private sector and the public sector. A party for the old and the young.

The British people want a party that can get things done.

 So at just the moment when it feels like we’ve done enough that we’ve gotten through that we can take a rest we must not stop. Now is the time to show them that our plan will deliver.

And now is the time at last, at long last, to finally turn to the future.

Thank you.”

Andrew Haldenby: GP shortages won’t be fixed any time soon. So Johnson must embrace doctors’ move to digital.

1 Oct

Andrew Haldenby is Director of Aiming for Health Success, a new health research body.

Speaking last week, Boris Johnson said that it is “only reasonable” that people can have a face-to-face appointment and that some patients will “suffer” otherwise.

The Prime Minister was responding to campaigns run by both The Mail and The Mail on Sunday. The Mail’s five-point manifesto calls for face-for-face appointments to be the default. Going further, The Mail on Sunday has demanded that “all patients are once again seen face-to-face by their GPs”.

Two days previously, Sajid Javid took a very different line. In a speech on the “power of technology”, the new Health Secretary said that while not everyone wants a virtual appointment, “some people do”. The benefits of this and other technologies are “enormous”. He concluded that “we need to give people choice, and take the opportunities that these new technologies provide”.

Javid followed the line taken by his predecessor. Last November Matt Hancock, the then Health Secretary praised GPs for updating their ways of working and allowing more telephone consultations which were convenient for many people. At that time 45 per cent of appointments were by telephone or video which, he said, “feels about right to me”.

The question has political interest because governments need consistent positions, especially on the most sensitive issues such as health. But more importantly than that, the Government’s support or opposition to change in the NHS will determine whether it can make any real progress on the backlog, without further tax rises, in the next few years.

The facts favour the Health Secretary over the Prime Minister. As the graph shows, face-to-face appointments have been the most common mode of consultation throughout the pandemic.

They have also been the most common mode in every month except for April, May and June last year, at the height of the first wave, when face-to-face and telephone appointments were equal. The Mail can call off its campaign – face-to-face remains the default mode of consultation.

Another key fact is the Government’s success or failure in recruiting new GPs. The Mail wants Ministers to honour the 2019 manifesto commitment to employ “6,000 more doctors in general practice”. It won’t happen.

In 2015 another Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, pledged to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020, on top of the then 27,500. Six years on, numbers have actually fallen to 26,800 as GPs have retired earlier or moved to part-time.

If the Prime Minister thinks that a small army of new GPs will soon arrive to take a new wave of face-to-face consultations, he is badly advised. The truth is that general practice is a limited resource that has to be used most effectively.

The very good news for Ministers is that general practice is in the process of taking a historic step forward in its ways of working. Traditional general practice had many strengths but also major weaknesses. GPs offered a ten-minute consultation regardless of patient need. Patients typically reported their medical history in the consultation which took up much of that time. GPs spent time with patients with relatively minor concerns who could have been better seen by nurses or other staff.

These barriers are being overcome. One key change is to use technology to capture a patient’s medical history in advance, over the internet. Patients now send two million of such “e-consults” to GP surgeries every month, up from around 100,000 before the pandemic.

This already makes much better use of GP’s time because they no longer have to spend time in consultations transcribing patient histories. In addition, current trials are using artificial intelligence to read that information and direct the patient to the right place – whether GP, another member of practice staff, pharmacy, A&E or self-care if that is appropriate. The realistic hope is that GPs can make significant clinical decisions on 12 or 15 patients per hour rather than six. This would solve the problems of delayed diagnosis that is a large part of the backlog problem.

Johnson may respond that this is all very well, but in the short term many people have been shocked by a shift in the GP offer that they weren’t expecting. In other circumstances, these new ideas would indeed would have been introduced over a longer time and with more reassurance. But if he lets these concerns become a veto on change, he will make it extremely hard for the Government to make progress on the backlog.

Javid has the right line. By far the best choice for the Government is to work together with GPs to reassure the public that face-to-face consultations are available and, crucially, that they want a different and better NHS to emerge post-pandemic rather than simply turning the clock back to December 2019. Making the case for change in public services is always a political challenge but in this case it is one well worth making.

