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Category Archives: Philosophy

Time to Start Backing and Stop Attacking Our Young People – My speech to Burnt Mill – Tuesday 16 December 2014

There has been some press coverage of my speech. You can read coverage from the Independent here,  from the Evening Standard here, and a piece from me in LabourList here.

I am also delighted to say that the visit was covered by YourHarlow – here.

If you have felt exploited by a long unpaid internship then I want to hear from you.

Drop me a line with your story to byrnel@parliament.uk 

Liam

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LB at Burnt Mill - 16 Dec 14

Liam Byrne and Suzy Stride PPC outside Burnt Mill Academy with staff and pupils  

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Time to Start Backing and Stop Attacking Our Young People

Speech to Burnt Mill [Academy], Tuesday 16th December 2014

Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP

 

Introduction

[Thank you very much.]

It’s a big relief to leave the turmoil of the capital and find the calm of your campus.

Back in Westminster, there’s so much doom and gloom it feels like the government wants us to live in some kind of Narnia: always winter and never Christmas.

Everywhere, there’s cynicism when we need a bit of idealism.

Too much fear, when we want hope.

That’s why it’s brilliant to be back in Burnt Mill, the place that set me on my road.

It’s been brilliant to watch your star shine in the years since I left

It’s been incredible to watch your turnaround under the amazing Helena Mills

It’s a really proud moment to speak here in what’s now an Outstanding School

That’s a testament to your hard work, your parents’ support and some amazing teachers.

But what I love about Ms Mills approach is this

She’s ambitious for you to be able to compete anywhere in the world: here in Britain, in Europe, in China, in America

I’m here to say that I think it was time politicians signed up to same ambitions as your teachers and parents – and stopped running you down and started backing you up.

It’s time for a government that stopped attacking you and started backing you.

THE FUTURE

Right now there’s just too many people who want to tell you that’s nothing possible, when you live in a world of possibility.

The truth is the future is going to be amazing.

But that future is going to be unlocked by you.

Your generation holds the key.

By the time you’re my age, you’ll have seen a revolution in artificial intelligence, robotics, mapping our own genome to personalise our healthcare, generating energy, storing it. They’ll even invent smart-phones that don’t run out of battery by 4pm.

Massive changes in infotech, in biotech, in nanotech will not only change the world, they’ll create extraordinary new products, new services, new jobs, new companies and new opportunities for you.

When I was here back in the 80s, we had one clunky old Commodore PC in the science lab upstairs that you could sneak on at lunchtimes when the physics teacher Mr Dunbar let you.

Today, Britain’s computer gaming industry is £2 billion big and gives jobs to thousands of people.

It’s bigger than our film or music industry.

Its technology is hard-wired into our most advanced products from smart phones to planes to cars.

I’m told the infotainment system in a Range Rover is now worth more than the engine.

Like you, I had some great teachers when I was here.

One of the teachers inspired my love of science. In fact she ended up as head of science here.

Ruth Byrne wasn’t just my teacher. She was my mum.

And when she died of cancer aged 52 she left me with a vivid sense not only of how much science has done – but how much left science has to do.

And beating cancer is just one of the things you’ll see happen this century.

You’ll be among the leaders of this revolutionary change in the years to come – if you get the backing you deserve.

We are amongst the greatest pioneers on the planet.

Here in Britain we cracked the atom, decoded DNA, invented the world wide web.

Today it’s an old Burnt Mill boy, Michael Arthur, who now leads one of the world’s greatest universities, University College London.

He started his education sitting where you are.

If people like me can make it into the Cabinet, if Michael can lead one of the world’s greatest universities, then so can you.

But here’s the BUT.

If our country is to help unlock this amazing new future we need you to do well.

The truth is the prizes in the future are going to be bigger.

But the race is going to be tougher.

You have to compete in a world that is far harder than I did.

When I was here, I don’t think we worked as hard as you.

We spent a lot of time thinking about the fights with Netteswell down the road.

Or how to get served in the off-licence at the Willow Beauty.

Music was as important to us as it probably is to you.

I was totally into the Jam and the Clash – and you’ll find this hard to believe now, it inspired me to get a mohican not long after I left. Those were the days.

You’re in a much tougher race. A race where the competition is global.

This Easter, I was in Bangalore.

I spent a Saturday afternoon with the Chief Executive of a major British manufacturing company on the shop-floor of his Indian joint-venture.

‘Here in India’ he told me ‘I’ve the choice of 850,000 engineering graduates every year.

