Spring Budget Briefing

Spring Budget Briefing 2024

Jeremy Hunt will deliver his Spring Budget on 6 March, which may be the last fiscal event announced before a General Election.

With the Chancellor facing pressure to cut taxes to help improve the Government’s poll ratings and appease the right of his party, the Budget is a crucial political moment. Whilst speculation about cuts to income tax, national insurance and inheritance tax all continue to swirl, the state of public finances remain challenging and all eyes will be on just what Jeremy Hunt has up his sleeve.

We’ve partnered with the Trade Association Forum (TAF) to help you analyse the announcements and what they mean for the year ahead.

Join us at 8:30 am on Thursday 7 March 2024, for our Spring Budget Briefing at Space14, where our panel will discuss what was unveiled in the budget and its potential impact on businesses and individuals, and what this might mean for the upcoming General Election.

Driving the discussion will be our chair Emily Wallace, interim CEO at TAF and panelists:

– Kevin Schofield, political editor, HuffPost
– Craig Beaumont, chief of external affairs, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
– Shazia Ejaz, campaigns director, Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC)
– Kelly Scott, VP account management, Vuelio

Doors open at 8:00 am at 14 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3JA, with the event kicking off at 8:30am. Breakfast and refreshments will be provided.

Save your place to be a part of the discussion.

Labour Shadow Cabinet 2024

Who’s who in the Labour Shadow Cabinet 2024

 

Labour Shadow Cabinet 2024

 

As the next UK General Election draws near, get to know exactly who is who in the Labour Shadow Cabinet. 

While Labour has been in opposition for thirteen years now – winning just 202 seats in the last General Election – the party’s fortunes could change in 2024. Polls currently put Labour around 20 points ahead of the Conservative Party, and by-elections in Selby and Ainsty, and Tamworth and Mid Bedfordshire have swung Labour’s way.

To help you plan for any possible outcome of the upcoming election season, here is a deep dive into the Labour Shadow Cabinet from the Vuelio Political Team. 

Featuring profiles of each member, you can find information on their background, previous positions held, as well as their recent activities. 

With Sir Keir Starmer last reshuffling his shadow cabinet in September 2023 to put his ‘strongest players on the pitch’, get to know each of them in this downloadable guide. 

Download the report by filling in the form below 👇

Procurement report

Connected Places Catapult launches report ‘The Art of the Possible in Public Procurement’

Last Wednesday Connected Places Catapult hosted a bustling event in the House of Lords. The event, hosted by Lord Erroll, worked to launch the new report: ‘The Art of the Possible in Public Procurement’, developed by the Innovation Procurement Empowerment Centre (IPEC).

IPEC is run by Catapult in combination with the University of Birmingham and University of Manchester.

The speakers focused on both the importance of public procurement and the challenges it faces. Moreover, there was a focus on mobilising and exploiting the Procurement Act, which one speaker argued represented a lot of flexibility. Additionally, the contributors also noted the success of the Welsh Authorities in exploiting public procurement.

Altogether the night may have been best summed up when a contributor noted that although ‘procurement isn’t the sexiest’, it is vital to ensure that countries’ institutions run correctly.

Beyond the event last Wednesday, The Art of the Possible in Public Procurement report neatly summarised the five possibilities of procurement into; unlocking transformative power, exploiting rules as enables; exploiting the competitive flexible procedure; innovation everywhere and building a sharing community.

Here is a breakdown of these several key conclusions:

Firstly, although driving innovation through procurement was a key policy in the 2023 Procurement Act, this will not be achieved unless there is a drive to implement and deliver the potential of reforms.

Innovation ambitions often collide with constrained public finance and resourcing.

Procurement is too often seen as an administrative and legally-driven process where it should be instead used as a strategic lever. Procurement can be an empowering process and allow public sector leaders to achieve their targets on health and environmental challenges. It needs to be embraced in this manner.

Procurement needs to be integrated into innovation and business development strategies. It also needs to be linked with strategic planning. Within this, the National Procurement Policy Statement needs to be taken seriously and strategy teams should review this as a starting point for their procurement journey,

Social value delivery needs to be more closely integrated into the desired outcomes of the procurement.

Throughout the report numerous case studies were utilised to illustrate the points in hand; this ranged from Leicestershire’s Children Services to Freightlab to the London Housing Consortium.

