Andy Street: In the West Midlands, inclusion is more than a buzzword. It’s turning our diversity into a strength.

It is a sad and all-too-obvious fact that most of the decision makers I meet in my role as Mayor are people who look like me.

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Diversity defines modern Britain. I have often written about Urban Conservatism and the new brand of politics we are pioneering in the West Midlands. This new approach is about inclusivity and opportunity for a young and diverse population, and I have tried to be a Mayor who represents everyone – all places, faiths, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and (dis)abilities.

But if the message of Urban Conservatism is to resonate, we have to ensure that inclusivity not only means reaching out to the communities that make up modern Britain, but that they are represented in all walks of life and at all levels.

It is a sad and all-too-obvious fact that most of the decision makers I meet in my role as Mayor are people who look like me. I could not and still can’t fully understand why the demographics of this incredibly diverse region are not reflected in its leadership. Like elsewhere, the region is made up of 50 per cent women and 20 per cent people with disabilities (or with a long-term illness).

But it’s the ethnic diversity which makes it special. We say this is a place where you can see the whole world in seven boroughs. Birmingham’s population is 58 per cent white, with 27 per cent of our residents being of Asian descent and nine per cent Black. In neighbouring Coventry, two thirds identify as White British, a statistic that is broadly reflected across the rest of the conurbation. Birmingham is soon going to be a ‘majority-minority’ city – but this is not obvious when you look at the make-up of decision-makers in the City region.

So in September last year I launched the Leadership Commission, made up of independent commissioners and chaired by Anita Bhalla, which aimed to understand why the wider leadership of our region is not more representative of the people it serves. Its report, compiled by researchers at the University of Birmingham and other seats of learning across the region, reinforced our understanding of many longstanding issues and made clear recommendations for action.

It found that women are better represented in leadership roles in the public sector than in the private sector, where they are significantly under-represented, and that people from black and ethnic minority groups are under-represented in senior leadership positions both in education and the private sector. The evidence also highlighted how disabled employees are under-represented in professional roles in the public sector, but not the private sector in the West Midlands.

Responding to the recommendations to deal with the clear imbalances that have been highlighted we now have a clear implementation plan which starts with the business community.

Many businesses recognise the need to connect with communities on a broad level, not only because there is a business case for inclusivity, but because it is the right thing to do. Slowly but surely, I sense that the dials are changing, and the “Inclusive Leaders’ Forum” has come together. It is committed to improving the diversity of leadership in their organisations through better recruitment, retention and promotion. Members include local councils, the NHS, big employers like PwC, KPMG, universities and major retailers like Selfridges along with SMEs and microbusinesses. In January we will be launching an ambitious drive to recruit a thousand more organisations in the West Midlands to the forum.

The Government is also playing its part in promoting inclusivity. Work to better understand the Gender Pay Gap – with 10,000 of the UK’s larger companies providing details of their employees’ pay – is a major step forward in enabling senior decision makers to do things differently. I have no doubt the Race Pay Gap will highlight the same kinds of inequalities in our workplaces, and be equally impactful in driving action.

Similarly the Government is committed to greater diversity in Public Appointments. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of welcoming the Minister for Implementation, Oliver Dowden, to Birmingham, for the first roadshow aimed at encouraging a more diverse pool of applicants for public roles. We will now work with the Cabinet Office on those practical skills needed for the application and interview process, and providing guidance for public appointees. It is only by providing transparency in our processes that we will see people who are less likely to take part in civic activities take that first step and engage. Crucially, we also have to drum up confidence about taking that step into public roles.

A key asset in addressing all these issues in the West Midlands is the strength of faith organisations and faith-related activity in the region. Therefore one of my first commitments after becoming Mayor was to convene a group of faith leaders and ask them to design the Mayor and Faith Conference. The conference took place in November last year, and brought together 400 different faith organisations at the Great Hall of the University of Birmingham. It was a day of optimism and exploring how faith groups could work together on homelessness, leadership, hate crime and economic growth. The conclusion was obvious – the faith communities are a powerful part of our collective leadership. We have since created an Action Plan, and are working through all the good ideas that came out of the conference.

As Mayor of this diverse region, I am committed to visiting places of worship and understanding more about the rich fabric of faith which is so important to the residents of the West Midlands. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, which is most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism. This visit allowed me to build on all I have learnt from the gurdwaras into which I have been welcomed across the region. Iftars are already in the diary for next Ramadan, and this festive season I have been meeting the Jewish community for Hannukah and visiting various churches in their preparations for Christmas. Diwali is also a big deal for my office, with Birmingham’s Victoria Square annually being transformed into an Indian celebration of the festival of light.

