Claire Courtino: A Wild Belt designation can help Britain lead the world in restoring nature

24 Jun

Claire Coutinho is MP for East Surrey.

Britain has seen a 41 per cent decline in our species since 1970. In England, one in eight species are currently threatened with extinction. Simply put, wildlife habitats in this country are fewer, smaller and more distant than ever before.

This is not only a problem for biodiversity, it is also a problem in our efforts to fight climate change. When nature is working as it should, it can capture carbon, act as flood defences, and improve our air and water quality. But when nature is broken, it cannot protect us.

The Government is taking action, pledging to create a new Nature Recovery Network stretching across Britain. This will mean the creation of 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitats by 2042 and a commitment to protect 30 per cent of our land overall for nature recovery by 2030.

And we are backing up our pledges with investment, investing £640 million into a Nature for Climate Fund to restore our wetlands, peatlands and woodlands.

Our historic Environment Bill also introduces a new biodiversity net gain requirement for development, creating a new sustainable funding stream for environmental improvements and making sure when homes for people are built then habitats for wildlife must be improved alongside them.

But, as things stand, while we have numerous land designations in England, none of them exist to strategically connect nature in recovery.

The Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designation is critical for preserving individual sites which have been identified as wildlife hotspots. The National Park, Areas of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) and Green Belt designations protect landscape and amenity value but do not directly protect biodiversity value. And although we very much like to spend time in beautiful green fields, they can often be quite poor in terms of wildlife habitat.

That is why I am proposing a new designation, a Wild Belt, to plug this legal gap. A Wild Belt designation would provide long-term protection for land that is being managed for nature’s recovery, and it would help us to create connected corridors across land – making sure that wildlife and the natural environment had the space and time it needs to flourish.

The brainchild of Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of the Wildlife Trust, a Wild Belt would protect areas of land that are being managed for nature’s recovery, providing long-term protection from future development and densification.

Across the country, we can see signs of progress. Take the return of the beaver – one of the best natural flood defenders, flow regulators and flora supporters. Once native to England, we are now seeing their return after four centuries of British extinction. Stork!

And I am hopeful this year we will see a return of sand martins nesting in Surrey for the first time in 25 years thanks to the hard work of the Surrey Wildlife Trust.

Bringing back species will be a key part of helping our ecosystems function. But these examples are in a minority. Across Britain, we have seen declines in hedgehog and bees as they struggle to navigate increasingly fragmented habitats. A Wild Belt designation could put a stop to this, by creating green stepping stones for our hedgehogs and pollinator pitstops for our bees.

The benefits of a Wild Belt would also extend to our own health and wellbeing. A survey carried out at the peak of the first lockdown found that 87 per cent agreed that being in nature makes them happy. And the science is clear – having good access to nature can reduce our risk of developing obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

It makes socioeconomic sense too. Poorer households are 3.6 times less likely to live close to green spaces than richer households. By stretching round, through and between England’s town and cities, a Wild Belt would knock down barriers and level up green access.

And while making sure we can build the right homes is our moral duty to the next generation and an important part of maintaining our edge in an increasingly competitive world, a Wild Belt would help to address very real concerns across our communities about species loss and would help us to live in harmony alongside nature.

Schemes like the Trumpington Meadows development in Cambridge have synchronised both housing and biodiversity ambitions. It was once degraded agricultural land, when the housing developer and Wildlife Trust came together to build in an ecological way. It is now home to a 1,200 strong community, where 80 per cent of the land remains biodiverse space and 40 per cent of the properties are affordable housing.

And although a Wild Belt might encompass some green fields, it could also make use of forgotten land – river valleys, roadside verges, railway lines, scraps of golf courses. All of these could be rewilded, creating a network of green continuous corridors from the countryside all the way through our towns and cities.

Just as Britain has led the world in renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions, with the introduction of a Wild Belt designation we can plug a legal gap, safeguard our investments, and lead the world in restoring nature.

Jonathan Werran: As recent local elections showed, the mayoral revolution has been a success

12 May

Jonathan Werran is Chief Executive of Localis.

The injunction to “live local and prosper” is the order of the day in the aftermath of last week’s local and devolved regional elections. Good quality neighbourhoods, vibrant high streets, decent school provision and abundant high-skilled jobs from a prosperous local economy – everything that instils pride in place should be encouraged.

The Government can go so far in stimulating prosperous communities and productive places through all the funding and policy levers available to the central state. But the role of strong local leadership here cannot be underestimated in galvanizing place prosperity.

For evidence we don’t need to look beyond two of the three goals in the hat trick, starting with Tees Valley and Ben Houchen’s truly astonishing 73 per cent vote share to secure beyond all measure the mayoralty he had narrowly won in 2017. Friday’s success was followed up the next day by Andy Street, who nearly won the West Midlands Combined Authority mayoralty on first round preference alone.

On this basis, where you have mayoral figureheads who combine charisma with pragmatism, and with a sufficient war chest for investment, this is a model eminently capable of setting in motion a virtuous cycle of economic and political success. Seen in isolation, this outcome wholly vindicates George Osborne and Rupert Harrison’s coalition-era hatched devolution revolution plan.

As the former chancellor Tweeted leading up to Super Thursday, what is needed next is for more trust to be placed in metro mayors through further meaningful devolution from Whitehall. Ideally what is called for here are substantive powers over investment and fiscal leeway to inject fuel into to the tank of well-exercised convening powers.

In ConHome’s Saturday reaction, Paul Goodman noted how Houchen’s triumph and ability to deliver from Freeports to Whitehall relocation has unlocked four of Teesside’s six parliamentary constituencies. At local level, Street’s readeption of the West Midlands Mayoral Combined Authority was telegraphed by the gaining of Dudley Council, again pointing to the potency of the mayoral model, when well supported, in delivering political dividends.

However, these Conservative successes must be tempered by the twin failures to retain the combined authorities encompassing Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and the West of England as well as the entrenched position of Labour’s metro mayors. Switching the voting method from supplementary vote to first past the post in future mayoral polls would have made the difference for James Palmer at least.

But any inquest must also consider the future and determine how what is working out so well as bold and pioneering in the West Midlands and North East might translate inside the deep blue wall – where the voting intentions of red urban islands such as Cambridge proved capable of commanding the rural blue seas.

Answers there may come, we hope, in the shape of the Levelling Up White Paper. If the expectation is that we revert to the vision Michael Gove offered up last July in his Ditchley Park lecture, this seemed to be pointing to one of central government rationally dealing with 50 principal players, as the US President does in relations with state governors in the federal system.