The report also detailed the need for a mindset shift over procurement. Specifically, all procurements have the potential to generate a new idea and economic activity; we need to look beyond them as purely transactional.

Finally, the report had a strong localism focus. It was about illustrating local organisations just as much as national organisations can fulfil the potentials of procurement to instigate local change. This is especially relevant given the levelling up agenda of the last half a decade.

Moving forward into 2024 and a General Election year, events and reports like this will be vital to ensure that effective public procurement is a top priority for the next Government.

For regular updates on what is happening in UK politics and public affairs, sign up to our weekly Point of Order newsletter, going out every Friday morning.

Sunak and Starmer reaction to polling

Sunak and Starmer reaction to MRP polling

With a General Election at most 12 months away, and potentially as soon as May, any information about the composition of the next Parliament is essential for public affairs work and campaigning.

This is why the MRP (multi-level regression and post-stratification) polling from YouGov released by The Telegraph this week has made an immediate splash.

MRP polling is a way to use large samples to predict public opinion at a more granular, constituency level. People vote based on multiple characteristics, such as age, gender, and occupation. This specific combination of characteristics is rare, but the individual characteristics are shared by many. MRP polling looks at each criteria to get an idea of how different groups will vote. It can then calculate probabilities of a specific type of person to vote in one way and using datasets is able to import this to specific constituency demographics.

This specific MRP found that if an election was held today, Labour would win a 120 seat majority and the Conservatives would slump to just 169 seats. It predicted significant Liberal Democrat gains, to 48, and that the SNP seat share would nearly halve to just 25 seats. Significant casualties for the Conservatives would be Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt, and rightwing firebrand and recent returner to the backbenches, Lee Anderson.

Remarkably, the reaction from the top echelon of the major parties was very similar. In a Whatsapp to Labour MPs, the Party warned of complacency, with Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer encouraging members, activists, and MPs to campaign like they were five points behind. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted the only poll that matters is the one on election day.

However, it is too simple to look at this poll at face value.

Firstly, there are immediate concerns about who funded it, with suspicions arising when Lord Frost was quoted in The Telegraph article saying the only way to avoid the results was ‘to be as tough as it takes on immigration, reverse the debilitating increases in tax, end the renewables tax on energy costs’. It turns out the MRP polling was funded by the Conservative British Alliance, an organisation without even a website. Speaking to Politico, polling expert Lord Hayward noted his suspicion of polls funded by less than transparent organisations.

Secondly, YouGov itself called into question much of The Telegraph’s analysis of the results. It dismissed claims that Labour’s support was only up an average of 4% across the country, saying the headline vote intention showed Labour to be at 39.5% and the Conservatives 26%. YouGov also distanced itself from the claim that there could be a hung parliament if Reform UK did not stand. In fact, a YouGov poll in October 2023 found that only 31% of Reform UK voters said that they would vote Conservative if a Reform candidate did not stand.

There are also greater questions about the effectiveness of MRP polling.

President of the Liberal Democrats Mark Pack argues that MRP polling is not specific enough to deal with some extreme individual circumstances and MRP performs far better when there are greater variations between constituencies.

Polling expert Peter Kellner takes this on further with his explanation of the defects of MRP. Kellner explains that MRP polling uses an essentially proportional model which means that the more a party wins locally in one election, the more it risks in the next one. This means that when the Government loses a significant chunk of support, MRP polls predict many more seat losses than polls that use uniform national swing (UNS), the other main way to gain polling data.

Kellner argues that often the pattern of swings in Britain is closer to UNS than proportional drops. Kellner breaks swing voters into ‘grumblers’ and ‘defectors’. Grumblers are more likely to show dissent in by-election and mid-term elections, while ‘defectors’ are those who determine a General Election result as they are willing to abandon the party in Government. This phenomenon has led to by-election defeats, with former Conservative strongholds evidently having a lot of grumblers, and leads to MRP polling leading to the Conservatives losing seats which they have large majorities in. However, Kellner argues that defectors tend to often have weaker loyalties and can likely be influenced by events, and believes that UNS is a better way to measure ‘defector’ numbers while MRP can predict by-election results. Kellner thus predicts that Labour’s lead is likely to narrow in the polls as the election approaches due to voter behaviour change, as people are no longer ‘grumblers’ but have to decide what their future Government is.

