Letter to the Business Secretary to get more back to work

Dear Alok,

It is imperative more is done to rescue and help businesses that rely on social contact. Too many companies in events, leisure, travel and tourism are badly damaged by anti CV 19 rules, and some remain completely closed.

One way forward which could provide urgent relief short of repealing the Controls that do the damage is to help businesses adapt their ventilation and heating systems to make them safer. There is plenty of research saying that if a restaurant, hotel, meeting room has a system for extracting stale air promptly and replacing it with clean air it can offer a safer environment. Extraction from the top and supply of new air from the bottom greatly cuts the spread of the virus and other contagions in the circulating air.

I understand your department is responsible for these policies for the public sector and has done work on suitable advice and shared technical research for the private sector. Will you now make this more public? Will you provide advice and where appropriate adaptation grants to business to get this done quickly for all who wish to go this way? Could there be a CV19 standard for air change which those who wished could reach, showing their certification to reassure customers? Will you lead the public sector in adapting government and Council buildings?

We must do more to save all those businesses. Best of all would be a clear exit plan from restrictions generally.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Responses

How should we live with and control CV 19?

Today I seek your views on how much economic sacrifice we should make to try to slow or delay the transmission of this disease.

It is clearly lethal for a minority who get the bad version of it, but no worse than flu or bad colds for many others. The Global death rate so far from it is 0.015% of the world population, and it seems to account for under 3% of deaths. Cardiovascular problems remain the prime killer. CV 19 is on track to kill a few more than road traffic accidents but ranks well below cancer and other lung infections.

It is good news that in its second wave in the Americas and Europe the death rate is much reduced. Treatments are better and maybe more younger people are getting it with much less risk of death.Some of the advisers think it is just a lag and deaths will rise as they did in the spring. That would every worrying.

So how much economic pain should we suffer to delay the spread of the disease? Is there a realistic exit through a vaccine to make the cost of delay a price worth paying, or will there just be another flare up as soon as we relax controls again?

I think the government needs to do more to save livelihoods and needs to remove those controls that have limited utility in defeating the virus but do considerable damage to jobs and business. Can we do more to help people most at risk protect themselves from it? Can we have isolation hospitals and high standards of infection control in all care homes and other health settings?

Posted in Uncategorized | 303 Responses

Saving the NHS

One of the main reasons given for the national lockdown earlier this year was to get the NHS ready to handle a wave of CV19 cases. They expanded the Intensive Care capacity substantially, putting in new Nightingale hospitals as part of the answer, increasing intensive care beds in existing hospitals and buying more ventilators.

To increase capacity further they cancelled all non urgent operations in main hospitals, took over the capacity of the private sector hospitals to undertake some non CV 19 work for them and were keen to move patients out of hospital as soon as possible after treatment.

Today some people are still worrying about NHS capacity. Of course we all pay tribute and say thanks to the dedicated staff who bore the brunt of the first wave of CV 19 in hospitals, gave diligent care and pioneered treatments to respond. By now I assume more have been trained to handle CV 19, and we see the good news that there are better treatments with the death rate falling substantially as a result

Today I would like to ask a crucial question.

What is now happening to NHS output for non CV 19 conditions? Ministers tell me the NHS is operating again as before for non pandemic conditions. Is it? What is your experience of access to non urgent treatments, and to treatments for serious conditions like heart attacks and cancer .

The NHS England/DHSS budget for 2020/21 was £148bn at the start of the year, up from £140bn the previous year by £8bn or 5.7%. The NHS had been offered an increase of £33bn by 2023/24 as part of a five year settlement to allow growth and improvement. Special money to handle CV 19 has now added an additional £31.9bn to this year’s total to provide protective clothing, to introduce Test and Trace, to buy in private sector capacity, increase ventilators and provide extra facilities in the Nightingales.

