Norman replaces Johnson at Transport

While Andrew Jones returns as an Under-Secretary to the department from which he was removed as an Under-Secretary.

In writing about the latest Ministerial appointments, we risk being left behind the news.  After all, one never knows when further resignations may not suddenly come.

But we will chance our arm, and report that Jesse Norman has replaced Jo Johnson as a Minister of State at Transport, getting a leg up from his previous rank as an Under-Secretary.

Norman is having a good run – having seen Philip Hammond pronounce the death sentence on the private finance initiative, against which he creatively and justifiably campaigned for so long, in the Budget.

He is emphasising on Twitter that his “portfolio remains as it, with additions” – i.e: he is still responsible for roads, and hasn’t simply stepped into Johnson’s shoes as the Rail Minister.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for Andrew Jones.  He was an Under-Secretary at the department for the period between the 2015 and 2017 general elections.  Then he was dismissed and appointed a Party Vice-Chair, writing in that capacity on this site only recently.

But today, he’s back at Transport as an Under-Secretary once again.  Strange are the vicissitudes of politics.  Or, as Alan Clark used to put it, ACHAB: anything can happen at blackgammon.

Desmond Swayne: Weaning parents off disposable nappies

We must look at the benefits that reusable nappies can offer, and promote greater awareness so that people can make an informed choice.

Sir Desmond Swayne is a former International Development Minister, and is MP for New Forest West.

The message from the Budget is clear: consumers have made their views known on plastic packaging. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s empower people to cut down on other single-use plastics to benefit the environment, reduce waste and emissions in our over-stretched waste systems, and support household finances.

Both Defra and the Treasury have spent considerable departmental time and resource exploring how to influence consumer and industry behaviour when it comes to cutting plastic consumption, and rightly so.  For now, Philip Hammond says he is content to rely on industry to drive plastic use down rather than resort to taxation. Industry, especially hospitality and independent food retailers, have taken proactive steps over the last twelve months. I’m pleased to see that extraneous packaging has been banished from the majority of fruit and veg in our supermarkets, and plastic straws have been replaced by waxy paper ones in pubs and bars across the country.

But this is only the start. With a recent UN study finding that we have only twelve years to prevent irreversible damage to the climate, people are only now realising it is their own responsibility to limit their impact on the planet – and that they must do this by making real changes to their daily routine.

The good news is that changes can be made quickly and to good effect – and this is why I was pleased to see the subject of reusable nappies being raised by Michael Gove at Party Conference this year. We’ve targeted straws, cotton buds, balloon sticks and shrink-wrap. Disposables, which currently make up four to six per cent of household waste, are the obvious next step.

The average baby uses 4000 nappies up to potty training, the majority of which will go to landfill: eight million of them every day in the UK alone. As well as taking up a large proportion of limited landfill space and putting significant pressure on our waste-collection services, disposable nappies typically contain around 30 per cent plastic material which can end up polluting land or water resources.

Whilst it would not be a very Conservative measure to ban disposables, especially given the other pressures young families have to contend with, we must look at the benefits that reusable nappies can offer, and promote greater awareness so that people can make an informed choice. The time is right for Government to support this with practical and effective policy. Defra is consulting about how to end the use of single-life plastic straws and plastic-handled cotton buds which is important.

But it should also address two aspects of the use of disposable nappies. First, it should consider how to ensure that the plastics used in disposable nappies are as biodegradable and as harmless to the environment as possible. I understand that is something manufacturers are considering, but the development of a realistic disposable recycling system is still at a nascent stage.

Second, we need to look at how to share adequate information with consumers to enable them to make informed decisions – particularly about the impact that disposable nappies will have on the environment, even when they are responsibly removed to landfill. How long do disposable nappies take to biodegrade? What are the products of that process and what are their effects on the environment? What happens to nappies that are not responsibly disposed of, but end up in our watercourses and seas?