Stephen Booth: AUKUS has been an encouraging test for post-Brexit Britain

23 Sep

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

The landmark security partnership recently announced by Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States reflects the new geopolitics of great power competition, prompted by the rise of China.

The new alliance, dubbed “AUKUS”, will see deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology, industrial bases and supply chains, ranging from artificial intelligence to cybersecurity and quantum computing.

The first initiative will be a collaboration on future nuclear-powered submarines, providing the Australian fleet with the US and UK technology for the first time. Canberra’s mounting concern at China’s growing naval capacities encouraged it to cancel an order for French diesel-electric submarines, prompting fury in Paris, and seek the higher spec US and UK nuclear-powered technology instead.

The new trilateral alliance is the latest pillar in US-led efforts to ensure a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and balance China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the region. The US President has highlighted that this new phase of security cooperation will take place alongside a network of other relationships in the Indo-Pacific, such as the Quad, comprised of the US, Australia, India and Japan, whose leaders will meet in-person for the first time in Washington tomorrow.

New polling commissioned by Policy Exchange illustrates that the British public strongly welcomes a continuing US leadership role supported by allies. 54 per cent of Britons believe that when the US has strong cooperation from allies like the UK, the UK is more safe, as opposed to just eight per cent who believed it was less safe.

It is notable that Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese Foreign Minister, was quick to welcome the AUKUS announcement. Predictably, China has responded negatively to AUKUS, criticising its “cold-war mentality” and describing it as “extremely irresponsible”.

Ultimately, security is only one dimension of the changing strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific. Chinese growth has been central to Asia’s rising global economic importance.

But China has also sought to use economic levers to exercise its power in the region. Following Canberra’s public calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia has had to weather formal and informal Chinese trade restrictions on several of its export industries.

It may or may not have been a coincidence but, the day after AUKUS was announced, China formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – the most advanced trade agreement in the region.

The forerunner to the 11-member CPTPP, known simply as the TPP, was not originally conceived as a grouping of geopolitical importance. However, when the US became involved and took a leading role in developing it, the Obama Administration was keen to highlight the strategic dimension. “With the TPP, we can rewrite the rules of trade to benefit America’s middle class. Because if we don’t, competitors who don’t share our values, like China, will step in to fill that void,” a White House factsheet said.

Ultimately, President Trump pulled the US out of the deal and it is Japan, as its largest economy, that has taken an increasingly important role within the CPTPP, including encouraging the UK to join it.

China’s application is unlikely to progress for the foreseeable future, since it will struggle to demonstrate adherence to some of the key elements of the deal, particularly the disciplines on state-owned enterprises, intellectual property, the free flow of data and labour standards.

Moreover, accession requires the unanimous approval of the existing members, including Australia and Japan, which would need some convincing given the current political climate. However, China’s application may be designed to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, forcing the wider CPTPP membership to debate the pact’s geopolitical role in relation to Beijing.

The UK is ahead of China in the queue to join the CPTPP, after all the existing members recently agreed to commence the formal accession process. If the UK’s membership bid is successful, it could work with others to facilitate US reengagement with the pact.

Biden’s team has suggested that trade agreements (not simply with the UK) are not a short-term US priority. However, China’s application might act as the catalyst for a reassessment of the CPTPP in Washington, which would greatly increase the economic and strategic benefits of membership to the UK.

Taken together, AUKUS and the UK’s CPTPP membership bid provide long-term substance to the UK’s “Indo-Pacific” tilt outlined in the Integrated Review. Policy Exchange’s Indo-Pacific Commission, which presaged the tilt, stressed the need for a mutually reinforcing “twin-track” UK approach. One focused on trade, economics and technology issues, and another on security. Both aspects of Global Britain are now very much in action in the region.

Meanwhile, French anger at the loss of a lucrative submarine contract has been compounded by its exclusion from a new strategic alliance. In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Paris sees further evidence of the need for European “strategic autonomy” to reduce dependence on Washington. However, the same formidable hurdles to realising this ambition remain.

AUKUS was announced on the eve of the publication of EU’s own Indo-Pacific strategy and caught Brussels somewhat on the hop. Interestingly, Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, was in London in the days immediately after the AUKUS announcement.

