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Category Archives: Philosophy

My speech – ‘Robbins Rebooted’ – 1 April 2014


Robbins Rebooted 


Agenda 2030 and Britain’s Higher Education Speech to Business in the Community: Role of Universities in Fostering Leaders


Tuesday 1st April 2014



Thank you very much.


It’s a great pleasure to speak to Business in the Community today.


I had to come and speak today in part to say thank you for everything you’ve done to help me in Hodge Hill, enjoining our fight against youth unemployment.


Over the years, and never more than today, you brought the enterprise, power and creativity of business to tackling problems we share in common, and today I want to draw on that tradition to talk about how we can work ever closer together in the field of higher education, preparing our young people and preparing our country for a very different world taking shape around us.



Let me start with where the country now finds itself.


You might say: what a difference a fortnight makes.


Last weekend saw much speculation about Labour’s position on how we pay for higher education. In due course, we will set out our plans. But Ed Miliband has made clear our direction of travel.

We have to reduce down the huge levels of debt write-off that make the today’s system unsustainable.


That’s the lesson from the revelations of the last two weeks;


Revelations which have driven a coach and horses through the government’s higher education policy.


Revelations that have raised huge concerns for students, for taxpayers and for Vice Chancellors.


They are revelations which have comprehensively changing the terms of the debate.



First, there was the admission to me in a parliamentary answer that the government now expects the write off of student loans to rise so high, that the new system of tripling student fees might not save the tax payer any money.


A surge of speculation that student fees might have to rise even higher quickly followed. In the Commons, Nick Clegg said there was no case for such a rise, but in the TV studio, David Willetts was telling a different story.


After her interview with the Universities Minister, Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News reported:


“As David Willetts was leaving the studio, I suggested it sounded like another tuition fees rise was on the way… ‘Could be’ was his response.”


Mr Clegg tried to defend himself by arguing that the amount students would pay back each month was less than under the old system.


He somehow forgot to mention that the average student today won’t pay their loans back for 27 years. That means students today will approaching 50 before they are free from the debt burden.


In stark contrast, it was estimated that for students starting after 2006/07 the average Student Loan would take 11 years to repay for men and 16 years for women.


This last week, we got the story’s latest instalment, when a fresh batch of answers arrived to the parliamentary questions I tabled on the scale of private providers now enjoying hundreds of millions of pounds of support funded by the taxpayer.


The sheer scale of the subsidy surprised everyone.


Nearly £1 billion of publicly funded loans and maintenance grants are now flowing through students to private providers.


That, as the Guardian pointed out, is a 2100 per cent increase in recent years.


But what really surprised me, is that government has no idea about the level of profit these private providers are now making.


In a parliamentary answer to me, David Willetts said, “The Department has not made an assessment of the level of profits made by for-profit alternative providers with courses of higher education that are designated for student support”.


But, worse, it turns out that the government doesn’t even check whether a college is profit making or charitable before it agrees loan support.


A further answer confessed; ‘In assessing students’ eligibility for student loans, the Department does not distinguish between those alternative learning providers that operate on a commercial for-profit basis, and those that do not. The information requested is not available.”


Just to round it off, Mr Willetts underlined; “The Department has no plans to regulate the profitability of alternative providers with courses of higher education designated for student support.”


You heard it.


No plans.




Together these revelations have profound implications for the future.


Not so long ago, many in the university sector set out to me how uncapping students into the next parliament was a vote winner for the Tories.


But now it’s clear that what is proposed is a system that combines the worst aspects of a free for all and a money pit.


Call me old fashioned, but I happen to believe that public universities do a brilliant job.


The national system of higher education that emerged in the 1960s, with a national admissions system and a national grant regime ensured that today we enjoy not only world class universities, but a world class university system.


It’s diverse, it’s competitive in a way that encourages innovation in research and teaching and it deliver high standards.


It’s also highly efficient.


I happen to think we should be very proud of it.


What is not clear to me is how it is good for public universities to maintain a system where half of the new money earmarked for expansion is locked up in an escrow account to provide for loan write-offs, and where there is zero control of how much is creamed off in profit by a hungry private sector. I look forward to hearing the arguments in favour.


With this is mind, it’s very welcome that Universities UK is grasping the nettle and seeking to maximise cross party consensus on a new way forward.


I very much look forward to joining those talks, and to help get the conversation going I want to set out today the principles which I think should guide us.


These are principles deeply rooted in our history and academic traditions, but more importantly a sense of the future, in a world turning east, where technology is moving faster than ever, and where we in Britain need new answers to help us, collectively, earn our way to a better standard of living.


It’s not so much Robbins Revisited. Its Robbins Rebooted.





The starting point for our principles is the speech Chuka Umunna made to the Engineering Employers Federation a few weeks ago.