Parents should also know how modern reusable nappies work. I understand that nowadays reusables are light-weight and easy to wash – far removed from the heavy terry towelling models of days gone by. This is information that new parents could receive when they are given their Bounty packs during maternity care. Most importantly, parents need to know that it doesn’t have to be a case of all or nothing. An Environment Agency study found that, if parents swap to just one reusable a day, they can save using 800 nappies over the first 2-3 years of a child’s life, and make significant reductions to their own carbon footprint, not to mention savings to the household purse.

The Government has a tremendous opportunity here: better information for consumers; more biodegradable and safer plastics; less plastic going to landfill; reducing the emissions created through waste management; and a burnishing of the government’s green credentials. This policy initiative would be entirely consistent with the Environment Secretary’s record of green pragmatism and with his determination to make a difference to our environment; a small but impactful step that chimes with the growing traction of consumer responsibility.

Andrew Jones: We are the party of business – and actions always speak louder than words

The Government has enacted a broad range of measures to help companies large and small grow, create jobs, and boost their local economies.

Andrew Jones is the Member of Parliament for Harrogate & Knaresborough and Conservative Vice-Chair for Business Engagement.

John McDonnell has repeatedly declared his aim in life to be “fomenting the overthrow of capitalism”, a system that has ensured 200 years of economic growth for our country and left millions better off – not just in the UK but across the globe – by promoting business, entrepreneurship, and personal responsibility.

In contrast, the Conservative Party is proud to champion businesses and entrepreneurs and proactively engage with business people. Because we believe that the country can only succeed when it works in partnership with business.

The Prime Minister is committed to ensuring that, post-Brexit, Britain will be even more pro-business than ever before. That is why today she has launched five new business advisory councils, made up of pioneering leaders from a diverse range sectors, who will advise her on maximising the opportunities for business in the UK after we leave the EU.

It is an initiative from business, for business. They will make sure the Government hears directly from those who are creating new jobs and economic growth, helping us guarantee that the United Kingdom remains one of the most dynamic and business-friendly economies in the world.

Ever since she became Prime Minister, Theresa May has been active in promoting the UK as open to business. Like me, she believes that when it comes to business, actions always speak louder than words.

That’s why, earlier this year, the Prime Minister led a trade delegation on a trip to three key African markets: Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. It’s why, in August, she travelled with a large, multi-sector business delegation in order to strengthen the established links between the UK and China, which is expected to be one of the UK’s largest foreign investors by 2020.

It’s why, at the United Nations General Assembly in September, she made clear: this Conservative Government is dedicated to harnessing the enormous power of business as a partner in tackling some of the greatest social and economic challenges of our time.

That’s a message she repeated loudly and clearly in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference last month:

“Offering someone a job – creating opportunity for other people – is one of the most socially-responsible things you can do. It is an act of public service as noble as any other. To everyone who has done it – we are all in your debt. So, we in this party, we in this hall, we say thank you.

“And to all businesses – large and small – you may have heard that there is a four-letter word to describe what we Conservatives want to do to you. It has a single syllable. It is of Anglo-Saxon derivation. It ends in the letter ‘K’.

“Back business. Back them to create jobs and build prosperity. Back them to drive innovation and improve lives. Back them with the lowest Corporation Tax in the G20. Britain, under my Conservative Government, is open for business.”

A key plank of the Conservative Government’s commitment to business are the foundations we are laying through our modern Industrial Strategy – enabling businesses in every part of the country to create good jobs and bolster the earning power of people right across the UK. We have listened to business leaders, entrepreneurs, and start-ups – and have taken action to create the business environment that is most beneficial for them.

The Conservatives have always been the party of business: our philosophy centres on spreading opportunity and a belief in the power of enterprise and entrepreneurship as the means to harness talent and improve lives. As the Prime Minister says, we want to see people go as far in life as their talents and hard work can take them.

We believe that business and commerce are the cornerstones of every successful economy, and are the embodiment of our principles and values. We understand that it is business which drives wealth and innovation.