Let’s say 15% are fit to hire – actually the real number is 50% – but let’s say its 15%. It means I have hundreds of applicants for every job. Quality wise they’re just as good as my apprentices in [the Midlands].’

‘What are they paid?’ I asked.

‘About £5-7,000 a year’ came the reply.

That kind of challenge means we have to work harder to keep you ahead of the game. Because unless we constantly get smarter we will get poorer.

Your head is a great teacher because she’s determined that you’re equipped to win in this world.

But that is why we need to stop running young people down and start backing them up.

With new answers to help them get on in life.

Look at how the cards are stacked against young people today.

Young people today are now more likely than pensioners to be living in poverty.

Young people today are the first generation in a century to be poorer than the generation before them.

One in six young people are still out of work.

There’s over 5,000 fewer apprenticeships for young people than there was three years ago.

It is now harder to get into BAE Systems’ apprenticeship programme than to get into Oxford.

If you get into university, you leave with £44,000 of debt that takes until your early 50s to pay off.

Those lucky enough to get work, have seen their earnings fall by over £1,600 a year on average since 2010.

Young people’s household income is down by a fifth – in effect, they’re working Friday afternoon for free.

When I left school, a deposit for a house took six month’s pay.

Now you have to save every penny you earn for more than two years. A house for a first time buyer cost £36,000. Now it costs £190,000.

Result? Only one in six of under 35s now own their own home when it used to be more than one in four – and there’s half a million more young people living with their parents than in 2010.

Oh, and just for good measure, young people are now expected to work three more years before they get their state pension.

You have to ask yourself: can they make it any harder for young people?

That’s why it makes me so furious when people decide to add insult to injury, and start moaning about young peoples’ attitude.

There’s one writer who calls this generation, Generation Wuss.

Last year, Jamie Oliver, who I generally like, was labelling young people ‘whingers’, ‘wet behind the ears’ and ‘too wet for work’ – and the Mayor of London promptly backed him up.

The Daily Mail is always running stories about companies like Greencore complaining that they have to employ East Europeans because Brits won’t take low paid jobs.

And it wasn’t so long ago a group of Tory MPs actually wrote a book [Britannia Unchained] claiming ‘lazy’ Brits preferred a lie in to hard day’s work.

And a while ago, a Tory minister was saying that our young people lacked ‘grit’

How dare they!

While you’re slogging hard – they’re sloping off putting Parliament on a three day week and playing Candy Crush in committee hearings.

When is this going to stop?

Have you noticed, when you hear politicians slagging off young people, it’s never their own kids they’re talking about? It’s always someone else’s.

I’m sick of it.

Our country needs your rebellious optimism now more than ever before.

We need politicians to stop attacking young people and start backing young people.

I’m someone who’s done every job under the sun.

I started working life frying chips in McDonalds in the High.

I’ve been a white van driver for Johnsons, which I managed to smash up by reversing into some scaffolding. I’ve swept floors. I’ve picked fruit. I’ve sold suits. I’ve sold photocopiers – badly. And I’ve started a hi-tech business that created jobs for others.

I’ve learned that any job is better than no job.

But a good job is better than a bad one.

And right now we need more good jobs – and you need more help getting them.

That’s why there’s one big change that is top of our ‘to do’ list.

The biggest change in the professional jobs market has been the boom in unpaid internships.

There’s now around 100,000 internship opportunities a year; most in London and many unpaid.

And more than one in three graduates employed by firms have worked for the firm before – often as an intern

But here’s the challenge.

The average unpaid internship is three months long and can cost over £930 a month.

If you’re from a low income background you just can’t afford to do that.

The result is that the best jobs are getting locked up by those with the richest parents.

That isn’t right. It isn’t fair. And it needs to change.

This change has got be part of a wider ambition to once more put the power of government behind you – and not against you.

Like a new Tech Bacc, so young people who want take a professional and technical route to work, have got a gold standard qualification.

A Youth Allowance to support anyone under 21 studying at college.

More high-quality apprenticeships so by 2025 as many young people can start an apprenticeship each year as enter university – and new Technical Degrees so apprentices can study up to degree level skills.

More university degrees which cost less to study.

A jobs guarantee for the under 25s so no-one is ever again left to languish on the dole.

A minimum wage at £8 an hour and a ban on exploitative zero hours contracts.

And action to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020 so you stand a chance of getting a place to call your own once more.

These are the changes we WILL make if we’re elected next year and they’re changes that will put government back on your side once more.

