John Redwood's Diary
Incisive and topical campaigns and commentary on today's issues and tomorrow's problems

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Free ports need to be freed to succeed

As one who wanted Freeports I am deeply disappointed that they were not set up and open for business on 2nd January. I am fed up with the delays and with the lack of incentives to make them fly.

I read that the Treasury first delayed them, then watered them down. Apparently officials ignored the enthusiasm of the PM and the one time enthusiasm of the Chancellor. They limited any tax relief on the grounds that it might just redirect business from another part of the U.K. to a free port, cutting tax revenues. No thoughts then of growing a bigger economy by offering some tax cuts so you collect more revenue. It’s a pity the Chancellor did not stand up to this unhelpful redrafting.

There is a strong case for more generous tax cuts and incentives to attract new investment that would not otherwise happen. The Freeports could also have simplified planning requirements and assistance with land assembly.

Even better would be to extend the tax cuts to the whole country.Set a Corporation tax rate of 15%, the same as the new rate for Ireland, and watch the business pour in. Where is the imagination  and enterprise vision? Why does the Chancellor go along with dismal Treasury views that will slow our recovery and keep the deficit high?

Who is in charge?

The Health Secretary struggles to tell us how many CEOs there are in NHS  England and seeks more money to get the waiting lists down without saying how the money will be spent or by how much waiting lists will fall.

The Transport Secretary presides over a railway sending largely empty trains around  the country making huge losses, told by the railway management they need to carry on with the same timetables and same cost base as pre pandemic.

The Home Secretary tells the Home Office to stop the people smuggling and trafficking, approves more resources and a new Channel Command,  but the numbers keep coming.

Government has been made much less responsive by the theory of independent bodies run by civil servants or CEOs who seek to keep Ministers at arms length. NHS England, Network Rail and Border Force have their own powers and independence when it suits. When something goes wrong they expect Ministers to vote more money and take the blame.

Given the growing gap between what the public wants and what some of these independent bodies deliver, Ministers need to take more control. Change, better service and more value for  money is needed. The NHS needs to get the waiting lists down, the railways need to tailor services to changed demand and border force needs to stop the illegals.

I will be writing several blogs about the productivity problem in the public sector, the myth of independent bodies and the need to reset management and aims of important services.

GPs and NHS management

Yesterday I discussed the state of the GP service with some local doctors. They told me they are seeing substantially more patients now than just before the pandemic struck, as there has been a surge in demand. They see the majority of patients face to face. Some patients agree a remote consultation makes sense and may be more convenient for them. I have not been receiving complaints about this surgery and am grateful to them for the work they are doing.

They also drew my attention to the need to receive prompt confirmation of sufficient budgets for their patient list size and workload. There is a danger the new commissioners, the Integrated Care Board, will delay or misjudge the competing claims of GPs and hospitals. There is also a need for NHS England to limit  the number of additional demands or changed commands they issue in year. There needs to be a clear understanding of the split of the workloads between hospitals and GPs where primary care effectively undertakes some of the work for the Hospital Consultant.

Good GPs are concerned about some of the commentary suggesting surgeries are not doing enough or are refusing to arrange easy face to face appointments. Those who allege this or circulate rumours need to be more precise over who they are criticising and what the evidence is. All GPs under contract to the  NHS do have to run proper complaints procedures so people with a concern should use these.

It is important that the large sums approved for health in the last two years are directed to those in primary care and hospitals who can do most to provide great care and help clear the backlog.

Controlling the borders

It sounds as if the government is now going to take more action to clamp down on the people trafficking and smuggling that is a daily event across the Channel. Many people are writing to MPs to complain that Poland and the EU is seeking to resist large illegal movements across their border whilst the UK authorities  are daily assisting people smugglers and traffickers to make money out of endangering the lives of a mixture of refugees and illegal economic migrants from France, a safe country.

The government is taking new legislation through Parliament to strengthen the law. All too many failed asylum seekers who have lost their case and more than one appeal stay on, with a legal industry seeking to frustrate the decision of the Home Office that they so not  qualify as asylum seekers. The Home Secretary needs to check her draft Bill to make sure it will be a sufficient instruction to the courts. Those who claim to be asylum seekers should be given a fair hearing and opportunity to make their case. They should have the right to a single appeal to an independent court. There should not be a way of using delayed processes to allow them to carry on living in  the UK long after it has been determined they are not asylum seekers .

