In his 2014 Conservative Party Conference speech, George Osborne declared that he “wants Britain to be the most prosperous country on earth”. But how do we get there? The Legatum Institute hosted a panel discussion at this week’s Conservative Party Conference to discuss the drivers of—and the obstacles to—UK prosperity.
James Barty, Legatum Institute Senior Adviser and Strategic Director at the British Bankers' Association, set the scene with some data from the forthcoming 2014 Legatum Prosperity Index™. Whilst the UK is performing well on entrepreneurship, governance and personal freedom, it falls behind in the economy and education, which is why the Government is so focused on these issues.
Damian Green MP agreed that while it is important to look beyond GDP when analysing a country’s prosperity, the economy underpins so many other types of prosperity. He pointed out that UK productivity is disappointing. Compared to the French, the UK is a very unproductive nation: “French workers can have a two hour lunch break or a 35-hour week” because on an individual level, their workers are more productive than British workers. This, he said, was down to education. We must address our “bottom end academic achievers” to improve our productivity ratings. He welcomed Michael Gove’s education reforms, but called for more radical thinking.
“Money doesn’t make you happy—but lack of money makes you fearful and insecure”—Damian Green MP
Tim Montgomerie, founder of ConservativeHome and The Times columnist, discussed the relationship between social capital and prosperity. He made the argument that whilst socialism and capitalism are alternative philosophies, they share a fundamental approach: both are materialist. Montgomerie believes that whilst plenty of public policies address economic growth and economic capital, the UK fails to address the importance of relationships. He asked, “does our government think about impact on family life? Does it challenge business on the effects to their community when it relocates?”. If not, he believes we are neglecting one of the most powerful sources in society. Policies must support values like this, he urged, to lay the foundations for true prosperity.
"I would like to think that conservatism is the alternative to the materialism of socialism and capitalism"—Tim Montgomerie
Sean Worth, former Downing Street Adviser, admitted to feeling “eternally depressed” that “radical” policy ideas, such as free schools or alternative health policies, are met with criticism and controversy. He argued that fresh ideas like this are exactly what are needed now, where further spending cuts are guaranteed if the Conservatives stay in power.
“The Legatum Institute’s work on conceptualising prosperity is very important because not many really focus on what prosperity actually means. It is important that someone is doing this, because governments don’t.”—Sean Worth, former Downing Street Adviser
Lord Adebowale, People’s Peer and CEO of Turning Point, discussed the future of public services, within which he includes private sector services such as banks and supermarket chains. Adebowale believes our idea of what constitutes “public services” dates back to views held in the 1930s. However, he says, “times have changed, demographics have changed, people have changed and needs and expectations have changed—but the idea of what constitutes a public service has not changed”.
"If we carry on doing the same thing don’t be surprised if we get the same results”—Lord Adebowale
Cristina Odone, Director of Communications, introduced the fringe event by explaining that the Legatum Institue believes economic measures like GDP fail to convey true prosperity. This is why its Legatum Prosperity Index™ looks at elements like governance, schools, faith and family.
Beyond GDP: The True Roots of Britian's Prosperity [PDF]