ANGER AND OPTIMISM

You might call this an action plan for optimism.

It’s definitely a plan to put government behind you – not against you – once more.

It’s a plan that’ll help you build a future for all of us.

I feel so strongly about this because growing up in Harlow taught me that in politics you need more than anger.

You need optimism.

Here in Harlow I learnt most of the lessons that lasted me a lifetime.

My Mum and Dad came here in the 1970s.

They were drawn by a sense of idealism.

When I talk to my Dad about why he came, he said what he loved about Harlow was that it was a leap of faith.

A new town, built by a can-do spirit.

Our grandparents founded this town while we still had rationing.

It didn’t stop them.

Couples came from the bombed out East End in search of a job and a home and somewhere to raise a family and build a new future.

They were pioneers.

And great public servants like my mum and dad came because they wanted to help build around those families a strong community.

Like the sports scene that gave us one of the best local football leagues where Glen Hoddle, the most famous Burnt Mill boy trained.

Or the arts scene that grew-up around the Playhouse.

Or the incredible voluntary sector that gave the town a real sense of compassion in action.

My mum and dad wanted to part of that great effort to build a better place where people could get on.

A town of ambition and aspiration and compassion in action.

When I was growing up here there was a lot of anger about the government that seemed determined to divide working people.

Everyday I used to hear my parents talk about how tough it was doing their best when the government was cutting everything so hard.

From them I learned my sense of compassion and anger at injustice – and that’s what inspired me to join Harlow Labour party when I was 15.

But back in the 80s, we also had a sense of optimism and aspiration.

Optimism born of a confidence that things can be better.

And that’s what I came to see was the most important thing of all.

But when people give up hope they turn to extremists – as they did in our country back in the 1930s – and which many are doing again today

Today I serve one of the youngest constituencies in Britain.

Everything I learned in politics has taught me that right now, there isn’t anyone better to inspire us than you.

But our job in politics is to match your optimism with a plan.

Practical idealism.

That’s what the builders of Harlow had back in the 1940s.

They had a vision of a better country.

Not just for some.

But for all.

Those dreamers built this town.

They built this school.

And they built a better, richer, fairer country.

A country where people could build better lives.

As they did here in this town.

Today we need to rediscover the optimism, the idealism and the impatience of the people who built this school and built this town,

That is how futures are really built.

That’s how you will build once again a greater Britain.

 

#InclusiveGrowth14 – No Place Left Behind: A debate on the future for regional growth with Lord Heseltine and Lord Adonis, chaired by Katja Hall of the CBI – 2 December 2014

 

Dear friends,

 

I am delighted to share news of this afternoon’s inaugral conference of the APPG on Inclusive Growth.

 

The day before an Autumn Statement expected to be full of announcements on regional development and growth Michael Heseltine and Andrew Adonis, the two leading advocates of regional and local devolution, regional growth and business engagement discussed the topic of regional growth – chaired by the brilliant Katja Hall, Deputy Director of the CBI.

 

The debate continued on twitter at #inclusivegrowth14

 

You can still view a video of the debate here: www.policyreview.tv/video/1000/7715

 

It’s well worth a watch!

 

After the debate we were joined by Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the Civil Service for a number of private seminars on a range of topics.

 

Today was the inaugural event of the APPG on Inclusive Growth.

 

The All Party Group on Inclusive Growth brings together senior politicians from across the main parties to discuss Britain’s economic future.

 

In July 2014 a cross-party group was set up to establish the All Party Parliamentary Group on Inclusive Growth. The APPG is now working with business, finance, trade unions, faith groups and civil society with the aim of forging a new consensus on reform of markets.

 

For more information about the APPG on Inclusive Growth please visit our website here: www.inclusivegrowth.co.uk

 

I have enclosed some photos of today’s event below.

 

With all best wishes

 

Liam

 

 Adonis, Katja Hall, Heseltine 2 Adonis, Katja Hall, Heseltine Bob Kerslake 3 Break Out Groups LB and Bob Kerslake LB at Inclusive Growth Liam and Speakers at IG Lord Adonis Michael Heseltine

West Midlands Labour Annual Conference – 15 November 2014

 

Dear friends,

 
I have just returned from the West Midlands Labour Annual Conference at Warwick University in Coventry.

It was an excellent couple of days with great opportunities to engage with fellow MPs, members and regional staff.

One of the most important things to come out of the conference was the final draft of Labour’s West Midland’s Economic Plan which I helped work on.