The lesson of all this involvement is clear – that each faith deserves to be respected in its own right. Each gives morality and purpose to its own community. But each faith also teaches respect and tolerance for every other community. It is through understanding such common values that our society as a whole can thrive – and in a sense the West Midlands is the exemplar of that.

Urban Conservatism’s message of hope, opportunity and progress resonates with all communities – and we now need to show that we are serious about truly representing the people in them. Although there is so much still to do, we are starting to change the way our Party is viewed in traditional Labour areas. Labour do not and should not have a monopoly on votes from certain communities.

In the West Midlands, we are ensuring that inclusion is more than a ‘buzzword’ – it’s an approach that is turning our diversity into a strength.

WATCH: Kwarteng insists the Government has “a good shot” at winning the vote

“The argument is a strong argument. I think the deal is a strong deal. I wouldn’t have taken up my post if I didn’t believe that the deal delivers the Brexit vote.”

Johnny Mercer: Ministers are asking for my vote next week. But I’m asking them for a vision – now.

I, like many colleagues, react badly to the Party’s decision to try and strong-arm me into voting for this deal.

Johnny Mercer is a member of the Defence Select Committee and MP for Plymouth Moor View.

I’ve no idea what to do. I’m looking for hope – for inspiration from the generation of Cabinet ministers and seniors members of our Party who led us to this point.

I came into politics for fairly niche reasons. I fought for years in an unpopular war and, fed up of the politicians feigning interest, I decided to run for office. My city of Plymouth – I’m passionate about it. Whilst my wafer-thin experience in politics helps me to retain a degree of perspective in these tumultuous times, it has also caught me out. I regret not being clear enough in some areas: for example, I never said that I wouldn’t vote Conservative in that notorious interview in October; I simply stated that a young, busy family attempting to assert itself in a competitive and chaotic world would probably take one look at the current political offerings and simply not take the time out to go and vote, because those offerings are so poor. But of course that view can be twisted. And I should have known that.

None the less, this perspective has also led me to some pretty dark conclusions of late. I have been firm in my criticism of this administration – one of which almost everyone knows my description, and one by which I resolutely stand by (though will not repeat). There are many people in this country who want – indeed need – a competent compassionate modern Conservative Government: I must speak out for them. The fear that they may turn to a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn – particularly in Plymouth – is the single motivation for all of my interventions. Nothing more and nothing less.

But amidst all this, I have been looking for a vision – at no moment more so than now. There are plenty of colleagues who have come into Parliament to extract Britain from the European Union. They respect my endless diatribes about how this country treats its military, and in return I entirely respect them and their views on Europe. I remain ambivalent: the EU is an issue of course, but it is not the issue of our modern times. Many more people join the Conservative Party, as I did, for reasons other than Europe. I want to leave the EU – we must leave. But for what?

And I ask that not mockingly, but with a genuine desire to hear the answer. I, like many colleagues, react badly to the Party’s decision to try and strong-arm me into voting for this deal. The idea that a group of senior people in our Party who lost a 21 point lead in a self-indulgent general election – to Jeremy Corbyn – are advising me to now listen to my constituents, having singularly failed to do that themselves ever since David Cameron left office, is genuinely amusing. The arrogance of failing to answer the question – what is “Plan B”? – as part of a suite of unthinkable threats including a general election, no Brexit, or a no deal catastrophe, actually push me away from supporting this particular deal. The clear deception of red lines crossed without acknowledgement, and the idea of the UK being a junior partner in a relationship that we cannot unilaterally leave, leaves agnostics like me are looking for an alternative.

But I can’t hear it. How are my constituents – who voted almost 70 perc ent to leave the EU – how are their lives going to be better off in April compared to March, immediately after this momentous decision? How will being outside of the European Union help our core mission as modern Conservatives – to meet the challenges of a modern Britain that is changing so fast. Why or how is food going to be cheaper for some of my poorest families? How will being outside the ECJ help my small entrepreneurial businesses in Plymouth? How will our economy thrive to provide the jobs – the single biggest accelerant of life chances in our most deprived communities like mine. How will Brexit provide the engine that drives a health service so desperately in need of reform in places like Plymouth?

I could go on, but I won’t. At some point, someone, somewhere in a position of influence in this Party will wake up and realise that the politics of fear will only take us so far. It is easy to scare people into voting for you. It is harder to sell a vision, to advocate, to persuade – to lead people to a brighter future. But that is the key question this week. Can a case be made for a bright alternative, or are we going to accept this deal as ‘the best we can do’, ‘could always be worse’, answer that won’t encourage a single swing voter to vote for us at the next election? I wait with interest. More importantly, the country does.

