Osborne's Autumn Statement was a nod to the north

Littered throughout the speech were references to northern towns and how they will benefit from the coalition's policies.

George Osborne wants to create "a job-rich recovery for all" and it was very evident from the Autumn Statement that the Chancellor is well aware of the electoral challenges his party faces at the next election. Littered throughout the speech were references to northern towns.

On job creation:

"But they now expect the total number of jobs to rise by 400,000 this year. And this is being felt right across the country - since 2010 the number of jobs in Carlisle and on the Wirral, from Selby to South Tyneside - have all grown faster than in London."

On housing:

"So this week we are announcing a billion pounds of loans to unblock large housing developments on sites in Manchester and Leeds and across the country."

On fuel duty:

"I've had further representations from many Honourable Friends, from the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, to the Member for Argyll and Bute, and of course, the Member for Harlow who is such a champion of the people he represents."

These references are important. If the Conservatives are to stand any sort of chance at the next election, then broadening the appeal of the party to people living in cities and towns in the north and the midlands is absolutely critical.

A recent YouGov survey showed that an overwhelming majority of voters in the north support Conservative policies - cutting net immigration, the benefits cap, Help to Buy. But when asked which party they would consider voting for, one in four said they would NEVER consider voting Tory. Looking at the marginal seats that the Conservatives will be targeting, you start to see the problem. Bolton West, Oldham East, Wirral South and Rochdale to name just four are in the Tory cross hairs.

Broadening the appeal of the Conservatives beyond their south eastern heartlands is not going to be easy. There's no such thing as a silver bullet or a quick fix solution to the fact that the Tory vote has been dwindling for decades. But the Tory Party has shown itself over time to be thoroughly capable of adapting to broaden its base.

People often criticise the Chancellor for putting politics above economics. Yesterday's speech shows that you can combine a sensible economic approach - bringing down the deficit, weaning us off our debt addiction, creating the conditions for businesses to thrive - with a nod to one of the most significant political challenges facing the Conservatives - appealing to voters in the urban north.

Nick Faith is head of communications at Policy Exchange

The Anthony Gormley 'Angel of the North' sculpture overlooks the match between Gateshead and Esh Winning on May 2, 2013 in Gateshead. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nick Faith is Director of Communications at Policy Exchange

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.