You can download a full PDF version of the plan using the link below.

 

West Mids Economic Plan - Nov 2014 - Image

All the best

Liam

A Metro-Mayor for the West Midlands – A proposal from Liam Byrne MP – 6 November 2014

 

Dear friends,

 

 

You may have read my interview in the Birmingham Post this morning entitled; Midland mayor “could run policing, transport and support for business”

 

The news that Manchester has got the green light for a metro-mayor is great. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the last government, I worked hard to accelerate the devolution of powers to Manchester and its neighbours – and the model Manchester has designed ensures strong accountability of any new mayor to local government leaders.

 

Birmingham should control it’s own destiny too and a metro-mayor for the West Midlands would make a huge difference.

 

You can read the Birmingham Post story using the link above. My proposal for a West Midlands metro-mayor and a backgrounder from my time at the Treasury is below:

 

What Should a West Midlands Metro-Mayor Do

 

Backgrounder on a Reformed Regional Tier

 

Liam

 

 

Responses to ‘Robbins Rebooted’ – 28 August 2014

 

Dear friends,

 

I’ve been delighted by the response to my pamphlet, ‘Robbins Rebooted’, where I set out the terms for a 21st Century debate on the future of higher education. Below is a short selection of responses so far from higher education stakeholders.

 

  • The Higher Education Policy Institute referred to the pamphlet as ‘wide-ranging and well-informed’. Their full comment can be seen here.

 

  • Million+ stated that ‘Nine months ahead of the general election it is good to see political parties contributing to the debate on higher education policy’. Their full response is here.

 

  • University Alliance ‘welcomed this timely addition to the higher education debate’. See their response here.

 

  • The Russell Group felt that Robbins Rebooted was a ‘…thoughtful addition to the higher education debate.’ See their comments here.

 

  • The University and College Union (UCU) said this ‘contribution…should kick-start the debate’. Their response is here.

 

  • The 157 Group welcomed the ‘the continued emphasis on creating sustainable high-quality vocational pathways for more and more young people’. See their response here.

 

  • The Association of Colleges (AoC) welcomed the review saying, “higher education needs to change…” See their response here.

 

 

Liam Byrne publishes ‘Robbins Rebooted’ – laying out a vision for 21st Century Higher Education and university reform – 28 August 2014

 

Dear friends,

 

Today the Social Market Foundation (SMF) has published my pamphlet entitled ‘Robbins Rebooted’.

 

You can view an electronic version of the pamphlet here.

 

In it I set out options for reform of Britain’s universities to boost the country’s knowledge economy and open high paying technical and professional jobs to the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’.

 

These options draw together hundreds of conversations that I have had with university and college leaders, academics and students over the last six months in Britain, Europe, India and China.

 

Invoking the ‘white heat’ message of Harold Wilson’s government, elected 50 years ago this year, I argue that reformed universities are now key to fostering more high paid jobs in the ‘light speed’ global digital economy.

 

The following are the ‘big five’ ideas which university and college leaders, students, teachers and researchers want to hear debated:

 

1. ‘Technical Universities’, a collaboration of employers, major university science and engineering departments and colleges, offering students the chance to study a new ‘earn while you learn’ ‘Technical Degree’

2. A revolution in links between colleges and universities based on the US-style community college movement.

3. Reform of research funding to support British universities in creating global ‘Star Alliances’ of the world’s best scientists with longer term research support.

4. A big increase in university enterprise zones to better link universities to regional growth.

5. A new revolution in access to higher education, with a new national advice service to support young people into higher academic and technical education, support for university-school trusts, an expansion of the Open University’s Massive Open Online Courses and a new partnership between the Workers’ Education Association and UnionLearn.

 

I would love to hear your reflections on the pamphlet so please do get in touch.

 

With all best wishes

 

Liam

 

‘The market is failing – we need a new way forward’ my piece for the Evening Standard – 17 July 2014

 

Dear friends,

 

 

Earlier this week I became Chair of the APPG on Inclusive Growth at the group’s inaugural meeting.

 

 

To mark the occasion I have written a piece for the Evening Standard which was published this afternoon. See below.

 

 

All the best

 

 

Liam

 

 

 

 

Liam Byrne: The market is failing – we need a new way forward

 

A fresh consensus is emerging about how Britain must think long-term to remain globally competitive

 

 

The puppets are for the chop. Earlier this week, Wonga’s loveable grandparents flogging payday loans on children’s TV were dispatched in the UK by the firm’s new chairman. It comes at a time when shareholder activism is on the rise, with a number of eye-wateringly large pay deals for top executives shot down by shareholders. The conscience of corporate Britain is rumbling as unease with Britain’s malfunctioning marketplace deepens.