In that speech, Chuka set out the basic truth in politics today.


In a country, where living standards are under such acute pressure and where the deficit still looms so large, innovation is the only way out of austerity.


As Chuka Umunna put it; “We, the Labour Party, are clear about our goal: a high-productivity, high-skilled, innovation-led economy.”


That is why our universities are so important. They are the power-houses of the knowledge economy. They need to be bigger, stronger, more central to our economy in the years to come.


As the Royal Society put it so simply, so eloquently in 2010, Britain need to put science and innovation at the heart of a strategy for long-term economic growth.


Unless we grow smarter, we will grow poorer.


Over the last five months, I’ve travelled all over Britain talking to hundreds of students and teachers, scientists, innovators, business leaders large and small, sixth-formers and their parents, and most of the nation’s vice chancellors.


I’ve been struck how our debate is in sore need of a few basic principles.


You can take as read, my sympathy with some fundamentals, set out with characteristic eloquence by Nigel Thrift in his recent speech: British Higher Education: Where Next?


In particular I want to double underline what Nigel said about the importance of universities as ‘disinterested producers of knowledge for its own sake’ and that ‘universities must remain as conscious moulders of sceptical and informed subjects’, ‘focused on being public goods’.


Today, however, I want to step out further, and having reflected both on the IPPR’s seminal Commission on Higher Education, and Mr Willetts own contribution to the debate, Robbins Revisited, I want to set out five tests that I think should help us judge what good university reform looks like.



First, obviously, is financial sustainability. Good research, good teaching, needs good and sure foundations.


And what is now clear is the Tories’ student loan system that pays for our universities, voted through by the Lib Dems, is a time-bomb.


According to the Public Accounts Committee, its storing up perhaps £70-80 billion of debts that may never be repaid.


Today’s system with tripled fees and big debts for graduates is now as expensive as the system where students were charged a third as much. It has become an indefensible system. So people should now stop trying to defend it. Or relying on it for the future.



The second test, must be: what is good for our science base, our store of knowledge and wisdom. Whatever is proposed for the future must pass one simple judgement: is it good or bad for the science base?


Today, while other powers emerging and established are investing in science like never before, we are cutting science spending across government according to the Campaign for Science and Engineering, to the tune of over £800 million.


Nationally, research and development as a percentage of GDP is at its lowest level since the turn of the century. Last year it fell for the first time since 1985.



Test number three, is student choice. Are we offering students a real choice of pathways through to higher level skills?


Today, while we do a decent job of getting A level students or those on an academic route to university, we do a terrible job of lifting apprentices up to the same standard.


While great firms, like Rolls Royce train fifty per cent of their apprentices to degree level skills, as a country we manage just six per cent. That’s right, six per cent. The grand total of 6,000 people. It’s not good enough. Its not good enough for the future.


As if I needed persuading, this was a point rammed home for me in Paris yesterday by OECD economists and policy advisors.



Fourth, we need to do far more to fix Britain’s skills base; when regional skills gaps are opening wide all over Britain, then I’m afraid we do need a deeper conversation between business and universities about the graduates we’re educating.


I’m a firm believer in education for education’s sake.


But I know too that a good job is fundamental to the way we flourish and right now half of graduates are not in graduate level jobs.



Finally, Labour will always demand faster progress when it comes to social mobility.


The shutdown of Aim Higher was obviously foolish. The IPPR is amongst others who have proposed new ideas like a ‘student premium’.


NUS has consistently argued for better hardship funds to help poor students stay the course.


It’s time these arguments were taken seriously.


These are the tests that should shape the way we think about the future. The government’s proposal to pour more money into ‘more of the same’ has now been exposed as impossible.


What’s proposed isn’t sustainable, it does nothing to boost the science base, diversify student choice, or bring universities and business together, or deliver fast enough progress towards social mobility.


Half the new money proposed in the next parliament bleeds straight out to provide for debt write-off – and much of what’s left will go straight to the hundreds of private providers whose students now consume north of £850 million a year in public subsidy, while zero control on their profitability.


I put it to you that this is not a system that is fit for purpose.


This year we celebrate an important anniversary in the Labour calendar. The 50th anniversary of Harold Wilson’s election – a moment when a party relentlessly focused on the future swept away an old boy network lost in the modern world.


Higher education was central to our offer then.


And so it is today.


The Tory ways have failed.


It’s time for a new way forward.




A bit of cheeky selective quoting from the Sun on Sunday


A bit of cheeky selective quoting from the Sun on Sunday. They seem to have omitted the bit of my speech where I said:


‘”Ed (Miliband) has done a brilliant job at setting the political weather and putting the Tories on the back foot about Cameron’s cost of living crisis – a crisis he is simply too out of touch to understand”.