The right kind of greenery My article from Conservative Home

Conservatives and greenery go together. We wish to conserve what is best in nature and our environment. Conservatives have often pioneered legislation to improve water quality, clean up our air, protect our countryside and conserve what is best in our landscape and heritage. Around the country Conservative Councils are often struggling with the dilemma of people needing affordable homes whilst many others regret the passing of woods and pastures to grow crops of new houses. Many of us share the passion for clean air and water and for the gentle contours of English rural landscapes.

The levelling up agenda provides a heaven sent opportunity to do something better. There is no reason why planning policies should continue to direct ever more executive homes to the hard pressed south east, when other parts of the country could benefit from the jobs and investment major new housebuilding creates. Now that in the post pandemic world more homeworking and remote working is becoming part of our lives many more people will be freed from the need to live close to London on a commuter pathway. More small businesses and start up enterprises could be encouraged to establish away from the lure of the capital city. That requires more attractive housing for the investors, managers and entrepreneurs who will help populate the growth and success of areas that are grasping the opportunity to level up.

Levelling up will be a vast series of personal journeys. For everyone in an area that is improving who does set up a business or brings in a new investment there will be many others who will seize the opportunity to get a better job, to use and develop their talents to advance the new enterprise. Every major company siting a business premise in a new area represents an opportunity for smaller companies to spring up to supply everything from the lunchtime sandwiches and coffees through to the technology support, the cleaning and components they will need. Every new housing estate creates first round jobs for the building trades to be followed by all the jobs to support new residents in their new homes.

Government’s role is not only to provide better planning policies, but also to help with high quality education and training. Working with business there can be a new can do approach in places which have been sidelined by investors in recent years. The main thing enterprises need is talented people to work for them and deliver great customer service and product excellence.

Over the last fortnight the UK government has valiantly tried to craft worldwide agreement over the issue of climate change. It was always a difficult task. India, China, and Russia, three of the largest producers of carbon dioxide on the planet were never going to agree to curb their appetites for burning coal, oil and gas. China accounts for some 30% of the total world creation of additional carbon dioxide, and has decided to mine more coal and build more coal power stations. The conference was divided on the very issue of whether coal burning should be completely phased out worldwide or not. In the end the assembled countries could only agree to a diluted sentiment that coal would be phased down, without timetables or pledges from the main users of the fuel. Germany kept a low profile, though she as an advanced country is holding out to burn coal in power stations through to 2038. The Greens are wanting to form part of the new governing coalition after the recent German election, and are pressing to bring this down to 2030 to bring Germany a bit closer to other advanced countries and the UN approved policy of phasing out coal quickly. It still shows how difficult it is to agree the end of coal when a major advanced industrial country clings to it as a prime source of energy.

The problems besetting COP 26 were not just the divided world over how feasible it is to decarbonise, nor even just the disagreement over how much money rich countries should send to poorer countries to help them change. Central to the whole debate is the question of people’s buy in to what the transition means for their own lifestyle. It is only when there are sufficient affordable and good products available to heat your home, to travel to work and to fill your plate with carbon free food will the green programme take off. So far the elites who come to summits have lectured the many that we need to change our lifestyles whilst they themselves fly in jet planes to air conditioned hotels to eat meat diets as if none of their advice applied to themselves. When challenged they might claim that they have spent money on carbon offsets, whilst seeing no choice for their own purposes but to carry on using jet fuel, gas heating, traditional food products and the rest. The digital revolution sweeps all before it without government requests or demands, without subsidies and taxes to drive it. People want mobile and smartphones, computer pads, entertainment downloads and the other services that the digital giants can offer. For COP 26 to succeed it needs to spawn a new generation of products and services that meet the carbon requirements whilst also being affordable and better solutions to the problems of everyday life.

Levelling up can of course help produce the range of new jobs and skills which a popular green revolution could generate. The main thrust is to electrify much more of life and then to generate more power from renewable or carbon neutral sources of energy. As governments bring this about they need to reassure people that there are ways of keeping the lights on when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. COP 26 set up various working groups of countries to explore new technologies to provide better travel, heating and industrial process. The sooner they produce results the better. If there are more breakthroughs with cheaper and better ways of doing these things that cut the carbon, then India, China and Russia will also want to adopt them. If there are not even the advanced countries will find it difficult to sell the practice of decarbonisation to their own electors.

NHS reorganisation

I read little about the wide ranging management reorganisation of the NHS underway as the institution wrestles with recovery from the pandemic and continues to fight the continuing virus. The reorganisation is one sought by the management rather than being a political blueprint, which may account for the absence of debate.

