Time for a UK Sovereign Fund in new technologies

Investments going up

People have been talking about setting up a UK Sovereign Fund for years. However, there is still relatively little clamour to support this initiative and make it real.

Of course this is an old idea. Norway set up its Sovereign Wealth Fund back in 1969, with the aim of managing Norway’s oil resources over the long-term. Over the last ten years, the fund has delivered a return of 8.3%, or 36.5% in real terms after annual management charges and inflation. Source Forbes.

Much more recently in 2006, Australia set up a Future Fund which is performing well and is investing in a number of different areas including disability care, medical research and nation building.

The UK could very easily start a Sovereign Wealth Fund and it would be applauded by the majority of people in the country as long as its core principles were right and it was totally apolitical. It’s time we did. We are a small but highly inventive people. We shall become an increasingly small part of the future world and yet there is no reason for our creativity, originality and inspiration not to be captured, supported and indeed amplified through such a fund

We should set up our own “Future technology Fund”. It should invest in technologies that benefit large numbers of the future population. This should include the following:

  • Health
  • Energy
  • Agriculture, landscape and environment
  • Housing

Some of the amazing break throughs that are happening in health technology should be supported and ultimately be part of this Fund. There is too much incredible work that originates here in the UK but that is allowed to be commercialised elsewhere in the world. We need to ensure that the Fund can provide a commercially owned structure which ensures that value goes into future generations living in the UK.

The Fund should be controlled on the basis that no funds can be withdrawn for 10 years minimum and then only a maximum of 2.5% of the value of the fund in any one government as long as the total fund is still always higher than previously. It should be independently managed and separately monitored.

We should incentivise entrepreneurs to bequeath their companies and the assets of these companies to the state. We should do this by providing them with entrepreneurial tax relief on their output as long as at least 25% of the assets ultimately end up in the Fund. This would continue to build on the “innovation and entrepreneur friendly” tax structure that now exists in the UK and which is much envied across Europe.

We desperately need to rethink how we fund our future. This would be an important first step in that direction.

Do politicians need to go to business school?

Channel 4’s breakdown of the careers of MP’s in June 2017 showed that 19% were career politicians, 14% were from business, 11% were lawyers, 8% finance and accounting and the rest were a very mixed set of occupations.

In fact more than a quarter of the candidates chosen by Britain’s political parties to fight in the 2010 general election had no experience of any career other than politics. And this was true in the 2015 general election when one in four (26 per cent) of new candidates contesting were political professionals source UCL and PCUK.

Going back to 1979, Nuffield election studies show no less than one in ten MPs from the three main parties have been barristers or solicitors. More recently research compiled by BPP University Law School has revealed that 119 of the 650 MPs in 2015 either studied or practised law before standing for election.

But it is clear that this isn’t what the electorate want.

A YouGov report in 2014 showed that voters would prefer if these trends were reversed. 57% wanted more factory workers elected to Parliament; 61% wanted more doctors (who made up only 1.4% of main-party MPs as of 2010) and 57% wanted more scientists.

Unsurprisingly, there is always a huge clamour for MP’s to come from less privileged backgrounds and indeed represent a wider societal view. However, there is way too little attention given to the need to have more people from business in Parliament.

A huge proportion of the issues that MP’s need to understand, debate and vote on relate to how organisations need to be run, how to improve efficiencies, leverage new ideas and technologies and motivate people. These issues are the bread and butter of business people.

So whilst the public may want more doctors and factory workers, actually we do need more business people before anything else, if we are going to solve the most pressing issues in our society.

Perhaps it’s time to train our MP’s to be better equipped to do their job. At least some of this training needs to be at a Business School or equivalent. Until then we shouldn’t be surprised if so many offices of state are poorly managed, and if too often politicians promise the earth and are unable to deliver it.

What is a human right and what is a societal benefit?

Human rights

There used to be a time when people were absolutely clear about what their human rights should be. It was about freedom of speech, a right to a fair trial, the right to vote, freedom from discrimination, freedom of religion, freedom of thought and freedom from enslavement. These are critical political rights that most right minded people believe in. It’s strange then, when so many people across the world are still fighting for these basic freedoms, that some developed countries are debating whether “paid leave for a bereaved parent” should be a human right.