I was speaking of course on Sat 1 February, ahead of Chuka’s brilliant speech to the EEF delivered on Tuesday 4th March setting out ‘Agenda 2030′.

In that speech, which was superbly received by the business community, Chuka sets out our future facing argument and says we’ll build on four ‘pillars’ to deliver innovation based growth.


The four pillars are;


  1. Liberating the talents of all – our skills revolution, plans to transform apprenticeships, support for small business.
  2. Innovating to secure our future/ solving tomorrow’s problems today: for example with our Energy Security Board.
  3. Active government, investing for the long term, with moves like the National Infrastructure Plan recommended by Sir John Armitt.
  4. Openness to the world, not isolation, very well encapsulated by Ed Miliband’s speech on Europe this week.


‘The Future of Work and The Earn While You Learn Revolution’ my speech to the Work Foundation – 3 March 2014

The Future of Work and The Earn While You Learn Revolution

Speech to Work Foundation

Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP

Monday 3rd March 2014


It’s a huge pleasure to kick off National Apprenticeship Week with a keynote speech to welcome your report on the future of work.

For us in the Labour party, this is an important week in an important year.

We’re hugely proud of our record rescuing the apprenticeship system from the state in which we found it.

We’re very proud of the work of the National Apprenticeship Service, which we created.

And we’re proud of National Apprenticeship Week, which we began.

This week is a chance for all of us to celebrate the extraordinary job of our apprentices – and former apprentices – like Sarish Jabeen in my Hodge Hill team serving my constituents with such skill and commitment week in, week out.

This week is a chance for us all to say that we’re determined to do more to support apprentices, like Sarish, in the years to come.

And that’s what I’ve come here to say this morning.


Our starting point

Now, I am very glad that you’ve called your conference the future of work.

I’m glad because this year we celebrate a very important anniversary in the history of our party.

It’s the 70th anniversary of the famous white paper on full employment.

It was seventy years ago this year that Ernie Bevin stood up in the Commons to present that famous paper, replete with its famous first paragraph that henceforth:

“The government accept as one of their primary aims and responsibilities the maintenance of a high and stable level of employment after the war”.

The Labour party has is and always will be the party of work. We believe work is fundamental to your flourishing as an individual; we believe in the transformative power of the pride and dignity of a job.

And that is why we are determined to put jobs at the heart of our manifesto for 2015.

The government would like you to believe that everything in the labour market is rosy.

There’s a lot more jobs to go round they say.

Well, look: as someone who started work behind a fry station in McDonalds, I believe that any job is better than no job.

But I know too that a good job is better than a bad one, and right now, there aren’t enough good jobs to go round.

It was Ronald Reagan who said; ‘it’s true that hard work didn’t kill anyone but I figure why take the chance’.

The president was of course being charming.

But the truth is that the lack of good jobs today, means that it is harder than ever to make a living by working hard.

  • Nearly 80pc of the jobs created since the election are in low skilled sectors.
  • Average earnings are now £1,600 lower per year than they were at the last election.
  • The average family has to work two hours extra each week, just to make what they did four years ago.
  • The great wage crash is now almost proving as damaging to workers’ livelihoods as the global financial crisis caused by the banks.

I think it should be pretty clear that this is not the kind of country we want to live in.

A low pay, low skilled, low value added economy, out-paced and out-boxed by new powers, rising around the world and old nations who, unlike us, have got their act together.

We can’t go on like this. We have to change course. And this morning I want to sketch out how.


The Future of Work

Let me start with where you start; the future of work.

It’s no secret that there are some big forces at play.

Technology has now automated huge numbers of what were once, reasonably skilled, reasonably paid jobs. And sometimes it feels like what technology hasn’t killed, trade has moved to those parts of the world where workers are cheaper.

In America, economists Autor & Dorn are amongst many who’ve reported:

there’s been massive substitution of those ‘low skill workers performing routine tasks – such as book-keeping, clerical work and repetitive production and monitoring activities  – which are readily computerized because they follow precise, well-defined procedures’[1].

It’s created what some call the hour-glass; high skill jobs, and low skill jobs and very little in between.

This is exactly what is happening here in the UK.

Indeed, the Resolution Foundation tells us that jobs in sectors with a high concentration of routine tasks fell by 5% between 2007 and 2012.

But guess what: there may be an awful lot worse to come.

A book that a lot of people are reading right now is the Second Machine Age.

It’s a positive book and its argument is simple:

Our ability to combine technology – processing power, cheap sensors, robotics, networks, social media, big data, means we’re now at an inflection point in our ability to combine and recombine technologies to do new things, revolutionising technology from Google’s driverless cars to better diagnosis of diseases.

