When the Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto was published, it was a proud moment for the Centre for Policy Studies. It confirmed that the CPS – seen by Conservative MPs as the country’s most influential think tank, according to ComRes polling – is playing a vital role in shaping the debate.
Of the manifesto’s three co-authors, two are currently working with or at the CPS. Rachel Wolf is a Research Fellow and Advisory Council member, as well as overseeing our welfare workstream – and Robert Colvile is the CPS’s Director, although he took leave in order to join the manifesto team.
But the manifesto was informed not just by CPS personnel, but CPS policies – especially in our key areas of tax, housing, welfare and business. On tax and housing in particular, the Conservatives’ flagship policies on National Insurance and helping first-time buyers were both informed by the CPS’s work – and the proposals for levelling up the regions, and supporting small and family businesses, also echoed our own.
It was also encouraging to see our work with authors such as the Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP and the Rt Hon Damian Green MP bear fruit, with proposals from our writers being taken up on everything from freeports to free schools.
Below is a summary of the policy areas where the CPS’s work has been especially influential.
ECONOMY AND TAX
Raising the National Insurance Threshold
"We will raise the National Insurance threshold to £9,500 next year – representing a tax cut for 31 million workers. Our ultimate ambition is to ensure that the first £12,500 you earn is completely free of tax – which would put almost £500 per year in people’s pockets."
This argument for raising the NI threshold to £12,500 was a flagship recommendation set out in our key report Make Work Pay – and is now the Conservative Party’s flagship tax cut. It was also endorsed in Changing Gear: A Growth Budget to Boost the UK Economy by the Rt Hon Priti Patel MP (published just days before she was appointed Home Secretary).
"We will create up to ten freeports around the UK benefiting some of our most deprived communities".
This is exactly the policy set out by the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak, currently Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in his CPS report The Free Ports Opportunity. As he noted, many of the places where freeports would be best located are in the more deprived parts of the UK, making this a key part of the Government’s efforts to level up Britain’s regions.
A focus on small businesses and family firms
“The only way to fund world-class public services and outstanding infrastructure is to encourage the millions of British businesses that create the wealth of the nation – especially small businesses, family firms and the self-employed.”
“Of the nearly six million businesses in this country, the vast majority are small and medium sized. Small and family businesses are the backbone of the economy and Britain is immeasurably stronger for their contribution.”
“We understand the challenge of increasing running costs, especially for smaller firms, and are committed to reducing them… we will cut the burden of tax on business by reducing business rates… we will increase the Employment Allowance for small businesses… we will support start-ups and small businesses via government procurement and commit to paying them on time.”
“Through our Red Tape Challenge, we will ensure that regulation is sensible and proportionate, and that we always consider the needs of small businesses when devising new rules.”
Championing small and family businesses and reducing the tax and regulatory burdens on them has been a core focus of the CPS in recent years, in reports such as Think Small by Nick King, former Chief of Staff to now Chancellor Sajid Javid; our work on post-Brexit economic policy in A Budget for No Deal; and Changing Gear: A Growth Budget to Boost the UK Economy, by the Rt Hon Priti Patel MP.
We were very pleased to see the contribution that they make so strongly recognised, alongside a commitment to reduce the burdens on running these companies, ensuring that regulation considers the impact on small businesses and focusing on tax changes to support these smaller firms. This is an area that we will continue to focus on over the coming years.
Boosting regional and inter-regional transport
“We will give city regions the funding to upgrade their bus, tram and train services to make them as good as London’s, with more frequent, better-integrated services, more electrification, modern buses and trains and smart ticketing.”
“A key part of our plan to level up the UK’s cities and regions is to connect them… We will build Northern Powerhouse Rail between Leeds and Manchester […] invest in the Midlands Rail Hub […] invest in improving train lines to the South West and East Anglia.”
This echoes our report A Rising Tide, which argued strongly for greater powers for regional transport bodies and local politicians, highlighting how Transport for London’s role in the capital could act as a model elsewhere. We also argued for both greater funding and a new localised approach. This report and the manifesto also focused on improving connections within and between areas, including HS3 and wider regional links to enhance connectivity.
"We will also redouble our efforts to promote British business and UK exports."
In our report Tipping the Balance, we argued that government should do more to promote exporting among British firms, by auditing and improving our current stock of export regulations, and pushing UK exports higher as a key priority in our economic strategy.
Focusing pension funds on commercialising scientific discoveries
“We will unlock long-term capital in pension funds to invest in and commercialise our scientific discoveries”.