We must differentiate between human rights that are fundamental to a fair existence and those that are really at the gift of a democratic society. People have fought and died for centuries for basic human rights. It dishonors their memories to claim that some freedoms or benefits enabled by the state should be classified in the same way. So whilst I feel tremendous sympathy for a parent who has lost a child or indeed a child who has lost a parent, i am not convinced that the state or an employer should be picking up the bill to give them paid leave. Either way this is a decision for the government of the day and not one for Parliament or the Judiciary to contemplate in the context of human rights.

Obviously the field of human rights grows ever more complicated and indeed larger, as people clamour for more rights. Sometimes this is reflective of the age, for example when the US set up their constitution and enabled people to bear arms. Equally we are now entering a time when sexual orientation, gender identity and the right to your own home are being talked about as Human rights.

It is interesting to see that people are increasingly relaxed about how others behave. This is a good thing. It is reflective of a more tolerant world. Long may this be the case, whether in terms of sexual orientation or anything else. However, we should be wary of passing endless new matters into legislation as Human Rights until we have genuinely built a Society that globally protects the basics. Until then we should treat many new issues and concepts as benefits but not as rights.

Certainly there must be more public debate on these issues. It is important to bring everybody together on these matters.

10 principles for a 21st Century UK government

It’s no surprise that the 2017 UK General Election is dominated by Brexit and the associated debate. But the danger is that too much of the rhetoric is based on 20th Century thinking; on a country with an established place in the world and the recent history that defined it. Intolerance in all forms is increasing within society, and this also acts as a catalyst to use existing or outdated modes of thinking. It is exactly at a time like this when political leaders need to consider the future more holistically and cast aside some of their old fashioned assumptions about how the country should be governed. Accordingly now is a good time to lay down some core principles for a new government, for a government that is resetting the agenda for the 21st Century and not living by 20th Century rules.

My top 10 principles for future UK governments are as follows:

  1. Free trade. Now that the UK’s relationship with Europe is changing, it must look to establish comprehensive free trade principles across all parts of the world. The UK cannot afford to be half in and half out of Europe; to be neither fish nor fowl. If it is leaving then it needs to set out a new trade philosophy for the world and stick to it. Whatever the result, the UK should be fighting for minimal trade barriers and pushing to reduce the subsidies that artificially inflate prices for consumers.
  2. Freedom of civil rights. It is easy to forget that over the last few centuries many people gave up their lives to win civil liberties for future generations. This was hard fought. We must remain vigilant at keeping these. Although terrorist threats are real and frightening, we should not sacrifice these freedoms in the face of terrorist threats. After all we have faced worse before, without giving in. This means that we should not give away online civil liberties too easily just because we can.
  3. Technology leadership. Technology is at the heart of every aspect of society. We now need to be the masters of own technology destiny. We need to invest in every aspect of technology across industries and in educating all our citizens. We should aim to be at the forefront of technology innovation and see it as a source of future wealth and prosperity rather than as a threat.
  4. Personal responsibility. There is a growing tension between those people who believe that the state should guarantee ever more benefits to its people, without expecting them to take on more personal responsibility, and those who think that society cannot extend its arms ever further. We need to enable and expect people to take on more individual responsibility and be happy to support the minority that cannot, but that minority cannot become the majority. We need to push personal responsibility onto people, as part of our evolving society.
  5. Reinvention. We should be prepared to challenge existing assumptions around every aspect of government. The pace of change continues to increase and societies cannot survive unless they evolve with that change. We must be prepared to reinvent aspects of society and government more frequently. This includes challenging assumptions around healthcare, education, finance, housing and defence. For example  why should the richest members of society have endless access to free healthcare, when the system is struggling to provide free care for the poorest?
  6. Cradle to grave entrepreneurship. We need to help people at every age to work and be self-employed, and not be dependent on an ever smaller group of large employers and the state. This should not be just focused on teaching the youth to code. It is important to help people create new enterprises though into old age – in other words cradle to grave entrepreneurship.
  7. Lifetime education. The most enlightened and richest employers are encouraging their employees to live in an endless cycle of re-education. Given the pace of change, we need to ensure that all society can live in this way. We need to ensure that there is educational capacity to do this across people’s entire lives.
  8. Financial planning. We need to think much more creatively about how we can afford all the aspects of our society. This includes thinking about how we pay for education for children and care for the elderly. We need to facilitate different ways for people’s work to pay for the choices that they want in their life, whether homes, or pensions or care.
  9. Global integration. Whether everyone likes it or not, our world is getting ever more interconnected. We need to debate and define a system that will work for the next 100 years and not just for today. We need to ensure that we engage with other countries and with the most skilled workers that we need, whilst being able to protect our own citizens. At the moment every government of the last 10 years has failed to debate, define or implement anything sustainable. The people do not believe anything that any government tells them about migration.
  10. Sovereign Fund. We need to build our own sovereign fund to enable the country to take a more long-term strategic view on investments.