Rutte was reportedly laying the ground to invite the UK to take part in discussions about greater European security cooperation. Whether or not the current Government is open to exploring such an offer, the overture demonstrates that many smaller and Atlanticist EU member states are wary of a greater European role in defence and security, if no role can be found for the UK.

Ultimately, the UK might have entered the AUKUS were it still a member of the EU. But one of the major question marks against Brexit was whether it would see the UK lose its influence over global affairs as an independent nation state.

Recent events demonstrate that economic and security interests are becoming increasingly intertwined and adaptable alliances are becoming increasingly important. A flexible and nimble Global Britain has much to offer in such a world.

John Redwood: The UK’s reliance on cheap labour to fill occupational shortages has always been wrong – and a barrier to innovation

23 Jun

Sir John Redwood is MP for Wokingham, and is a former Secretary of State for Wales.

The airwaves are alight with the demands of anti-Brexit MPs and commentators to let more economic migrants into the UK to take low paid jobs in hospitality, care, agriculture and other sectors that got used to a steady stream of eastern European migrants to carry out the less skilled work.

We are told of shortages of people to pick crops, serve in cafes and clean care homes. At least it provides a welcome refutation of all those anti-Brexit forecasts of mass unemployment we used to get.

One of my main motivations coming into politics was to promote prosperity and wider ownership for the many. I have always sought to propose and support policies which would help more people find better paid work and to acquire a home and savings of their own. I do not like the cheap labour model.

I have also recognised that we cannot simply legislate for everyone to be better paid. Each person who wants higher pay has to go on a personal journey, acquiring skills, experience, qualifications that justify the higher income. Every company and government department has to go on a journey to help promote higher productivity to provide the higher pay people rightly aspire to.

One of the crucial debates in the referendum was the debate about free movement and low pay, with Brexiteers saying they wished to cut the flow of people accepting low pay from abroad, to help raise pay here at home and promote more people already legally here into better paid jobs.

Just inviting in hundreds of thousands of people from lower income countries in the EU is not a good model for them or us. Many of them live in poor conditions and sacrifice to send cash back to their wider families. They may not be able to go on a journey themselves to something better. It may work for the farm or business by keeping labour costs down, but only at the expense of pushing the true cost more onto taxpayers.

Low paid employees may well qualify for benefit top ups for housing, council tax and general living costs which the state pays for. Each new person arriving needs GP and hospital provision in case of illness or accident. They need school places if they bring a family with them. They need a range of other public services from transport and roads to policing and refuse collection.

The country has had to play catch up in many of these areas given the large numbers of people who have joined us in recent years. The EU once suggested a figure of €250,000 was needed for first year set up costs for a new arrival. The biggest cost is of course the provision of housing where the state plays a big role for those on low incomes. The need to build so many more homes creates unwelcome political tensions in communities facing concrete over the greenfields.

It’s not as if we have been short of newcomers in recent years. According to the ONS 715,000 people arrived in the UK for stay of more than one year in the year to March 2020, 312,000 more than the numbers leaving. They all needed homes, and many needed jobs or other income assistance. The UK is trying to catch up with demands for everything from roadspace to school places and from homes to GP appointments.

There is also in practice a cost to the businesses that specialise in low pay and a loss to the wider development of the economy. If a business has easy access to low paid labour it will put off looking at ways at automating or providing more computer or machine support to employees to raise their productivity. If farms find cheap pickers they do not provide the same support and demand for smart picking aids or machines.

We live in a period of digital turbulence, when artificial intelligence, robotics and digital processing of data and messages are transforming so much. Harnessing more of these ideas could both power greater technological development and associated businesses here in the UK and could boost productivity and therefore potential wages in the businesses they serve.

The UK and the EU has spent the last two decades leaving much of the digital and robotic revolution to the USA. It is time to catch up. Successful harnessing of it will spawn more new large companies and offer the chance of higher pay from higher productivity.

Julian Brazier: The Integrated Review is groundbreaking, but doesn’t go far enough in addressing the Army’s weaknesses

19 Jun

Sir Julian Brazier is a former Defence Minister, and was MP for Canterbury from 1987-2017.