Encouraging pension funds to invest in and support commercialisation of the discoveries being made in our world-class universities was a key recommendation from our report Herding Unicorns.
Maintaining the Seed Enterprise Investment and Enterprise Investment schemes
“Some of our work has been spectacularly successful – such as the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and Enterprise Investment Scheme, which we will continue in the next Parliament.”
These schemes had been under pressure from parts of the Civil Service. Our reports Think Small and Herding Unicorns made the case for retaining them, so we welcome the continued commitment to them.
Focusing on self-employed businesses and the tax system and access to funding
“We will therefore launch a review to explore how we can better support the self-employed. That includes improving their access to finance and credit (not least mortgages), making the tax system easier to navigate...”
Our report Think Small called for a review of exactly this sort, recognising the specific issues around self-employment and calling for tax simplification. This call was also echoed by the Rt Hon Priti Patel in Changing Gear: A Growth Budget to Boost the UK Economy.
Creating a bespoke visa system for entrepreneurs who could create high-value companies
“We will create bespoke visa schemes for new migrants who will… build the companies and innovations of the future… ”
Our report Herding Unicorns argued strongly that we needed an immigration system that made allowances for those who were involved in, or could create high value companies, and a bespoke visa system put in place for such individuals.
Linking technical education to business needs and upgrading the estate
“We are therefore investing almost £2 billion to upgrade the entire further education college estate. And we’ll also have 20 Institutes of Technology, which connect high-quality teaching in science, technology, engineering and maths to business and industry.”
Both reports Herding Unicorns and A Rising Tide argued for a greater link between further education and local economies – with A Rising Tide arguing specifically for increased capital investment into the further education estate.
Levelling up and devolving power
“Boris Johnson has set out an agenda for levelling up every part of the UK – not just investing in our great towns and cities, as well as rural and coastal areas, but giving them far more control of how that investment is made. In the 21st century, we need to get away from the idea that ‘Whitehall knows best’ and that all growth must inevitably start in London. “
“The Towns Fund will go to an initial 100 towns to improve their local economy – and they and only they will make the choice about what improvements their local area needs.”
“We will publish an English Devolution White Paper setting out our plans next year.”
“As part of our plans for full devolution we will also invite proposals from local areas for similar growth bodies across the rest of England, such as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.“
This section is completely in line with the recommendations of A Rising Tide paper, including acting on the specific call for an English Devolution Bill that will set out in detail how devolution can progress across England and its towns, counties, and cities.
The Towns Fund was first proposed by Nick King, the CPS’s Head of Business, when in Government. In A Rising Tide hecalled for greater devolution of powers and funding to inspire regeneration as well as for a base level of full devolution around the country – all reflected in the Conservative manifesto.
A focus on coastal communities
“For areas – such as some coastal towns – which have historically been poorly served in terms of education and public services (among much else), we will cement our Opportunity Areas programme to raise standards and support regeneration.”
In our essay collection with the 2020 Conservatives, Britain Beyond Brexit, former MP and current parliamentary candidate Flick Drummond argued that coastal communities had been left behind in areas such as education and economic opportunities and called for investment in better digital infrastructure and transport links.
SOCIAL POLICY AND PUBLIC SERVICES
“So we will build a cross-party consensus to bring forward an answer that solves the problem, commands the widest possible support, and stands the test of time… one condition we do make is that nobody needing care should be forced to sell their home to pay for it. As a first step, and to stabilise the system, we announced in the autumn additional funding of £1 billion for the year beginning in April 2020. We are now confirming this additional funding in every year of the new Parliament.”
In our report Fixing the Care Crisis, written by the Rt Hon Damian Green MP, we argued that among the vital elements of a long-term fix for social care were a long-term consensus, a commitment that no one would have to sell their home, and immediate additional funding to stabilise the system – the three key pillars of the Government’s approach.
“We will continue to build more free schools.”
This was the key recommendation of our report Fight for Free Schools, authored by Suella Braverman MP. It argued that there was a risk that free schools were about to drop off the agenda – this commitment puts them back at the heart of education policy where they belong.
Ending the benefit freeze
"We will do more to make sure that Universal Credit works for the most vulnerable. We will also end the benefit freeze, while making sure it pays to work more hours."
Ending the benefits freeze was set out as a way to ensure living standards were maintained post-Brexit in A Budget for No Deal. In Make Work Pay, we argued that if possible, the benefit taper should be reviewed as money became available, so that it paid to work more hours.
