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The ResPublica Fringe at Conservative Party Conference

9th October 2013

  • ResPublica

Successful ResPublica fringe in Manchester

ResPublica hosted a successful fringe programme of twelve events at the 2013 Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

Sunday 29th September

To open our fringe series at the Conservative party conference, we hosted a panel discussion with Constitution Society, which launched the debate: ‘After the Scottish Referendum: The future of devolution’. The discussion was chaired by Alan Cochrane, Scottish Editor at the Telegraph. Nat le Roux of The Constitution Society set the scene for the discussion with the Rt Hon David Mundell MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scotland Office) then speaking about the importance for the Union to remain but called for greater devolution of financial powers. Also speaking for the Union Jacob Rees-Mogg MP highlighted fears that the potential departure could result in the Westminster governance being whittled down to ‘London plus’. Finally, Phillip Blond, Director of ResPublica supported the devolution of powers to the lowest common denominator to allow for people to feel power but disagreed with the principle of Independence from the Union.

Prior to the Conference, The Constitution Society brought together three leading think tanks from across the political spectrum to explore these questions and propose some possible answers in a pamphlet entitled “If Scotland says ‘No’: What Next For The Union?”. Phillip Blond’s article included in this pamphlet is available here.

The second panel event on Sunday evening looked to discuss ‘The Future of Public Services: Commissioning for innovation’, in partnership with the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA). John Tizard, Independent Adviser on Public Policy and Public Services started by remarking that the Social Value Act is one of this Government’s greatest achievements, a sentiment agreed by the panel with the chair, Phillip Blond, Director of ResPublica earmarking it one of the Governments’ greatest legacies. Joe Irvin of NAVCA and Phillip Blond then further emphasised the importance of holistic and localised service provision and a need for greater personalisation of care. Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, explained the need to unlock the capital necessary for social innovation through vehicles such as the Big Society Capital investment fund, as well as the importance of voluntary services to help care for the elderly from within communities as demonstrated by ‘Dementia Friend’.

Monday 30th September

ResPublica started debating bright and early, with a private roundtable discussion exploring the possibilities for ‘Integrating Public Services: The future for housing and care’, including keynote speeches by John Howell MP, PPS to the Leader of the House and Andrew Boff AM, Deputy Chair of the Health Committee and Member of the Housing Committee. The roundtable discussed the importance of a holistic approach to delivering public services such as health and social care and the innovation needed and required in housing to meet the changing demands in demographics and community dynamics.

In the afternoon, ResPublica and Core Cities were concerned with methods of ‘Unlocking growth: How our cities hold the key to economic prosperity’. Prof Michael Parkinson of Liverpool University argued that “countries where the capital succeeds do ok, but countries where the second city or cities succeed, do even better.” Extrapolating this argument to Europe, Eastern European countries with a high degree of centralisation also experience regional inequality and moderate economic growth, whereas countries such as Germany, who support the decentralisation and federalisation model, perform on a higher level. He was followed by Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council and Chair of the Cabinet of Core Cities, gave a refreshing view on politics and talked about the cooperation between the Labour and Conservative Parties at local level based on shared objectives, supporting the core cities agenda. Also in favour of the cities rather than regional agenda, Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee argued that the latter failed because regions have no identity and culture on their own, whereas cities are embedded in our socio-political culture. Finally, Greg Clark MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Minister for Cities spoke about the importance of leadership and empowering local authorities to aim for growth and prosperity and ensured that there is commitment across all ministers in the Cabinet Office to support this agenda.

The final event of Monday’s programme ‘4000%: Are payday loans ever in the consumer interest?’ explored the options open to improving the short-term loan market. After opening remarks from Joanna Elson of the Money Advice Trust, Robin Walker MP called for more rational regulation of the sector and flexible caps on the total cost of credit. His Parliamentary colleague, Justin Tomlinson MP, focused on the need to translate the language of APR to better inform customers of the true cost of credit and the need to provide more financial education for young people. Russell Hamblin-Boone, Chief Executive of the Consumer Finance Association argued that there was a need for pay day loans and without a regulated, ethical business model it would be pushed into the black market. There was an agreed consensus on the panel that payday loans provided an important service for its consumers, the industry understands that it needs to improve transparency and fairness, cap the cost of credit and place the consumer in control. A summary of the event and a round-up of ResPublica’s Lorena Papamanci’s reflections following the Liberal Democrat party conference, featuring Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs Jo Swinson MP, is available here.

Tuesday 1st October

ResPublica started early on the Tuesday morning with Aids Alliance to discuss ‘One World Conservatism: How British values can pave the way to global prosperity’ with Alastair Burt MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The roundtable focused on the importance of British International aid and its wider influence on countries along with discussing the future role of aid and how it is allocated.