It’s very conceivable to see Conservative counties, even those shires which have been against the imposition of an urban mayoral governance model, lining up in principle with this out of party loyalty. Such a move would, by reducing the number of significant players to something manageable, align with Gordon Brown’s suggestion – one backed by Lord Hague – for saving the union by establishing some kind of “permanent forum between the regions and the nations, and the centre of government, which Boris Johnson should chair”.

But in what political economy would any new mayoralties emerge into? Going back to the first formal definition of “Levelling Up”, a term mentioned in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, we have: “Levelling up means creating new good jobs, boosting training and growing productivity in places that have seen economic decline and the loss of industry – not through a one-size-fits-all approach, but nurturing different types of economic growth and building on the different strengths that different places have.”

Just over four years ago when a formal and interventionist industrial strategy, Localis published a report in which we made the distinction between the “stuck” and the “stifled”. The stuck referred to the places that are still dealing with the fallout of the industrial trauma of the 1980s and the stifled places that are growing quickly but whose growth is hemmed in by their boundaries. We recognised both typologies as of increasing political importance, but the Levelling Up road just taken seems firmly addressed to meeting the needs of the former – and for the latter may be seen as levelling down.

Unfair as it might be, the perception among local leaders in the South East might be that in exchange for financial and political capital being invested north of the Watford Gap, they will be lumbered with the hospital pass of meeting unpopular local housing targets. To obviate this issue, a more spatial strategy for housing might insulate from some of the uproar – but not all.

To what extent pain is inevitable and suffering optional will vary. But as a universal governance model, it’s more than likely that mayoralties would necessarily involve restructuring and reorganisation. Bearing in mind the tensions and rupture between the tiers of local government amid the pandemic response last year, then if the White Paper does come out for it, like Macbeth, ‘’If it were done when tis done, twere well it were done quickly”. If not, not at all.

The evidence shows that when resourced and supported, charistmatic and committed leaders of place like Houchen and Street can lead all before them. For the sake of our recovery, we could do with more of them.

The recent example of Ben Bradley, the Mansfield MP, taking on the duty of leadership at Nottinghamshire County Council is an undeniably bold and imaginative coup which bodes well for the authority’s ability to cut through in talks Whitehall. To quote from the catchy campaign song of failed London Mayoral candidate Count Binface, it’s in such terms that you can see it being hip to be a mayor.

This year there are a record number of Mayoral races. West Yorkshire is the latest addition.

2 Apr

Already this week, I have contemplated the Mayoral contests for London, the West Midlands, and Tees Valley. Those will probably be the highest profile elections, but there are a number of other Mayoral contests taking place.

James Palmer, the Conservative Mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, is seeking re-election. Last time he won by a clear margin – though there is the note of caution that the election took place in 2017 at a time when Conservative fortunes were generally buoyant. The only really difficult territory is Cambridge itself. In that city the Conservatives have no council seats at present; it is a Labour/Lib Dem battleground. All the seats on Cambridge Council are up for election this year.

Palmer was previously the Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council and worked in the family dairy business. Since becoming Mayor, he has written on this site about his work on transport infrastructure, apprenticeships, and promoting business investment.

A closer result last time was for the West of England Mayoralty. This post is to lead the West of England Combined Authority which covers the local authorities of Bristol, South Gloucestershire, and Bath and North East Somerset. Tim Bowles, the Conservative incumbent is standing down. Samuel Williams is the Conservative candidate. He is a businessman who was the candidate for Bristol Mayor two years ago. Some local authorities have a directly elected Mayor instead of a council leader. Some regions have a Mayor with a wider role – in addition to the local authorities. This means some places have two directly elected Mayors – those in Liverpool have one for the City and another for the region; those in Tower Hamlets have one for their borough and another for London. Those in Bristol have one for their city and another for the West of England. The Conservative candidate for Mayor of Bristol is Alastair Watson. He is a former Lord Mayor of Bristol – a quite different role. I hope that is all clear.

Andy Burnham is surely very likely to be returned as the directly elected Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester. He won with a big majority in 2017 – even though there were some spectacular Conservative successes elsewhere. Political expediency appeared to triumph over consistency with his messages regarding lockdown. We did see some interesting General Election results in 2019 – not least the Conservatives gaining Leigh, the constituency Burnham himself used to represent. It comes under Wigan Council. Other councils in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority include Bolton, Bury and Trafford which have reasonable levels of Conservative support. But Manchester itself has no Conservative councillors while Oldham and Salford remain challenging. However, in Salford the Conservatives have been making progress and now have eight councillors. Salford has its own directly elected Mayor. Arnie Saunders, a Conservative councillor described by the Salford Star as a “jovial rabbi”, is the Conservative candidate. The Conservative candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester is Laura Evans. She has written about her candidacy for us here.

Liverpool City Region is even more solid Labour territory – though it does include Wirral. Steve Rotherham, a left winger and former Labour MP, is standing again. The Conservative candidate is Jade Marsden.

But there will be more interest in the contest for the directly elected Mayor of Liverpool City Council. Joe Anderson, the Labour incumbent is not seeking re-election. He was arrested in December after accusations of corruption. The replacement Labour candidate is Joanne Anderson, no relation, who emerged after a messy selection process. The three who made an earlier shortlist – all Labour councillors – were barred from standing. Given that commissioners have been sent in to run the City, the election result is rather otiose for the immediate future.  Katie Burgess is the Conservative candidate. She certainly has no shortage of material for her campaign messages about Labour mismanagement.

West Yorkshire is electing its first Mayor this year. The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has the following member councils: Wakefield, Kirklees, Calderdale, Bradford and Leeds. That area includes Shipley, which comes under Bradford – represented by the Conservative MP Philip Davies. Keighley, another Bradford constituency was gained by the Conservatives in 2019. Calder Valley comes under Calderdale and has a Conservative MP. Most encouragingly we have the constituency of Wakefield – which was gained by Imran Ahmad Khan for the Conservatives at the last General Election. Parts of Leeds are covered by the constituencies of Pudsey, Morley and Outwood and Elmet and Rothwell – all three with Conservative MPs. (Morley and Outwood includes some wards that come under Wakefield Council.)

Then we have Dewsbury – another seat gained by the Conservatives at the last election and now represented by Mark Eastwood. It comes under Kirklees – as do another Conservative constituency, Colne Valley.

