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Posts Tagged ‘Investment’

Inequality and the Generation Gap. More Than Meets the Eye?

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

Read any newspaper or magazine which focuses on economics and politics over the last few days and you will have almost certainly stumbled upon the idea of “intergenerational inequality”. The basic argument goes; for most of modern history in Britain every successive generation has enjoyed improved living standards compared to the generation that came before it. However, thanks to the economic crisis of the past decade there is a real chance that this will not hold true for the generation born between 1981-2000 (the so-called “millennials”). A basic tenant of our social contract and a fundamental aspiration for every parent, that our children should have a better life than we did, has been thrown into doubt in a way that is truly unprecedented.

Is that fear justified? I’d argue “Yes, up to a point”. It’s true that the figures don’t make for pretty reading. According to the Resolution Foundation, older millennials (around 30-35 years old) are the first workers to earn less than those born five years before them, and many of them entered work before the Great Recession. At the same time, it’s been reported recently that pensioner household incomes have overtaken those of working age equivalents for the first time.

Clearly something needs to be done, but the danger here is that we start seeing intergenerational inequality as a zero sum game, where making things better for young people can only be done by taking away from older people. Will, for example, will following the advice of some in abolishing the “triple lock” on pensions (where pension increase per year by the higher of the growth in average earnings, the Consumer Price Index or 2.5%) create good-quality, high-paid jobs for young people by itself? I’d argue not. Reducing inequality must come from lifting people up to the same level, not dragging them down.

I’d go further and say that treating entire generations like some vast amorphous block does nobody any favours. Take two young people born on the same day; one living in the countryside and another living in an inner city. Do they really have any similarities beyond the fact that they share a birthday? Do we miss any potential inequality in income and opportunity between these two because we’re more focused on how they’re doing compared to their parents? A few facts and figures can show what this means in practice. While some pensioners may be earning more than those in work, there are still 1.6 million pensioners (14% of the total pensioner population) living below the poverty line after housing costs. A higher income young person at age 20 has a greater income than a poorer member of their parent’s generation at any age.

We must resolve ourselves to fighting inequality wherever we see it, not setting up one generation against another. Fortunately, there are more than a few ways in which we can do this. Building more and better housing will benefit both young people looking to settle down and older people looking to move or downsize in retirement. Protecting pensions gives security not just to people on the verge of retirement age, but to young people who want to know that pensions will still be there for them decades from now. This is more than a dry debate about economics. If we accept that inequality both between and within generations is one of the gravest issues we face (and I believe it is) then how we deal with it says a lot about what kind of country we are.

I’ve had enough of the policies of scapegoating, divide-and-rule and “us versus them”. We need to be far more ambitious and far more progressive before we can even begin to put things right.

The Climate Change Struggle: A Little Ray of Sunshine?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

I’ve written about climate change in this blog before, and it’s rarely been good news. After you’ve read about the serious rise in global temperatures now being inevitable, the government abolishing the Department for Climate Change and flooding right here in Tameside I wouldn’t blame you for feeling a bit hopeless.

That’s why I welcomed a bit of optimistic climate-related news last week. We know that the only way to reduce our global CO2 emissions is to make a serious move away from using fossil fuels to generate most of our electricity and power our vehicles. Up until now most people thought that it wouldn’t be economically possible. A new report from Imperial College, London and the Climate Tracker think-tank, rather aptly titled “Expect the Unexpected” instead offers the argument that growth in the electric vehicle and solar panel market could led to demand for fossils fuels peaking as early as 2020.

Let me give you an example to show how they reached that conclusion. When IBM released the first PC in 1981 it cost almost £8,000, and that was considered cheap. Around about the same time, Ken Olsen, the founder of computer company Digital Equipment Corporation, said “There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home”. Fast forward thirty or so years, I’m writing this blog on a laptop that costs 40 times less and is easily thousands of times more powerful than that IBM PC. That laptop is also one of an estimated two billion computers that are used around the world, in everything from phones to cars to household appliances and goodness knows what else.

What’s the point I’m trying to make? When a new technology appears it’s almost always expensive and impractical, but it gets cheaper, more powerful and easier to use very quickly. As it was with computers, so it looks like it’s going to be with renewable energy. The cost of solar panels has fallen by 85% in the last seven years, while batteries for electric vehicles are 73% cheaper now than they were in 2008. If those costs keep going down people, businesses and countries might start using renewable energy not because if any particular feelings about climate change, but because it’ll actually be cheaper than fossil fuels.