Recent exposure of the weaknesses in the Ajax light tank further fuel the view that the Army has drawn the short straw in the Integrated Review (IR). Its re-equipment programme is in trouble, while many are focused on the cut in regular personnel numbers.

First some context. The IR is genuinely groundbreaking. It prioritises a more powerful Navy (rightly for an island nation with Britain’s maritime tradition) and Strategic Command which owns key portfolios like cyber, space and special forces.

The Review emphasises transformative technologies and artefacts like artificial Intelligence, quantum computing and drones. It recognises that, with civilian technology rapidly evolving, this can only be delivered through a whole force prism: regular forces, reserves, contractors and civil servants (including GCHQ’s experts and civilian technologists).

Against this template, today’s Army is hampered by a grim legacy. First, the bravery and professionalism of our young officers and soldiers was not matched by the wisdom of its senior commanders in the two major Army-led conflicts of the past generation, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The surrender of Basra, and its recovery by a combined force of Iraqis and Americans, was a national humiliation. The “Platoon Houses” strategy in Helmand flew in the face of established principles of war, cost soldiers’ lives, led to the deaths of many civilians in Helmand, and drove angry young Afghans into joining the Taliban. Again, we had to be bailed out, this time by reinforcements from the US Marines.

The resultant heart-rending trickle of returning dead and maimed young men and women fractured public confidence in the Army’s work. As General Sir Nicholas Carter, the current Chief of Defence Staff, has remarked, the British people sympathise with soldiers but have lost empathy for their job. This was compounded by the outsourcing of recruiting a decade ago to Capita whose dismal performance left the Regular Army thousands short and handicapped the growth of the Army Reserve.

It must be hard for the current generation of generals to listen to lectures in the media from their predecessors who bequeathed them this poisoned chalice.

This legacy is worsened by a third factor. While Royal Navy and RAF investment is mainly concentrated in a few huge long-term programmes from Trident successor to Tempest, as the manpower intensive service, the Army has large numbers of smaller programmes, usually with shorter life-cycles. The result has been that, in successive hiatuses in MoD’s finances over the past generation, the easiest option has been to cancel Army’s equipment, leaving it with an ageing portfolio.

The centrepiece of the Army is its warfighting division. Despite new technologies, our major allies – and potential adversaries, like Russia, China and Iran – recognise that armour remains a key component. Britain plans two future tanks: 148 upgraded Challenger main battle tanks and a family of 589 Ajax light armoured vehicles for armoured reconnaissance roles. Sadly, neither is a good story.

Taking Ajax first, reported weaknesses include excessive vibration leading to an inability to fire on the move, damage to the health and hearing of crews, a de facto speed limit of just 20mph, and an inability to reverse over a 20mm step – all this in a role where agility is critical. Nevertheless, the suite of advanced weapon systems for the Ajax family is remarkable and, if these issues can be overcome, offer an important step forward. It is too soon to give up on Ajax – despite the £3 billion already spent.

In contrast, the proposal to re-turret Challenger, has little upside. Fixing an existing gun, in a new turret, to a tank without the matching turret ring, combines high technical risk with depressingly low technological ambition. If, as it is alleged, only one prototype is planned, and the development and production phases will be telescoped, it will also fly in the face of costly lessons of the past. Furthermore, the projected number is too few to be credible or economic.

It would be better to proceed with only one risky programme, Ajax, accept a trough in main battle tank capability, save money in the short term, and then participate in either the American or German programmes for a new generation of tanks.  If Ajax fails, MoD could up the number of those and top up with an off-the-shelf recce vehicle.

Army reformers have moved forward where they can. Sandhurst is full again and soldier recruiting has recovered. Soldier retention has improved too although for officers it has been damaged by the bizarre Future Accommodation Model (FAM), imposed by MoD.

The latter allocates houses based on family size rather than rank so a private with a large family gets the house which a young company commander would have occupied until recently. This is a system used by no other army in the West and discriminatory to those who cannot have children. (It equally affects the RAF, but not the Navy; with its people concentrated in three large coastal cities; owner occupation for naval families is the norm, an option the others cannot follow).