Yet even if we take the 2019 General Election as a guide – a cheerful set of results to reflect on – Labour would still have been slightly ahead among votes cast in this region. Some of their MPs still had big majorities – notably in Bradford. The electoral system for the Mayoral race may make it tougher still – with Green Party and Lib Dems voters tending to give Labour their second preferences.

Tracy Brabin is Labour’s candidate. She is currently the Party’s MP for Batley and Spen. She was embroiled in controversy after issuing a statement attacking the teacher suspended by Batley Grammar School for showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, but then changing her stance. The Conservative candidate is Matthew Robinson. He’s a councillor in Leeds and works helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Robinson is the underdog but this should be a competitive race.

Jonathan Clark: We cannot assume education will go back to normal after Covid

24 Mar

Jonathan Clark was a Fellow of Peterhouse; at Oxford, he was a Fellow of All Souls College; latterly he has been Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago, and Hall Distinguished Professor of British History at the University of Kansas. His latest book is a study of Thomas Paine.

In 1990 nobody set out to abolish typewriters. By 2000 they were gone: not because of some pressure group, some campaign, some commission of inquiry, some Act of Parliament. They vanished naturally, as we discovered a better, faster, cheaper way of doing the same thing.

The problem with the current controversy over the impact of Covid on examinations and on schools is that it assumes that after the present crisis, education will return to “normal”. Even when we are pitted against Nature, we assume that all we need do is apply the ideal of sustainability and we will buy security. Sustainability is a marvellous ideal, but it has just one problem: nothing is sustainable. Everything changes. Everything is temporary.

The reality is that both the main exam options – teacher assessment and the public, anonymised examination – are not eternal truths but historical formations, devised at particular times and places for particular reasons, and destined to change as society changes. Students in US universities are given marks by their professors; dons at Oxford and Cambridge are horrified to learn this, and expect their students to sit in rows in exam halls, their scripts identified only by a number and even then double-marked, ideally by dons who had not taught them.

Each examination system has strengths and weaknesses, and the debate is a matter of choosing the least bad option. The problem with teacher assessment is that the teachers award marks for a whole range of reasons, some discreditable, some idealistic; but whatever their stance towards their pupils the teachers are also assessing the effectiveness of their own teaching. They are, in part but inevitably, marking their own homework.

Every system can be gamed, and teacher assessment results in grade inflation just as democratically-elected politicians result in monetary inflation. Teachers seek the credit, and the rewards, for their steadily improving performance. Pupils and parents are delighted with the higher grades, unaware that the jobs market will silently reward inflated grades differently from gold-standard ones. If you were to be operated on for a major ailment, would you choose a surgeon who had done really well in genuine exams? Or one who might have done really well, had the world been a better place than it is?

Meanwhile, whatever the parochial controversies, the world changes, and Covid has accelerated developments that were afoot anyway. University graduate seminars are now almost all held as Zoom conferences: once Covid is vanquished by vaccines, will they revert to face-to face meetings? Some will; most won’t. Schools have been compelled to go over to online teaching, just as many office workers now work from home. Will either go back to the nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday routine? Some will; others won’t.

Many university courses are now available free on the internet, and provide education, of a sort, to vast numbers around the world. I still favour the model of the Cambridge supervision, one don teaching one student at a time, who had written an essay. But in this I am antediluvian: even I know that the world has changed, and will change further.

What about exams? These, too, are an historical formation. In the seventeenth century Cambridge students were examined orally (naturally, in Latin) by a don seated on a three-legged stool, who was nicknamed Mr Tripos (the name survived the thing). Jobs (mostly in the Church) were awarded by personal patronage.

In the nineteenth century growing state bureaucracies demanded more impersonal measures of performance, and written exams came to prominence. Into the twentieth century the bureaucracies grew ever larger, and the tyranny of the written exam was imposed on ever larger percentages of the population in the name of “meritocracy” (in reality, a system that was gamed like all the others).

Today the pendulum is swinging back, and the world of work has become the world of woke: students are rewarded more and more on the basis of their values.

Meanwhile, what is being examined? Early seventeenth-century students might be asked whether the Pope was Antichrist, or whether the sun orbited the earth. In the late eighteenth century they might be asked to compose Latin hexameters. In the nineteenth, to write prose essays about the religions of the Indian empire. In the twentieth, they needed to use a slide rule. Finally the demand for an exam system that could be claimed not to discriminate against minorities led to the dominance of right answers and even to multiple-choice questions, objective but largely worthless.

Meanwhile, for teenagers, life has moved on: learning has been replaced by Wikipedia accessed from cellphones, the slide rule by the pocket calculator.

State-owned schools, too, are historical formations and are now close to being a producer monopoly, their teachers an estate of the realm. It is becoming ever harder to defend an exam system which increasingly squeezes out originality, just as it is becoming harder to defend school and university teachers who have become politically monochrome. Something has to give. Covid may be the catalyst.

All this changes again with the rise of AI, the revolution that we saw coming but still ignored. More and more teaching will be done not by inadequate schoolteachers struggling to control justifiably bored classes but by perfectly patient, consistently courteous, infinitely well-informed computer programmes accessed by students sitting alone and meeting their peers in the evenings. Individual choice is already everywhere in the ascendant. Students will visit physical schools sometimes, on some occasions, for some purposes; but daily attendance will be a thing of the past.

Superbly powerful computers will provide detailed and seemingly infallible judgments on student performance; and the nature of the exams will adapt to this new reality. Both old systems – teacher assessment and public, anonymised examinations – will fade away, like typewriters and steam locomotives. In this change there will be loss and gain. As to the former good functions of schools – inculcating politeness, mutual respect, co-operation, decency, loyalty, honour and all the rest – they have done this less and less well for years. Perhaps AI could do a better job. It will have to try.

But these changes will happen; and we would do better to anticipate the future than to defend in the last ditch the producer monopolies of the mid twentieth century. It would be interesting to see a government, of any political complexion, that would identify and row with the current instead of against it. In education as in healthcare, there is one reform which would have just that effect, automatically, and which is in itself neither of the Right nor of the Left. It can be summed up in one word: vouchers.

This article first appeared on the blog of the think tank Politeia.

Jonathan Werran: Why Oxford should be a focal point for post-pandemic and post-Brexit growth

17 Mar

Jonathan Werran is Chief Executive at Localis.

In recent weeks there has been a lively and engaging post-Budget debate on this website around the Government’s Plan for Growth and its recalibration of industrial policy, enlivened by telling contributions from Greg Clark and ConservativeHome’s own Paul Goodman.

