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Post-Election Article: The Conservative Party of Business?

If the Conservatives are anything, we are the Party of Business. We understand how to grow an economy through incentivising investment, encouraging business to provide jobs and opportunities: the sky’s the limit. We work with both academic and vocational providers of skills and business to make sure that Britain has the right skills to stimulate innovation.

But that does not make us the party of rampant capitalism, trampling over human rights – ours is the party of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, and it’s our Prime Minister who led on legislation against Modern Slavery and female genital mutilation. Where we differ from other parties is getting the balance right – encouraging people to come off benefits rather than making a life on benefits more attractive financially and less hassle. Every Labour government has ended in the equivalent of Liam Byrne’s note (“I’m afraid there is no money left”) , and the country then turns to us to sort out the mess.

Since 2010, the Conservatives have done it again. We’ve hugely reduced an enormous deficit – at the same time as Scotland has increased theirs sharply – and created over three million new jobs, more than all the other nations of the EU put together. And last month, we generated a surplus that caught economists by surprise, as has the robustness of the UK economy in general over the last seven years, particularly since Brexit.

It’s easy to forget this was not what the socialists predicted. David Blanchflower, Ed Balls, the Guardian, the New Statesman and all the other usual suspects spent the years 2010-2012 telling the nation Conservative policies would result in millions more unemployed. Now their narrative is that all of the new jobs are cheap zero hours exploitation – a lie easily put to bed by figures showing that three quarters of the new jobs are full time. And perhaps by illustrating the number of Labour-run councils (not to mention Labour MPs) who employ zero hour workers.

Labour hypocrisy needs to be exposed. There was a good moment during the last Parliament when the Labour front bench were railing against Conservatives for enabling pension funds to use CPI instead of RPI as the inflation rate for pension increases. It was unfortunate that Labour’s own pension fund for party agents had already made exactly that switch.

But we have to make our case persuasively, bringing it alive with examples, if we’re to win elections. And in the last election we didn’t make the case, not just for economic competence – a pretty dull virtue until you’re landed with the opposite, as in say Venezuela – but also why business is a positive for people’s jobs and lives, rather than being the greedy cockroach broadly painted by Labour.

One middle-aged voter in Gloucester, not earning much and with no great love of Conservative politicians, told me in June he would vote for me simply because he’d been laid off during the recession under Gordon Brown, felt Jeremy Corbyn had even less of a clue about how to keep him in work – and didn’t want the risk of being unemployed again under an extreme socialist experiment. Quite.

In my constituency of Gloucester alone, there were more than 5000 people that lost jobs in business during the Great Recession under Labour, and youth unemployment rocketed. It’s down now by 70 per cent, and many have benefited from the huge increase in employment that government has funded the training for. But their voices weren’t heard in this year’s election: we didn’t motivate an army of apprentices, or those who’d been on David Cameron’s National Citizen Service course. There was nothing to bring the positives of record employment alive to the young. And while Corbyn was offering the earth to predominantly middle-class university students, where was the Conservative voice speaking up for the parents of apprentices (who earn while they learn), and asking why they should pay tax to subsidise undergraduates’ tuition?

Interestingly, too, the numbers of jobs in most manufacturers in or just outside Gloucester (14 per cent of local GDP – much higher than the national average) have gone up since Labour left power. The same is true elsewhere – but again we made nothing of this at all, allowing Corbyn to be the only voice to talk about manufacturing at all.

Nor is this just about blokes. One of the most striking successes at Gloucestershire Engineering Training (a charity owned by business, something socialism struggles with and would probably nationalise if it could) is the increase of female engineering apprentices. When it comes to gender equality, women in jobs, the narrowing gap between the highest and lowest wages, work to help those with disabilities into work and a host of other social justice measurements, we have a much better sorry to tell than the country knows.

Of course we could do more: I would give businesses NI reductions (as for apprentices) for hiring those with disabilities because (as with apprentices) many businesses are nervous of how to manage them. Once they’ve hired someone and seen their productivity and the rise in employee morale that often goes with hiring someone with disabilities, their whole approach will change. I would also give earlier payments under Universal Credit to avoid a spiral of early debt and housing arrears. But the key is these are our programmes – with Labour boxed in again on a mantra of ‘it won’t work’.