These principles need to be woven into any future government’s plans. It is likely that this 2017 Election will be unusually short of policy commitments outside of Brexit, but we cannot allow our governments to just focus on the here and now, and not to take key strategic decisions for our future.

#EUReferendum – a plague on both your houses!

Remain or Leave

Remain or Leave

 

Where’s the vision? The EU Referendum has had none.

It’s a pity that Shakespeare isn’t here today to rebuke both sides of the EU Referendum debate.

Firstly neither the Remain campaign nor the Leave campaign have actually painted a picture of:

  • What they want our country to look like in 10-15 years’ time
  • How we shall prosper, what jobs we shall have and what areas of specialism we should develop in a future world
  • How big or small our society should be

Secondly this hasn’t been a debate. This has been a lecture by so called experts, telling us what we should believe and how we should behave.

They are not listening to our genuine concerns or aspirations.

So many claims from both sides are patently untrue – we won’t lose 3m jobs if we leave but nor will we gain £350m per week if we leave. As many sensible experts say “no one actually knows”.

If we wanted a debate the experts and celebrities should have listened more and responded better.

Thirdly this referendum isn’t just about the economy and migration. It’s about the type of society we want. It should be about how the EU could work better, about what really works and what doesn’t, and about how we change it for the better.

It should be a proper discussion about how its customers (us), want it to be run and how to improve what it does.

This is the debate we should have had – a real vision of a better future.

So given the “debate” has told you nothing of any value, you better make your own mind up based on your vision of the right future.

How to develop a 2015 political manifesto for a better country

Today’s political parties remain out of touch and unpopular because they debate issues that don’t matter to people, don’t provide workable solutions to the problems that voters do care about and consistently demonstrate incredible ineptitude in reforming how government works.

So let’s take these 3 points and examine them quickly, before proposing a better alternative:

  1. A focus on things that don’t matter
    1. Early in the new coalition government, all 3 main political parties were obsessed with reforming the House of Lords and the constituency boundaries. Undoubtedly these are issues that needs attention, but not now. Not while the country is in a state of near bankruptcy and when people are struggling to make ends meet.
    2. It’s great that we continue to try to change the world to make it a better place, but nobody in the UK wants to go and fight another war in another part of the world that frankly doesn’t matter to them. In particular they don’t want to do this when the armed forces have been cut to the bone.
  2. Impractical solutions
    1. Stop dreaming up implausible solutions, for example, The Big Society. Just because the Internet has allowed consumers the opportunity to sound off about every issue known to man and to criticise big companies and reveal secrets and indiscretions about the rich and famous, doesn’t mean that everyone wants to spend time running their local post office or voting on who should be the local police chief. In fact it’s the bloody opposite. Yes we do want to shout about things that irritate us but we want to do it in the pub or over a barbecue in our back gardens, not by running every part of government locally.
  3. Ineffective reform
    1. Successive governments think that they have a divine right to reform the NHS and that somehow they will be more successful than the last jokers. Why is this? After all they follow the same policy every time. They call in some consultants and do a report and then tell everyone that they have cracked a new answer to reforming one of the world’s top 10 largest employers in 2-3 years. It’s madness. Most enlightened corporates, who are much smaller in size, don’t think they can achieve this sort of thing in less than 5 years and most fail. Why is the government of the day likely to be any better?
    2. Stop putting people without relevant experience into ministerial positions that they cannot understand or execute.