In his Autumn Budget Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, set out the Government’s plans to ensure we remain the best possible partner for businesses both large and small. As part of the new package of measures to support small- and medium-sized companies, the Government has committed an extra £30 million to ‘Be the Business’ – an initiative that will foster closer links between large corporations and smaller companies, to promote an environment of mutual support and allow bigger companies to mentor smaller ones so that they are able to realise their full potential and develop their management and leadership skills.

Jeremy Corbyn and McDonnell’s Labour Party will never understand that local businesses form the backbone of our communities – that they create jobs and pay the taxes which support our schools and hospitals. While this Conservative Government is supporting our high streets by cutting business rates by a third for two years – saving the shops we visit every day up to £8,000 each year – Labour openly call business the ‘enemy’ and advocate for extortionate taxes that will stop businesses up and down the country being able to create jobs, hire workers, and contribute to a thriving local economy.

The Chancellor also underlined in the Budget the way in which we are backing established firms and supporting start-ups as they grow by committing to a five-fold increase in the annual investment allowance for firms, taking it to £1 million. Not only are we helping all businesses, large and small, with their investments, we have also committed to supporting them with their costs by delivering the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20.

We are the party and government of business, because business is the embodiment of Conservative values; of enterprise, of freedom, of stability and of community. And the Prime Minister’s new business advisory councils will ensure that we continue to work closely together with industry to shape our economy and make the UK one of the most attractive countries in the world for those wanting to establish and grow a business.

Howard Flight: The best part of a week on, we can see that last week’s Budget was a popular one

The Chancellor has been fortunate that the public finances have improved substantially at a particularly convenient time.

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Philip Hammond has been fortunate that the public finances have improved substantially at a particularly convenient time. Economic growth has been revised up next year to 1.6 per cent; employment has been revised up, with 800,000 more jobs than forecast in 2023; wages will rise above inflation for the next five years.

The borrowing target has been met three years early, with the deficit now down to 1.9 per cent of GDP. The debt target has also been met three years early at a peak of 85 per cent of GDP. Borrowing is £11.6 billion lower than forecast at 1.2 per cent of GDP. This has improved significantly the scope of what the Budget can seek to address.

Overall public spending will increase by 1.2 per cent per annum, between 0.2 per cent and 0.4 per cent less than forecast growth. The improved tax yields have enabled the Prime Minister’s NHS commitment to be fully funded.

The Chancellor presented a pragmatic “micro” Budget, seeking to address virtually all of the issues which came up as needing attention. Yet perhaps its most important ingredient was a significant cut in taxation for the majority next April – increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate to £50,000 a year.

Local Authorities are getting an extra £1 billion of funding and business rates for retailers with rateable values below £51,000, will be cut by a third for two years. A further £1.7 billion each year will be provided to benefit working families on Universal Credit with the work allowance – the amount families can earn before losing credits – being increased by £1000 per annum.

A new two per cent digital services tax to insure that large digital firms pay a “fair share” of tax, is expected to raise £400 million per annum. Schools will get a further 400 million this year and defence will get a further £1 billion this year and next. There is also £160 million for counter-terror police. The national living wage will increase by nearly five per cent to £8.21. The national productivity investment fund will be increased to £37 billion and will be extended to 2024. Large roads will get £28.8 billion for 2020-25, and even potholes will get £420 million! PFI will be abolished, leaving a bill for £200 billion to be honoured.

There was a range of extra funding largely for small business – extending the annual investment allowance to £1 million; extending the start-up loans programme for 10,000 entrepreneurs; delivering the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20; keeping three million small businesses out of VAT; reducing the cost of taking on apprentices by halving the co-investment rate for non-levy payers; £121 million to support cutting-edge digital manufacturing; £78 million to fund electric motor innovations; £315 million in quantum technologies and £50 million for new Turing Fellowships.

Measures to help more people into home ownership include abolishing stamp duty retrospectively for first time buyers of all shared ownership properties of up to £500,000; an additional £500 million for the housing infrastructure fund; committing over £7.2 billion to a new help to buy equity loan scheme to support 110,000 new home buyers and the abolition of the housing revenue account cap controlling local authority borrowing for house building.