Of course, it’s all very well saying that, but it looks like there are enough willing to take that prediction to the bank. Saudi Arabia, not exactly a country people think of when it comes to renewable energy, is looking to invest £40 billion in wind and solar power by 2030. China is planning for half of its increase in electricity generation over the next 4 years to come from £291 billion worth of renewable energy infrastructure. Almost all of Costa Rica’s electricity in 2016 was produced by renewable energy, compared to 5.7% in the UK over the same time.

Tameside is doing its bit as well. The Greater Manchester Pension Fund, administered in Droylsden and chaired by yours truly, has invested £150 million in the UK’s second largest onshore windfarm in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. Closer to home we’re continuing to roll out LED lighting to all of Tameside’s streets, recycling bins to all our town centres and thousands of trees in every space we can find for them. We’ve also worked closely with our residents to increase recycling in the borough by over 50%, with more to come in the future.

So let’s not underestimate the challenges that we face by choosing to tackle climate change, but let’s not underestimate the opportunities either. Putting Tameside and Greater Manchester at the forefront of the struggle is not just the right thing for the planet; it may very well be the right thing for creating the jobs and the economy of the future as well.

A Shocking Lack of Priorities

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Regular readers of this blog will know that I take every opportunity to criticise the hypocrisy of the government’s ideological austerity. The kind of austerity that sees services and investment cut to the bone but always seems to make vast amounts of money available for pet projects. After some excellent work by our very own Angela Rayner we’ve recently been given a clear example of the damage this kind of thinking has done to our country’s education system.

Cast your minds back to March of last year, when the then-Cameron government announced plans to force all schools in England to become academies. I wasn’t alone at the time in thinking that the plans were ruinously expensive, massively impractical and unlikely to increase standards. In the face of opposition from Parliament and the teaching profession the government was forced to first shelve and then abandon the plans completely.

“What does that have to do with what’s happening now?” I hear you ask. At the time the policy was announced the Treasury allocated £500 million of funding to support the mass academisation process. Now that it’s not going ahead, the government has clawed back £384 million of that funding (The rest, according the Department for Education, had already been spent on “other education projects”, whatever that means).

Let me say that another way. The government was willing to spend £500 million on making every school in England an academy. When that project was dropped they could have chosen to redirect that freed-up money to other forms of investment in our schools. Investments like smaller class sizes, better equipment and materials, or training for teachers. Investments that, unlike academisation, have solid evidence behind them to show that they lead to improved standards. Instead, they chose to let the money disappear back into the bowels of the Treasury. Probably never to be seen again.

It would be somewhat justifiable if our education system was already swimming in funding. What’s actually happening at the moment is the worst crisis in teacher recruitment in living memory and a warning from the National Audit Office that we’re on course for a £3 billion cut in school spending by 2020. The Grammar School Head’s Association say that their schools may resort to asking parents for hundreds of pounds a year to plug the gaps in funding cuts, and Cheshire East Council have gone as far as to confirm that they are looking at moving to a four day school week to make ends meet.

Tameside’s share of that £384 million would have amounted to almost £70 for every pupil in our schools. We’re probably not going to see increases in funding from any other source either. While on paper the government’s latest reforms to school funding gives Tameside a little extra money, Angela’s work has shown that when you throw in inflation and the impact of further cuts that we know are coming down the pipeline it amounts to slapping a sticking plaster onto a gaping wound.

If you thumbed through a copy of the Prime Minister’s Industrial Strategy you’ll have seen that one of the longest chapters is on “Developing Skills”, or to quote it verbatim “ensuring that everyone has the basic skills needed in a modern economy”. The kind of education system that delivers that isn’t something that happens by itself. It needs strong and fair funding. It needs to be run by people who know what works and have the freedom to put their expertise into practice.

What it absolutely doesn’t need are Ministers in Whitehall letting ideology and bias dictate their funding and policy decisions. Britain’s future and our children’s education is too important to be turned into a political football.

Caring Together for Tameside’s Mental Health

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

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Over the course of their lifetime one in four people will develop some kind of mental health issue. As things stand, few of them will go and see a doctor about it and even fewer will get the treatment they need. Levels of self-harm among young people have increased by more than 50% between 2010 and 2015. In 2015 alone there were over 6,000 deaths recorded as suicide. It’s estimated that mental health issues cost the country up to £15 billion a year in lost productivity.

I usually try to avoid so stark an opening in my blogs, but in this case I think the severity of the situation justifies it.