If Kellner is correct, the MRP polling from this week may be less impactful than much of the media is presenting. Significantly, 17.5% of voters in another recent YouGov poll, did not know who they would vote for at the next election. Previous studies have found that undecided Conservatives still lean towards the Party and it is also likely that the Reform UK vote will decrease once an election is called. Perhaps Starmer’s caution and Sunak’s optimism are not uncalled for.

Altogether, although the MRP polling is insightful, it is important to remember its source and that polling can not always be taken at face value. Just ask Neil Kinnock after 1992 or Theresa May in 2017.

For regular updates on what is happening in UK politics and public affairs, sign up to our weekly Point of Order newsletter, going out every Friday morning.

Why 2024 is the year to start paying it forward with your PR

White paper: Why 2024 is the time to start paying it forward with your PR

Are you making a difference with your PR? If you’ve considered teaming up with local charities, collaborating with community groups, or fancy taking on pro-bono work – 2024 is your year to start.

‘The times are calling for bold, brave action [and] authentic, purpose-led communications is the way forward,’ said PRCA Global Ethics Council co-chair Nitin Mantri as part of the group’s 2022 annual perspective. Cause-led comms have become even more important since, highlighted as a key trend in our round-up of industry predictions for the year ahead.

‘These days consumers are far more savvy when it comes to where they are spending their money and publications sometimes have a quota to cover a certain amount of sustainably responsible brands,’ said Francesca Cullen and Rosie Lees, co-founders and directors of Nineteen94 Communications Agency.

‘This leaves a really big opportunity for purpose-driven brands to succeed.’

Not sure where to begin? Our new white paper ‘Paying it forward with your PR’ offers pointers for building purpose-driven campaigns into your comms plan for 2024.

Download the paper to learn from experts in social impact PR working across different sectors, including:

Full Fat account director Clara Pérez Miñones and partner Paul Joseph on becoming a pro at pro-bono
Little Red PR CEO Victoria Ruffy on the benefits of becoming a B Corp brand
Sefton Council communications officer Ollie Cowan on ensuring unprepared voters won’t get turned away at the polling station
– The Royal National Institute of Blind People’s Lindsay Coyle and Gorki Duhra and the Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland’s head of communications and PR Alana Fisher on fighting for legislation change

‘Paying it forward with your PR’ can be downloaded here.

For more on advocacy campaigns and cause-led comms, read our interview with GivingTuesday digital director, strategy Kathleen Murphy on how brands can give back and these four examples of brands making a difference with social impact campaigns.

How the RNIB empowers communities through advocacy campaigns

How the RNIB empowers communities through advocacy campaigns

Want to speak up for your community in Parliament and in the press? Take note from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), which successfully campaigned to overturn the UK Government’s proposal to close almost all ticket offices across England and Glasgow Central last year.

As part of our webinar ‘Empowering communities through advocacy campaigns’, the RNIB’s local campaigns manager Lindsay Coyle shared extra advice on making an impact and what happens after a cabinet reshuffle…

What was the most impactful and the least useful part of your campaigns?

I think for us the most impactful was social media. Just having people be able to share their own experience of arriving at a station, trying to navigate and use an inaccessible ticket vending machine seemed to get a lot of traction. RMT were retweeting us, too.

Similarly, having people talk about why they use ticket offices and being able to compile that and share as a video was great. Equally, having people write to their MP – at the Westminster Hall debate, MPs were reading out the experiences of blind and partially sighted people and we managed to reach 9 out of 10 MPs, which was pretty awesome.

Least impactful – we did try and engage with Conservative MPs who had spoken out against this but we didn’t have a lot of success with that.

How can a charity successfully campaign on the issues they are passionate about?

As an organisation, we have a very good reputation with MPs at Westminster level, backed up by polling. We are seen as a credible and trusted source of information so it’s about not doing anything that may be a detriment to that but equally being able to build allies where you can. That is possibly the reason why we were able to secure a meeting with Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Louise Haigh.

I also think it is hugely important to engage both direct beneficiaries as well as the wider public in your work. To empower individuals affected by an issue so they have the confidence and tools to make change where they wish – not only is it empowering for the individual but it also allows charities to extend their reach so messaging is carried to an even wider audience.

On a wider note, and purely a bit of a personal crusade, I think there is some work to be done around civic engagement. We want people from lower-represented/marginalised groups to be able to fully participate in civic engagement – from being able to vote, through to standing for public office – so councillor, school governor, even an MP. We need wider representation within decision making.