Another early morning roundtable ‘Protecting the Network: The future of the Post Office’, held in partnership with the Fabian Society and the National Federation of SubPostmasters, featured keynote speeches from Therese Coffey MP, PPS to the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, Richard Graham MP, Secretary of the APPG for Post Offices and George Thomson, General Secretary, National Federation of SubPostmasters. The roundtable spoke in depth about the financial sustainability of the post office and its role in the community.

Tuesday continued with a panel discussion on ‘The Economy of Errors: Financial regulation and human nature’. The debate took place at the Midland Hotel in collaboration with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) chaired by Faisal Islam, Economics Editor at Channel 4 News. The event was warmed up with a presentation on behavioural economics principles delivered by Dr. Stefan Hunt. David Mowatt MP, PPS to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury then argued that, although he does believe in markets, nudging consumers toward a market showing signs of asymmetry of information and lack of transparency is not advisable. His views were not met by Iain Anderson, Director of Cicero Group, who warned that ruling out risk will not open up financial markets. Tracey McDermott, Director of Enforcement & Financial Crime at the FCA, assured that while all forms of regulation are inherently paternalistic, the FCA aims for more targeted and less disruptive interventions, with maximum impact. Such measures were also supported by Greg Clark MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who argued for the value of behavioural economic principles in FCA regulation especially when dealing with issues such as social norms and peer pressure, abuse and exclusion.

At the same time, ResPublica hosted a debate on Britain’s membership of the EU in partnership with British Influence. Opening the ‘To be or not to be in the EU’ debate, David Campbell Bannerman MEP argued that the economic case for leaving was growing in strength and it was time for Britain to be a big globalist rather than a little European. Matthew Elliott, of Business for Britain, encouraged sceptics to give reform and renegotiation a chance and spoke of the opportunity granted by the referendum to grant a better deal for British Business. Peter Wilding, Founder and Director of British Influence, however, stated that leaving the EU is a retreatist argument and that Britain should be the leader of Europe that the US wants it to be. To finish, Ken Clarke MP explained the importance of Britain’s membership not only to defend its economic and security interests, but also to provide Britain with clout, and the platform to exercise it.

On Tuesday afternoon, ResPublica hosted ‘Keeping the Lights On: A 21st century energy economy’, an eventexploring the extent to which consumers interact with energy markets and the wide-ranging opportunities for greater engagement and participation. In partnership with British Gas, the panel was chaired by ResPublica’s own Caroline Julian (who recently blogged on this debate), the Minister and his PPS were critical of Ed Miliband’s recent proposals and argued for a pro-competition and market approach as the best way to provide good services to consumers. Referencing ResPublica’s recent report on the community renewables economy, the Minster called for a new consumer model which empowers the consumer, incorporating the community model and new technology, calling once more for the ‘big 6 to become 60,000’ energy providers. Ian Peters explained British Gas’s top priority was to reduce rising energy bills and announced measures to put the consumer in control, while Andy Atkins from Friends of the Earth called on the Government to ensure that green taxes were spent on green investment and encouraged the government to commit to a more viable model of decentralised energy, such as the German system on which Caroline has recently reported.

Transforming Social Care: Beyond personalisation’ was next on the agenda, held in partnership with Dimensions. The idea of personalisation was not used merely in reference to the services themselves; instead, Stephen Dorrell MP, Chair of the Health Select Committee spoke about the personalisation of the patient and enabling service providers to help people rather than treat conditions. Helen Sanderson, Chief Executive of Helen Sanderson Associates argued for the personalisation and humanisation of the staff delivering services. Furthermore, Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, personalised communities and people within our localities (shop owners, taxi-drivers, parishioners) who are now at the frontline of service delivery instead of traditional trained staff. Indeed, personalisation is not new and it is not rocket science either, as Chief Executive of Dimensions, Steve Scown put it. Yet we need a much more intelligent and deep notion of personalisation in social care. ResPublica argues for such a notion earlier this summer in our green paper ‘Putting People into Personalisation’. Author Alex Fox flagged the paper in the Guardian and also chaired this debate at the Conference.

The final event of our 2013 Conservative Party Fringe Programme debated the suffocation of Britain’s burgeoning tech industry. Entitled ‘Why can’t we grow our own: Competition policy in the tech sector’ the debate heard from Tim Cowen, specialist in UK and EU competition law, who pointed to the method of growth which sees fast growing firms monopolise the supply chain and squeeze small firms from the market. Marc Pinter Krainer, CEO of One News Page, built on Tim’s remarks stating that innovation and growth in the tech sector was hindered by a monopolised market. George Freeman MP talked of the need to extend the innovation economy beyond Cambridge and the South East to enable the UK’s tech sector to benefit from the vast and growing global market for the tech sector. Whilst all three panellists agreed that the UK is an entrepreneurial and innovative nation, a lack of enforced competition regulation is restricting the growth of our tech sector.

You can see all of the online activity from the Conference on twitter through #rpfringe.

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