How on Earth did it come to this? The sad fact is that for many the stigma against being open and honest about mental health remains strong. Far too often people who (quite rightly) would go straight to the doctor if they broke their leg would never do the same thing if they felt depressed or anxious. At the same time the rapid changes in the society we live in, particularly globalisation and the rise of social media, have created stresses and strains on our mental health that governments and health services are only just beginning to understand. While progress is being made in both these areas, there’s still a way to go.

And as always when I talk about issues like this, we can’t ignore the impact of austerity. Although it can be definitely argued that mental health has been historically underfunded, the last half a decade of cuts have undermined improvements to mental health services at a time where it has never been so vital to make them. The Prime Minister may have announced this week that her government will make mental health a priority, but at the same time national newspapers were reporting that hospitals were using hundreds of millions of pounds earmarked for children’s mental health to plug gaping holes in their budget left by government cuts. I know I sound like a broken record when I say that actions speak louder than words, especially with this government, but one speech does not undo the damage that has been done.

All this means that we’ll need to take matters into our own hands if we want to see serious changes made in how we deal with mental health. Fortunately, our work on integrating health and social care allows us to do just that, bringing together hospitals, communities and employers to create well-rounded treatments for both mental and physical health, tailored to individuals and the local area. As a council, we’ve also made mental health a priority through pledges such as signing the “Time to Change” mental health pledge and supporting national events promoting good mental wellbeing. In 2017, wtimetochangejpge’re going to build on both of these, transforming the way we do health in Tameside and Greater Manchester.

In the 21st century, access to high-quality mental health services is not a nice-to-have. As people become more open about the mental health challenges that they face, it falls to us to make sure that the help they need is available whatever and whenever they need it. At both the local and national level, we must take a stand and say that these people will no longer fall between the cracks in our healthcare systems. The hard but necessary work starts here.

A Successful Year at GMPF

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

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Some of you might know that as well as serving as the Executive Leader of Tameside Council I am also the Chair of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. I’ve written a little bit about pensions in this blog in the past, but as we come to the end of the year I want to take the chance to put a little more focus on what has been a truly momentous year in the world of local government pensions.

With 352,292 members and over £20 billion in assets the Greater Manchester Pension Fund is by far the largest local government pension fund in the country. Though as a fund with even higher ambitions, at the start of the year we reached an agreement to team up with fellow pension funds in Merseyside, Lancashire and West Yorkshire to create a £40 billion combined pension pool.

All well and good, you might say, but what does that actually mean? I’ve written a lot this year about some of the problems Tameside and Britain faces, the most relevant ones here being our productivity crisis and the fact that a small minority of businesses are still getting away with not meeting their obligations to their employees and society. Getting pension funds, in Greater Manchester and elsewhere, to combine their resources is the way we are starting to create our own solutions to these big national issues.

The way we’re going to do that is quite simple. £40 billion is a lot of money, and we can use that money to invest in projects that are good for the pension fund and good for our society and economy as well. Pension funds are uniquely placed to make this happen. We’re embedded in our local communities, we have the sheer financial muscle needed and we’re an investor for the long term. Governments and private companies will often not touch an investment that will only start providing a return years or decades from now, but that project is perfect for a pension fund which needs to find ways to pay out to members years and decades from now. We’re already doing this to a certain extent, but the plans that we have started to put in place this year will allow us to do this quicker, better and on a larger scale.

Investing in infrastructure is not the only thing we can do, we can also invest in businesses as well. That gives us the opportunity to influence their board of directors and management by exercising our rights as shareholders. If we think a company executive is being paid too much for the job they are doing, we can do something about it. If we’re unhappy with a business using zero-hour contracts and tax havens, we can do something about it. This is something that is already happening. To give just one example, companies that had to backtrack over pay increases for executives due to shareholder opposition in the last year alone include betting company Paddy Power, online gambling firm PlayTech and the Foxtons estate agency. Next year we’ll be working together on ways to make sure that the voices of pension funds are heard further in all the places in which we hold assets.

There’s no doubt in my mind that 2016 will go down as a milestone year in pensions. If you’re a member of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, rest assured that your retirement is safe in our hands. If you’re a resident of Tameside, rest assured that we all supporting investment that will make the borough is better place to live, work and do business in. If you’re concerned with how some businesses run things, rest assured that those concerns are shared by us as well. Roll on 2017, and the next step.