The new business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng has derided the ancien regime Industrial Strategy as “a pudding with no theme”. Indeed, Andy Haldane, Chair of the Industrial Strategy Council went on record as saying that while the policy had the right aspiration it never translated into a measurable delivery plan.

Since 2017 some £45 billion has been thrown into a staggering profusion of 142 Industrial Strategy policies, many of which were unfunded, went down civil service rabbit holes and “self-liquidated”. Like Bilbo Baggins, this amorphous policy pudding has been “sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread”.

There is a lot to like in the aspirations of the “Plan for Growth” prospectus. The danger though is that without a rooted sense of place, all this good stuff from the centre simply doesn’t connect where it counts. It becomes like candy floss without the stick when applied regionally and locally. Only place – armed with local purpose and powers – can make the economic rationale for funding and investment cases cohere in a context and setting.

To support and buttress an economic recovery which is focused on innovation and a skills revolution, we should be calling for a greater emphasis on place and with it true localism, fiscal freedom and self-government. So in making the case for place to be at the heart of any central government plans for growth and levelling up, Localis is going to call upon Oxford as evidence for the prosecution. 

It’s the ideal place to start, as Boris Johnson’s articulation on the case for a Global Britain did yesterday, which took as its starting point the Prime Minister’s visit last September to the city’s Edward Jenner institute where he saw early proof of its efficacy. 

With unrivalled assets alongside the university, the city is our national poster boy for research and development. And, courtesy of the vaccine, an exemplar of translational research in action.

Oxford must and will, therefore, be a focal point for post-pandemic and post-Brexit growth as the beating heart and hub of the UK’s knowledge economy, as a coherent economic entity with an independent and unique strategic national offer. It contributes a tidy £6.75 billion in GVA to the national economy each year as a net contributor to Treasury coffers – not taking into consideration the knock-on effects of its activity, wider industrial assets and supply chains.

However, although Oxford is a compact and global city, it must be admitted that more could be done to strengthen the city’s contribution to the regional, national and international economy. Despite the prevailing image of the city “dreaming spires”, Oxford is the second most unequal city in the UK, with many long-term issues contributing to this disparity. Among these we can reckon earnings, housing, educational attainment, health outcomes and food poverty. Housing affordability is particularly stark – with a ratio of prices to earnings making it the least affordable city in the UK. 

Beyond the social, a multitude of economic factors are stifling Oxford from realising its potential as a city impact regionally and nationally. These include poor graduate retention, skills shortages for residents, crippling traffic congestion and a rail system caught in a bottleneck as well as the sluggish pace of delivering the infrastructure and housing.

So in short, there’s a case for levelling up Oxford in its own right. This is something that takes on greater regional and national importance now the Oxford-to-Cambridge Arc, on whose innovative potential so much hope for national economic renewal lies.

Oxford and its economic and innovation assets are central cogs to both to wider Oxfordshire and Arc ecosystems and their Covid-19 economic recovery. However, it has also been noted as being “an area constrained by inadequate infrastructure, a stressed and fragmented natural environment, [and] escalating housing costs”. These are all issues that hold it back from reaching its full economic and environmental potential.

How such a common purpose and ambition is to be maintained across tier-spanning local government partners, the local enterprise partnership OxLep and the Oxfordshire Growth Board and the Local Industrial Strategy and Economic Recovery Plan under “Plan for Growth” will be interesting, to say the least.

Whatever alphabet soup of new acronyms emerges, one thing for sure is that Oxford’s ability to invest in its own good growth would allow for wider benefit to be seen across the Arc, and crucially, make the city a better engine for growth within it.

With strong city-led governance, Oxford would be able punch way above its weight with its international peers and leverage its unique assets and particular strengths to recover stronger than before. Focusing these assets in the right direction would streamline the city’s local levelling up efforts to tackle transport and housing bottlenecks through delivering physical, digital and social infrastructure at pace alongside a long-term investment strategy.

There’s a fiscal devolution ask too. In order to grow at city level, Oxford would need the ability to raise local levies to fund its placemaking efforts. Both on businesses, in a manner similar to the provisions laid out in the Business Rates Supplement Act, and on residents, in a progressive manner using council tax bands as a guide.

In our report At the right level – a strategic case for city-led growth, innovation and renewal, Localis also calls for appropriate financing in the shape of a long-term £1 billion endowment fund for supporting good growth within the city. This would address the central issue of budgetary uncertainty and would form of a single long-term investment strategy for city-led growth and with it power to target investment in among other things digital, smart energy and transport infrastructure and skills.

Additionally, Oxford alongside other cities key to the Oxford-to-Cambridge Arc’s future growth, including Cambridge, and Milton Keynes need to have a clear voice within its governance, including direct representation on the proposed Arc Growth Body.

Since we can’t deliver levelling up, an industrial strategy, skills revolution and zero carbon from the centre, then the Plan for Growth must swiftly take on board and exploit the unmatched convening power of the local state – an entity which includes not just local government but also the research and development clusters, major public and private employers – to plan and deliver levelling up and recovery.

Taking Oxford as a starting point, the same need for muscular and effective localism applies to other towns and cities. Not just those in the area of the Arc such Cambridge, Peterborough, Swindon, Milton Keynes or Norwich but universally, from Ipswich to Somerset, from Staffordshire to Middlesbrough.

If the souffle of economic success is to rise on the basis of innovation and skills revolution, it needs a scaffold to keep it from collapsing. So let Kwarteng’s growth pudding have its theme, and let this theme be place – a dish confected from the finest locally-sourced growth ingredients. The proof will be in the pudding.

Bernard Jenkin: How the power of local teamwork and public support can make test and trace work

9 Nov

Bernard Jenkin MP is Chair of the Liaison Committee, and MP for Harwich and North Essex.

Forget how much the data justified the new lockdown.  The real question is what living with the virus will look and feel like in the months ahead. It is clear that lockdowns are ruinously for the economy, and that another in a few months’ time would lack political legitimacy.

It is also clear that NHS capacity is limited. Much of the opposition to the new national lockdown was because it will only provide temporary respite from the virus, and many MPs see no sign of the strategic thinking that would avoid a third lockdown.

National briefings have become mistrusted for their partial presentation of data. SAGE says NHS England has conducted modelling which shows hospitals will run out of beds in weeks, but why was this model not already published, as it was so central to the Government’s case for the lockdown? The use of leaks, briefings and the partial publication of official data is no substitute for proper data transparency.

