Contrary to the Twitterati narrative that a conspiracy of think tanks clustered in Tufton Street wields the most influence in wonk world, it’s actually the centre-left think tanks that have the most money and manpower. Guido’s crunched the numbers.
The Tony Blair Institute, Resolution Foundation, New Economics Foundation, Institute for Government and the Institute for Public Policy Research have a combined headcount of 497. This compares to Tufton Street’s more modest headcount of 116.
The top 5 centre-left think tanks had a combined turnover of £79,814,431 last year. In comparison, their top 5 right-of-centre rivals – the Centre for Policy Studies, Institute of Economic Affairs, Centre for Social Justice, Onward and Policy Exchange – had a combined turnover of a mere £9,032,646. The high media profile of the right-of-centre wonks is to their credit given by how much they are outnumbered and out-gunned in everything except the persuasiveness of their arguments. Nevertheless, the myth of the insidious influence of “Tufton Street” lives rent-free in the minds of conspiracy theorists.
It should be noted that the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) alone has a whopping 337 staff, with an eye-watering turnover of £65,247,459. Arguably the TBI is a do-tank, and consulting for foreign governments is a big source of revenue which allows it to nurture the next generation of Labour SpAds and future Labour Party MPs. One senior New Labour source reckons that the TBI is about selling Larry Ellison’s Oracle databases to African developing countries – Ellison has given Blair’s institute over $80 million in recent years. Blair has known Ellison since his time in Downing Street, when Oracle became a significant supplier of software to the government.
Jeremy Hunt’s budget today received a mixed reaction from Westminster’s wonks. Unsurprisingly, it was most welcomed by centre-right voices with the free-marketeers and lefties alike less enthusiastic. As always, Guido has the lowdown on their reaction.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance was hardly full of praise to a budget “full of problems” . Despite criticising the government for rises to corporation tax and tobacco duty, they welcomed reforms to medicine approval and the abolition of the lifetime allowance for pensions. Chief Executive, John O’Connell said:
“Despite looking good on the surface, under the bonnet this Budget is full of problems for taxpayers. The chancellor has identified a number of structural weaknesses in the UK economy and has rightly focused on fixing them. But yet more spending increases in coming years will further frustrate households, whose rising tax bills are contributing to the biggest drop in living standards since records began. While forecasts are heading in the right direction, taxpayers still face funding the cost of government crisis for years to come.”
Hunt’s policy of full capital expensing gave the Adam Smith Institute cause to celebrate a win in their campaign to abolish the factory tax. Beyond this, they were similarly lukewarm to the budget – giving it an overall score of 6.5/10. They summarised their reaction on twitter:
“The Chancellor seemingly has the right ideas about what is causing our economic ailments… but came to the Budget with the wrong conclusions about how to fix them.”
The Institute of Economic Affairs agreed with the ASI’s assessment that childcare reforms were still “too demand-inducing”. Their Editorial and Research Fellow, Len Shackleton said the policy would “primarily benefit middle class families” and was unlikely to be effective. On the budget more generally, Director Mark Littlewood was similarly critical:
“The budget lacks ambition but takes some welcome steps. Introducing full expensing for plants, machinery and equipment will encourage business investment and boost productivity. Abolishing the lifetime pension allowance will encourage more people to work. Recognising foreign medicine approvals could save lives by providing earlier access to treatments… For a government claiming to be laser-focused on reaping the rewards of Brexit and promoting economic growth, this is a profound misstep.”
In a break from the free-marketeers, centre-right wonks were more receptive, with the Centre for Social Justice leading the charge. Their Chief Executive, Andy Cook, heaped praise on the “back to work budget”:
“Universal Support – the long forgotten “sister” to Universal Credit – was specifically designed to help those in this group who want to work get back into the workforce. The CSJ has long campaigned for the roll out of Universal Support, and we are delighted that the Chancellor has now taken decisive action to begin that process. Delivered properly, Universal Support will help hundreds of thousands more people reap the financial, social and health benefits of work… With CSJ calls to boost childcare support in Universal Credit also adopted, the Chancellor’s ‘back to work Budget’ certainly packs a punch.”
Policy Exchange joined in offering a ringing endorsement for the “serious budget to tackle serious challenges”. Connor McDonald added:
The Chancellor was right to deal with two big problems facing the UK: economic inactivity and business investment. The budget measures on labour market participation represent one of the largest packages of its kind in recent history. The proposals to expand childcare and tackle supply-side reform in the sector are potentially revolutionary, and we are glad that Policy Exchange proposals, such as incentivising childminder agencies and bringing ratios in line with Scotland are being implemented… While more could be done on taxes – the tax burden is still too high and rising in April – this budget identifies long-term problems for the UK economy and delivers a comprehensive plan to address them. A serious budget to tackle serious challenges.”
Onward has similarly kind words for Hunt – and in particular his childcare policy. Seb Payne responded that:
“This was a Budget to bring back trust – reassuring and optimistic, providing support now and fostering growth in the future. It balanced fiscal security and creating better conditions for prosperity. A solid start, but there’s still an electoral and delivery mountain to climb…”
Unsurprisingly, the Resolution Foundation took the opposite view. Torsten Bell summarised his response as follows:
“So, in summary; bad, but not as bad as previously feared… policy announcements will be more successful at boosting employment (make a real difference to women) than investment (today will make no real difference). The back to work package is basically: The carrots: big spending/tax bungs to keep better off parents/doctors in work; The sticks: increase conditionality on poorer parents. Anyone saying this would be a boring Budget was very wrong – big policy changes, especially on childcare and disability benefits”.