Let me give an example of what a Conservative approach can achieve. On the edge of Gloucester is one of the best schools for severely disabled children in the whole country, Milestone. It’s a place that leaves no visitor unmoved about what it does to help the most vulnerable. It recently received its third successive Outstanding rating from Ofsted under an inspirational Head Teacher, Lyn Dance.

It also received £1.5 million for an ambitious new hydrotherapy and sports complex project for the seriously disabled pupils (and others in the local community) from Gloucestershire-headquartered St James’s Place. This takes Milestone a long way towards its target and means that the project will, I believe, go on to achieve its funding goal and make a big difference to the lives of those with the greatest difficulties. St James’s Place is the sort of financial business real socialists would consider a parasite (managing assets) and try to tax into oblivion, rather than allowing it to flourish – and in turn give back to society through its Foundation.

It is time, across the country, to stand up not just for the Party of Business, but for the Conservative values that underpin what successful business can achieve – whether in apprenticeships, manufacturing exports, jobs or contributions to good causes.  And while we’re at it lets also tackle the lie peddled by both Labour and Lib Dems that more public spending – pick a figure – can easily be afforded by increasing business tax.

We failed in GE2017 to explain that by reducing the corporate tax rate we’ve raised more tax to fund vital services. But the Infographic at the top of this article was finally produced recently, and we must re-make the point of Thatcherism and Reaganomics again and again – you generate more tax for services by cutting, not by increasing, taxes. Of course, the correlation doesn’t continue indefinitely and the Chancellor must decide what the optimal rate today is by reference to the Laffer Curve – a subject for another day.

What matters now is proving the case for low tax rates and higher tax revenue, and explaining why a great forest of taxpayer funds, without anyone having to do anything but increase business tax, simply doesn’t exist. For that we need business, and workers, to help make the case.

So I hope that during the coming Party Conference we tackle these issues head on: that we re-make the case for being the Party of Business and responsible capitalism, with businesses giving back to the communities in which we encourage it to succeed: the party of lower but more tax that funds our health and welfare system. The spending on this has (contrary to socialist myth) continued to increase in the last seven years; an uncomfortable fact for those who oppose Conservative ‘austerity’.

At that conference, let’s make our case for the values of community and country, with examples of lives changed and improved by understanding business and motivating it to do good. That way we will show the link between business and better lives.

PRESS RELEASE: Gloucester MP urges council to consider levy towards night time economy

Gloucester MP Richard Graham has urged the City Council to consider raising funds from a Late Night Levy on night time outlets and venues, including takeaways, to cover the social costs of nightlife in the city centre.

Richard said, “The legislation now exists to enable councils to raise funds from those who benefit most from the night time economy to help cover the social costs also associated with it. The Late Night Levy could be a valuable source of funds for services like CCTV operators and the police who deal with the brunt of incidents.

We want all the fun our night time venues can bring, and most people enjoy them responsibly. But I think it’s time that the businesses involved, for example, contribute to the clean-up of broken glass and food on the street. So this is something I’m asking Gloucester City Council to consider carefully.”

The Late Night Levy has been taken up by seven local authorities so far, and was amended by the government in January to encourage more local authorities to consider implementing the levy in their area.

The Levy allows the council to raise a contribution from late-opening alcohol suppliers towards policing the night-time economy. It can apply to specific geographical locations, and the authorities will be required to publish information about how the funds are spent. The police will receive at least 70% of the net levy revenue and the local authority can retain up to 30% to fund other services.

Gloucester: second fastest growth in business jobs in the UK

The hardest thing for those trying to make things better in a city is a sense of perspective and relative measurement. How are we doing compared to others?

The annual Centre for Cities Outlook Report, like any data gathering exercise, has limits and needs interpretation. But it does shed some interesting light.

