The Daily Telegraph by Nick Timothy, Rachel Wolf, Robert Colvile, Sam Bowman, Adam Hawksbee and Sam Richards
There is a widespread belief that the Conservative Party cannot agree on necessary economic reforms, and that the fiscal context means it is impossible to get anything substantive done. We disagree. We represent a broad spectrum of centre-Right opinion, and include among us co-authors of both the 2017 and 2019 Conservative manifestos. Some of us believe the market should be freed, and some that it should be constrained. Some of us distrust government intervention, and some believe it urgently necessary. But we have come together to propose an agenda that is realistic, pragmatic and attainable – as well as ambitious and significant.
1. Build more domestic energy supply. We need as much domestic energy as we can get. We should allow solar on low-grade farmland, onshore wind (which every poll shows is popular nationally and locally), and maintain sufficient gas storage. As John Pettigrew, chief executive of National Grid, has said: “We will need to build about seven times as much infrastructure in the next seven or eight years than we built in the last 32.” Local support should be incentivised through lower bills.
2. Reduce energy demand. Small changes in energy use make a big difference to people’s bills, and to our ability to avoid blackouts through the winter. We need a national campaign, fronted by experts. We need to accelerate the rollout of energy efficiency measures and new technology such as heat pumps through individual incentives targeted at homeowners and collective incentives at the neighbourhood level.
3. Devolve more. We are an over-centralised country. The Government should seek quick progress in the decentralisation of powers to combined mayoral authorities, neighbourhood forums and councils. Mayors should be awarded a single spending settlement and greater powers over local transport, skills and research and development. Power and local accountability should be aligned.
4. Allow the Oxford-Cambridge Arc to grow. Lack of space around our top universities is preventing the UK from building new technology firms where we have comparative advantage. We need to expand housing and lab space in and around those university cities to make them genuine growth hubs.
5. Finish the skills revolution. The Lifelong Learning Entitlement promises to be the biggest transformation in skills of the past decade – allowing people to train in what they want, at any point in their life. The legislation must be completed and the policy got up and running.
6. Reform planning to allow more housing. A lack of housing cripples growth, limits people’s aspirations, and creates misery. We should start smaller reforms now, such as street votes and allowing mansard roof extensions, and build from there. Avoid weakening the existing planning system before a proper replacement is in place.
7. Support research and development. Overall public spending needs to be reduced, and there are few good options for doing so. However, support for R&D – including outside London and the South East – is critical if we wish to grow and solve the problems of the future. We should maintain spending promises and expand institutions that help businesses adopt new technologies, such as the Catapult Network and university-based translational research centres. Current capital investment plans must be preserved where they promote long-term growth.
8. Develop genuine digital government. The past few years have provided multiple examples of the importance of joined-up government and databases, from furlough to vaccines to energy support. The Government needs to continue its efforts to modernise its processes and save on administration, not least via the procurement reforms that were already under way.
9. Support prudent deregulation. Continue to pursue opportunities to make the UK a more agile, flexible and better regulated economy, including by reducing and streamlining legislation around the provision of childcare, and giving regulators in a variety of sectors a stronger duty to make the UK the best place in the world to innovate.
10. Do more to incentivise business investment. The fiscal cupboard is bare, but the UK has one of the least attractive tax regimes for business investment in the OECD. Improving capital allowances is one of the most obvious ways to make Britain a more business- and growth-friendly country.
We recognise that politics is the art of the possible, so we have tried to identify policies that are credible to deliver in a challenging political and economic climate. We have not focused on what is popular, but what we think is right: what would make the biggest difference in the national interest consistent with the reality of the moment. As policy experts with experience inside and outside government, we hope this will stimulate a debate in the Tory party, and encourage ministers to act. The case for change is more urgent than ever.