The Office for National Statistics estimates that the virus was infecting about 50,000 people per day last week, and it is reasonable to assume that this will lead to unsustainable hospitalisation rates. By far the most affordable and politically sustainable response is to mount an operation to contain the spread of the virus by identifying spreaders via mass testing, and by persuading those testing positive, and their contacts, to self-isolate.

That is why NHS Test and Trace is the vital capability to get us out of the crisis.  But, as a public campaign aimed at changing behaviour, NHS Test and Trace is still a long way from commanding public confidence.

The present level of infection overwhelms any capacity to track and trace. The hope must be that the latest restrictions will suppress the spread of the virus. Last summer, we were down to a few thousand cases per day. A return to that level would leave a manageable number of positive tests and their contacts to follow up. Supported by the arrival of quick turnaround mass testing being trialled in Liverpool, this would deliver a system capable of containing the virus indefinitely, pending improvements in treatments and the arrival of vaccines.

The challenge is to persuade the public (and Conservative MPs) that we are all playing a part in delivering a coherent national plan that will succeed in containing the virus. The failure to achieve this is frustrating, when the Government is broadly trying to do the right things. The key is to persuade the ‘spreaders’ to self-isolate.

Imperial College published a model in August that claimed an effective contact tracing system could bring the R rate down by 24 per cent. It rested on three core assumptions: that 80 per cent of symptomatic cases are tested, that 80 per cent of close contacts are contacted, and all data from testing is processed in 24 hours.

All three of these assumptions are, at present, unachievable But come within reach once the infection rate is brought down: to around 2-5,000 new cases per day. Yesterday, there were 24,000 new positive tests.

In Japan, successful contact tracing has avoided the need for new lockdowns. The country uses a technique called “retrospective” tracing. Regardless of the severity of their illness, 80 per cent of patients who contracted the disease do not infect others, but there are also “super-spreaders” – individuals infecting many others, creating a cluster.

The Japanese tracers are like detectives. They document the chain of transmission to trace clusters of multiple cases to a common source. Their system has been described as “very analogue”, relying on local, person-to-person communication, which engenders more trust than remote contact, relying on national data bases and centralised call centres.

The UK already has its own cluster hunters. We have NHS board health protection teams (HPTs), based in regions and sub-regions. They receive information from local contact tracing staff when a ‘complex setting’ is identified. This might be a care home, a hospital, a homeless shelter or a school. The weekly statistics for NHS Test and Trace show local is by far the most effective: 97.4 per cent of close contacts are reached and asked to self-isolate, compared to 59.5 per cent for the national system.

The Government therefore needs to shift the emphasis of operations from national to local. National databases and call centres neglect two key groups of potential spreaders.

First, there is no way of knowing whether positive cases who are successfully contacted are actually isolating. Local government teams should offer them support via the ‘community hubs’ that were so effective at supporting those shielding in the first lockdown. Your friends and neighbours would have far more influence over compliance.

Second, NHS Test and Trace fails completely to contact some 35-40 per cent of those tested positive. Local councils should be given the job of following up ‘non-responders’.

Engendering public support is vital – something which NHS Test and Trace has been unable so far to think through. Cambridge, not Liverpool, was the first mass testing trial, conducted by the University itself. Since the start of term, students from different colleges have sent in swabs every fortnight. Results are pooled with members of their bubble. If a bubble tests positive, then it is locked down until they can get re-tested to identify who is infected.

The key lesson from the Cambridge scheme is the importance of public support. Eighty per cent of students volunteered to take part, and because they are in college all can easily be followed up.

People and families on low incomes who are told to self-isolate are entitled to a payment of £500 from their local authority under the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme, but many are still struggling to claim what they are entitled to. You cannot expect people to self-isolate if there is an unreasonable financial penalty. It would also help if the period of isolation was shortened; the chances of being infectious after seven days without symptoms is very low.

500,000 tests per day is a great achievement, but ministers hailing these achievements answers instils little public confidence. How will these tests be used? Who will be tested? How is the test data analysed and how fast? In consequence, where is the effort to trace and isolate best targeted?

The constant promotion of what seem like silver bullets – Operation Moonshot, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, the mass testing of the whole population – make for good-looking headlines,  but they risk ending in disappointment, unless they are presented as part of a coherent plan.

The new lockdown is intended to reduce the prevalence of the virus. NHS Test and Trace has breathing space until the virus rate falls to manageable levels to get its act together. There is now an opportunity to get the public back on side.

Ben Everitt: Why the plan for a new technical university in Milton Keynes offers a fresh model for higher education

16 Sep

Ben Everitt is the MP for Milton Keynes North.

We have world class universities in this country, which provide some of the highest calibre graduates around. We must maintain and protect our best institutions. But speaking to businesses in my constituency, they tell me that what they want isn’t always graduates. It’s workers with technical skills, an understanding of the industry they want to work in, and who are ready to work in teams and who can communicate.

That’s why this Government is right to be taking a hard look at the system of higher and further education in this country. It isn’t ‘anti university’ to be asking whether the current system provides the best opportunity for those going through it, for the businesses who will employ them, and for the taxpayer. It’s making an argument for a world class higher and further education system for everyone, in a wider variety of forms.

And when we think about what that looks like, we don’t have far to go. We should take inspiration from one of this Conservative Government’s proudest achievements – Free Schools. These schools, often set up in the poorest areas of the country by innovative teachers and heads, were distinctive not just because they were new, but because they offered something different.

Like the best businesses, they spotted a gap in the market and they provided a solution to fill it. And many of them – such as Michaela Community School, run by the outstanding Katharine Birbalsingh – have been successful precisely because they have maintained this focus over time, rather than doing everything.

We have some of that in higher education, but not enough. In my constituency, for example, the Open University does a brilliant job because it focuses on a specific remit – providing flexible distance learning to those who don’t want to, or aren’t able to, undertake traditional three year full time undergraduate degrees. To adapt the Steve Jobs maxim, it does not try to do everything – it does one thing, and does it well. But we need more innovation from the higher education sector, not more of the same.

It’s why I’m such a strong supporter, alongside my fellow Milton Keynes MP Iain Stewart, of the new proposed technical university in my constituency, Milton Keynes University (MK:U). This institution, modelled on the best technical universities in Germany and the United States, has identified a clear gap, which is the shortage of digital and STEM skills in the economy throughout Milton Keynes. I’m privileged in my constituency to sit in the middle of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc – a zone of immense prosperity and economic growth that is home to world class businesses and innovation.