There are measures for those keen on the environment and more money for the Transforming Cities fund. Remarkably, the Chancellor has addressed virtually all the issues of concern to citizens and, as a result, I think, the best part of a week on, that this has proved to be a very popular Budget. The one important reform it has not addressed is the confiscatory rates of stamp duty on larger properties in London and the South East. This had led to a freezing up of the market – bad for revenues and for economic mobility.

Cox is hoisted shoulder-high to the top of our Cabinet League Table

We have occasionally seen precipitous falls in Cabinet members’ scores. Vertiginous rises are rarer. Indeed, it is hard to think of a jump quite like it.

 

When our last Cabinet League Table was published, Geoffrey Cox had neither made his ringing speech to the Conservative Party Conference, nor yet brought a new clarity in Cabinet to what comes before it from the Brexit negotiations. And though he was sat mid-table, his rating was a modest + 11.

This month, it soars by almost 60 points to take him to the table’s top. We have occasionally seen precipitous falls in Cabinet members’ scores. Vertiginous rises are rarer. Indeed, it is hard to think of a jump quite like it. We may now even get a Cox-for-leader ramp, though our view is that he is well placed to take over, in due course, at Justice.

The Attorney General has clearly raised great expectations among the pro-Brexit generality of party members. But their approval is not confined to those who campaigned for Leave during the EU referendum.  Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt are second and third. The Foreign Secretary’s rating has scarcely moved. The Home Secretary’s has actually risen slightly.

Dominic Raab is now fourth. Esther McVey has slid: that will be the impact of the Universal Credit row. Gavin Williamson is out of negative territory. We suspect that Philip Hammond’s score would have been higher had the survey gone out post rather than pre-Budget, but the Softer Brexiteers, as usual, take a pasting, with the Prime Minister’s score down on last month.

A popular minister resigns

Outside Westminster, Crouch’s resignation will make little impact on a Budget that has gone more or less according to plan. Inside, it may not be quite the same story.

If a Minister resigns, Downing Street and the Whips hope a) that he or she is unpopular with their colleagues – or at least not popular; and b) that she is easy to replace.

Neither of these conditions apply in the case of Tracey Crouch – who has just quit the Government over a delay to a cut in maximum stakes for fixed odds betting machines.  The former Sports Minister is liked by most of her colleagues and was rated as a Minister: she knows a lot about sport and is an enthuasiast for it.  These qualities are more rare among Ministers than they might be.

The Treasury will doubtless now be cast as dodgy and duplicitous, stealthily putting back the implementation of a policy that it has never liked.  It will surely claim that the timetable hasn’t slipped and Crouch will argue that it has.  She apparently said publicly that the reduction would come into force in April.  Philip Hammond set the month as next October during the course of the Budget.

Rumours of Crouch’s resignation have been floating about all day, having first appeared in the Daily Telegraph this morning, and we learn more in due course about what will have been a three way exchange between Crouch, the Treasury and Number Ten – or four-way, if you count in her former Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright.

Her resignation letter claims that Downing Street has been asleep on the job, and missed the Treasury reneging on guarantees previously given.  Well, actually, it doesn’t quite say that in terms, but such is the implication of Crouch writing that Theresa May’s “personal support” was “incredibly helpful” and evidence of a real willingess to support “vulnerable people against the power of big business”.

The former Minister attributes the delay to “commitments made by others to those with registered interests”.  Questions will be asked, as they invariably are, about how this political banana skin wasn’t spotted lurking on the floor.  Though maybe the Government will simply gird its collective loins, and press on.

Crouch threw herself heart and soul into the campaign for reduction, and will have taken this week’s news as a breach of trust.  Outside Westminster, the news will make little impact on a Budget, and its aftermath, that has gone more or less according to plan.  Inside, it may not be quite the same story.  The Government has no majority, after all.