In 2015-2016 Gloucester had the fourth highest employment rate of any city: over 80% of us are working, with a very high (6.7%) increase. In fact we had the second fastest increase in business jobs of any city in the country: 2,100 more jobs in that year alone. For me that’s critical. We’ve always had a very high ratio of public sector jobs but our economy is more balanced now, with the ratio of business to public sector now of 1.8 or 41,000 to 23,000.

This is all very good news, and takes us closer to what economists would say is full employment. Our next challenge is to increase the numbers of those with disabilities in work. Our county does well overall on this, but there is more we can do in the city, and there are skills available that employers should look at more. Forwards (based in the county council) leads co-ordination on this.

Gloucester was also the 10th fastest growing city by population, and 7th for the fastest growth in housing stock – building homes to meet increased demand. I know we need more homes, more affordable homes and more 1 and 2 bed homes. New housing is coming through in different places, both in the city centre and suburbs, and there is much more to come – while still keeping our precious green lungs.

There are a couple of areas to work on. We come fairly low on export revenue per worker (third quartile), and I suspect this reflects a mix of some strong exporters but many SMEs who aren’t yet exporting at all. Our skill levels are improving – those with no formal qualification are down to 8.1% (national average is 8.8%), but we can do much more on skills.

Which is why the relocation of the University’s Business School to Gloucester, offering nursing degrees and nursing associate higher apprenticeships from the University, the apprenticeships at GlosCol, GET, Prospect and SWAP matter hugely. As does our goal for a University Technical College. There is no point trying to increase our control of immigration unless we can train our own young for the jobs we have available, like nursing, and especially the 50,000 jobs in the county’s health sector.

The Centre for Cities latest report is a good one for Gloucester. Like any school Head’s report there’s room for improvement, and there always will be. Skills, productivity and exports stand out for me. We have plans on all and must make sure they come through. A good result from our Growth Fund bid would help, as would government approval of the world’s first tidal lagoon and local planning approval for our University’s plans. It’s all about keeping good momentum going.

Why I voted to trigger leaving the EU

Watch my speech in the House of Commons above

In the run-up to the referendum, I believed that the considerable short-term risks of leaving the European Union outweighed the unquantifiable future benefits, but I underestimated the deep mistrust of the European Union.

The people have decided to leave. I must respect that decision, and I will support this Bill.

The hard work now begins. For example, how do we access the benefits of free trade and the inspection-free transfer of goods from outside EU structures such as the single market and the customs union? Some believe that nothing is possible, but that the alternative to working for success is to hope that things go badly—even to will it—to be ceaselessly critical and, ultimately, to achieve only an echo of Private Fraser’s lament, “We’re all doomed.”

Although none of us has perfect foresight, I am absolutely confident that we will have much greater success in lining up future free trade agreements than some people have suggested.

The negotiations will begin soon. In my view, we need an agreement in which we are generous to Europeans living here, enthusiastic in our continuation of academic and research co-operation, and resolute in our solidarity with Europe on defence and security.

In that agreement, we must be practical about ways of controlling immigration but welcoming to skills, tourists and entrepreneurs; we must be free of the European Court of Justice, but never compromise on standards or the rule of law; and we must be adventurous in pursuing our own trade deals, but never underestimate the importance of free trade and easy customs clearance in all that we do with Europe.

That is what I hope the Government’s White Paper will lay out. I hope that it will bring our one nation of diverse parts together. Whatever our concerns about the journey, we should start positively, not cynically.

Do let me know what you think Brexit should look like at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.
Best regards

 

 

 

 

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PRESS RELEASE: MP secures BT broadband deal for Tolsey Gardens

Richard Graham MP has secured an agreement from Openreach – BT’s local network business – to fund vital upgrade works in Tolsey Gardens in Tuffley to provide them with fibre broadband from the Summer.

This follows concerns raised by Tolsey Gardens residents about the ongoing slow internet they were experiencing, with average speeds of 2.5MB. Richard Graham had meetings with BT and the then-Broadband Minister Ed Vaizey MP to discuss the case and to see if an appropriate solution could be found.