I am seeking information from government about how output in the NHS now compares with this time last year. We know there was a large dip in activity during the intense period of the CV 19 crisis in the spring. It would be good to know we are more than back to normal, given the backlog and the resource now being committed. It would also be good to know when we can stop paying for the private sector capacity as well.

Posted in Uncategorized | 270 Responses

How much rail capacity do we need?

The UK passenger railway had a big business running commuters into and out of cities for their work five days a week. Even after allowing for the discount element of the season ticket, these travellers were made to pay premium prices for their travel, as there was little by way of alternative for most of them. The roads were jammed and there were too few car parks at work to make the car an alternative for many.

The railway always complained that it was very costly having to provide so much rolling stock and so many staff for a couple of peak hours in the morning and another couple of peak hours in the evening. It was that peak volume which the railways said justified the high fares. In an attempt to fill the rolling stock the rest of the time and to pay staff wages for more than four hours a day the railway adopted heavily discounted fares to persuade people to undertake leisure, shopping and entertainment trips by train to use the empty carriages.

Today we still see a pattern of dear tickets at peak times, and cheap tickets at off peak across the network. If we take some longer journeys as examples we see

Standard single ticket London to Manchester off peak £33 peak £157

Standard single ticket London to Birmingham off peak £15.50 peak £74

The peak fare is around five times the off peak.

Today the talk is of a major change of future working even assuming an end to special CV 19 lock downs. Office workers look forward to going to the office two or three times a week instead of five times, and want to be offered flexible hours so they can switch to the old off peak. Many have discovered how much better off they are working from home and saving all that money on rail travel and expensive coffees.

If some of this comes to pass it requires revolution on the railways. It means a substantial reduction in numbers of travellers and a bigger reduction in fares revenue if charging policies are unaltered. The railway managements are talking about how their leisure business has picked up but this is largely heavily discounted tickets that come nowhere near paying the high fixed costs of the amount of rail travel beign offered. They say it is very green, but creating more journeys on trains that otherwise would not have happened is not green but the opposite.Trying to run a railway around heavily discounted leisure use will leave a huge hole in railway finances. We cannot carry on for much longer with the current system of running 90% of pre pandemic services for Maybe a third of the passenger numbers. It is unaffordable for taxpayers. When will the rail experts tell us what Level of demand they think they can recapture anD what fares they can charge in this new world.

Posted in Uncategorized | 176 Responses

Tackling the virus

There are three government models for tackling the pandemic.

The first is to give priority in all policy matters to curbing the spread and reducing the death rate from the virus through strong national action. The UK and most other governments tried this in the spring. The problem with this approach is that as soon as governments relax the virus spreads again, leading to pressures to shut down more of the economy for a second or successive times. The concentration of resources is difficult to sustain for long periods, leads to unwelcome deaths from other conditions that can go untreated or may be exacerbated by the policy, and merely delays the spread of the pandemic itself.

The second is to see the problem of public health as one for local government. Patterns of infection and pressures on health services vary widely within the same country, so why not have a menu of possible actions for local government to adopt as they see fit? This is the US model, where State Governors led the responses to the virus, drawing on Federal resource and law where needed. The UK has also been moving more to this model in recent weeks with a three tier approach to lock down.

The third is to trust people and free institutions within a democracy to make their own decisions about how and whether to protect themselves from possible transmission. Government sets out the dangers and passes on national and international knowledge about the threat and the spread. Government also provides support for those who wish to shield themselves, offering the ability to work from home, to have home deliveries and help with technology to switch more of their lives to on line. Governments can message that people need to keep their distance from possible infection, wash their hands and reduce their risk through their choice of travel and work patterns.

Forming hybrids of these approaches is complex. Devolved and local governments often want a say but do not want to take full responsibility. They may wish to lock down, but see it as an opportunity to demand other policy initiatives and resources from central government. Some wish to play politics with it, to try to shift blame onto national government and cast them in a poor light.