The new programme of “rangers”, second line special forces, is an important innovation, alongside the shift towards more drones, after the lessons from Armenia. Given the tight financial constraints, the choice of Boxer to replace the Warrior as the infantry’s battlefield taxi also looks sound.

The Army Reserve has rebuilt, and reserve units are now routinely carrying out tasks from armoured recce in Poland to peacekeeping in Cyprus to Covid testing here. The Army has also set the pace in integrating senior reservists into their decision making – a process which the RAF and Strategic Command are now following but the Navy, perhaps emboldened by recent financial victories, has studiously avoided. Not surprisingly, the latter are now falling behind in areas like cyber.

Lord Lancaster’s innovative paper FR30 points to additional ways that Defence can grow capability affordably, but emphasises that individual reserve units need to be larger if they are to play the front line roles they do in our English-speaking allies.  More than half the US Army is in the National Guard and USAR, including most infantry brigades. Moving more capability to the reserves makes sense.

What is urgently needed is to halt the Challenger upgrade programmes before more money is wasted, wait to join the next generation of tanks, fix Ajax, and stem the flow of young officers, not least by scrapping FAM. This would enable a credible regular armoured division, backed by a genuine reserve capability which enabled the fielding of a large, capable army at longer notice.

Britain’s army can become the best again, but only if the land forces element of the IR is revisited.

Chris Skidmore: If “Global Britain” wants to succeed, it must increase its spending on innovation and research

11 Jun

Chris Skidmore was Universities Minister twice between 2018-2020, and is Co-Chair of the All Party Group on Universities and Chair of the Res Publica Lifelong Education Commission. He is MP for Kingswood.

Boris Johnson knows that narratives matter. Levelling up, taking back control, building back better may seem slogans, but they point to a vision of a post-Brexit Britain that is free to renew itself for the 21st century.

Central to that vision is also the UK as a “global science superpower”, a phrase first coined by the Prime Minister in 2019, yet which now has more than a ring of truth in its utterance when we look at the UK’s commitment to investing in research to uncover a Covid vaccine, and as a result to continue to lead the world in its vaccination programme.

It’s clear from his arrival for this weekend’s G7 meeting in Cornwall that the vision of Britain as a global centre for science and technology remains undimmed. The Prime Minister chose to showcase the UK’s future horizontal space launch site at Newquay on his arrival in Cornwall— made possible thanks to a multi-million pound government investment in partnership with Virgin Orbit, in a few years’ time, space launch into low earth orbit will be a reality, and along with vertical launch sites at Sutherland and the Shetlands, promises to give the UK the first launch base in Europe.

Yet when it comes to overall spending on science, research and innovation, if we look at the other countries attending the G7, and compare the UK’s current investment, both in terms of total investment but also as a proportion of GDP, we need lift off soon.

Currently the UK spends around 1.7 per cent of its GDP on R&D. Yet the US and China are heading towards three per cent GDP, Japan spends 3.2 per cent, Germany is planning to reach four per cent. Only Italy and Canada are behind the UK in terms of R&D investment in the G7. Outside of this group, other countries are pushing even faster still. South Korea is already at 4.5 per cent and Israel higher still at 4.9 per cent.

Of course the Government has committed to spend 2.4 per cent GDP by 2027 on R&D — what was the OECD average back in 2017 — indeed the recent government commitment to double public R&D spending to £22 billion by 2024/25 has certainly given the commitment a boost. Yet by the time we reach July 13 in a few weeks time, 2027 is just 2,000 days away. Four years have so far past, with R&D activity having only risen around 0.2 per cent of GDP in this period. With five and a half years to go, we cannot afford to continue on the same trajectory. Even the OECD average that was the benchmark for the 2.4 per cent strategy has risen to probably over 2.6 per cent.

We only need to look ahead at the pack pulling ahead in this global technological race. Joe Biden has already placed research and innovation at the centre of his “building back better” strategy. In March 2021, The White House announced that as a part of its American Jobs Plan, it was requesting Congress to authorise $180 billion in federal investment designed to advance US leadership in critical technologies and American research.