Be social media savvy. Use platforms in an engaging way.

Nothing can replace the power of personal stories so really use those – in the media, online, with MPs, etc.

How does the RNIB team up with other groups for campaigns?

We’re part of a number of different consortia – the Disability Benefits Consortium – who we have worked with to shine a light on the impact of the cost-of-living on disabled people. We are also part of the Disability Charities Consortium, made up of senior reps from the biggest disability charities, We have worked with them on wider issues such as feeding into the Government’s disability strategy.

We are also part of an organisation called Visionary, which is an umbrella body of organisations supporting people with sight loss – so national orgs such as ourselves, Guide Dogs, Glaucoma UK, etc., as well as smaller local sight loss charities. If an issue we are working on affects people with sight loss specifically, such as the availability of vision rehab, then we would work together through Visionary.

Additionally, we may proactively seek to work with other organisations on very specific issues. For example, for the past couple of years, we have been campaigning for improved accessibility of the built environment and have put together a guide called ‘The Key Principles of Inclusive Street Design’ which covers things such as accessible crossings, making consultations accessible. We reached out to other organisations such as Brake, the road safety charity, to ask them to endorse this guide, which they did. This then gives it more weight when we go to local authorities to press for change, as it’s seen as less of a niche issue.

What happens on your teams after a Cabinet reshuffle/times of political unrest?

We have a Public Affairs team who constantly monitor activity at Westminster. Once we know who is in which role, they tend to produce a briefing outlining each person and their background which is shared with relevant colleagues such as Policy and Campaigns, Directors, Trustees. We may then also write to welcome Ministers into their new role, particularly if there is an issue we are currently campaigning on. For example, we are working currently to push for the update to the NHS England Accessible Information Standard to be released (it has been delayed for a while) so we have written to the Health Secretary Victoria Atkins to ask her to do this, as it should be a relatively quick win – for them and us.

We are also proactively preparing for the forthcoming General Election. We are working with an external agency to get us election ready as an organisation with a communications roadmap set up, so the wider work of the organisation can be coordinated, as well as identifying key campaign moments. This will involve coordinating work with PR, policy and campaigns, social media.
We will also be looking at how we can bring our supporters into this work e.g. holding training sessions on what MPs and candidates want in the run up to a General Election. We will also have an organisation-wide manifesto.

For more on cause-led comms and making a difference, read our interview with JustGiving’s director, digital strategy Kathleen Murphy. Want more on UK politics? Sign up to Vuelio’s weekly Point of Order newsletter.

2023 in politics

UK politics: 2023 end-of-year review

This is a post from Michael Kane, Henry Welch, Helen Stott, and Alexandra Moran on the Vuelio Political team. 

With seven by-elections, numerous Cabinet reshuffles, Nigel Farage in the jungle, the return of David Cameron and Government disapproval ratings flatlining at around 60%, the Vuelio Political team have assessed the various political themes that have shaped the year so far.

Sunak’s pivot to migration

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak started and ended 2023 by asserting the same line on the need to cut illegal and legal migration. In January, Sunak set out his priorities for 2023, one of which was passing new laws to stop small boats and ensure that those who come to Britain illegally are ‘detained and swiftly removed.’ The Illegal Migration Bill was then unveiled in March and granted Royal Assent in July.

After a back and forth with the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, Sunak started December by introducing the Rwanda Bill to overcome their concerns. His press conference on the Bill felt to some like a rehash of prior statements on Illegal Migration from the start of the year, and his speech at Conservative Party Conference emphasised the issue.

This focus on cutting illegal migration was flanked by an attempt to cut legal migration numbers in response to the Office for National Statistics’ reveal in November that the UK’s net migration was 745,000 in 2022. Predictably, there was outrage from Conservative backbenchers and Sunak used this energy to strengthen the border controls, announcing five measures to tackle legal migration. Most significantly, the Government announced that they will increase the earning threshold for overseas workers by nearly 50% from its current position of £26,200 to £38,700. It was later claimed that these changes will stop 300,000 people from entering the UK each year.