  • There’s now enough technology in a Nissan LEAF to render the car a fly-by-wire robot, the kind of technology that could revolutionise the logistics industry.
  • GE already makes robots that can climb and repair wind turbines.
  • Future Advisor already uses Artificial Intelligence that’s strong enough to offer personalised financial advice.
  • Algorithms are taking on tasks once performed by para-legals, contract and patent lawyers.
  • Oncologists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Care use IBM’s Watson computer to provide chronic care and cancer treatment diagnostics.

What’s does this mean for jobs?

Well, academics at the Oxford Martin School now estimate that as many of 47 per cent of the jobs in our economy today may be automated.

First it was the blue collar jobs. Now it’s the white collar jobs as well.

So what do we do?

Well, economists have worried about this kind of problem since JM Keynes flagged the issue of ‘technological unemployment’ back in 1930.

And as Keynes argued then, this can be a ‘temporary phase of maladjustment’ but only, I believe if we now get three things right.


First, we have to grow our knowledge-intensive industries; those firms in sectors like – computer programming and consultancy, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications – with a lot of intellectual property that they want to keep closely guarded.

Right now, those firms make up 1/3 of output, 1/3 of businesses but just one in five jobs.

Now if it was 1/3 of jobs, then we’d have 2.4 million more jobs in knowledge intensive industries.

Those jobs pay an awful lot more than average – £161 a week more – and that’s why other countries are working so hard to put science and innovation at the heart of their growth plans. We should do the same.

Second, we have to foster enterprise, new business and start-ups like never before.

It’s why we’re determined to be the party of small business and enterprise.

But, third, you have to build a great escalator to these new well-paid jobs for people, no matter where they started in life.

Right now, for many people, that escalator is broken.

Now, we do well at getting young people on an academic track into university.

The changes we made in office have created one of the strongest higher education systems in the world.

But, we our vocational system is not world class.

In fact, it’s a long way from world-class.

Here’s what the OECD said about our country last year:

‘England has too little vocational provision at post secondary level in comparison with many other countries, and relative to potential demand’. OECD  P7

Just 10 per cent of the post secondary cohort is in vocational education and training – when many OECD countries have three times as many.

Neither our young people, or our employers think this is good.

McKinsey found that just 40% of UK young people believe that post-secondary education improves their employment prospects – that’s the lowest figure in the OECD.

Over two-thirds say that academic paths are more valued by society than vocational alternatives;

A third of employers now say that the lack of skills is the reason for entry-level vacancies[2] and thanks to the destruction of our careers service, many young people are terribly informed about post-secondary choices.


So: what are the changes we need to make?

First, we have to create a gold standard technical qualification route for young people, with strong English and Maths, studies up to the age of 18

Today, Tristram Hunt is saying more about how we will create an aspirational new ‘National Baccalaureate’ for all school leavers which includes rigorous, stretching and labour-market responsive academic and vocational qualifications and skills;

How we will tackle the scandal of the more than 1 million young people not in education, employment or training by requiring schools to ensure their pupils progress post-16 – and use existing funding to support a radically transformed careers guidance system;

And how we will confront England’s international standing in maths and English by ensuring all young people continue to study assessed maths and English to 18.


Second, we have to at least double the number of apprenticeships on offer.

When it is harder to get an apprenticeship with Jaguar Land Rover than it is to get into an Oxford college, then I think it’s pretty obvious we need more.

In fact, there’s a strong case for saying we need to double the numbers of high quality apprenticeships.

Right now, we have 140,000 young people who are not in education or training.

Surely most of these young people should be on an apprenticeship.

So we’ve said that we will set up a something-for-something deal with employers – giving industry much more control over skills spending and standards, and in return asking that they increase the number of high quality apprenticeships in their sectors and supply chains.

We’re also studying hard the reforms pioneered in Manchester, which has been testing a UCAS style system for apprentices – long before Nick Clegg announced it.

And we like the look of the extraordinary pioneered in Leeds, where the City’s new Apprenticeship Hub, has doubled the number of apprentices in the city especially amongst SMEs, which as we know are creating jobs much faster than big business.


Third, we need to show young people and their parents that apprenticeships are a route the top.

For many aspirational families, they worry that apprenticeship are a cul-de-sac and not a fast-track to greater things.

The evidence shows they’re right.

I say: there should be no limits on how far an apprentice can go.

But that means revolutionising the number of apprentices who study university level qualifications.

Overwhelmingly, degree level education is the dominant course of post-secondary education.

There are 10 times as many people studying bachelor’s degrees as foundation degrees[3].

But the OECD found (in 2009) that the progression rate for apprentices at level 3 into higher education is just 6pc in the UK, slightly better than one in twenty[4].

‘The weak articulation between level 4 and 6 programmes and university bachelor programmes is a serious problem’[5]

That is simply not sustainable in the world that is coming.

If we’re to solve this, I think we are going to need a far imaginative reform for higher education than simply abolishing student number controls for universities.