But what Milton Keynes needs is people who can work in these businesses – and who have qualifications that are industry ready. And that’s what MK:U will deliver. By 2021, MK:U plans to be delivering degree apprenticeships in the critical shortage areas of data science, cyber security, digital technology, and management. By 2024, when the university is fully on stream, it will continue to deliver at least half of its provision via degree apprenticeships.

It will also work closely with the new South Central Institute of Technology to deliver high quality technical qualifications at what are called Level 4 and 5 – above the level of school qualifications, but quicker to achieve and more industry-focussed than traditional degrees.

The reason I’m so confident in the success of MK:U is that the team there have been overwhelmed by interest from businesses. Over a hundred major employers, who between them employ over 700,000 people in the UK alone, are backing MK:U, including top-level support from Arriva, Bosch, BT, Capita, Grant Thornton, Network Rail, PwC, Sainsburys, and Santander – who specifically cited MK:U as a key element in its decision to locate its new £150 million Digital Hub in Milton Keynes, and has committed £10 million capital funding and £20 million of in-kind support, to MK:U.

MK:U is backed by Cranfield, the world recognised postgraduate university with a long track record in scientific and business research, and another example of an institution that knows what it does and does it well. Like Cranfield, and like the OU, MK:U will keep to its mission. It won’t offer a wide range of liberal arts and humanities degrees. It won’t chase faddish new disciplines and courses merely to attract students. It will focus on driving prosperity in the Arc, and for the UK more widely.

I know that Ministers in the Education and Communities departments, and in the Treasury are studying the proposal closely as we approach the Spending Review. It has the potential to make a real difference – and to provide a model that other, ‘Free’, universities could follow too.

James Palmer: Why I’m backing electric bikes as a safe and healthy way to travel in my region

21 Aug

James Palmer is the directly elected Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

This month, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority became the first region in the country to roll out e-bikes and e-scooters to the public so people can enjoy quicker, healthier journeys as they return to work and school.

Electric bikes and scooters have the potential to revolutionise travel, making fast, clean, and inexpensive journeys possible, and help to ease congestion, reduce pollution, and allow for social distancing.

As an innovative organisation, focused on delivery, the Combined Authority has brought forward this solution by appointing European e-scooter operator, Voi, on a 12-month trial basis. Voi will provide e-bikes across the region and test out e-scooters in the centre of Cambridge where they will be assessed closely for safety and viability in the coming weeks, with e-bikes rolled out in October.

This move follows a recent announcement of £2.9 million, negotiated from central government, to improve cycle and pedestrian facilities across the region to get more people walking and cycling.

These measures are part of a vision for healthier and more sustainable travel across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough post-Covid.

Traditional modes of public transport have been hit hard by social distancing.

In Cambridgeshire and Peterborough bus use is just over a third of what it was pre-Covid in Peterborough and only one-fifth of what it was in Cambridge.

Footfall at One Station Square in Cambridge has fallen from a peak of 18,000 people crossing in March before lockdown, to an average of below 2,000 since. There are signs of people making more train journeys again, with a high of 8,000 footfalls recorded in August.

Meanwhile, average daily car use in some parts of the region, such as South Cambridgeshire, is as much as 24 per cent higher than pre-lock down levels and that is before many people have returned to the office and children to school.

It seems while the threat of Covid-19 remains, many people feel reluctant to make journeys by bus or train and so there needs to be a viable public transport option which allows for social distancing.

Without drastic action and investment in alternative modes of travel, congestion on the roads could reach a critical point very quickly as more people are encouraged to return to the office, and children are expected to return to school. Or, we could have a situation where people are discouraged from returning to public life, opting to remain at home. Both scenarios could have disastrous consequences for our region.

Firstly, for our economy. Recorded footfall in retail locations are down 41 per cent in Cambridge and 34 per cent in Huntingdon to the same point last year. We simply must get people out and about again or our local businesses, restaurants and highstreets will suffer.

And, for our environment. Emissions from cars and emissions per capita are 50 per cent above the national average in Cambridgeshire. On average, 106 deaths per year in the Greater Cambridge region alone can be attributed to air pollution.

During lockdown, carbon emissions dropped by 17 per cent, with Cambridgeshire and Peterborough on track to record a 27 per cent decrease in carbon emissions this year. But with public transport use down by two thirds, and car use going up, we must reverse these trends if we are to meet our target of eradicating carbon emissions by 2050.

Electrically assisted bikes provide a safe and healthy alternative mode of travel to the private car, bus, or train, which enables the user to practice social distancing while also helping to reduce carbon emissions.

E-bikes are likely to be placed at rail stations throughout the region, as well as at Park and Ride sites, and potentially at stops along the guided bus way, so they can be relied upon by commuters for significant parts of their journey to work and by others including students and visitors travelling into cities, towns, and other areas of interest and leisure.

It is thought that 60 per cent of current car journeys are only 1-2 miles in length and e-scooters and other modes of active travel could help significantly reduce unnecessary reliance on cars for these short journeys. E-scooters will allow visitors, tourists, students, and commuters to make quick short journeys across town.

The initiative by the Combined Authority to provide e-bikes and e-scooters will aim to reduce by 400 tonnes of CO2 emissions across the region by August 2021.

Providing e-bikes and e-scooters will also help to prevent the spread of coronavirus by allowing people to make journeys while remaining socially distanced. In addition, handlebars will be covered in Shieldex® Copper-Tape designed to kill 99.98 per cent of coronavirus on contact and all scooters are disinfected every 24 hours.

Along with a decrease in carbon emissions, due to a temporary drop in car use during lockdown, this year has also seen a 200 per cent increase in people using cycle to work schemes. With people enjoying improved air quality and fitter lifestyles, the benefits to a fully integrated active network for our region are clear and our investment shows we are serious about making our vision for greener more sustainable travel, a reality.

Raghib Ali: Systemic classism, not racism. Why the main factor in health and educational inequalities is deprivation, not race.

21 Jul

Dr Raghib Ali is an Honorary Consultant in Acute Medicine at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, and a Visiting Research Fellow of the Department of Population Health, University of Oxford.

Last month, it was widely reported that Public Health England’s report,Beyond the Data: Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 on BAME Communities, proved that systemic racism had contributed to their increased COVID-19 death rate.

This report, coming out as it did during the fallout from the horrific murder of a black man by a white police officer in the US, was used by some as evidence that ‘Britain is a racist country.’

The report itself was more nuanced, saying: “racism, discrimination and social inequalities…may have contributed to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.”