Sunak’s increasing focus on cutting migration may be twofold: 1) Energise leave voters and 2019 Conservative voters; and 2) Force Starmer to commit to a position. These reasons are complementary, as by energising leave voters and 2019 Conservative voters it commits Starmer to a position – these voters formed a significant part of Labour’s coalition of voters in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Starmer flirted with the idea of processing illegal migrants abroad in a speech in December 2023, perhaps as a result of this. Sunak’s pivot to migration has highlighted the rhetorical and practical differences between himself and Starmer.

Nevertheless, the viability of this as a political strategy remains dubious for Sunak. While the Rwanda Bill may have passed, it took Sunak’s former Home Secretary, Minister for Immigration, two dozen Conservative backbench abstentions with it and One Nation Conservative MPs threatening to turn against it if the bill is amended. Perhaps then, Sunak’s pivot to migration will only empower the very backbenchers in which his political fate relies upon. Additionally, polling indicates that voters are more concerned with the cost-of-living crisis – will Sunak’s focus on migration risk coming across as tone deaf, as the then-Conservative leader Michael Howard’s pivot to migration had in 2005?

Starmer’s year of probation

Coming into 2023, Keir Starmer’s Labour party stood at around 45% in the opinion polls compared to the Conservatives’ 25/30% – this story is very much the same at the end of year, too. This, coupled with the cumulative momentum of a summer and autumn of by-election gains very much points to Keir Starmer in Downing Street being the result of the next General Election. With this in mind, we can view Starmer’s actions this year through the prism of a probation period with the British Public as his actions pivoted towards those of a Prime Minister in waiting.

Starmer’s pivot to being a Prime Minister in waiting can be seen in his twofold strategy of stability and reassurance. Take Starmer’s moves to resist calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza crisis – this was framed as a move to follow the United States lead on the issue and show that Labour could strategically manage an international crisis; in this regard, a message to voters that they can trust Labour with foreign policy. Although Labour’s position has softened since the October attacks due to internal pressure, Starmer has rarely stepped out of line with the UK and US Government and has even openly said that this is an issue that Labour needs to prove it can govern on. This attempt to lead on foreign issues was foreshadowed by an attempt to weigh in on the Northern Ireland Protocol in a speech to Queen’s University Belfast in early January.

Throughout the year Starmer has consistently broadened his message more and more towards the whole country. The Labour Party Conference setting was draped in the Union Jack to equate Labour with patriotism, while Starmer’s speeches to the British Chambers of Commerce Global Conference in May and the North East Chamber of Commerce in November complemented Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ perennial argument that business need not be scared of Labour.

Furthermore, Starmer’s conference speech represented a strong gesture to Conservative voters. This rhetoric continued in a speech in December as he tried to resonate with those leave voters who voted Conservative in 2019, making even more obvious appeals to the benefits of Brexit. To top this courting, Starmer even praised Margaret Thatcher’s project of ‘meaningful change.’

Nonetheless, these moves have prompted backlash, with some in the Labour Party critiquing Starmer over his comments on Thatcher and the Israel-Gaza crisis. Meanwhile, Labour’s strategy of reassurance perhaps left them hamstrung in a mild response to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement for Growth.

Labour’s limited response to the Autumn Statement perhaps represents the crossroads Starmer faces. While a two-pronged approach of reassurance and stability helped Labour get to the mid-40s in the polls, it will not not help them change the country. It’s not 1997 anymore – Starmer could perhaps benefit by pursuing the very change he has been seen to be scared of confronting.

The SNP’s conundrum

Towards the end of 2022, the then First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon held talks with the then new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, later repeated in January 2023. Among the discussions were the economic and social challenges faced by Scotland but also the prospect of a second independence referendum. After all, it was only in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election that the SNP promised to deliver a referendum, if elected. Nevertheless, just shy of 12 months from the second set of talks, the SNP’s prospects for independence have dramatically diminished.

Spring forward to October 2023, and the SNP held their annual conference – for the first time in years the party proposed a conference debate on how to achieve independence. The elected SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf warned the party to stop talking about independence and for the debate to draw a line under it. For context, just a year ago, the SNP published its third independence paper and October 2023 had been earmarked by Sturgeon as the time for a second independence referendum.

