Last week I went to Birmingham for the Conservative party conference. I spoke at four events, on growth, on our relationship with the EU, on schools and on public spending.
Sharing a panel with Matthew Hancock, the new Business Minister, chaired by Oliver Letwin, we discussed with the party members what additional cuts in spending could and should be made. I favoured making sure that foreign visitors using our health service pay for the treatments they receive, just as we have to when visiting their countries. We are losing hundreds of millions by faoling to invoice them or their insurance companies or the Euro card scheme. I urged the government to get on with its proposal to charge foreign lorries for using our roads, just as domestic haulage companies have to pay high Vehicle Excise duties. I proposed reducing the large programme of research at the Overseas Aid department, removing aid to nuclear weapons powers, and reducing that department’s rising overhead. I suggested cutting the numbers of appeals and follow up legal actions taxpayers pay for to foreign nationals who have lost their immigration or extradition case in the UK. The large audience seemed appreciative of these proposals.
In the meeting on growth we looked particularly at what Councils and local agencies can do to promote growth. There was general agreement that speedier planning decisions are helpful, and that plenty of free or cheap car parking is crucial to promoting a town centre. A good idea that has worked elsewhere where a town centre has too much empty space is the pop up shop. Spare shop space is offered free for a short period to people willing to try out shop ideas. If they work the person can then negotiate a rent and start paying for some of the spare space. In the meantime the shopping centre does not look so bare.
I dashed back to Wokingham to attend the first Founders Day at Oakbank school. Wokingham parents and well wishers have created the first secondary free school in the country. A hectic six weeks this summer saw part of Ryeish Green school buildings transformed into a clean modern space suitable for the first pupils. I had the pleasure of hearing the founding pupils read, sing and perform just four weeks into their careers at the new institution. I wish them and the teaching staff every success with their new venture. The Founders have shown great commitment and enterprise bringing it altogether.