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.

Alexander Temerko: The relationship between business and government has never been as meaningless as under May

The key to a good Brexit is empowering UK entrepreneurs to talk to their European counterparts and become ambassadors for Downing Street’s plan.

Alexander Temerko is an industrialist and a Conservative Party donor and activist.

Never has the relationship between business and Number Ten been as meaningless or fruitless as under Theresa May. She continues to repeat the mantra that she is leading a pro-business government, but that is an exaggeration. Hers is not an anti-business government – that would be a more accurate way of putting it.

A pro-business government is what Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron led in their day; it’s what Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and Angela Merkel are leading today. Despite her soft-spot for SMEs, our Prime Minister is undeniably afraid of global business.

Globalisation has shown that big business and public-private partnerships (something we hardly see in the UK anymore) are the real long-term drivers of a steadily growing modern economy. The presence of global business centres is what makes the difference between a country that’s prosperous and one that’s merely surviving. Indeed, such business is the powerful locomotive, pulling along SMEs and much of the socio-economic activity in the regions.

Business leaders have always been there to support May’s Government at the most critical times. Yet our “strong and stable” leader has repeatedly shunned any direct engagement with business in favour of sporadic consultations with the trade lobby, whose academic experts’ interests have long since been prioritised over representation of any actual economy sectors.

The Prime Minister has a presidential style of leadership. Her talent is for forming small, quasi-familial groups of trusted advisers. While David Cameron was comfortable working with big diversified teams, she seems reluctant to engage with the broad meritocratic audiences whose praises she so often sings. This desire to keep discussions tightly controlled has had a negative impact on almost every key policy decision taken to date. It is time to change.

Today, not only the country’s economy but also its integrity hinges on the UK business community backing the Brexit plans proposed by the Prime Minister and her Cabinet. No-one wants Brexit to be a disaster – but how to avoid it without break-through ideas and bold compromises?

The British economy will quickly lose its appeal should financial, industrial and services majors, driven by impending uncertainty and the fear of mounting responsibility to shareholders, relocate their headquarters and investment capital to more profitable jurisdictions with more predictable regulations. This could, in turn, trigger almost instant separatist rhetoric and action by the country’s subsidised regions.

Inside the eye of the Brexit storm, this outcome would be increasingly irreversible. People will start going by the saying “Better a painful ending than endless pain”. One person will certainly be delighted with a “painful ending”: his name is Vladimir Putin. Are we willing to afford him the pleasure? The answer is clear even to Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees-Mogg, both of whom have been aiding this “painful ending” by holding on to his very own wrong end of the stick.

Europe would suffer, too. Take just one example from my industry: 70 per cent of our utilities are owned by European firms. Machinery and metal products are another trade goldmine for European business. At a time of escalating conflict with the US and sanctions or restrictions in trade relations with China, Russia, Iran and others, this is key. Europe just cannot lose Britain with its import-oriented economy as well. If that happens, countries right at the heart of Europe – France, Germany, Portugal, and to some extent Belgium and Holland too – will feel the pain.

However, in these countries, business is much more influential and integrated with the operation of Government. European business wants to live and wants to live well – which makes it our best ally in promoting a sensible responsible Brexit.

Businesses talk best with other businesses. They will not waste time talking when they don’t know if they are being heard by the Government, though. Hence, the key to a good Brexit is empowering UK entrepreneurs to talk to their European counterparts and become official ambassadors for the Government’s Brexit plan.

The other key piece of the puzzle is for May to accept the Irish border backstop – provided that the EU undertakes to guarantee our country’s integrity. This would restrain any spontaneous separatist movements in the UK, at least for as long as the EU continues to exist. If accession to the EU is all but impossible for any breakaway state, withdrawal from the UK would be pointless.

What happens if our Government does not create the broad coalition of business it needs and push bold compromises through? Quite simply, if there is no deal hammered out by December, a new election will be the only option to avoid the catastrophe of no deal.

If the Chequers plan falls through, it clear to almost everyone today that Parliament will not accept any other plan – be it Canada-plus, Australia-minus or a No Deal. The European Commission for its part, will not consider any new proposals, since none of them could get a majority in the UK Parliament and Europe will itself be moving into EU Parliament elections.

All that’s left are two options. They are both domestic – either a new referendum or another snap election. It is up to Parliament and our political elites to choose. They have to choose between their two great fears: the fear of a new election which is highly likely to mean a coalition government, and the fear of a new referendum that goes against Brexit.