The Teaching Crisis Cannot Be Ignored

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Ask me what part of the public sector has undergone the most radical change in the last decade or so and my answer will always be “education”. From the (thankfully) dropped lunacy of making every school an academy, to the newer but equally hare-brained policy to reintroduce grammar schools, barely a day goes by where the government doesn’t have a new kick at the political football that our education system has become. The people affected by this the most are, of course, the pupils themselves and the teachers who work with them. For teachers in particular, their job is a hard enough one at the best of times, but over the last six years they’ve had to put up with their roles changing beneath their feet as well.

Is it really surprising that so many of our current and potential future teachers have decided that they’ve had enough? Two recent events have pulled the crisis we face in recruiting and retraining teachers into the public eye.

The first is a report by Sir Michael Wilshaw, which concludes that constant structural changes to the education system have meant that staffing concerns have taken a back seat, with disastrous results. In the year 2015-16, 15 of 18 secondary subjects had unfilled teaching places and 43,000 qualified teachers (or one in ten out of the entire workforce) left the state education sector entirely. These shortages have not been felt evenly. While ¾ of physics teaching vacancies have been filled, that goes down to less than ½ with design and technology places. Schools that face more challenging circumstances are also feeling the impact, with the percentage of unqualified teachers in schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils close to double that of schools with few disadvantaged pupils.

The second warning sign is the spectacular failure of the government’s plans to get more people into the teaching profession. The National Teacher Service (NTS) announced by the-then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, aimed to recruit 1,500 teachers to schools with the highest need. The initial pilot ran here in the North West and aimed to find places for 100 applicants. A Freedom of Information request by the Times Education Supplement has revealed that only 116 people applied to the scheme in total, of which only 54 were recruited. The entire scheme has now been closed down, and what was supposed to be a flagship policy has been shown up as a waste of time, effort and money in the face of growing crisis.

I have a personal grievance with this as well. For the past few years the Council and our partners have been fighting tooth and nail to raise exam results and give our pupils and teachers the best possible environment to excel and achieve. We invested over £250 million in state of the art facilities and supporting the setting up the A+ Trust to share expertise and best practice. Our percentage of pupils receiving at least 5 A*-C grades has gone up for three years straight, putting us above the English national average. We’ve done this in spite of and not because of many of the actions of this government.

Having enough teachers is important. Having enough good teachers is even more important. When people look back to their school days they think about the teachers that really knew their stuff and made them care about the subjects they taught. The right teacher in the right place with the right resources can make an incredible difference to the lives of so many people. The damage that the government’s self-inflicted teaching crisis is doing to school standards and the life chances of our young people is incalculable. We cannot let them endanger our children’s education any further.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

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Cast your minds back for a moment to the weeks immediately after Brexit. When Theresa May walked into Downing Street she delivered a series of speeches unlike any I’ve heard from a Conservative Prime Minister in recent memory. Obviously, she talked a lot about Brexit, but she also talked about taking on vested interests, cracking down on tax avoidance, doing more for struggling families and giving employees more of a say in how their workplace is run. It was a surprising and welcome change of words, but I decided to wait to see what would happen in terms of action before I got too excited.

Five months or so later, and we’re getting some idea of what kind of action a May government is going to take. Unfortunately, following this week’s Autumn Statement, it appears that my scepticism back in the summer was justified.

Let’s talk about what the government said they would do first. They made the right noises about investment, but we’ve seen absolutely nothing in terms of new or radical solutions. The policy announcements we’ve seen in the Autumn Statement in no way matches the sheer scale of the challenge that we face in rolling back the damage and decay inflicted upon our infrastructure by austerity. £1.1 billion for roads might sound like a lot, but that barely covers what is required in Greater Manchester, never mind the entire country. Releasing money for 140,000 new homes sounds a considerably less impressive when we know that we need at least 200,000 a year every year just to keep our heads above water. Taking steps to reverse our decline in research and development spending – a vital part of building the economies of the 21st century – is welcome but it still leaves Britain far below the figure of 3% of GDP recommended by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Time and time again, it’s bold talk followed by timid action.

Then let’s talk about what isn’t happening, such as the promise to put employees on company boards. This isn’t some kind of unique and radical policy. The Germans have had workers on boards for decades, and they have one of the most successful economies in Europe. During the summer the Prime Minister made this one of her flagship policies, but at a speech to the Confederation of British Industry this week she went out of her way to say that she was not going to force companies to do it. No matter what you think of the policy, that’s a complete and total U-turn. The government have also refused to abandon their planned cuts to Universal Credit. These cuts will cost many working families, the type of families that the Prime Minister claims to be looking out for, thousands of pounds in lost income by the end of the Parliament. They will also wipe many of the gains people will see from the increase in the “National Living Wage”, ensuring that the Chancellor repeats his predecessor’s trick of giving with one hand and immediately snatching away with the other.