So it should. With this week’s good job news has come fresh evidence of the squeeze on pay packets. Inflation has jumped to a five-month high. Meanwhile, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that the under-30s lost 13 per cent of household income, from 2007 to 2013 — nearly twice the hit taken by the older generation.

 

It is becoming harder than ever to earn a decent living — and if we don’t fix this soon, we’ll face not just an economic problem but a profound moral challenge. Hard work is hard-wired into Britain’s psyche and our moral code. This was supposed to be the deal: hard work got you on in life. Yet Britain’s families are working harder and going backwards, £1,600 a year worse off now, on average, than in 2010.

 

It’s not just a question of fairness: it doesn’t make business sense either. As someone who established my own company, I know very well that virtues such as trust, integrity and stability drive consumer confidence. They are the keystone of capitalism.

 

We can’t go on like this. Nearly 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan spoke for a new generation of neo-liberals, declaring that “government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem”. Today the market is the problem: together, business and policy-makers are going to have to fix it.

 

So this week a cross-party group of parliamentarians has come together to find answers to the challenge of how we fix our malfunctioning markets and reconnect hard work with getting on in life. Our goal is simple: to build a new consensus on how we can change the rules of the game.

 

Since the Second World War we’ve enjoyed two grand phases of consensus that connected business and government in pursuit of the common good. After the war, we called it “Butskellism”, a marriage of ideas epitomised by the calm moderation of the Tories’ Rab Butler and Labour’s Hugh Gaitskell. The second phase was the neo-liberal consensus, born in the storms of the late Seventies and now in its death throes.

 

It’s time for a new approach: a “third wave” of consensus to reset the rules. There’s already plenty on which we can agree.

 

First, business and politicians know money markets need to act for the long term rather than the short term. The disastrous behaviour of the interest-rate riggers and the high-frequency traders portrayed in Michael Lewis’s new book Flash Boys epitomises a fill-your-boots piracy that destroys a firm’s ability to think long term.

 

It’s not just capital markets that need reform — it’s labour markets too. Unless we boost skills, it’s hard to give workers a pay rise. I think there’s wide consensus about what needs to change.

 

Lord Baker’s work on university technical colleges exemplifies an ambition to build a high-quality vocational route to better skills. Ed Miliband, Tristram Hunt and I have put that at the core of a new offer for a vocational path to degree-level training for the “forgotten 50 per cent”, those who do not want to pursue the traditional academic route.

 

Third, we can agree that a bigger, better business-government partnership in science and technology is vital to winning the race to the top, boosting productivity and jobs in and around Tech City, the Crick Institute and the spin-outs around London’s universities. The foundations of this “supply side” boost were built by Peter Mandleson and Lord Sainsbury, and were respected by the Tories’ David Willetts, who left government this week.

 

Abroad, business and government should agree that “good growth” is easier if markets are bigger, which is why we should be at the heart of Europe. At home, there is broad agreement that a radical devolution of power is vital if big parts of Britain aren’t left to languish. “Inclusive growth” is not just about who prospers, it’s about where prospers — an idea championed by Lords Adonis and Heseltine in their plans to return power to our cities.

 

We cannot avoid some issues where consensus will be harder but where the status quo is not an option: making sure companies pay their taxes and don’t rig markets to short-change consumers and cheat their competition.

 

Indeed, hard-headed Tories such as Lord Heseltine and Richard Harrington, who have real experience of running large businesses, recognise that the market needs to work in a more sustainable way. It needs to respect its consumers and its employees, making a profit while not becoming immersed in a race to the bottom that, in the end, hurts most businesses as much as it hurts working families.

 

From boardrooms to Westminster, we need to crystallise this “new consensus”. For a decade and more, the price and prize of globalisation have not been fairly shared. Yet we risk a new era of inequality if we don’t get our act together. The new potential of trade and technology is accelerating the “second machine age”, where from driverless cars to automated checkouts, technology wipes out both blue and white-collar jobs, concentrating riches in the hands of a tiny global elite.

 

The founders of the greatest traditions in British capitalism — leaders such as George Cadbury, William Lever and John Spedan Lewis — knew that “enlightened self-interest” was always the best way to do business. If we want to build a great society in a global economy, reformers need to join together now: we’re running out of time.

