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Category Archives: Policy review

Birmingham Steps Up Fight against Child Poverty – Conference Friday 11 April



News from Liam Byrne MP

Immediate Release


Birmingham Steps Up Fight against Child Poverty 


Liam Byrne MP and Cllr John Cotton are stepping up Birmingham’s battle against child poverty on Friday by bringing together experts from across Britain to plan the city’s fight back.


The conference, which will be opened by the Bishop of Birmingham, will convene experts from Forward Thinking Development, Birmingham City Council, Unison, Citizens Advice Bureau, Child Poverty Action Group, Re-Source Central Foodbank,  South and City College, DWP, Midland Heart Housing Association, St Basils, Castle Vale Community Housing Association, Ashram Housing, NHS England and others.


The conference will review the state of deepening child poverty in the city and pin down what the Council, schools, the NHS, charities and business can do together to fight back.


Liam Byrne MP said:


“This conference is a watershed in our fight-back against child poverty. Our belief is simple. Every child in Birmingham is equal and deserves a flying start in life. Yet if some are trapped in a child-hood of poverty, it will hurt them for life.


“My ten years as a Birmingham MP has taught me that this is a city of good neighbours – and good neighbours cannot stand by and watch the next generation suffer.


“This conference gives us the chance to bring together some of the world’s leading experts in tackling child poverty to help answer a simple question: what can good people in our city, from all walks of life, do to help.”


Cllr John Cotton said:


“A third of Birmingham’s children are growing up in poverty and in some neighbourhoods the number is even higher still.  This is unacceptable. 


We are already working hard as a Labour Council to try and lift families out of poverty through initiatives like the Living Wage.  We’re also taking action to try and protect people from the impact of unfair Government policies like the Bedroom Tax and their savage cuts to Birmingham’s budgets.


But we have to do much more if we are going to ensure that every child gets the best start in life.  This conference brings together the allies we need in the on-going battle to ensure that every child in this city gets the fair start they deserve.”


Operational use only:


1. The Birmingham Child Poverty Conference will take place this Friday 11 April from 10:00 – 12:00 at the Unison offices, Livery Street, B3 2PA.


Notes to editors
1. In February 2014 Birmingham Labour launched a policy taskforce into Child Poverty in Birmingham, its causes and what can be done to eradicate it. The taskforce is headed by Liam Byrne MP and Cllrs John Cotton and Tim Evans
2. Across the city over 84,000 children— almost a third of young Brummies—are now growing up on the breadline with the figure rising to almost half in some wards. Child Poverty Action Group figures show the estimated cost of Child Poverty to the city in 2013 was £914 million in extra services such as education, healthcare and benefits, as well as, lost tax receipts and lost earnings.


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.




New Birmingham Labour Policy Review Discussion Papers

Dear Friends,


I have just sent out another two discussion documents for the Birmingham Labour Policy Review.


- Jobs and Growth

- Local Environment, Anti-Social Behaviour & Crime


You can read them and other policy papers on the dedicated Birmingham Policy Review page of my website.



Time to end private pension rip-offs – Labour call for ‘Pensions people trust’

Labour’s  Shadow Pensions Minister Gregg McClymont and I, are today publishing “Pensions people can trust” as Labour sets out its ambition to end private pension rip offs and create the world’s best private pension system for British pensioners.

The Policy Review document, developed over months of consultation, sets out Labour’s new policy agenda highlighted by Ed Miliband, who talked about taking on private pensions rip-offs at this week Press Gallery Lunch, and just months ahead of the October launch of the ‘auto-enrolment’ system which will see an extra 10 million automatically brought in to private pension schemes in the coming years.

Labour legislated for the new system of private pensions for all with cross party support following the Turner Report. The new “something for something” pensions see workers’ contributions equally matched by government and employers.

Labour is determined to be the party of hard-working savers. That’s why I’m saying very clearly today that I want to see the best private pensions system, working for people who do the right thing and save for the long term.