This comes after months of polling indicating that while support for independence has remained the same, support for the SNP has decreased steadily. This is flanked by internal splits in the SNP made clear for all to see in Kate Forbes’ leadership campaign and the development of the Alba Party, as leadership candidate Ash Regan became its first MSP. While Yousaf may have gained some authority over his handling of the Israel-Gaza crisis, this year perhaps represents a shift in Scottish voters away from the SNP, as polling indicates that SNP and Labour both stand at around the 30-35% level in Scotland. In this sense, voters do not see the SNP as the clear and obvious vehicle for change with Labour emerging as contenders – perhaps the Scottish Budget may answer the concerns of these voters.

The breakdown of the green consensus

Following a general green consensus in the May and Johnson Governments, 2023 was a year of Rishi Sunak attempting to use green policy as a wedge against Labour. However, there are doubts over whether this wedge is more rhetoric than reality.

The year began with the creation of the Department of Net Zero and Energy Security, linking the two ideas within central Government. However, top level criticism of the Government’s net zero policies ramped up with the Climate Change Committee’s (CCCs) annual report in June warning that the UK was losing its world-leading position.

Perhaps the most decisive point for net zero policy came in July, with the Conservatives winning the Uxbridge by-election. This followed a successful campaign to disparage the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone. With Uxbridge, even after years of Starmer courting Conservative voters, Sunak had found his wedge between the two main parties. Sunak’s net zero speech in September was a continuation of this, as it was announced several policies would be supplanted, with the Government delaying targets for electric vehicle rollout and scrapping energy efficiency targets for landlords.

As part of this wedge, the Government sought to undermine Labour’s commitment of implementing £28bn of new spending on renewables, with this now derided in response to any question on the economy and the first line of the Autumn Statement. The Government also targeted Labour’s policy of no new oil and gas licences in the North Sea. Net zero was not as prioritised as the department’s name suggested, with the Government instead announcing a hundred new oil and gas licences at the end of July, committing to drill at Rosebank and announcing the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill in the King’s Speech. Although Labour has weakened its £28bn investment, the party has recently recommitted to it. Labour has also refused to be drawn into a trap around oil and gas and has agreed to not overturn any new licences.

Nevertheless, there is a serious question if the Government’s rhetoric and actions differ on net zero. Assessments of Sunak’s September speech from the CCC saw these announcements as ‘score draw’ or even a net positive. Most significantly, the Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate survived, even with Conservative protest. Furthermore, the Government responded decisively to the failure of having no offshore wind bidders at Contracts for Difference auction round five. It is also perhaps likely that the Government will be willing to commit to using community benefits to gain support for local onshore wind farms. The Energy Act also included many positive developments, with the creation of the Great British Nuclear, unlocking new business models for hydrogen and a new net zero mandate for Ofgem.

So, has this wedge actually had an effect? Some polling found that people’s opinion of Sunak fell following his September announcement, with many voters still listing net zero as a priority. However, measures on electric vehicles were broadly popular. Likewise, there is doubt over whether the Government’s rhetoric tallies with their actions on net zero. This can perhaps be seen most at COP28. Although Sunak faced derision for spending more time flying to and from the conference than attending it, Britain remained a world leader in forcing a more significant agreement and also announced it would be providing £1.6bn for green finance and international climate change.

Pressure on the economy and public services

The year has been overshadowed by concerns around rising inflation and the pressure this puts on public services. Inflation was cited as the main reason for the Prime Minister’s decision to scrap the second phase of HS2 earlier this year. While Sunak may have been successful in his goal to get inflation halved by the end of the year, this still means that wages are losing their value in real terms – just at a slightly lower rate. 2023 has been a year dominated by industrial action across multiple sectors, and substantial public sector pay settlements have eaten into departmental budgets. The Government may have had a breakthrough on a pay deal with NHS consultants, but junior doctor strikes are still looming on the horizon, and there is still widespread dissatisfaction with pay among nurses and other NHS workers. The Government is insisting that pay rises must be funded through existing budgets, but this seems unlikely with NHS services already stretched to breaking point over the winter period, and an estimated £1.4bn of costs incurred due to strike action.

The Government has promised to ringfence health budgets but this puts even more pressure on other departments. Commentators have observed that Hunt’s tax cuts announced at the Autumn Statement are essentially paid for by cuts to public services which are ‘baked in’ for after the election. Moreover, research by the Institute for Government has shown that there will be real term spending decreases from 2024-25 to 2027-28: -0.7% in Local Government, -0.9% in Schools, -5.6% in the Courts and -6.7% in Prisons. With public services’ struggling and Local Governments such as Birmingham City Council and Cheshire East Council declaring bankruptcy, this raises significant questions for the Government and the Labour Party.