 

Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP is chairman of the newly formed All Party Group on Inclusive Growth.

 

 

Liam Byrne welcomes Royal Society’s ‘Vision’ report on Maths and Science Education – 26 June 2014

 

Dear friends,

 

I wanted to let you know about the Royal Society’s excellent Vision report for science and mathematics education. You can access the full pdf copy here.

 

Published on Thursday, just two days after our science green paper, this is an insightful reminder of the kind of ‘supply line’ of science which our country needs if we’re to see science and innovation-based growth.

 

Just like our science green paper (which you can read here) this report sets out a number of concerns that the Royal Society has about the state of science in our country. Research for the report highlights some of these concerns. For example; in 2011 57% of university science staff reported that practical skills of new undergraduates had declined in the previous five years and just 13% of young people in the UK study mathematics beyond the age of 16.

 

Great Britain has a glorious scientific history. Many of the scientific discoveries and innovations that have shaped our modern world were made here in the UK. But this status as a world-class player in science and research is now under threat.

 

As Sir Paul Nurse sets out in his introduction; if we are to continue shaping the world in the centuries to come we need a plan for science and maths education which can; “…enable people to make informed choices, empower them to shape scientific and technological developments, and equip them to work in an advanced economy.”

 

I am pleased to say that the Labour Party is already committed to maths education until 18 and I am sure we will be looking very closely at some of the other recommendations that this report makes.

 

I met with Prof Jim Al-Khalili, one of the board members behind this fantastic report, earlier this week. We discussed the report as well as our science green paper; ‘Agenda 2030: One Nation Labour’s Plan for Science.’

 

Liam and Jim Al-Khallil3

 

 

 

My speech to Parliamentary Links Day 2014 – Launching Labour’s Green Paper on Science – 24 June 2014

 

Dear friends,

 

It was an honour to launch Labour’s Science Green Paper, entitled: Agenda 2030: One Nation Labour’s Plan for Science and Innovation, this morning at the annual Parliamentary Links Day 2014.

 

You can read the paper here.

 

My speech is in full below:

 

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Strengthen British Science and Strengthen Britain

Launch of Labour’s Green Paper, Agenda 2030: One Nation Labour’s Plan for Science and Innovation

Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP

Speech to [Parliamentary Links Day], House of Commons, London. Tuesday, 24th June 2014

Check against delivery

Chairman

It is a tremendous honour to help mark the greatest day of the year for science in parliament.

I want to pay an enormous tribute to Dr Stephen Benn and the Society of Biology for helping bring the day together.

I want to commend you all for the way so many people and so many organisations have come together from across the worlds of science and engineering to talk, debate, speculate and lobby and leave us here in parliament with fresh impressions, fresh analysis and fresh evidence of how important both science and engineering are to the future of our world.

I want to thank you above all for the inspiration of your example.

I count myself as very lucky to have known an extraordinary scientist from a very young age.

She was a biologist and a teacher and a head of science at comprehensive schools including my own.

She was someone who inspired in me a lifelong wonder for science, a curiosity, and an admiration.

Ruth Byrne was not only my teacher, she was my mother.

And when she died at the age of 52 from cancer of the pancreas, she left me not only with a sense of scientific possibility but a sense of how much work still lies ahead.

 

 

 

Science and Parliament

Your theme this year is about Parliamentary links to Science and Engineering. I want to offer you a view about how we cement science and engineering centre-stage in the run-up to the General Election. As we are in Parliament I thought it would be apposite to reflect on the way science and engineering, industry and politics come together today and the relationship that lies ahead.

Around 300 years ago, a very great writer left London on his travels around the country to write a book, which is today one of our finest records of Britain on the eve of the industrial Revolution.

Daniel Defoe’s ‘A plan of the English commerce, being a complete prospect of the trade of this nation’ paints a portrait of a country amidst tremendous change.

‘The most flourishing and opulent country in the world,’ he called it and the cause he said was clear; ‘Trade’ and its two daughters, ‘Manufacture and Navigation’

Defoe suspected that for all the advance he saw, something bigger was coming.

And he was right.

By the time ’A Plan’ was published in 1728, the Royal Society, founded in Gresham College, was 50 years old. Sir Isaac Newton, its great master, had died the year before and in Birmingham, one of founders of the industrial revolution, Matthew Boulton was born.

Over the next six decades, Boulton, together with his friends in the Lunar Society in a story wonderfully told by Jenny Uglow, took the traditions and methods of those great founders of the Royal Society and fused them to industrial method, helping trigger the industrial revolution.

