Sir Torquil Norman, the man who restored the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm to glory as an arts centre, has more ambitious plans. He has just published a new book, Kick The Tyres: Light The Fires in which he outlines his vision to rejuvenate Britain.
The former JPMorgan banker, who made a fortune with his company Bluebird Toys, argues that the country's recent problems stem from a “dependency culture”. His solution? Less micro-management by Government, simpler taxation and fewer laws, and more freedom for individuals — ideas that look prescient in the era of Lib-Con Government.
Norman is particularly keen to simplify the benefits system, arguing that “52 benefits with contradictory conditions” could be condensed into a single, monthly benefit payment. He also wants to raise the tax threshold further — from the new level of £7,475 to £15,000 over five years.
“The cumulative effect of this measure would be to remove massive disincentives on millions of people to resume their working careers with a consequent huge increase in the national work effort,” he says.
Perhaps the most radical idea is “a system of Community National Service for all unemployed people (initially under the age of 25, but subsequently extended to all age groups) so that the Jobseeker's Allowance and other payments that are paid to people not to work could be discontinued and all provided with full-time (or part-time) jobs working from home on useful local community projects for the appropriate minimum wage”.
Sounds just the sort of blue-sky thinking David Cameron needs.
“The neglected generation” is how Torquil Norman sees young people today – neglect, lack of opportunity and the dependency culture have created a group of people with little motivation or ambition.
But rather than hand wringing and mouthing platitudes, Torquil has a solution in his book “Kick the Tyres, Light the Fires”.
We CAN do better, he insists.
Why should we listen?
What has he done to demonstrate that he knows what he’s talking about?
He spent ten years and £8 million of his own money, raising a further £30 million to create the new Roundhouse in north London’s Camden. Since the re-opening in 2006 it has become one of the top venues in the Capital and has already offered over 20,000 young people, many from highly disadvantaged backgrounds, the chance to take part in all kinds of creativity from dance to music to drama. It is no exaggeration to say that for many, their experiences at the Roundhouse have changed their lives.
His success as founder of Bluebird Toys was a previous milestone. He created ‘The Big Yellow Teapot’ and then decided to create his own toy company to sell it. Other ideas to delight children came thick and fast including Manta Force, The A la Cart Kitchen, that young girls’ icon ‘Polly Pocket’ and the now ubiquitous plastic lunchbox. So Torquil’s background is steeped in an understanding of children (he has five of his own) and what makes them tick.
Now Torquil is once more on a mission, and this time it is to provide a solution for this ‘neglected generation’. ‘Let’s give them back real incentives’ he urges. ‘There’s a whole world of opportunity out there and we’re not taking advantage of it. Let’s not lose them through neglect and the dependency culture’.
His solutions come in two parts, first, to establish a background of energy and incentive to bring the whole country back to life:
*Fundamental simplification of the benefit system from over 50 benefits on offer at the moment to ONE comprehensive benefit covering all present beneficiaries
*Reform of the tax credit system along American lines, making them payable to those in work instead of those not working and at the same time reducing substantially the combined burden of income tax and benefit withdrawal, so that those on benefit that wish to work do not suffer the current iniquitous confiscatory marginal rates and will be far better off.
* Reform of the income tax system so that means testing and tax churning are virtually eliminated, no tax at all is paid by ½ the adult population, poverty is tackled at source and the grey/black economy is dealt a heavy blow
And secondly, with particular reference to young people:
*Setting up Community National Service – ensuring jobs for the unemployed locally
*Re-establishing a full apprenticeship system similar to that which half of young people in Germany undertake: also ensuring proper job training takes place
*A totally different approach to handling young criminals and potential criminals. Lock up far fewer young people and provide better education, supervision and control by the probation services and voluntary organisations
*Give young people the chance to participate in theatre, music and other cultural activities to stimulate their interest, using the Roundhouse as a model. It’s practical and it’s been shown to work
*Set up sail training ships and outward bound camps for young offenders and provide more outdoor activities for all young people taking away the ridiculous over emphasis on health and safety
‘Kick the Tyres, Light the Fires’ provides solutions rather than just outlining the problems. Torquil has never got it wrong yet and instead of sitting back after spending ten years making the Roundhouse an astonishing success, he feels he can’t give up and leave this generation to sink without trying to influence their future.
Following the election, politicians need to sit up and take note of these solutions from a man who really understands what makes young people tick and has the credibility and track record to prove it. The book is essential reading for all those watching the party leaders’ forthcoming TV debates
When flying jet fighters these words were often used preparing for take-off. Torquil’s proposals aim to help more people, especially young people, take off on their own.
‘Kick the Tyres, Light the Fires’
Author: Sir Torquil Norman
Date of Publication: 25th May 2010
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