It’s clear why R&D is the industry of choice. According to a 2020 report by Breakthrough Energy on the Impacts of Federal R&D Investment on the US Economy, if the federal government were to increase its investment into R&D to at least one per cent of GDP by 2030, then that investment would support 3.4 million jobs. Additionally, this continued investment would be projected to add $478 billion in activity to the American economy with a projected $81 billion in tax revenue windfall.

As the United States seeks to increase its investment into innovations driven by R&D, the German government has also pledged to both increase its tax allowance for companies investing in research, but also increase its central funding to the tune of €2.5 billion. This investment is specifically designed to target funding for electricity mobility, battery cell production and safe charging infrastructure. Additionally, the German government has announced that it was looking to provide a €1 billion bonus programme targeting “forward-thinking” manufacturers and suppliers, specifically in the automotive industry. In 2018 alone, the German government invested the staggering sum of €105 billion into R&D.

Elsewhere, China also announced a serious increase in R&D investment during the Fourth Plenary Session of the 13th National People’s Congress in March 2021. The announcement that it will be increasing investment in R&D by more than seven per cent every year over this Five-Year Plan, with expenditure on basic research rising by 10.6 per cent in 2021 alone. These investments are yet another signal that China is seeking to dramatically increase its domestic technologies such as for example artificial intelligence, quantum information, semiconductors, biotechnology and deep space capabilities, most of which are currently dependent on international suppliers.

In the wake of the pandemic, with many economies and sectors seeking to innovate and change their working practices, to reform their business, now is the time to double down on R&D investment, especially when we recognise where the rest of the world is heading. Even I have come to doubt whether 2.4 per cent, the OECD average at the present time, will be sufficient for the scale of change that is coming in the 2020s and into the 2030s.

The success of “Global Britain” now depends on matching countries that have transformed their economies towards innovation and research. I would now go further— and suggest if we wish to keep up with our G7 colleagues, the forthcoming Innovation Strategy should set a definite timetable for three per cent, and beyond to 3.5 per cent of GDP being spent on R&D. To fail to achieve this in contrast to the other major world economies be setting ourselves up to fail.

Robert Halfon: Our education system is ill prepared for the jobs for the future – and it needs to adapt pretty fast.

21 Apr

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

In an eye-catching ConHome article, the Schools Minister Nick Gibb recently emphasised the need to maintain school standards as we navigate the wreckage of the pandemic.

There was much to like about Gibb’s piece. He has long extolled the virtues of aspiration, hard work and resilience – and he has worked with laser precision to raise school standards.

I greatly admire his and the Government’s work. The proportion of pupils passing the Year 1 phonics screening check increased from 58 per cent in 2012, to 82 per cent in 2019. We are stripping out qualifications that hold no real currency.

We now have a system that encourages schools to innovate and raise their games. Our free schools programme continues to produce gems like King’s College London Mathematics School. New, more rigorous apprenticeship standards are replacing older frameworks. And we have some of the finest universities in the world.

However, nestled in the long-grass of Gibb’s article was this astonishing claim: “We must strongly resist the calls from those who talk about ripping up our curriculum to make it more ‘relevant’ or to make it solely about preparing pupils for work.”

Respectfully, I couldn’t disagree more.

While education wears many hats, its primary purpose must surely be employment.

Without employment, we lose the means to meet our basic needs. The Government loses its ability to raise taxes and pay for key public services. We seize to trade – to swap goods, services and ideas. Employment also shapes our identities – it gives us structure, a sense of purpose and dignity, and a means of building new friendships.

Given the paramount role of employment at the root of society, we should always do what we can to stimulate good jobs. That means creating the right economic climate for investment and growth, and making sure people have the right skills.

Yet the latter is increasingly uncertain. Why? Because the march of the robots is well and truly in motion. Doomsday predictions about mass unemployment are off the mark, and revolutions in robotics, artificial intelligence and other areas will produce new jobs – but only if people have the right skills to do them.

The pace of change is electrifying, too. According to a study by PwC, 28 per cent of jobs taken by 16-24-year-olds could be at risk of automation by the 2030s. NVIDIA, a superchip company in my Harlow constituency, told me that coding will soon be redundant in its workforce as software begins to write itself.