Contributory welfare for immigrants
“It is a basic point of principle – and natural justice – that you should not be able to take out before you have put in…. it is both right and fair that, as in other countries, people making the UK their home should pay into the tax system for a reasonable period of time before they can access welfare... People coming into the country from the EU will only be able to access unemployment, housing, and child benefit after five years, in the way non-EEA migrants currently do.”
This focus on making the welfare system fairer, and linking reward to contribution, is a key part of the work being done for the CPS by Rachel Wolf, the manifesto’s co-author.
Greater use of technology in the NHS
“We will use frontline technology to improve patients’ experience, provide flexible working for clinicians, and help save lives.”
“We will make the UK the leading global hub for life sciences after Brexit … We will invest in world-class computing and health data systems that can aid research”
This focus on frontline technology for patients and greater investment in life sciences and health computing and data echoes the arguments in Alan Mak MP’s report Powerful Patients, Paperless Systems, which also had a foreword by then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Ways to support working parents
“We will look at ways to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave… we will extend the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers.”
This focus on flexible and family-friendly workplaces was emphasised by Helen Whately MP in Britain Beyond Brexit as a way to help families balance work and home responsibilities.
“We will encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to…”
This is a key recommendation as set out by Guy Opperman MP in his pamphlet All Hands on Deck, focusing on how to balance flexible working with maintaining our strong employment record.
HOME OWNERSHIP AND HOUSING
“Home ownership is one of the most fundamental Conservative values. People are happier, more secure and more rooted in their communities when they own their own home – and know that they can pass it on to future generations.”
“For the UK to unleash its potential, young people need the security of knowing that home ownership is within their reach – that they too can have a tangible stake in society, can be rooted in their communities and have a place to raise a family… we must also rebalance the housing market towards more home ownership.”
The CPS has repeatedly called for home ownership to be a key part of the Conservative electoral offer, not least in reports such as From Rent to Own and Popular Capitalism, as well as our essay collection New Blue.
Long-term fixed-rate mortgages
“We will encourage a new market in long-term fixed rate mortgages which will slash the cost of deposits.”
This is a core recommendation of our soon-to-be-published report Resentful Renters, which argues that there is the potential for this to play a huge role in helping first-time buyers obtain a home with a smaller deposit.
Stamp duty on overseas buyers
“A stamp duty surcharge on non-UK resident buyers.”
This is one of the recommendations in our recent report Stamping Down, which argues that stamp duty for foreign buyers should be increased to raise revenue and help those living in the UK onto the housing ladder instead.
Simplification of the planning system
“We will make the planning system simpler for the public and small builders.”
This has been a recommendation in various CPS reports, but was a particular focus of Homes for Everyone by Chris Philp MP.
‘Infrastructure first’ when building new homes
“We will amend planning rules so that the infrastructure – roads, schools, GP surgeries – comes before people move into new homes.”
This was a key recommendation in New Blue by Bim Afolami MP – ensuring new infrastructure was put in place before rather than after development.
Greater local control for communities over new homes
“Allowing residents a greater say on the style and design of development in their area.”
This echoes the proposals and arguments made by Matt Warman MP in Who Governs Britain? – which also echoed Bim Afolami’s call for infrastructure to come first.
Community housing and self-build
“Community building and self-build. We will support community housing by helping people who want to build their own homes find plots of land.”
This was suggested by Scott Mann MP in Britain Beyond Brexit as a key way to open up the planning system and encourage new builders.
Air quality and electric cars
"Setting strict new laws on air quality. We will consult on the earliest date by which we can phase out the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars."
“We will invest £1 billion in completing a fast-charging network to ensure that everyone is within 30 miles of a rapid electric vehicle charging station. We will consult on the earliest date we can phase out the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars, while minimising the impact on drivers and businesses.”
In the essay collection New Blue, Isabella Gornall argued for a tough new approach on air quality including legislation and a faster phase out of petrol and diesel cars if practical. Simon Clarke MP also highlighted the need to roll out the infrastructure to make electric cars feasible as rapidly as possible.
Carbon capture and storage
"We will invest £800 million to build the first fully deployed carbon capture storage cluster by the mid-2020s.”
In New Blue, Simon Clarke MP argued that the Government needs to support and embrace carbon capture and storage as a way to help reduce carbon emissions in a pro-technology fashion.
Stewards of the environment
“We will continue to lead the world in tackling plastics pollution, both in the UK and internationally, and will introduce a new levy to increase the proportion of recyclable plastics in packaging.”
In Britain Beyond Brexit,Rebecca Pow MP argued that the Conservatives should act as “stewards of the environment”, specifically including tackling plastic waste and improving energy efficiency.