So there we have it. Despite what they said, the government has flunked every opportunity to take the decisive and radical action they promised back in the summer. What we’ve ended up with is a familiar story for anybody who has lived through the last six years of governments. A pittance of investment that leaves our vital infrastructure on life support, headline-grabbing promises that are abandoned as soon as the ink is dry on the newspapers and always, always “jam tomorrow” for hard-working families that are struggling today. It would be bad enough in normal times. In these extraordinary times it’s the fast track to catastrophe.

A Wake-Up Call on Decent Housing

Friday, October 21st, 2016

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Britain has a housing crisis. That isn’t the first time I’ve said that or something similar on this blog, and unfortunately it almost certainly won’t be the last time either. Much of the debate about this housing crisis is often tied up in homelessness or the lack of houses being built, and while they are incredibly important issues, focusing on them exclusively risks losing sight of a wider, deeper problem. Much in the same way that many of those in poverty are also in work, many of those who suffer the consequences of Britain’s housing crisis have a roof over their head.

It’s a problem that has been laid bare by Shelter. Just in time for their 50th birthday, the national housing charity has released a report on what they term the “Living Home Standard”. Working with market research company Ipsos Mori, Shelter have used discussion groups, surveys and workshop to ask the British public, the men and women on the street, what matters to them when it comes to owning and renting a home. The result is a fair but comprehensive set of 39 criteria that must be met in order to provide an acceptable home that secure the occupant’s well-being, broken down into five categories; affordability, decent conditions, space, stability and a good neighbourhood.

Now the bad news. By Shelter’s estimates, 43% of people in Britain do not live in a home that meets those standards. Of those 43%, just over a quarter failed on affordability, almost a fifth failed to meet the standard for decent conditions (including pests, dampness and safety hazards) and one out of every ten renters were struggling on insecure, short-term tenancies that allowed them no room to plan for the future. Think about that for a moment. If 43% of people in Britain couldn’t get enough food, or if the unemployment or poverty rate was 43%, there would be an uproar and rightly so. Yet we still continue to allow so many people in Britain to be failed when it comes to one of the most basic of needs, the need for decent housing.

It’s not just the numbers as well. The report brings together harrowing stories about just what it means to those 43% living in substandard accommodation. From the single mother with two children living in a one-bedroom flat, to the woman whose house was so riddled with mould that the furniture literally fell apart around her, and the man who couldn’t afford to buy a birthday present for his son after the month’s rent had gone out. They have all paid the price for our country’s negligence in making sure that housing is available for those who need it. There may be someone close to you in a similar situation, or perhaps you yourself are in that situation. Don’t you think there has to be a better way?

In Tameside, we think there is. That’s why we’re working with private landlords on the issues that matter to them and to tenants. That’s why we’re doing our bit to help build the 250,000 homes a year we know need to be built just to keep up with demand nationwide. That’s why we’ll continue to bang the drum for rental contracts that give security and flexibility to both landlords and tenants. Although the statistics and the stories paint a dark picture indeed, I believe that real and positive change is possible if we work together and leave no stone unturned in pursuit of our goals. The alternative is more of the same, and that is not something that any of us should live with or accept.

Life on the Line in Greater Manchester

Friday, October 14th, 2016

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Often on this blog I provide readers with a lot of numbers and statistics about issues affecting Tameside, ranging from local events to national stories and everything in between. While I find data valuable for explaining and justifying the council’s views and decisions, I do appreciate that if it is presented with no context or explanation it can make things hard to digest and follow. That’s why using statistics and numbers presented in a way that everybody can relate to can be such a powerful tool for explaining some of the big issues we face in Tameside.

The University of Manchester have recently provided an excellent example of just this with their research of life expectancy and healthy life expectancy in Greater Manchester. The research combines data from the Office of National Statistics and the Index of Deprivation to map life expectancy (how long you can expect to live) and healthy life expectency (how long you can expect to live without serious health problems) to the city’s Metrolink stops.

It is information we should be paying attention to. In the last two centuries we have seen a massive increase in life expectancy across England and Wales. If you were born in 1851 you could expect to live for only 41 years on average, but 150 or so years later that figure has almost doubled to 79.5 years for men and 82.3 years for women. Access to clean food and water, better medical care and a decline in child mortality have all contributed to this, but that doesn’t mean that we can sit on our laurels. There remain serious inequalities between economically deprived areas and more prosperous areas when it comes to life expectancy. Men and women in Manchester aged 65 today can expect live a further 15.9 years and 18.8 years respectively, but in some of the richer parts of London those numbers go up to 21.6 years for men (Kensington and Chelsea) and 24.6 years for women (Camden).