Richard Graham, MP for Gloucester, said, “I am glad that we have now come to an agreement with BT to help Tolsey Gardens residents get the broadband that they need. One local resident told me about how he is unable to Skype his son who lives abroad, which is not acceptable in this day and age. This is a great result for Tolsey Garden residents, but there are still some who struggle to get decent internet speeds, and so we are also working with the county council on how to use Fastershire money for other black spots in Gloucester.”

Bill Murphy, BT’s managing director of next generation access, said, “Our ambition is to never say no to residents who ask for improved broadband service. In this case, following a review, we were able to find a solution by working with Ministers, the local MP Richard Graham and residents. As a result, Tolsey Gardens will see a real improvement in their broadband speeds when the works are finished.”

Cllr Nigel Hanman said, “I would think the residents of Tolsey Gardens will be highly delighted considering their wait.”

Cllr Steve Morgan said, “It is encouraging that BT have responded in a positive way to the requests for improvement to this service. This demonstrates that they will listen to the views of residents and their elected representatives.”

PRESS RELEASE: Richard Graham MP urges local charities to apply for new funding option

Richard Graham MP has urged local charities to apply for a new funding opportunity from the Postcode Lottery. The Lottery have £6 million on offer via three trusts which support different categories of projects.

A minimum of 30% of Postcode Lottery profits go directly to charities and players have raised £168.4 Million for good causes across the country. The first round of funding is now open until 10 February 2017, and there will be a second opportunity in August.
The Gloucester MP said, “it’s important that our charities make the most of the opportunities like this to continue the great work they do in Gloucester. We’ve already benefited from the Heritage Lottery Fund from the National Lottery, and now the People’s Postcode Lottery provides another opportunity for our charities to get a funding boost. They just need to submit an ‘expression of interest’ form by 10 February and shortlisted candidates will be invited to bid for funding.

Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said,£6million injected into grass-roots projects across Great Britain will have a tremendous impact in local communities. We encourage charities to put themselves forward for this funding and to have a look at the different Trusts to see where their project fits in.”

NOTE TO EDITOR

The maximum a project can receive is £20,000.

People’s Postcode Trust seeks applications for projects that focus on the prevention of poverty, promotion of human rights, equal rights and conflict resolution for some of society’s most vulnerable groups. Postcode Local Trust supports wildlife, sustainability and volunteering initiatives. Postcode Community Trust focuses on grass-roots sports, arts, recreation and healthy living programmes.

Players of People’s Postcode Lottery have raised more than £168.4 million to date for over 2,800 good causes across Great Britain and internationally.

For more information on how to apply for funding, please visit the Trusts’ websites: www.postcodetrust.org.uk www.postcodelocaltrust.org.uk www.postcodecommunitytrust.org.uk

 

ENDS

Richard Graham MP comments on the Prime Minister’s Brexit Speech

The Gloucester MP said, “The Prime Minister’s speech should put an end to the boiled egg debate – ‘hard’ and soft’ Brexit. I totally agree our aim should be for the closest possible relationship on defence and security as well as all research, science and technology: for the rights of EU citizens here and ours there to be protected; for free trade between us and for a customs arrangement so that our goods are not inspected.

At the same time she has absolutely honoured the will of the people in recognising that leaving the EU means leaving the Single Market, and bringing back control of our laws and immigration. One of the key questions (understandably) not discussed in detail was the shape of transitional arrangements. That is a crucial part of the talks, and Theresa May will not want to give our position away.

I hope most of my constituents will welcome her speech – and especially the decision for a vote by Parliament on the result of the negotiations. This recognises the sovereignty of Parliament. I’ve no doubt my constituents will tell me their views before that crucial vote!”

Britain’s chance to create energy from the world’s first Tidal Lagoon

It may not hit the headlines when the media are focused on whether the Kremlin has compromising material on the new US President, but yesterday was I think the moment Britain got serious about creating a new global industry.

We were early movers in offshore wind energy, and we have an opportunity now to be the first mover in generating energy from tidal lagoons. There are tidal barrages in eg France and Russia, but no tidal lagoon – where a large wall is built around a bay, and an under water turbine captures energy from the twice daily movements of the tide – anywhere in the world. Yet.

