I spent a couple of days this week at the Conservative conference in Birmingham. The government has been through a difficult period over the last six months with a string of things going wrong but conference is a good opportunity to draw a line under the past and get things back on track.
All governments suffer from the fact that bad news floats to the top while good news tends to sink without trace and it is easy to forget some of the things that have been achieved. This government has started to get the country’s finances back under control and the deficit has been cut by a quarter. The credibility that Britain has internationally means that mortgage rates are at record lows. Millions of people working hard on the lowest incomes have been taken out of tax altogether. There has been an overhaul of the benefits system so that work pays with intensive support introduced to help those who have lost their confidence get back in to a job.
Although there have been losses in public sector jobs, there have been almost a million jobs created by private enterprises in the last couple of years and unemployment has been falling over the last six months or so. There has also been a shake-up of government spending in Whitehall with around £8 billion slashed from budgets on wasteful things like management consultants and expensive advertising agencies. Finally, there is additional funding to help schools in some of the poorer areas give children the best possible start in life and schools have been given new freedoms and independence to allow head teachers to become captains of their own ship.
So, a lot has been achieved but there is undoubtedly more to do and the government has also made some mistakes. Any new policy will have unintended consequences and create unforeseen problems so one of the most important things that government must do is to refine and adjust its policies once they start to bed down. For instance, while the principle behind simplifying the benefits system is right, we need to monitor the detail carefully. I still see far too many examples where medical assessments have not been carried out correctly and where the wrong judgement has been reached. And I am concerned at proposals to prevent Housing Benefit being paid directly to landlords because, while well intentioned, it will only lead to rent arrears and ultimately mean that some people lose their home. So called, “u-turns” tend to be perceived as a sign of weakness in politics but no government should be too proud or too stubborn to admit when things don’t work as planned and therefore need to change.
George Eustice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.