While it is true that the death rate for Covid-19 is higher in non-whites, the analyses presented did not account for the effect of occupation or comorbidities. The current evidence is inconclusive and most of the increased risk can be accounted for by known risk factors, including co-morbidities, deprivation, higher risk occupations, living in densely-populated urban centers, air pollution and multi-generational households.

In fact, the claims about racism were based on the subjective views of 4000 ‘stakeholders’ – not on objective evidence – as the report itself acknowledged. Although it is possible that racism  contributed to some of the risk factors, this certainly does not prove that racism caused Covid-19 deaths, and such inflammatory claims should not be made without solid evidence.

Also, if it were true that non-whites suffer from systemic racism throughout their lives – adversely affecting their health, education, income, housing, employment (the key determinants of health) – this would be reflected in life expectancy/overall mortality figures which are the best measures of overall health.

However, (in contrast to the situation in the US, where Blacks do have lower life expectancy) non-whites in the UK actually have higher life expectancy / lower overall mortality than Whites. In Scotland life expectancy (LE) is higher in Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese than Whites, and in England and Wales, both Blacks and Asians have slightly lower death rates than Whites, with those born in Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia all having lower overall and premature mortality than those born in the UK.

This finding is surprising as some ethnic minorities are much poorer than Whites – with over 30% of Pakistanis & Bangladeshis and 20 per cent of Blacks living in the most deprived 10 per cent of areas (versus 10 per cent for Whites & Indians)  and deprivation is the main factor associated with lower LE. Those who live in the most deprived areas of England (predominantly in the North) live on average 10 years less compared to the least deprived (25 years between Blackpool and Westminster) – the gap is even worse for healthy life expectancy where the difference is 20 years on average (33 years between Blackpool and Westminster) and this gap or social gradient in health is seen within all major ethnic groups.

This gradient was also seen for Covid-19 where, amongst non-whites, the most deprived were four times more likely than the least deprived to require intensive care, again illustrating the need to focus on deprivation.

We see a similar picture when it comes to education – which is both a key determinant of health and hugely affected by deprivation. The Race disparity Audit showed that, when looking at outcomes by ethnic group alone, Indians & Chinese outperform other ethnic groups, including Whites, at every level of education while Black Caribbean children perform worst – and significantly worse than Black Africans – except for university entry where Whites have the lowest rate (although they then do go on to have the best degree and employment outcomes.) 

Once deprivation is taken into account – by comparing only those on Free School Meals (FSM) – White and Black Caribbean children have the worst outcomes on almost every measure and especially university entry. (Although there are again huge regional variations – 48 per cent of inner London FSM children v 18 per cent in the South West.)

Children from ethnic minorities are now also more likely than Whites to attend grammar schools whereas just 2.6 per cent of their students are on FSM (compared to 14 per cent of the population.) Even for Oxbridge entry, non-white students are now as likely as Whites to gain entry whereas those on free school meals have almost zero chance.

This was also my experience as a student at Cambridge where it was not my ethnicity which made me stand out as much as the fact I had been on FSMs. There were many non-White students – but invariably from middle-class, private or grammar school backgrounds – whereas there were barely any  deprived students of any colour.

Deprivation, therefore, is the key factor driving educational inequalities with children of all ethnicities on FSMs doing much worse than those who are not.. But again, we see that some groups (Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Black Africans) – despite being more deprived than Whites and Black Caribbeans – have better educational outcomes.

Based on this data, I draw three broad conclusions.

Firstly, the primary factor in health and educational inequalities is deprivation, not race.

Secondly, there is now no overall ‘White privilege’ in health or education (and especially not for deprived Whites) – or overall ‘BAME disadvantage’ – and these categories are now outdated and unhelpful. There are large differences in both health and educational outcomes between & within ‘Blacks’ and ‘Asians’ – with the biggest differences seen within Whites. Deprived Whites actually have more in common with deprived non-whites in terms of the challenges they face in education, employment, housing and health.

Thirdly, where ethnic disparities do exist (e.g. employment, promotion, criminal justice, etc.) we must take deprivation into account (i.e. compare deprived minorities to deprived Whites) – otherwise it is easy for some to blame racism when poverty may be the main factor. This also applies to those who, while rightly highlighting the plight of the white working class, blame ‘positive action’ towards ethnic minorities without presenting any evidence.

While I fully support the objective (if not always the means) of the young people demonstrating to eradicate racism, I have found that many of them are neither aware of these facts nor of the massive progress that has been made. Growing up in a white working class neighbourhood in the early 80s, we suffered racist abuse and attacks – with one of my earliest memories being of a brick being thrown through our front window. (But I knew they only represented a small minority and all my friends were also white).

My father had also faced open racial discrimination from the time he arrived in the early 1960s, but my parents never encouraged us to view ourselves as victims and stressed that education and hard work were the keys to a better future, with my mother – who enrolled in evening classes to gain additional qualifications while working full-time – as our inspiration.

Racism still blights too many lives today and we must we must continue to work towards a colour-blind society but Britain is not a racist country and what has been achieved in my lifetime is remarkable with my children growing up in a country transformed. Enoch Powell has been proven wrong – the UK is one of the most successful, multi-ethnic nations in the world, with huge, positive changes in social attitudes. Ethnic minorities are now well-represented – and successful – in almost every walk of life including medicine, business, sport, culture and politics. And this has been achieved without positive discrimination or quotas which ignore root causes and can be counter-productive – patronizing minorities and leading to resentment.

Unfortunately, there has been far less progress for the poorest in society – of all ethnicities – with evidence that gaps in life expectancy are worsening and social mobility is actually going backwards.

I therefore welcome the government’s ‘Levelling-up’ agenda to address the huge geographical variations in deprivation, health and education. These inequalities are longstanding and will require long-term solutions with better educational opportunities – particularly in the early years – being the key to breaking the cycle of deprivation and ensuring that everyone has the best possible start in life.

We can learn from those inner-city schools in London, which despite serving highly deprived (mostly non-white) populations, are producing outstanding results. And we should investigate why these deprived groups are doing better than others – including exploring the difficult terrain of whether cultural values, higher marriage rates and more stable homes are contributing to better outcomes.

In conclusion, we need geographically-targeted policies and interventions based on need, not ethnicity (but which will actually help those ethnic groups who have the highest levels of poverty the most – including deprived Whites.) Because the greatest determinant of your life chances today is not the colour of your skin but the circumstances into which you are born – and we must tackle this enduring injustice of ‘systemic classism’ to create a fairer Britain for all.