We’re going to need real action to create student choice.



Over the next few weeks, I’m afraid you’re going to see the Conservative party go into election mode.

The story they’ll tell is simple.

The problems we face today can only be solved if we set out a bold plan for less government.

In the words of the authors of Britannia Unchained, they’ll say “the siren call of the statists’ must be resisted and the “deadwood from the public sector” cut back.

Well, I’ll share a secret.

It wasn’t too much government that caused the financial crash. And it wasn’t too much government that caused the wage crash either.

What we need today is some-one to fix the market, with a different kind of government. A smarter government, determined to act to help our country grow and create a society where no matter who you are or where you’re from, if you work hard, you’ll succeed.

That’s the country I want for my children and my constituents.

I’m some-one who has been very fortunate in life.

I went from behind a fry station in McDonalds in Harlow, to the Harvard Business School to start a business, to represent Hodge Hill with a seat in the Cabinet.

Today, my young constituents are denied those kinds of chances. More than one in five is unemployed and two thirds don’t get to go university.

I am in politics to change that.

I am in politics to restore the kind of social mobility that once upon a time we had in this country.

And I believe we can do it, but only if we change course.

I know the size of the task.

But with your help, I believe it can be done.

Thank you very much.

[1] Autor and Dorn, Services and Polarisation, American Economic Review, 2013.

[2] McKinsey, p.18.

[3] In Scotland the ratio isn’t 10 to 1, it’s 2 to 1.

[4] OECD, p45

[5] OECD, 46



‘We must rev up our relationship with India’ – Times Higher Education article – 27 February


Last week I led a delegation from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) to India. Whilst on the trip I wrote an article on UK / India collaboration on Higher Education and particularly International Students for the Times Higher Educational Supplement.  You can read the text of my article below:


We must rev up our relationship with India

27 FEBRUARY 2014

The UK has to strengthen ties with Asia if it is to reverse the decline in international students, says Liam Byrne

The fall in international student numbers has caused widespread concern across UK universities – and rightly so. Amid a booming global market for higher education, a drop in numbers reveals one blunt truth: Britain is losing market share.

I’ve just returned from India, where I was getting to the bottom of what we need to do to stop the decline and restart the growth. Three facts are striking.

First, we are not even at the “end of the beginning” of our education relationship. Education leaders in India are very clear about the value of international links. “We want our students to be able to compete as global citizens,” one college principal said to me. It’s as simple as that.

The British Council has breathtaking forecasts about the size of the Indian student market. It is not simply that there are more than 600 million people under the age of 25, it is also that Indian students have the biggest appetite to learn abroad. In a country that is clear about the economic virtues of learning English, just 10 per cent of the 1.2 billion population speak English and only 5 per cent speak it well. There is a huge market for us to aim at.

Second, the British education brand still holds extraordinary lustre – but our competition is increasing dramatically.

In a Q&A with 100 students at the elite Sri Venkateswara College at the University of Delhi, I heard from India’s future research scientists, biotech entrepreneurs, teachers, journalists and politicians. What is fascinating is how many of these young people consider international experience and connections to be critical to their future success. But plenty are worried about the chances of landing a graduate level job in the UK even if they manage to undertake their undergraduate studies here.

Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European studies at the University of Oxford, recently argued in a national newspaper that a thesaurus does not contain enough words to describe the folly of the government’s approach; last week, his comments featured in the op-ed pages of The Hindu andHindustan Times.

I know better than most the challenges of getting the immigration balance right. When I was immigration minister, I created the UK Border Agency and introduced the points system. I took immense care to create a system that I thought would work well for UK universities, not least because every British ambassador I met told me that increasing foreign student numbers was the key to expanding our long-term influence in countries where we are not quite the centre of diplomatic attention.

No doubt I did not get everything right. But the signals sent by the reforms of the past three years are heard loud and clear by potential students in India, creating a great wall of noise that makes it harder, not easier, to get the message through about our brilliant UK universities.

That is why it is simply ridiculous that students are in the “net migration target”, and that is why David Hanson, the shadow immigration minister, and I will be soon hosting round-table talks with university and further education leaders to discuss how to claw back lost ground. After all, universities in India have plenty of choice in terms of selecting international partners. One leading principal told me that she was partnering with institutions in Germany and Italy because they teach English well – and more cheaply than we do.

Third, we have to think more radically about building a deeper and wider UK-India education relationship.

Indian vice-chancellors are hungry not just for UK students, but for joint research, faculty and postdocs, beyond the 600 or so education partnerships created through the UK-India Education Research Initiative.

India’s business leaders, like their counterparts in the UK, want a better supply of more “employable” students, and the Indian government has set a target of upskilling an incredible 500 million people within a decade. Like us, Indian policymakers worry about closing the gap between secondary school and university, and that means vast opportunities for our great further education colleges.

