A shared motto or common paths?

Building back better the US & the UK

7 July 2021
Zoom and live stream

Watch the full video on Youtube or listen to the podcast below.

If the Trump era was about America First, President Joe Biden has made his administration about ‘jobs first’ – both in recovering from the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and in responding to climate change. Similarly, Prime Minster Boris Johnson – invigorated by a swathe of Conservative party victories in recent elections – has promised that the UK will go ‘from jab, jab, jab to jobs, jobs, jobs’. The US and the UK face the same conjuncture. The economics and politics of both countries have been driven increasingly by the salience of division and inequality – whether regional, racial, health, wealth or income related.

Upon assuming the presidency, Joe Biden set out a vision for unity to rebuild in the devastating wake of Covid-19, but it would be no mean feat against a backdrop of historic uprising in the Washington State Capitol and the Black Lives Matter protests that had swept the nation – and the world – over the previous summer. With long term stagnant to falling middle class wages, an ever-polarising city vs rural divide and Covid pushing over 2 million women out of the US workforce, the question of how to build back better, and what this could mean for different people and places will define the future of the country in decades to come. In the UK, the challenges of shaping new, post-Brexit trade links are as much about responding to the grievances of the former red wall as an exercise in foreign diplomacy. The result in the recent Hartlepool by-election typifies the scale of political dislocation from ‘traditional’ values and voting patterns, all while our very constitutional existence is under question as a United Kingdom.

Much hope on both sides of the Atlantic has been pinned on the creation of new, green jobs – simultaneously driving prosperity and reducing carbon emissions. Trillions of dollars have been committed by the US President for investment in physical and – notably – social infrastructure. This investment-led approach to more sustainable, inclusive growth has been heralded by some as the timely and long overdue introduction of a firmer social safety net. Others fear the impact of this approach, overheating the economy with the sheer scale of federal financial intervention and shifting the US towards a model directly opposed to its founding 'small State’ principles. Meanwhile Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is leading a seismic shift in UK politics in its mission to level up by tackling ingrained regional inequalities across the UK - territory previously the reserve of the Left. Investment in physical infrastructure and the quality of local high streets are high on the agenda, with the promise of a ‘skills and training revolution’ also in the offing.

What do UK and US leaders – national and local – need to do to deliver on the hope of building back better? What are the key barriers to success? What can the UK learn from its US counterparts, and vice versa? How do we prevent this moment being a missed opportunity for systemic change? Are we witnessing a more fundamental shift in the Anglo-Saxon model that has shaped the development of modern capitalism in the UK, US and beyond? What might the results of this shift be in the medium – longer term?


  • Penny Abeywardena, NYC Commissioner & former Director of Girls and Women Integration (CGI)
  • Heidi Binko, Executive Director & Co-Founder, Just Transition Fund
  • Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future
  • Bruce Katz, Founding Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University in Philadelphia
  • Sir John Kay, Economist

All these questions, and more will be explored in this public CPP event via Zoom, with our audience warmly invited to submit their questions and comments during the live debate.

You can also watch the event on this page, on our Youtube channel, on Facebook or you can join the debate on twitter @CentreProPolicy using #BuildBackBetter.

Penny Abeywardena

NYC Commissioner & former Director of Girls and Women Integration (CGI)

Penny leads the City agency which serves the largest diplomatic corps in the world, including strategic partnerships and programming reaffirming NYC’s local leadership on global issues. Since her appointment in 2014, New York City has successfully implemented a series of initiatives and programs with the international community, which include youth empowerment and the leadership of cities and local governments on global issues like climate change and managing/rebuilding post the Covid-19 pandemic. During spring 2020, when NYC was the epicenter of the pandemic in the US, her team was responsible for working with the United Nations and foreign governments to secure necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators.

Prior to joining Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration, Penny was the Director of Girls and Women Integration at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a non-partisan organization that convened global leaders to devise and implement innovative solutions to the world's most pressing problems. During her tenure, she advised multinational corporations, philanthropists, NGOs and multilateral institutions to increase investments in gender-focused development initiatives while expanding the community of CGI members who incorporated the gender lens in their work.

Heidi Binko

Executive Director & Co-Founder, Just Transition Fund

As the co-founder and executive director of the Just Transition Fund, Heidi is responsible for the design and the overall strategic direction of the organization. With more than 17 years of philanthropic experience on climate, coal, and energy issues, Heidi has worked with coal communities throughout the US and internationally in Australia. In her previous position as Associate Director for Special Climate Initiatives at RFF, Heidi helped develop and grow the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Before joining RFF, she was the executive director of the WestWind Foundation, a family foundation based in Virginia. She also previously served as co-chair of the board of directors of the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) and co-chair of the Climate and Energy Funders Group, a project of the Biodiversity Funders Group. Heidi holds degrees from Yale University and the University of Notre Dame.

Sunder Katwala

Director of British Future

Sunder Katwala is Director of British Future, an independent non-partisan think-tank, which works on identity and immigration, integration and opportunity. By engaging both with those who are anxious about cultural identity and economic opportunity, as well as those who already feel confident about our changing society, British Future seeks to broaden confidence in an welcoming and inclusive shared future. The National Conversation on Immigration was the biggest-ever public consultation on immigration and integration in the UK, working in partnership with the Home Affairs Select Committee. British Future has reshaped debate about public attitudes; helped economic and civic society stakeholders to engage with their target audiences more effectively, and championed practical responses to immigration, integration and identity that can strengthen the common ground. Sunder has previously been an Observer journalist and general secretary of the Fabian Society, and is a regular contributor to national media debates on identity and immigration.

Bruce Katz

Founding Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University

Bruce Katz is the Founding Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University in Philadelphia and is the coauthor of The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism. Previously he served as inaugural Centennial Scholar at Brookings Institution and as vice president and director of Brooking’s Metropolitan Policy Program for 20 years. He is a member of the RSA City Growth Commission in the United Kingdom and a Visiting Professor in Practice at London School of Economics. Katz previously served as chief of staff to the secretary of Housing and Urban Development and staff director of the Senate Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Affairs. Katz co-led the Obama administration’s housing and urban transition team. He is coauthor of The Metropolitan Revolution, editor or coeditor of several books on urban and metropolitan issues, and a frequent media commentator.

Sir John Kay


Sir John Kay is an economist whose career has spanned the academic world, business and finance, and public affairs. He has held chairs at the London Business School, the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics and is a Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, where he began his academic career in 1970. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

John is a director of several public companies and a contributing editor of the Financial Times. He chaired the Review of UK Equity Markets and Long-Term Decision-Making which reported to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in July 2012. He is the author of many books, including The Truth about Markets (2003), The Long and the Short of It (2009, new revised edition 2016) and Obliquity (2010). Other People’s Money was published by Profile Books and (in North America) by PublicAffairs in September 2015, was a book of the year for Bloomberg, The Economist and the Financial Times, winner of the Saltire Literary Prize for non-fiction, and was short-listed for the Orwell Prize for political writing. Radical Uncertainty, jointly written with Mervyn King, was published in March 2020. His latest book, Greed is Dead, co-authored with Paul Collier, was published in July 2020.