This piece originally appeared on ConservativeHome on July 21 2020, but we re-run it as a contribution to this week’s series on the politics of race and ethnicity in Britain today.

Neil O’Brien: No, more economic prosperity doesn’t depend on more social liberalism

13 Jul

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Danny Finkelstein took issue with Boris Johnson’s idea of “levelling up” in the Times the other day. He reviewed the work of Richard Florida, a thinker dubbed the “patron saint of avocado toast” for highlighting the role of bohemian urbanites in driving economic regeneration.

Danny concludes from his work that, “Social liberalism and economic prosperity go together.” He argues that: “in order to match the success and power of metropolitan areas, non-metropolitan places need to become more… metropolitan.  The problem with the metropolitan “elite” isn’t that there is too much of it. It’s that there aren’t enough members of it, drawn from a wide enough background and living in enough places.”

I hesitate to disagree with one of the smartest columnists on the planet. But economic growth and social liberalism don’t always go together.

What about the Victorians, combining breakneck growth with a religious revival and tightened public morals? What about Japan during their postwar decades of blistering growth and conservative “salaryman” culture? Over the last 70 years, Britain has become more socially liberal as our growth rate has slowed.

Even in Britain today, it’s highly questionable. London is the richest and fastest growing part of the UK.  But where is opposition to homosexuality and pre-marital sex strongest? London. Where is support for censoring offensive speech highest? London.  The capital mixes liberal metropolitan graduates with religious immigrants. Its success is shaped by both.

Danny’s other argument has more important implications. Is it really the case other places must emulate London to succeed? Like other capital cities across Europe, London has grown faster than the rest of the country since the 1980s. The shift to an economy based on “office jobs” over has favoured the centres of larger cities.

But we shouldn’t get too carried away by the idea that hipster-powered megacities are sweeping all before them. For starters, there are successes elsewhere. Cheshire has high tech in a rural setting, with productivity and wages above the national average.  Milton Keynes likewise, because it’s easy to build there. Productivity in Preston has grown faster than average because it’s a transport hub with advanced manufacturing.

On the surface, large cities outside London have done well.  Since 1997, our 16 largest cities grew their GDP faster than their surrounding areas: Leeds grew faster than West Yorkshire, Manchester faster than Greater Manchester, and so on.

But on average, those cities saw also slower growth in income per head than their surrounding areas. In other words, people became more likely to work in city centres, but that growth was fuelled by people commuting in from smaller places around them. Their growth has been powered more by smalltown commuters than flat-cap wearing uber-boheminans.

It’s right that there are cities outside London that have things in common with it, and might benefit from similar investments. Lawyers in London will soon get Crossrail. So why have lawyers in Leeds waited 20 years for a tram?

But too often Richard Florida’s work leads politicians to focus on shiny cultural facilities. A cool art gallery in West Brom.  A national museum of pop music in Sheffield. It’s not just that these projects flop and close. It’s that they distract from two bigger issues.

First, most people aren’t graduates – so we need a plan to raise their productivity and wages too.

Second, places outside urban centres are perfectly capable of attracting high-skill, high income people – with the right policies.

Britain’s economy is unusually unbalanced compared to other countries.  Pre-tax incomes in Greater London are nearly 60 per cent higher than the national average, but more than 20 per cent below average in Yorkshire, the North East, Wales and Northern Ireland.  These imbalances mean our economy is overheating in some places and freezing cold in others, slowing growth overall. There are no major economies that are richer per head than Britain which have a more unbalanced economy.

But these imbalances don’t represent pure free market outcomes. It’s true that low-skill, low wages places can get stuck in a vicious circle. True that some places on the periphery have very deep problems. Nonetheless, the British state doesn’t do much to stop that – in fact it does a lot to unbalance growth.

Consider how we spend money. Capital spending on transport infrastructure in London is nearly three times the national average. Research funding per head is nearly twice the national average. Nearly half the core R&D budget is spent in Oxford, Cambridge and London. Spending on housing and culture per head in London is five times the national average. We’re “levelling up” the richest places.

We’ve rehearsed these problems for years, but not fixed them. Instead of chasing flat white drinkers, we need to find a cool £4 billion a year to level up R&D spending in other places to the levels London enjoys. Fancy coffee can come later.

Consider our tax system. Overall, the tax rate on business in the UK is about average.  But we combine the lowest headline rate in the G20 with the lowest capital allowances. The combined effect of this is a huge bias against capital intensive sectors, particularly manufacturing.

That in turn has a regional impact, hurting places more dependent on making things: manufacturing accounted for only five per cent of London’s productivity growth since 1997, but nearly 50 per cent in the north west. A hostile tax system is one reason Britain has deindustrialised more than any other G20 country since 1990, and why manufacturing’s share of the economy is half that in Germany or Japan.

Manufacturing should be a key part of levelling up outside cities: it needs space, not city centre locations. In English regions outside London, wages in manufacturing are about nine per cent higher than in services, and manufacturing productivity grows faster than the economy as a whole.  But Britain’s excessive focus on professional services makes it harder to grow high-wage employment in non city-centre locations.

Consider where we put our key institutions. In Germany the political capital was Bonn, and is now Berlin. The financial capital is Frankfurt. The Supreme Court is in Karlsruhe. The richest place is Wolfsburg, home of Volkswagen. There are major corporate HQs spread across the country. TV production is dispersed because central government is banned from running it.

In Britain, all these things happen in just one city. We’ve talked about this for years, but made little progress.  In recent years, we managed to move one chunk of Channel 4 to Leeds, and a bit of the BBC to Manchester. But that’s about it. Whitehall only wants to move low-end jobs.

The debate on levelling up is frustrating, because we know some things work, but we don’t do them. “Regional Selective Assistance” boosted investment in poor places with tax breaks and subsidies.  Thanks to evidence from natural experiments, we know it boosted growth. Yet it was allowed to wither.

I don’t want us to be just another government promising the world, then not delivering. Politically, it’s vital we deliver. Lots of people who haven’t voted Conservative before put their trust in us last year. It’s telling that the centre point of the seats we won is just outside Sheffield.

We won on a manifesto combining centrist economics, (50,000 more nurses) mild social conservatism, (ending auto early release) and national self-confidence (Getting Brexit Done).  Levelling up is central to all this. We promised voters steak and chips.  We could serve up avocado toast instead, but we shouldn’t be surprised if the voters don’t thank us.