So we should be immensely ambitious. If the global race is anything, it is an innovation race. Indian leaders know that they have to double the less than 1 per cent of gross domestic product they currently spend on R&D if they are to put “affordable innovation” within reach of the Indian mass market. Frankly, we face the same challenge. The fastest way out of today’s living standards crisis is to increase the number of people working in knowledge-intensive sectors, where wages are 40 per cent higher than the national average.

You need only look at the extraordinary success of Jaguar Land Rover, a subsidiary of the Indian carmaker Tata Motors, just north of my Birmingham, Hodge Hill constituency, to see what is possible. The fundamentals of our innovation relationship are strong and getting stronger. Developments such as the new Emerging Powers Research Fund, for international scientific collaboration, and Newton International Fellowship scholarships are exactly the kinds of initiatives I called for in my book Turning to Face the East: How Britain Can Prosper in the Asian Century (2013).

The surest way to put this relationship in the slow lane is to make it ever harder for students, teachers and researchers to get across the border.

For political junkies, it is a good time to be in India, the world’s largest democracy. The country is about to go to the polls and, for the first time in years, a change is on the cards.

During my visit, the finance minister presented his budget, a last chance to put a few poll-winning goodies before the voters. And what was there among the headlines? Big new subsidies for student loans. Indian politicians know the allure of a better education for the world’s biggest middle class. We should be doing more to put those dreams within reach. 


New Report from the APPG on East Asian Business

Dear Friends,


I thought you’d like to see this new report we launched in the House of Lords this week, produced by Roland Berger.


Britain needs to turn east if we’re to rebuild ourselves as a mighty trading nation
once more – and this vital report helps show us how.

As Chinese leaders step up their reforms in search of the ‘Chinese dream’, a huge new
market the size of Greece is being created every eleven weeks. But we need to get
organised if we’re to share in those new riches – and we need to think carefully and
strategically about how we structure the win-wins that will be good for both countries.

This report could not have arrived at a better time. It offers a detailed study of how
we can clear away the barriers that stop us exporting, become China’s favourite place
to invest and build the joint ventures that will create jobs both here and in China. It
demands to be read by business people, policy makers and politicians everywhere. In
the APPG, we’ll be doing our utmost to ensure its ideas, messages and proposals are
heard far and wide.


I hope you enjoy reading the report you can access the report by clicking here.



A Labour government would “restore the dignity of social science,” says Byrne

I recently met with representatives from the Campaign for Social Science, a group which advocates a greater role for Social Science in political and public life.

See below for their summary of our fascinating meeting:


Labour government would “restore the dignity of social science,” says Byrne

January 21, 2014

A Labour government would “restore the dignity of social science within government,” the Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, Liam Byrne MP, said.

Speaking at a Campaign for Social Science meeting, Mr Byrne said he was “pretty attracted” to reinstating the post of Chief Social Scientist within government, abolished in 2010, as part of this. “We need to hire more social scientists [for government],” he said.

He said that social scientists could produce the research that told government how to get the best return on investment for its spending. They were also vital for ensuring that civil servants had the skills needed for their work – “making sure that policymakers are well-versed in techniques of research is incredibly important.”

Mr Byrne said the current generation of public servants was “hard pressed”, and there had been a “huge exodus of talent from central government, so what you are doing is more important now than it has ever been.”

The need for social scientists applied to local as well as central government. The “1,000 most influential public servants in local government” needed to know who to ring for the best social science research to guide them when they were writing cabinet papers for politicians, he said.

Mr Byrne said that scientists and social scientists had to do more to make their case to the political parties in the run up to the General Election in 2015, in particular to makes clear that the ‘flat cash’ policy of not adjusting the science budget for inflation was hitting research.

“It is going to be really important that leaned societies and others are talking about the damage that flat-cash would do if it is sustained for another five years. Most people in the research community say it is bone they are having to cut, not fat any more.” Scientists needed to “make the lifting of flat-cash the test of whether a party is serious about science and innovation-based growth.”

This was particularly important because the NHS and schools budget were guaranteed to be maintained and so large cuts would have to fall within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which funded universities. Its budget could see a £2 billion cut over the three years after the election.

Mr Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the last government, said that Labour would make “repairing the economy” central to its election strategy, in particular increasing the number of well-paid, skilled, secure jobs, which had been significantly cut by the economic downturn.

It would make sure that the education system produced workers capable of taking on these new jobs. As part of its policy on this, Labour wanted international companies with large R&D budgets to invest in Britain; to use universities to develop regional economies; and to make “a complete transformation” in the numbers of apprenticeships in Britain, and make it easier to move from further education to higher education.