Right now, a worst case scenario could see a pensions saver lose up to half of their pension thanks to hidden costs and charges. That’s wrong and it shouldn’t be allowed.

We all know we need to save more for the future. That means we need a system that builds your pensions pot, not eats your pension pot.

We’ve got some great pensions companies in Britain. But with an extra 10 million about to be brought into private pensions we’re determined to make sure savers are served by every pensions company playing to the standards of the best.”

Gregg McClymont MP, Labour’s shadow Pension’s Minister added:

“We’ve set out where we think the current system does not work for pension savers. The government should deal with these issues as a matter of urgency. In the coming months we’ll be talking to people up and down the country to see how we can get this right, because with the introduction of auto-enrolment just round the corner, we’ve got to get this right.”

The Policy Review document;

∙ Spells out the costs and charges savers can face, and the problems in the system – hidden charges, rip-offs in the annuities market, and penalty charges for people who change jobs and exit charges for savers switching schemes.

∙ Looks to the Australian system where the implementation of the Cooper Review is set to create a simpler and more cost effective system from 2013 by opening up the scheme to new levels of transparency
∙ Addresses the root causes of the problem from – lack of simplicity, transparency, accountability, scale and restrictions placed on the low cost high quality national not for profit Trust – NEST

∙ Includes comments from across the industry including representatives of; The Pensions Specialist, The True and Fair Campaign, The Saga Group, First Actuarial and Hargreaves Lansdown PLC, as well as Lord McFall, the former Chair of the Workplace Retirement Income Commission.


Notes to Editors

Attached below is the document “Pensions people can trust.”

Selected Comments from the document:
“If the pension is to re-engage the trust of consumers then transparency of costs, charges and restrictions is an absolute requirement. This transparency must cover all costs and charges, not only those directly paid by each individual member but any charges which will reduce the return on their investments. As an industry these charges are known as they contribute greatly to the profitability of pension providers and fund managers and their shareholders. This information should be freely available as it clearly is in the public interest. A pension plan is a long term commitment for both parties and long term relationships must be based on trust and honesty.”
Douglas R.G. Baillie, Senior Partner of The Pension Specialist

“It is vital that customer interest is looked after better by the annuity market. Currently, most people are at risk of buying the wrong kind of annuity and obtaining a poor rate, with nobody obliged to advise them of what they need to consider before buying this irreversible, once-in-a-lifetime product. Anyone in poor health, or who has a partner, or who wants inflation protection may not realise that they need a special type of annuity until it is too late. Commission is dedicated from the pension fund to cover advice, even if no advice is given. This is not in the customer’s interest.”
Dr Ros Altman, Director-General of the Saga Group.

“ Hargreaves Lansdown believes that the pensions industry should always look to the best interests of investors. The special restrictions imposed on NEST simply make pensions more complicated and for this reason we support the proposal that the restrictions should be lifted. NEST will serve a useful purpose as an underpin for auto-enrolment, and any commercial company that fears its own offering is not competitive should look to the quality of their own product or service, not seek to restrict NEST”.
Ian Gorham, Chief Executive of Hargreaves Lansdown PLC.

The Comments provided by stakeholders in the attached document illustrate their view on a particular policy issue. Their Comments do not necessarily imply that they support all the views expressed in this document and they do not imply that they support the Labour Party.

Our policy review: next steps

At conference this year we published four reports which draw together what we heard from the public over the last year, and some of the emerging conclusions and findings from the shadow cabinet-led policy groups. These documents will now form the foundations of our policy work over the next year. If you’d like to debate these in your local Labour Party of CLP or trade union, let me know!

Towards a new economy

Fulfilling the promise of Britain

Restoring responsibility, strengthening our communities

Britain’s role in the world

National Policy Forum – 25 June 2011

Labour has spent the last six months listening, talking and debating with the public, our members and our partners – the biggest such exercise in our party’s history. At the National Policy Forum in Wrexham I reported back on what they said.

