Schools & a better deal for university students
Improving education in both schools and universities is one of the causes I care about the most.
I have long been a governor of Northampton Academy and chaired the board when it opened in 2005 as only the 15th academy in the country. I am hugely proud of the work everyone at Northampton has done to turn a seriously failing secondary school of 1,250 pupils into one that achieves grades above the national average.
It was a tough challenge that included building a new leadership team with a real can-do approach and the self-belief they needed to tackle issues ranging from deprivation among pupils’ families to behavioural problems and cultural change for teachers and unions.
For five years, I was also a director of United Learning Trust, which runs the largest group of academies.
I shared my experiences turning round Northampton in a 2008 report for the think tank Reform, which included a series of recommendations on how to expand the academies programme. My report was welcomed by the then Labour government and helped to inform the academies policy drawn up by the Conservatives in opposition that led to the rapid acceleration of the programme after the 2010 election.
More recently, I have been campaigning to get a better deal for university students. In Autumn 2017, I released my analysis of what is going wrong in universities and how to fix it, attracting extensive media coverage. Timebomb: how the university cartel is failing Britain’s students included recommendations on how to promote far more two-year degrees. We had discovered tremendous unmet demand among students. The report gained cross-party support. It featured a foreword by Lord Adonis, the former Labour schools minister, and by Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham. It was cited by Jo Johnson, then universities minister, in a major speech in 2017.
I produced a follow-up report on finances called Defusing the Debt Timebomb. I gave a presentation to Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, and Treasury officials on our findings and recommendations. It was a timely intervention ahead of the Prime Minister's Student Funding review announced in February 2018.
My own university education studying construction economics and quantity surveying at Salford helped me hugely in the early part of my career.
Sadiq Khan’s inability to tackle London’s affordable homes crisis is one of the most glaring failures of his mayoralty. It is a betrayal of the people who voted for him.
Things may be even worse than they seem. The mayor’s claims of progress not only far short of his election pledges. They appear to be based on dodgy data that conceal from the public what is really going on
My investigations have found that many of the affordable flats and houses Khan has announced as being under construction are in fact phantom homes where little or no work has begun. Others appear to have been counted twice in successive years.
The findings suggest the real number of affordable homes started last year is substantially lower than the headline figures announced by Khan. At best this is the result of bureaucratic incompetence, at worst City Hall is inflating the numbers to flatter the mayor’s performance on a key policy.
My investigations have had extensive coverage since being first reported in the London Evening Standard on 11 June 2018. The GLA Conservatives grilled Khan during Mayor's Question Time about my findings (video). The Sun, The Express, and CityAM reported that Khan lost his cool during the exchange about my findings. I have also been interviewed by LBC about it.
I have long believed in a Britain that embraces the world; a stronger, fairer, more outward-looking independent country; a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world in the future.
My conviction that we can achieve this best outside the EU goes back a long way. I was a director of the successful Business for Sterling campaign in the late 1990s to prevent the UK joining the euro.
In summer 2015 I became one of the first business figures to back Brexit, co-founding the high-profile campaign group Leave.eu, which I stayed with until we’d won the referendum. I left there in 2016 to found a new organisation, Leave Means Leave, backed by many Tory MPs and economists, entrepreneurs and other business figures. We share an optimism for Britain’s bright prospects outside the EU and a wish to get on with Brexit and build a better, more global country for future generations.
The more I've explored what can be done to improve the availability of homes for people on lower incomes, the more I've seen the connections between badly managed housing and the crime that so often blights daily lives.
So I've been visiting estates in London to speak to residents and community volunteers running youth centres and sports projects to learn about the practical things we can do to change things for the better.
I will maintain a strong interest in tackling crime. You can read some of my initial thoughts here.