As part of this “we are going to have to think very hard about what the future of student finance system will look like because we have a 40 per cent decline in the part-time places and real problems for post-graduates students – we don’t have a student finance system that’s fit for the 21st century.”

He said that Labour was “the party of full employment and we are very clear that the way back to full employment is through science and innovation policy.”

Mr Byrne was speaking at a special meeting of the Campaign for Social Science’s Board. The restoration of the post of Chief Government Social Scientist is one of the main aims of the Campaign.

After the meeting, Professor James Wilsdon, Chair of the Campaign, said: “We’re very grateful to Liam Byrne for meeting with us, and for the depth and seriousness of thought which he’s bringing to the task of developing Labour’s agenda for universities, research, skills and innovation, ahead of the next Election.

“Liam clearly recognises the contribution of the social sciences to the economy, society and public policy. It’s now down to us, as the social science community, to provide him with the evidence and arguments he needs, to make that case more widely.”

New McKinsey research into youth unemployment and the skills gap in Europe: Education to Employment

In case you missed it, here’s McKinsey + Co’s study of education to employment transitions across Europe.

The conclusions are very striking – and very similar to our own. Today’s system isn’t working and we need reform – especially for the ‘forgotten 50 percent’ who don’t go to university.


McKinsey – Education to Employment



Turning to Face the East: How Britain can Prosper in the Asian Century


Liam’s new book on the rise of China and how Britain can respond to, and thrive in, the Asian Century.

Turning to Face the East

You can purchase a copy of the book here.



The global crash has dramatically changed the world’s balance of power. America, once the world’s hyper-power, is in retreat and mired in debt. Europe confronts a similar fate and with weaker animal spirits for help. But China’s rise seems unstoppable. The Asian century, long predicted, is arriving 20 years faster than expected.

But Britain isn’t ready. Since the loss of empire, our trade and security have been bound up with our neighbours across the wide Atlantic and the narrow channel. Worse, the globalisation of the last 20 years has left us feeling introspective and insecure and in little mood for a new and determined push overseas.

Yet now is not the time for a failure of nerve. Our success in the century ahead may depend on our success in Asia. Britain now confronts a choice. To muddle through and get by with old allies or fast forward and resolve to prosper in the Asian century.


Praise for the book:

“With the world moving East there are few better guides to the challenges we face.”

Lord Mandleson

“An excellent account, by a frontline politician, of how Britain needs to change to succeed as an innovation nation in a world in which China plays an increasing role. It deserves to be widely read.”

Lord Sainsbury, Chancellor, Cambridge University

“What a wake-up call! We really are at five-to-midnight as our country deals with Asia’s century. Turning to Face the East sets out the ‘how did we get here’ and then the ‘what can we do about it’ and leaves hanging in the air the conclusion that every reader must reach about what will happen to us if we do nothing.”

Lord Digby Jones

“In the space of a generation China has risen from isolation and poverty to become a global power, but one we have no easy framework within which to understand. Liam Byrne’s wide ranging study, grounded in his own experience as a politician, asks how fit for purpose UK policy is towards this major complex power, and finds it wanting. This book is a wake-up call for policy makers, business people, academics – anyone who needs to think and engage with China. And these days, as his book vividly shows, that means pretty much everyone.”

Kerry Brown, Former Head of Asia Programme, Chatham House


“Liam Byrne’s book is a thoughtful and wide-ranging reflection on one of the most crucial economic issues facing Britain today. It will stimulate an important and much-needed debate on our future in an era of growing Chinese power.”

Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford


Is there a new centre-ground and how does Labour win it?

My speech to Progress Annual Conference on Saturday 12 May.

Keep centre

30 January 2012

In the 1990s, progressives learned an important lesson about how to win elections: we built wide coalitions; we held firm to traditional values; but we freed the political mind for new solutions, new methods, new ways of doing business. We kept our philosophy. But we changed the policy. We forged a new path between old-fashioned leftwing statism and new-fangled rightwing laissez-faire.

That new approach worked for Bill Clinton’s New Democrats, the Australian Labor party, the New Democrat party in Canada, social democrats in Germany, the Netherlands, Norway – and, yes, for New Labour.

And today it feels like a long time ago. The political confidence of the third way has taken a battering. Yet faltering growth, worried financial markets, rising unemployment and social unease all point to one thing: the need for a new progressive politics. Yet outside the United States, Brazil, Norway and Denmark, progressives are not winning by default. We need a new way back to the centre-ground.

Now some, of course, will say: ‘New Labour was the mistake. Let’s go back to the 1980s.’ Others will counter: ‘We were not modernising enough.’ A debate like that will not get us far. In 2015 we face a new world: a new global balance of power between Asia and the west, and a budget £30bn in the red. So Ed Miliband is right: we need hard thought now about what to keep from the third way and what to change for new times.