My advice is to keep working away on a wide range of actions that can tame the virus and make living with it less dangerous. The medical teams are now coming up with a wider range of drugs to treat the severe forms of the disease, and the death rate in intensive care is dropping. More can be expected from improved understanding of the disease and from trials of better treatments. More knowledge and communication about how the disease spreads should lead to more people opting to take precautions voluntarily, to reduce the risks to themselves, which should help.

It is difficult to see a Test and Trace scheme which can guarantee success as democratic governments hope. Delays in testing and getting results, imperfect recoding of who was present in an infected location, false results from tests, and reluctance by some to self isolate owing to the difficulties it poses for their lives mean it is not the silver bullet some seek.

Posted in Uncategorized | 347 Responses

My intervention during the debate on the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, 19 October 2020

Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Does the Minister accept that paying people from the local labour force better, and paying for their training, is a much cheaper solution than building lots of houses to invite migrants in, and a much more popular one?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr Kevin Foster): My right hon. Friend points out that in a time when we have large numbers of people affected by the current economic situation, we need to focus on our own UK-based workforce when it comes to filling needs.

Posted in Debates, Uncategorized | 83 Responses

My question during the Statement on EU Exit: Negotiations and the Joint Committee, 19 October 2020

Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend seen how much popular and excellent quality fresh food there is in our supermarkets with the Union flag on the packaging? Will he confirm that if the EU insists on high tariffs on food trade, where it sells us massively more than we sell it, that would be a huge opportunity for our farmers to grow and rear more for the domestic market and get back the huge amounts of market share stolen from them under the common agricultural policy?

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr Michael Gove): My right hon. Friend makes three very important points. The first thing is that UK producers are doing a fantastic job in increasing production in a sustainable way. Championing the quality of UK produce is something that we should all do and recognise, whether it is Orkney cheddar or Welsh lamb, that the UK flag is a symbol that connects quality not just to our consumers but worldwide.

The second point that he makes, which is absolutely right, is that the common agricultural policy has been harmful, and our escape from it will ensure both that our farmers can prosper and that our environment can improve. His third point is that we should be confident not just that we can sell more excellent produce here in the UK but that, as we emerge into the world as a global free-trading nation, new opportunities to sell our excellent produce are available to our farmers, and he is absolutely right to be optimistic.

Posted in Debates, Uncategorized | 36 Responses

More home grown and reared food please

Yesterday in the Commons I raised again the issue of more home grown produce. The fresh food in supermarkets packaged with the UK flag is popular and usually of excellent quality. Many of us want to keep the food miles down, keep the standards up, and support UK agriculture.

I saw a film recently which said that tomatoes grown in modern greenhouses in carefully controlled environments can yield up to forty times the weight of product that a typical outdoors plant can achieve. It can also be much easier to pick. Modern methods of growing strawberries under polythene or glass can prolong the UK growing season, produce great fruit and simplify picking.

The same film reminded viewer of the how many orchards had to be grubbed up in the 1970s as a tidal wave of tariff free continental imports came into our market and offered cheaper product than the domestic fruit. Under the Common Agricultural Policy and the tariff free EU food regime we have seen a decline of around one fifth in domestically produced temperate food, whilst we have had at the same time to protect the EU growers from cheaper competition from outside the EU with tariffs against the most efficient world producers.

If the EU persists in denying the UK a Free Trade Agreement with no tariffs by insisting on there being a high price for such an obvious thing to grant, then there will be tariffs against EU food imports. We will presumably choose to lower our food tariffs compared to the high EU ones. As these tariffs come to apply to the EU it will give our own farmers a huge incentive to increase their capacity to supply us with much more home grown food, and to cut the food miles as they do so. It would be good to get back to the market share we had in 1970, and to think about restoring those orchards that were ripped out.

Posted in Uncategorized | 225 Responses

Why the single market damaged the UK economy

As a young man one of my first votes was in the original referendum on whether to stay in the EEC, misleadingly called the Common Market during the campaign. I was against the language in the Rome Treaty that warned us this was much more than a Common Market in the making, and disliked the Labour government’s lies about the nature and long term aims of the body. I also was asked to produce a decade forecast of the outlook for the UK if we stayed in by my employer.