As our labour market thunders towards the digital age, we must urgently reconsider how our education system can support the skills of the future.

Currently, it falls short.

A knowledge-rich curriculum with a narrow focus on traditional subjects, and a tired system of assessment, can only get us so far.

Yes, knowledge is important – people need to reach a certain level to contextualise their learning and development. But skills-based learning must not be crowded out by overemphasising this.

The Department for Education’s Employer Skills Survey, the CBI, the OECD and the World Economic Forum all suggest that the jobs of the future will place much stronger emphasis on skills such as collaboration, communication, problem solving, emotional awareness, creativity and entrepreneurship. Time and again, my parliamentary committee has heard the same.

There must be enough space to develop these skills – and, crucially, the aptitude to adapt and retrain as knowledge quickly fades (as will increasingly become the case); currently, we don’t spend enough time on these things.

This harms us all, but it deals disadvantaged pupils the heaviest blow. For these children, the current approach has reached its limits: while the GCSE attainment gap (the difference in academic development between them and their peers) closed from 20.4 months in 2011 to 18.4 months in 2017, progress has ground to a screeching halt (between 2017 and 2019, it remained stuck at 18.4 months).

We must therefore change what, and how, we teach our children – an engaging form of pedagogy that builds in more applied and interdisciplinary learning. Highly-rated schools like the XP School in Doncaster, and School 21 in Stratford, give us a glimpse into how this might be done.

The XP School uses an interactive model of learning that breaks down conventional silos between subjects; pupils learn in more personalised ways which are brought to life through fieldwork in their local community – and they hone essential skills by adding oral presentations, projects, portfolio work, practicals and group assignments to written exams. School 21 places a strong premium on verbal skills – the spoken equivalent of literacy – in its curriculum, with impressive results and is ranked “Outstanding” by Ofsted.

A Levels should also be replaced with a Baccalaureate-style of qualification. Our post-GCSE education is currently very narrow when compared to successful education systems across the world, where most pupils in upper secondary education study more subjects. It is not helpful to expect pupils to make life-changing decisions that shape their career paths at 16, and it is also not sensible to ask pupils to study such a narrow range of subjects from then on.

We also don’t push basic skills enough after 16 – which goes some way to explaining why a third of young people in England still leave education without being able to read, write and count properly. One way or another, all pupils should be doing some sort of numeracy and literacy development until they are 18, even if those skills are more functionally entwined.

Lastly, pupils need far better access to vocational paths, if it is clear that their strengths and passions lie in those areas. In many other advanced economies, technical routes are a well-respected, and well-oiled, part of the educational machinery that exists.

In Switzerland, for example, around two thirds of students in the final part of their secondary education choose a vocational pathway – mostly doing courses that combine classroom learning and on-the-job training.

Moreover, in Canada, provincial governments have broadened the curriculum to good effect. For instance, in British Columbia, the Dogwood Diploma includes a blend of mandatory credits and optional units, taken over three years (15-18).

Pupils take English (or French, if their native language), maths, social studies, science and PE – and then choose a careers programme and either a fine art or an applied skills subject. The government of British Columbia cited research showing that students who focus on areas that interest them are more engaged in school and more likely to complete their courses.

It isn’t just because other countries have adopted a Baccalaureate model for education that we must follow suit, but it actually improves outcomes. Not only does it boost access to participation in Higher Education (and is linked to higher retention rates), but the University of Melbourne concluded in one paper that the International Baccalaureate (IB) has significant longer-term benefits:

“For many people, the IB has considerably influenced and shaped their working lives. This was evident in reflections on how the IB had provided people with particular skills or dispositions, such as understandings of cultural difference, the capacity for analytical and critical thinking, the development of high-level written skills, and the acquisition of foreign languages. These factors were noted as having directly and positively impacted on their working lives.”

John W. Gardner – the Republican US reformer who served as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the 1960s – once said: “All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.”

That sentiment is increasingly true of our education system today.

We must act now so that, rather than be deposed by the future of work, our children can embrace it confidently and climb the ladder of opportunity.