The NHS in England has been recruiting Boards to run 42 Integrated Care Systems. These in turn work with Integrated Care Partnerships. They are designed to promote collaboration and common working between GPs, Councils, providers of community and mental health services and Healthwatch. In parallel all the provider trusts – hospitals and other institutions providing healthcare and treatment- are to join provider networks, to work with others and to increase their scale of activity.

The Integrated Care Boards will be responsible for finance. They will procure the health services their area needs from a range of providers. Their budget will include “community commissioning money, GP budgets, specialised commissioning spend, budgets for certain other directly commissioned services, central support and national transformation funding.” They can delegate funds to the Partnerships based on their area.

The boundaries of these new bodies create bodies of different sizes and often combine several Council areas. Wokingham for example will come under Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West. Its eastern neighbour will be Frimley.

It has proved difficult to get much background information about the costs and benefits of these changes. It is important the new bodies are well primed to procure the services we need to cut the waiting lists and to maintain or  improve the range and quality of services on offer so that all are of a good standard.

NHS spending and capacity

The NHS needs more capacity to get the waiting lists down. During the pandemic the NHS did provide many more beds in the Nightingale units in case the pandemic caseloads became too great. They resisted advice to use these facilities for all covid work to keep the General hospitals infection free and able to carry on with their regular work. As a result we have a big backlog.

Large additional sums of money have been made available to the NHS to handle the one off  costs of tackling the pandemic, and to deal with the waiting lists. In order to  cut waiting lists we may well need more beds in the NHS. It has been one of the features of the NHS that managers have always chosen to operate with relatively few beds compared to the workload and have said they aim to make very productive use of these beds. It leads to issues over so called bed blockers, and how easy it is to send patients on to care in the community or recuperation in other NHS institutions beyond the District General hospital.

It should surely be relatively easy to provide more beds. Some of the beds and equipment acquired for the Nightingales might be available to get us started. The NHS could also set up specialist units in different properties to undertake procedures like cataract removal or other simpler surgery away from the DG hospital.

Apparently the new issue is the numbers of staff this will need. Of course just adding beds is no use without enough nurses and doctors to administer to the extra patients. I understand that the NHS has many jobs open for applicants currently, with many more posts allowed for in the budget than the NHS has staff. The NHS needs to see what it can do to encourage qualified people to return to its employment and  what  can  be done to promote more people through education and training . The NHS should also consider the balance of work between highly qualified doctors and nurses and other staff to see if more assistance can be safely given to the medically trained to provide great service to more patients.

Levelling up

The government is we are told working up an agenda to show how levelling up will take place. Under Secretary Gove all the main departments are being harnessed to the task.

They should begin with the Treasury. The anti enterprise policies of IR35, higher National Insurance and higher corporation tax have to change. The temporary super deduction from Corporation Tax for investment is not sufficient given the longer term big hike in rate. The treasury should take Corporation tax down to 15% and cut taxes for the self employed and small business.

Mr Gove’s own department should come up with a planning policy which encourages more house building in parts of the countries  with cheaper land and a shortage of new homes to buy. Now many more people are home working for at least part of the week there is less need to overbuild close to London.

The Business department should take more positive steps to encourage import substitution and more made in the U.K. It should revitalise domestic oil anÂŁ gas to displace imports, and put in more reliable electricity capacity. An industrial revival needs more affordable anD reliable energy.

The Environment department needs to reboot its subsidies and regulations to foster more home food production, in place of its current model of wilding the U.K. and importing food.

I will look in another blog at training  and education, to help more people on a personal journey to job and business success.

Carbon counting has its limits

Yesterday I drew attention to some of the many areas where carbon counting is the main driver of U.K. policy. As a few of you point out, it does not seem to drive the one policy where some of you want it most. One of the most obvious ways to cut the UK’s carbon footprint would be to cut inward migration. Every additional person clearly adds substantially to CO 2 output as a direct result  of their personal output and all the output needed to supply them with food, heating and transport. Indeed additional people are in the first years more carbon intensive as we need to build additional homes, surgeries, schools and utility capacity to accommodate them . Their very way of transport to get here is also carbon intensive.

The anger of people about the migration is increased when they hear leaders tell us the U.K. must do more to control CO2. The more people we invite in the more we need to throttle back to compensate for the extra CO 2 from an expanding population. The Home Secretary says she intend  to close down the people smuggling and trafficking. So when? When will the new legislation go through? How will she make it less attractive for people to come  here illegally? When will border enforcement crack these smuggling rings and arrest the boat owners and people runners?