A nation of explorers and traders quickly became a nation of inventors and industrialists. The worlds of science and industry were irrevocably connected.

Back in the early days of the Enlightenment, the French writer Diderot had observed that uniquely in Britain:

‘philosophers are honoured, respected; they rise to public offices, they are buried with kings’.

Well, it wasn’t long before we were putting great inventors and industrialists like James Watt alongside our philosophers and our kings.

But it was to take another century before science and industry were really fused with the dirty and difficult business of politics.

From the 1850s and 1890s, concern with the state of our science base, and the state of our schools gathered pace until under the burning pressure of world war one a real partnership came together;

-          The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was founded in 1915.

-          Universities came to play a mission critical role in the work effort and crucially a new alliance between science, industry and government was hard-wired together.

And we’ve been trying to get the relationship right ever since.

Now that alliance has never been more important.

The scale of the problems, which I realise are merely solutions in disguise and which we are tackling today, are simply too big for one scientist, one university, one company, or one government to tackle alone.

The new partnerships that you see in such spectacular collaborations like the Gaia One Billion Star Surveyor, or the Hadron Collider are gigantic incarnations of the same ethos and approach that drove the Lunar Society, but they are global in scale.

These journeys of curiosity, exploring the endless frontier, are rightly your principal concern.

But there is a second reason the alliance is so vital.

Your country needs you.

Searching for some inspiring words for today’s speech, I stumbled across these in the House of Commons library last week;

‘the position of Great Britain as a leading industrial nation is being endangered by a failure to secure the fullest possible application of science to industry; and second that this failure is partly due to deficiencies in education’

Those were the words of Lord Percy, Rector of the Newcastle Division of Durham University, reporting to the government in 1944.

They could have been written last week.

Two years later, Lord Barlow agreed;

‘If we are to maintain our position in the world and restore and improve our standard of living’ he wrote ‘we have no alternative but to strive for that scientific achievement without which our trade will wither’.

What was true back in 1945 is true again today.

 

 

The Challenge Today

Our old enemy, ‘British disease’ is back with a vengeance.

That traditional crisis, of extremely low productivity while other nations streak ahead, now scars the recovery and haunts industry, making it even harder to escape today’s cost-of-living crisis.

Producing more with less, as every business owner knows, is the key to doing well and the fastest way to give your workers a pay rise.

But look at the figures today.

Since the last election, output for every hour worked has not gone up; it’s actually gone down. Equally, output per worker has not gone up. It’s gone down. We’re actually less productive than we were four years ago.

This appalling record is far worse than the last years of the 1970s, long deemed the moment when ‘British disease’ reached its peak but a period when output per worker, and output per hour worked actually rose by over 5%.

Worse, we’re now falling rapidly behind our competitors. The gap in productivity per hour between the UK economy and G7 average is now 21 per cent – the widest gap there has been since 1992.

This is absolutely fatal for any escape from the cost of living crisis. If companies can’t produce more then it’s not easy for firms to give their staff a pay rise.

As someone who started work behind a fry station in McDonalds, I know that any job is better than no job.

But I also know that a good job is better than a bad one and right now we’re simply not producing enough good jobs.

Today, the average full-time worker has to work an extra one hour and 52 minutes a week in 2013 to earn what they earned in real terms in 2010.

Look at our ‘knowledge economy’ and it becomes clear what is going wrong.

Economists and scientists now know[1] that science and research is the key to growing productivity.

As the breakthrough report from Research Councils UK put it;

‘The greatest long-term productivity advances come through breakthroughs in basic knowledge’.

In the US, the authors of the Gathering Storm remind us that 85% of growth in wealth per capita is driven by innovation[2].

The knowledge economy is the powerhouse of productivity growth, creating better jobs with better wages.

Yet, with the honourable exception of automotive and aerospace, which Labour did so much to save during the global crash, the story isn’t good.

Getting innovation policy right is not actually rocket science. It is about people, ideas and money. You need great people, great institutions and strategic investment.

Yet, look at what is happening in the UK.

In 2012, the last year data is available, UK investment in R&D by government and business together has fallen by nearly £1 billion – (£923M) – the largest annual fall since consistent records began in the mid-1980s.

Amongst advanced Western nations, Britain now ranks 23rd out of 33 in the league table of R&D spenders.