So first, let’s move on from the 1990s. Why? Because, as the world changed, politics changed – and we did not. Tony Blair once argued: ‘What of policy? Our approach is “permanent revisionism”, a continual search for better means to meet our goals, based on a clear view of the changes taking place in advanced industrialised societies.’

But our politics did not keep pace with the change we helped to author. By 2005, progressives had helped create a vast new global market that linked six billion of the world’s seven billion people. Massive new movements of capital kept interest rates low but fuelled asset bubbles. The market, our society and technology changed fundamentally. New challenges emerged: a new inequality between the middle and the top and young and old; living standards plateaued; old solidarities, old communities felt pressured; asset bubbles burst; and banks crashed.

Back in 1958, Tony Crosland wrote: ‘The intellectual framework within which most prewar socialist discussion was conducted has been rendered obsolete.’ Economic growth and ‘a different configuration of economic power … call for a complete reappraisal of the socialist position.’ The revisionist’s lesson? Change as the world changes.

That is why, after the third way, we need a new way back to a new centre-ground. Let’s keep the insights of the 1990s but build on them for a different era. Let’s keep the best of New Labour, not least the late Philip Gould’s basic insight: ‘What most voters want is over time and without greed to advance and improve their lives. In short, to become better off.’

Let’s keep the insight that elections are won in the centre-ground by building an alliance around the values – aspiration, responsibility and community – that unite traditional supporters with footloose voters who change sides.

What does that centre-ground look like? It is bigger than before. More voters are more likely to switch sides. Look at Scotland. No one can win elections trading on old loyalties. That is true for social democrats everywhere. Attitudes have changed too. Take the latest British Social Attitudes Survey which found that support for tax increases to spend more on public services has halved from nine years ago and only a third now say that government should redistribute wealth.

This is no counsel of despair. Neither opinion polls nor by-elections point to any return to Maggie-mania. As Deborah Mattinson puts it: ‘When things get really hard the instinct to put nearest and dearest first is, understandably, paramount.’

This is why Labour’s leader is placing our party firmly in the centre-ground with new ideas not old attitudes. Globally, social democrats are pinpointing five basic principles that can deliver our values in tough times. But Labour is leading the way.

First, the deficit needs not denial but fiscal realism. That is why Ed Balls is tough on tax and public spending. But his approach marries aggressive short-term action to boost jobs and growth, with medium-term ideas to bring down debt. The crash taught us we cannot immunise the world from financial crashes; we have now had 40 since 1800. If we want to protect our room to act when future trouble breaks, we need to bring debt down. That is the best insurance policy for Keynesians. The Tories will leave us with debt at 80 per cent of GDP. That is too high, which is why we have to plan for budgets that are tight.

Second, new growth needs more than just any old jobs. We cannot compete with new economies like that. We cannot risk drawing so much of our tax from financial services. So we need a new active partnership between business and government to rebalance our economy, play to our national strengths, switch to low-carbon energy, strengthen infrastructure, redouble enterprise, and reform our banking system so that, once again, small business and entrepreneurs have the life-blood of credit to grow. This is the new bargain with business. And in return we expect business to behave in a way that values and does not vaporise trust. People want responsibility – on top pay and ethics – throughout society.

Third, we have to renew our welfare states to drive up the rate of employment. In tough times we need as many hands on the pump as possible. For some that means making sure services like childcare and social care are there to help families juggle the ‘care crunch’ so they are free to work when they like. For others it means firm action to ensure that if you can take a job, you do take a job. It is a renewal of William Beveridge’s belief that good social insurance helps people keep working.


Fourth, we know that to get through the next decade we need to draw not simply on the wealth of nations, but the ‘hidden wealth of nations’. The challenges we face today are too big to all be left to government. Governments and political parties alike need to help make it easier for good people to come together to make a difference through social action and innovation – and it is this kind of civic inventiveness that modern democracies need to renew the ties that bind strong communities together. That is why Refounding Labour is so important.

Fifth, we know that in tough times taxpayers’ money must go as far as possible. Standards in public service have to go up even when budgets are coming down. Only a revolution in innovation can square that circle. And that is very hard to mandate from the centre. So sometimes, the centre has to let go – set high standards, yes, but then free up the frontline and devolve power to speed up new ways of doing business, delivering for citizens better than before.

Finally, we need to advance this cause with confidence. Progressives win by mobilising an appeal to optimism. Conservatives want voters to feel disempowered and cynical. They want to diminish the appeal of politics. Where they are in power, they want a fearful electorate to cling to nurse for fear of something worse. Our task is to offer hope in an age of uncertainty, and optimism in an era of doubt. That is how we seize the centre-ground and build a new progressive majority.

Here is a link to my pamphlet “The new centre ground: how can progressives win a majority?” .

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