Get involved in reshaping Labour

There’s now just over a month to go until the deadlines for submissions to Labour’s ‘New Politics, Fresh Ideas’ policy review and ‘Refounding Labour’ organisational review.

We want to hear from you. If you can, come along to one of the special member consultation meetings organised for you.

Click here to find out about the times and dates of meetings in your area.

If you can’t make a meeting click here and tell us what you think.

Since January this year Labour members like your have had 2.1 million conversations with people on the doorstep.

You will already know what the priorities of your community are from talking to people.

Click here to share with us your feedback from the doorstep, as well as your own views and ideas.

With just over a month left, we hope you’ll get involved today.

Kind regards,

Liam Byrne

Co-ordinator of Labour’s Policy Review

Peter Hain

Chair of the National Policy Forum

Weekend newslinks

  • A socially mobile Britain: Here’s the link to a crucial new piece of research from Resolution Foundation on progress on social mobility. As you can see their top-line: “long-range upwards mobility (defined as moving upwards 3 or more deciles) actually increased by 22 percent in the 2000s in comparison to the 1990s
  • A less mobile US: The British story is a sharp contrast to the US. Here’s a great piece from Lane Kenworthy on what’s been happening to social mobility in the US, where Lane concludes;

“The large increase in income inequality has not been offset by a rise in mobility at the top”.

See also The State of Working America

  • Where the jobs need to come from. The absolute key to social mobility in the years ahead is a good supply of new jobs. That’s why Industrial Policy has become so important. This week, there were some good articles on why we need a new industrial policy here in the UK. Here’s James Zhan, from the UN, on what it’s a good theory. Peter Mandelson’s speech on lessons for the UK is here. What a sharp contrast to lack of any clarity about the Green Investment Bank in the news.
  • A new welfare state. With a good supply of new jobs, a renewed welfare state becomes important. This week in the House of Commons, we debated the Welfare Reform Bill. What has clear is that there are now two views of the welfare state crystallizing in politics. The Tory view – repeated over and over – that the welfare state is nothing more than a safety, and Labour’s view, that the welfare state belongs to everyone and helps all of us get on in life.
  • A debate for Europe. Finally, we’ve seen this week that this debate isn’t just a debate for the UK – it’s a debate right the way across Europe. The New Statesman has the full transcript of David Miliband’s superb speech on the state of European Social Democracy.  Here’s the link to Policy Network’s excellent new State of the Left blog

Weekend newslinks

  • China’s National Peoples’ Congress is this weekend – the richest 70 delegates are worth some $75 billion. Bloomberg. The FT on why the margins are just as important as the conference floor. Geoff Dyer reports on personal changes ahead
  • Pressure on wages in the West. Perhaps a contrast. US figures this week reveal despite slightly better employment news, pressure on wages is strong. Brad Delong with the story. Here, in the last quarter private sector pay grew by just 1.7%. ONS has the stats
  • Squeezed Middle. An important report here from US think tank CAP. The debate in Britain is gathering pace. Here’s the link to Ed Miliband’s speech, George Osborne’s rather hopeless response, and the launch ourDWP policy review, which will take on a lot of the questions posed in this debate. The Resolution Foundation recently launched their major inquiry into the question.
  • Interest rates. One view on the ECB from Paul Krugman. Others, look to the week ahead in the UK. WIder perspective from Brad DeLong.
  • The week’s economic data. Here’s the TUC’s Richard Exell with a great summary.

“Reinventing Government Again” Edited by Philip Collins & Liam Byrne MP

You can download a PDF copy of the book “Reinventing Government Again” here.

I co-edited this book with Philip Collins, Director of the Social Market Foundation (SMF)


Executive Summary:

Reinventing Government now more than a decade old –
offered ten principles for entrepreneurial government: steer not
row, empower communities, encourage competition, be driven
by mission, be oriented by results, satisfy the customer, earn
money don’t spend it, prevent rather than cure, decentralise
and use market forces – are these principles still appropriate?

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