The Resolution Foundation’s less establishment-friendly comrades at the New Economics Foundation weren’t happy – Guido doubts Jeremy Hunt will be losing sleep. They provided running commentary on Twitter:
“Increasing the pension lifetime allowance is a massive giveaway to the wealthiest people in society. It won’t encourage people back into work and it won’t help most of us struggling to get by…The expansion of 30 hours free childcare is a big step forward – but it’s not enough to fix our broken childcare system. It’s not enough for providers or parents. We need free, universal, high-quality childcare. The most notable thing about this budget is what was missing. There was room for tax breaks for the rich but no mention of a pay rise for hard working nurses, teachers and other public sector workers.”
Despite the 5p cut to fuel duty being maintained, the budget was also a non-starter for the Alliance of British Drivers. Chief Executive, Brian Gregory, said:
“The Chancellor could have helped ease the cost-of-living crisis by removing the outrageous burden of paying tax twice at the fuel pumps – in the form of VAT and fuel duty… Instead, the Government will continue to spend hardworking taxpayers’ money to support electric vehicle subsidies and grants for electric vehicle infrastructure which will benefit the wealthy… This was a disappointing Budget from a disappointing Government.”
Driving the agenda…
£39,584,172 of taxpayers’ money was funnelled to left-wing lobby groups, new research from the Taxpayers’ Alliance has revealed. Between the years 2017 and 2019, groups arguing for higher taxes, spending, and in favour of a greater regulatory burden were flush with money – handed to them by the Government they campaign against…
Taxpayer funding went to the socialist Fabian Society, anti-growth New Economics Foundation, and anti-trade deal ‘War on Want’. Other cash that was splurged on left wing campaigners included:
No need to ask these left-wing groups ‘who funds you’. The answer is usually ‘the taxpayer’…
As Guido revealed yesterday, the three organisations which received funding from NHS England’s ‘Health as a Social Movement’ programme all just happened to be headed by senior New Labour SpAds. The NEF’s then CEO Marc Stears was Ed Miliband’s speechwriter, while the RSA and Nesta’s CEOs – Matthew Taylor and Geoff Mulgan – were both policy chiefs in Downing Street under Tony Blair. Guido is still investigating exactly how much they all got, unlike the NEF who’ve publicly documented their half-a-million pounds, Nesta and the RSA haven’t published detailed income breakdowns…
Of course there was another top Blair SpAd who was in Downing Street at the same time as Taylor and Mulgan – the “architect of Labour’s health service reforms” according to The Guardian – Simon Stevens. Now the chief executive of NHS England…
The ‘Health as a Social Movement’ programme itself was Stevens’ brainchild as part of his five-year plan for the NHS in 2014. Stevens has certainly maintained a good working relationship with his former colleagues in their new roles, he’s a regular fixture at speaking events for Nesta and gets frequent mentions on the RSA blog. Taylor is particularly fond of talking up “my former Downing Street colleague”.
Just after Stevens launched his five-year plan, Taylor was quick to praise it in a blog titled “Joining Up Is Hard To Do”, where none other than Geoff Mulgan gets name-dropped in the second paragraph for his work promoting “more integrated working”. A year later and they’d both won the contracts from Stevens’ new scheme. Looks like joining up wasn’t so hard to do after all!
As Guido revealed yesterday, hard-left Tory-bashing think tank New Economics Foundation have curiously been the recipient of over £500,000 of funding from NHS England over the past three years. Now Guido can shed some more light how a load of funding ended up with a bunch of strident lefties rather than needful patients…
It turns out the New Economics Foundation were one of three organisations which awarded funding as part of the NHS England’s “Health as a Social Movement” programme which began in 2016, along with the RSA and Nesta. It just so happens that the CEOs of all three organisations at the time had something in common…
NHS England say:
“Following an open competitive process five years ago, three organisations were commissioned to help the NHS and its partners find ways to bring communities together to improve the health of local people through projects which tackled loneliness, improved cancer care and the quality of life of dementia patients, amongst others.”
The NHS insist that they were not simply giving the money to the NEF, it was as part of work they outsourced following a competitive tendering process. Which sounds a lot like NHS privatisation, funny how the NEF don’t seem to have such a problem with it when they’re the beneficiaries…
The NHS didn’t respond to Guido’s question of whether they foresaw any potential issues with appointing a highly politicised and partisan think tank with economics views well outside the mainstream. No doubt they’ll be evening out the balance by picking the IEA or the TPA for their next ‘social health’
privatisation partnership programme…
Hard-left think tank New Economics Foundation have advocated a number of novel proposals for the economy in recent years including a four-day or even 21-hour working week and a Green Party idea of replacing GDP with a ‘Free Time Index’. They’ve adopted a range of positions on growth from “growth isn’t working” to “growth isn’t possible”, although their own dislike of economic growth doesn’t stop them from periodically attacking the Tories for apparently reducing economic growth via austerity policies. No wonder John McDonnell is a big fan…
They’ve certainly not had any trouble with their own economic growth, their annual income is sitting at a healthy £3,517,793. What’s less healthy is the fact that £529,554 of their income over the last three years has come from NHS England. NHS England gave £234,919 last year alone, they were the NEF’s second-biggest source of income for 2017-8. The NHS could have spent that money on training new nurses or covering the cost of over 60,000 prescriptions, instead they’ve decided to give it to a hard-left think tank to bash the Tories…