There are significant differences even within Greater Manchester as well. If you’re female and live near the Sale, Whitefield or Milnrow Metrolink stops your life expectancy can be as high as 82 years. That drops to 73 if you live near to the Clayton Hall stop. Men in Timperley and Whitefield have the longest life expectancies at 78 years, but that plummets to 66 years for men in Rochdale Town Centre barely 26 miles away (To put it into perspective, that’s a year for every 7 minutes of transport time). Even within Tameside there is a 4 year gap in life expectancy between men in Audenshaw (73) and Ashton Moss (69), although that gap shrinks to a year amongst women (79 in Audenshaw and 78 in Ashton-under-Lyne).

Last year Greater Manchester became the first region in England to be handed control of £6 billion of health and social care spending from central government. Using these new powers to address the health inequalities in our region must rank as one of our highest priorities. We’ve recently received £23.2 million in transformation funding for our Care Together programme, and we’ll be making use good of that money to supercharge our ambitions to bring healthy life expectancy in our area up to at least the English average. If we’re going to achieve this we need to look beyond just the provision of health services and sanitation (important as that is) and into how factors like people’s jobs, the environment which they live in and their social interaction (or lack of) can affect their health for good or ill. Doing this is a challenge that nobody has attempted to meet on this scale before. I firmly believe that we are blazing a path that the rest of the country will soon be following, but I also know that we have only taken the first few steps on what will be a very long journey. Let’s face the tasks and make the changes we need to together.

Time for Parliament to Look North?

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

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Parliament is literally falling apart.

That’s not hyperbole, that’s the hard truth given to us by the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster, which was tasked by the government to consider the options for restoration and renewal of the historical home of British democracy. Their report, delivered last month, estimated that at least £4 billion would be required to bring the Palace up to modern standards and prevent “an impending crisis which we cannot responsibly ignore” such as a major fire or a succession of failures that could render the building completely unusable. Even if you discount that worst-case scenario, the argument can definitely be made that the building is no longer fit for purpose in its current state. The roof leaks, the limestone is crumbling away and the walls are stuffed full of asbestos. There aren’t enough toilets for women and disabled people, but there’s a 25-yard shooting range in the House of Lords basement.

The preferred option of the Committee is to move Parliament out of Westminster for up to six years while repairs are made, with the Department of Health building in Whitehall and the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre on the other side of Parliament Square suggested as alternative venues for the House of Commons and House of Lords respectively. Any move is unlikely to happen before 2020 at the very earliest, but I’d like to take the opportunity to suggest a different solution. Move the entire Parliament out of London and into Greater Manchester for the duration of the repairs, if not longer.

It’s no secret that in this country there is an economic gulf between the North and the South, with negative effects for both parts of the country. While people in the North are starved of investment and high-quality jobs, people in the South face appalling costs of living due to an overheated housing market. Moving Parliament to Greater Manchester would help address both of these issues. At a stroke, a vast area of central London would be open for redevelopment, thousands of new public and private sector jobs would be created in Greater Manchester and the wider North, and businesses and the government would have another reason to look beyond the M25 ring road when it comes to making their investment decisions.

Furthermore, we have clear evidence from both the public and private sector that such an arrangement can work. It’s estimated that the BBC’s move to Salford Quays boosted the UK’s economy by £277m a year and increased the volume of productions made in the North from 5% in 2010 to 30.6% by 2014. 70% of London’s tech SMEs, the companies that will power the economies of the future, have reported that they are struggling to grow or expand in the city due to the costs of living and doing businesses there. Last year HSBC moved its head office and 1,000 staff for its retail and business lending operations out of London to Birmingham, and Deutsche Bank’s expansion in the same city appears to have reaped rich rewards as well. Public or private, big or small, London is no longer seen as the place you have to be in. Why shouldn’t it be the same for the highest levels of government as well?

We’ve reached the point where just about everybody, no matter where they are in the political spectrum, agrees that our nation’s relentless focus on London as the centre of everything cannot be allowed to continue. Moving Parliament would be the boldest of bold statements, turning words into radical action. The economic rationale is clear. The opportunity has presented itself. All that is lacking is the political will to make it happen.

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