 

A manifesto for a better country

The answer is a different approach to government. Focus the time and money on the issues that matter to voters and propose long-term solutions that have a chance of being successful

There are 10 key points to my manifesto and they all follow this approach

  1. Immigration is the No 1 issue in 2014 as it was in 2010 source You Gov July 2014. It’s an uncomfortable truth for all politicians as they hate talking about this subject. My manifesto would make the following very clear:
    1. This is not about race, sex, gender, colour or any other form of discrimination. It’s about how many people we want living in this country
    2. The majority of UK voters don’t want the population to keep rising. It’s simple. They don’t want it. So stop saying yes but, big business needs employees or tech companies need smart scientists. Instead recognise the issue and put a long-term cross-party plan together to stop the endless population growth. I don’t mind what the number is but aim to make it clear that over the next 30 years, we don’t want to exceed 70 million or whatever the number is. Then focus on policy that delivers that strategy.
    3. Short-term, institute some simple initiatives that the majority of the population supports, for example, no welfare benefits for any migrants unless they have spent two years in this country in continuous employment
    4. Do allow in highly educated and specialist employees as long as they are in education or employment, but ensure the balance of immigration and emigration is in line with whatever proportion has been agreed by the cross-party plan
    5. Recognise that we have a duty to support migrants who are suffering because of our global interventions
    6. Ignore the Corporates who complain about needing more cheap labour
  2. The economy is a key issue for the country and for families. Focus on some simple consistent measures that make a difference
    1. Incentivise companies that are or have a track record of recruiting and growing their total workforce and so are contributing to the growth of the wider economy
    2. Continue to reduce corporation tax as it is proven to generate more economic value
    3. Tax companies in the country where their goods are sold, manufactured or consumed.
  3. Health is always a key issue and obviously and rightly so. This is a toughie. There are no easy solutions. Politicians generally lack experience of running things and yet they need it, if they are to have any chance of reforming the NHS. So key initiatives would be as follows:
    1. Stop trying to reform the NHS in 2 years. Any plan needs to be 5 years minimum
    2. Differentiate between the numbers of medical or care related staff, support staff for medical or care related staff and general management staff. Cut the numbers of the latter relative to the other two and look to use technology to reduce the requirement for middle management tiers. Aim to reduce overall staff numbers over the long-terms
    3. Agree a long-term strategy to centralise / regionalise and invest in key areas of medical excellence, but in parallel restructure the way GP care is administered to introduce 7 day support in a more cost-effective manner and so reduce pressure on hospitals at a local level
    4. Take payment from all non EU citizens for non-medical emergency work before they get any treatment
    5. Make all high tax paying citizens pay for non-emergency prescriptions
    6. Be explicit about the expenditure choices being made, whether that be more hospitals and less new drugs or whatever
  4. Housing. Clearly there is a big issue here but all parties find it hard to resolve. We know we need more housing. So how do we arrive at a solution?
    1. Prioritise brownfield development. There is an enormous amount of brownfield land in existence. Force landowners of brownfield sites to develop or sell the land.
    2. Restrict general greenfield development but be open to occasional planned exploitation
    3. Prioritise UK citizens
  5. Europe. It is an issue but it’s important not to get thrown off course by ideologies from any side of the debate. The majority of people think it has value but everyone agrees that it isn’t working right. However, we only have so much control over the fight.
    1. Hold a referendum in 2016 and let’s see what happens. A majority wants a vote so let it be.
    2. Campaign for a transformation of the EU into a multi-tiered structure, with countries able to opt in and out of economic and political integration
    3. Campaign for cost cutting – we don’t need 2 x European Parliaments. It’s common sense.
    4. All countries should pay in annually to the EU. This is not a case of some contributors and some receivers. Everyone needs to contribute according to size and ability. Remove rebates and start again. It’s amazing how revolutions simplify things
  6. Tax. It’s not that complicated. People are suffering from inflation and lower net household income. It’s a fact for many
    1. Leave the top end tax rate as it is. Increasing it to ever greater levels rarely generates more money for the Exchequer
    2. Simplify tax should remain the motto
    3. Reduce corporate tax slowly and consistently
    4. Maintain low or zero levels of tax on the poorly paid
  7. Pensions. It’s common sense. The country cannot afford to pay for people to live longer and not contribute.
    1. Force all UK working citizens to save for their retirement – period.
    2. work out the relationship between pensions and ISA’s
  8. Education
    1. Stop the merry go round of each government changing policy towards different types of school
    2. Stop the endless tinkering with exam formats and focus instead on the quality of teaching to deliver well educated citizens
    3. Need to ensure the curriculum includes a significant amount of sport to ensure children are fit and used to other forms of competition
    4. Need to ensure a high level of maths and science subjects are compulsory
  9. Crime and policing
    1. Focus on crime prevention
    2. Simplify the sentencing policies, so that people understand that they serve the full sentence whatever that may be
  10. Energy
    1. We need to invest in our own energy infrastructure to ensure energy security