Some time ago I opened the Gloucester headquarters of Tidal Lagoon Power plc (TLP), which proposes a series of tidal lagoons to harness the strength of the Severn Estuary tides and generate up to 10% of Britain’s total electricity needs. The technology is not totally new, but has never been deployed in this way before: and the size of even the first and smallest lagoon in Swansea Bay involves over eleven miles of wall. And although TLP has funding for the c£1.3 billion project, ultimately the taxpayer would subsidise the cost through the price paid by the National Grid.

In the wake of controversy about the size of the subsidy to be paid for nuclear energy from the new Hinkley Point stations, the government was cautious about the cost and last year commissioned a Review of Tidal Energy. Those who thought the aim was delay, prevarication and kicking the issue into the long grass will have been disappointed by Charles Hendry’s report, whose launch I hosted (as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Marine Energy & Tidal Lagoons) in Parliament yesterday.

Charles is a former colleague and Energy Minister, and although he started a sceptic hisreport  is absolutely clear about the scale of the opportunity and its importance to the UK. He described our tides as the greatest untapped source of energy in the country, and highlighted the Severn Estuary and the Solway Firth in particular. He sees a golden opportunity for Britain to be bold and seize first mover advantage in a new global industry, and in his 40 recommendations urges the government to reach agreement on a pathfinder by TLP at Swansea Bay as soon as possible. Why did he reach that conclusion?

The Hendry Review looked at four key questions – the security of supply, decarbonisation, affordability and economic gain (jobs). On all four it found strongly in favour of tidal lagoons. Their energy is domestically sourced and predictable, very low carbon (and supported by Greenpeace). The estimated UK content is 65%, with 50% likely to be sourced from Wales – not least manufacturing (including steel) and construction, but with huge tourism potential which Charles Hendry thought had been much underestimated, and compared to the Eden Project in Cornwall. And then there is the cost.

The report estimates that the cost of the Swansea pathfinder would be cheaper (through the Contract for Difference or CfD structure) than the nuclear subsidy, and over the lifetime of a tidal lagoon considerably cheaper per megawatt hour than offshore wind: less than 50p per household per year over the the first 60 years (after which the subsidy would end).

The Hendry Report makes 40 recommendations, many to government: including the creation of a Tidal Power Authority and establishing competitive tenders for future lagoons. The government will now study these in detail. So what happens next?

Last autumn I wrote a letter to the Chancellor urging him to look seriously at the Review when it came out because the 111 MPs who signed my letter all believed there were significant opportunities for Britain. As the Hendry Review has confirmed our instincts I will now write again, urging a detailed and formal response before the Budget.

In my view it would simply not be credible for the government to ignore or reject the general thrust of the recommendations. The Review and its author are too authoritative. It will have to look closely particularly at the structure and pricing issues, but the risk of the pathfinder at Swansea is really with TLP plc – they won’t receive anything until the electricity is in the National Grid, probably in 2022. And the support they have in Swansea, Wales and much more widely for this project is almost unprecedented.

I am also sure that an opportunity to buy tidal bonds with an income stream as steady as the energy itself would be well subscribed by both pension funds and retail investors alike. I want to see Britain investing in and owning our own infrastructure and this is our chance to show that we can and will do so. So much of our infrastructure from Camelot to most of Heathrow Airport is not owned by us – but it doesn’t need to be that way.

Which brings us back to Gloucester. What could be more exciting than to have a business based in our city construct the first of what I hope will be many tidal lagoons, all over the world. Our city has thrived on manufacturing innovation – whether Booth’s first vacuum cleaner, to the first flight of Whittle’s jet engine, Dowty’s landing gear and aviation instruments and the nuclear industry whose operations are all still run from Barnwood. Creating the world’s first tidal lagoon is in a great tradition – and I will do all I can to keep encouraging this bold step forward for Britain.

Let me know your thoughts and reactions on richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk

Best regards

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