In our most important research industry – pharmaceuticals – which accounts for a quarter of all UK R&D spending, research budgets have fallen by a huge £467 million since 2010, that’s a 10% fall.

In telecoms, one of our other leading R&D sectors, budgets have fallen by 20% – that’s £240M.

 

Look at our great institutions.

In our universities, the great epicentres of science and knowledge, we have the world’s best thinkers.

But their labs and classrooms now rest on a mountain of debt. University borrowing will reach £7.3bn worth of debt by 2015, an increase of £1.8 billion from 2012. That’s £45.6 million for every university in the UK.

Vice-chancellors tell me that falling research budgets now mean that the brain drain has been gathering pace for at least the last 18 months.

And that’s nothing when we consider the black hole that’s been created in the finances of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills by the Government’s unsustainable funding system.

The Public Accounts Committee now estimates that at current rates, students will be borrowing nearly £200 billion over the next twenty years to fund their studies and 45 per cent of this will be written off. It’s universities and our researchers of the future who will be paying the price.

And let’s not forget that other great institution that is important here.

The European Union.

European policy makers now understand that innovation is the only way out of austerity.

And the creation of the Horizon 2020 programme is proving crucial for the strength of British science, as UK universities, research centres and businesses can expect to receive £2bn in the first two years of the new funding round.

Leaving the EU, as some propose, would be absolutely catastrophic for science funding.

Third we must address human capital. The skills gap across the country grows worse. A fortnight ago, KPMG reported that skills shortages are bringing to a halt the plans of manufacturing firms to ‘re-shore’ work.

Since 2010, the number of people working in ‘Scientific research and development’ has fallen by over 12,000.

The Migration Advisory Committee has now added 117 high skilled roles to the shortage occupation list, which employers can fast track onto visas, because there are not enough skills in Britain.

The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that we’re currently 36,000 short and at the rate we’re going there will still be big gaps to fill.

In our schools, Michael Gove’s disastrous School Direct scheme for teacher training has produced a huge shortage of physics teachers.

Half of state schools now send not one girl to do A Level physics.

Practical experiments have been taken out of the exam curriculum. The careers service has been destroyed. Apprenticeships for the under 24s are actually falling.

We cannot go on like this.

That’s why today I am pleased to be launching our green paper on science and innovation.

Our message is simple.

We need to strengthen British science – because British science will strengthen Britain.

We want to start a big debate on how business and government come together to grow the strength of science.

We want to work with the science and engineering community, in all parts of Britain to get the answers right.

We want to work across parties – because wherever we can maximise cross-party consensus we will.

We know that predictability and certainty are important; that they help make your work easier.

We want a new culture of science and evidence in public policy.

We want stronger universities with a bigger share of global science budgets and a bigger role in their regional economies.

And crucially we want to strengthen every rung on the ladder up into a science and engineering career for our young people.

 

Conclusion

As NESTA argued two weeks ago, the debate around science and engineering is seen by the public as vitally important.

In part, that’s because the public knows science, engineering and the business of innovation is key to the development of new cures for diseases, earlier diagnosis, greener, cheaper energy and crucially the jobs of the future.

The public knows that if we are not the pioneers then others will be.

If we don’t develop the jobs of the future, then others will.

And that will irreparably damage the opportunities of our children and our grand-children.

After all they are the very people for whom we want better chances than the chances that we enjoyed.

I think we know how futures are really built.

I think we learned that lesson a long time ago.

And now is not the time to ignore the lessons of history.

[2,245]



[1] http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/RCUK-prod/assets/documents/publications/researchforourfuture.pdf

[2] [2] http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11463&page=1. The 85% refers to the work of Robert Solow and Moses Abramovitz published in the middle 1950s demonstrated that as much as 85% of measured growth in US income per capita during the 1890-1950 period could not be explained by increases in the capital stock or other measurable inputs. The unexplained portion, referred to alternatively as the “residual” or “the measure of ignorance,” has been widely attributed to the effects of technological change

 

 

 

 

 

One Nation Labour’s Plan for Science – 24 June 2014

 

Dear friends,

 

This morning I will be sharing our Green Paper on Science entitled – ‘Agenda 2030: One Nation Labour’s Plan for Science.’

 

If we are to build an opportunity economy with high skilled jobs and the wages to go with them then science and innovation have to be central to our strategy. Britain needs a long-term vision for science and this paper intends to start a discussion about what that vision should look like.

 

Please do read the document here and share your views.

Science Green Paper front cover

With all best wishes

 

Liam

 

 

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