As I drafted it five problems became clear. The first was the burden of our financial contributions was too high, and these would produce a nasty dent in our balance of payments as we sent that money away and it was converted into foreign currencies. I did not know or forecast Margaret Thatcher would become PM and negotiate a better deal, which limited the damage a bit – or that I would help her.

The second was the UK’s industry which had management and Union issues, some old capital stock and poor nationalised industries like steel and shipbuilding that were not cost effective. This meant it was going to have to face the full frontal assault of German and French competition with the full removal of tariffs before it was ready to withstand those pressures. My forecasts rightly assumed we would lose a lot of capacity in areas like steel, cars, foundries, ship building and textiles. Our car output halved in the first decade of membership.

The third was in the areas of services where the UK had a good competitive advantage the considerable barriers to trade were going to remain in place. As a result I reported a major and long lasting deterioration in our balance of payments as imports of foreign goods surged, exports of services were still limited and as we had to make new large payments away.

The fourth was the dreadful deal on fish, bound to damage our industry substantially.

The fifth was the complete removal of tariffs from EEC food, the imposition of tariffs on Commonwealth food, and the hugely damaging impact the EEC would have on areas like fruit and market garden produce.

Later policies as the EU emerged and increased its wide ranging legislative grip also drove us into importing everything from defence equipment to electricity. It was a great scheme for continental exporters. In those days running a balance of payments deficit required stringent credit and money control which slowed growth.

Posted in Uncategorized | 180 Responses

We voted to leave the single market and customs union of the EU

EU representatives still seem to think the UK wants special access to the single market and is desperate to stay in their trading arrangements. They may be fuelled in this mistaken belief by sections of the UK establishment who seem to think the single market is a good construct that we would be wrong to leave.

One of the few things Leave and Remain agreed about in the referendum was leaving the EU meant leaving the single market and customs union. The winners thought this a good thing and the losers thought it was some kind of threat hanging over us. I became a strong critic of the single market when I was the UK’s Single market Minister. I was given the task of supervising the UK’s response to and involvement in the so called “completion of the single market” in the run up to 1992 when they declared it finished.

The endless Council meetings and negotiations were to complete 282 pieces of law making to regulate all sorts of things people trade. Many of these added little or nothing to trade, and many entrenched in law the preferred ways of making and doing things of large continental companies. They stated “1992 will be a pivotal year in the development of the European Community. It marks the final year of the enterprise to complete the single market” and the year when they went on to economic and monetary union.

I lost the main argument within the UK government before when I was the PM’s adviser. I pointed out you do not need a whole lot of common laws to have a free market. The EU already had established the key proposition, that any good of merchandisable quality in one country could be offered freely for sale in another. This was sufficient in itself. It meant companies could get the benefits of scale and trade their goods freely across the whole EU without tariffs and non tariff barriers. Consumers could decide for themselves if they liked the product and the supporting standards of the sponsor country when making a purchase.

The EU was determined to use the excuse of a single market to greatly expand its legislative control over member states. They demanded the end of the veto over all single market legislation to expedite putting through regulations that were against the interests or traditions of individual countries. I advised the government to only surrender the veto for the 282 specified pieces of legislation, and for it to revert thereafter. The government was not even prepared to protect us to that extent, and the UK swallowed the idea of majority voting for huge swathes of legislation. By the time I became Single market Minister I had to construct blocking minorities of countries every time the Commission came up with another damaging or needless proposal.

As I feared the EU had no intention of limiting itself to 282 laws for its single market, but went on year after year long after the so called completion of the single market pushing out many new laws to exert control over many new areas all in the name of the single market. The single market was much better at ensuring tariff and barrier free access to the UK for continental manufacturers and farmers than it was at securing access for UK service providers to the continent.

Posted in Uncategorized | 279 Responses
  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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