The Conservatives could be laying a trap for Labour – forcing the party to commit to what will be very difficult to implement spending cuts, or risk looking fiscally irresponsible. So far, Reeves and Starmer have avoided walking too close to this trap, but this may become more difficult as the General Election draws nearer.

PR for good: How to empower communities with advocacy campaigns

PR for good: How to empower communities with advocacy campaigns

Feeling unsure of your purpose in PR? Comms can be a force for good – it can amplify voices (too often) unheard by decision makers, changing mindsets, and sparking progress in society.

If you have PR skills, you already have everything you need in your toolbox to make change, too.

This was the topic of our latest Vuelio webinar ‘Empowering communities through advocacy campaigns’, where we were joined by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland (CVSNI). Both organisations have had measurable success with ensuring their communities are heard and with pushing progress forward – here’s how they did it…

‘From the outset, our purpose and objectives were clear’: Royal National Institute of Blind People’s battle against railway ticket office closures

The challenge: Keeping offices open
On 5 July, a proposal was published to close almost all ticket offices across England and Glasgow Central. Despite the potentially huge consequences of this, a consultation was opened for just 21 days. For the RNIB, this meant quick action would be needed:

‘Our messaging was very clear,’ said RNIB’s local campaigns manager Lindsay Coyle. Aims were set – push for an extension to the consultation period, and keep the ticket offices open.

Actions: Get the word out
RNIB has regional teams across the country, and everybody needed to be on board with plans to spark engagement with the cause. Consultation response templates were shared, emails were sent out to subscribers encouraging contact with MPs, and news items were placed detailing how to submit responses.

As the consultation period was extended to 1 September, the RNIB team kept pushing, asking supporters to continue to write to their MPs and local newspapers expressing their concerns. In October, the transport secretary asked operators to withdraw their proposals – ticket offices would not be closed, and RNIB had achieved both of their objectives.

Results: Mainstream media cut through
As shared by Gorki Duhra from the PR team, RNIB secured 1,121 pieces of media coverage across broadcast print and online for this campaign. National media outlets including BBC, ITV, Sky, The Telegraph, The Independent, and local outlets across the devolved nations picked up the story, as volunteer campaigners, regional campaign officers, policy officers and spokespeople gave interviews.

RNIB media coverage

The RNIB team secured a huge key message penetration rate of 98% across its media coverage, with 94% directly mentioning the charity’s research.

‘On the first day, we reached about 906 media outlets, which was a record for the charity for a one-day event,’ said Gorki. ‘Our messaging resonated with so many different people across society. We were on target straight away in getting the message out. And that was just by being prepared.’

Want to get positive results for your next campaign? Get everybody on board
‘We coordinated our team internally, engaging our wider staff group, and setting up an internal teams channel,’ shared Lindsay.

For external stakeholder engagement, personal stories and case studies are vital. RNIB invited the public to create their own stories using #INeedATicketOffice:

‘We got videos of blind and partially-sighted people and our volunteer campaigners filming at local train stations to show how difficult it was to purchase a ticket, use the vending machines,’ explained Lindsay.

‘When politicians talked about the issue in Parliament, they spoke about the experiences of blind and partially sighted constituents and shared those stories directly. Labour actually used some of our statistics in their comms, as well.

‘Sharing personal stories across social media is really powerful, as is the ability to act quickly – being able to mobilise people to take action.’

Gorki shared the importance of being reactive to get cut-through:

‘As a charity, we knew about this a week before the announcement, which was snuck out on some Tuesday afternoon, at about 4.45pm, as these things tend to be. We had a few statements signed off and ready, and our distribution list of journalists – six minutes after it was announced, I had our statement out in the press.

‘PR isn’t just a press release, it’s using social media contingent, audio content, other messages – it’s sharing what people are really saying.’

‘What precedent does this set for the rest of the world?’: Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland’s fight to support those impacted by the lasting legacy of The Troubles

The challenge: Centring people in Governmental procedure

Background to the Legacy Bill

Head of communications and PR Alana Fisher’s ten-person team at CVSNI had a huge challenge ahead of them for this particular campaign – advocating for victims and survivors of The Troubles in the wake of the proposals within the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. The Bill was laid by the UK Parliament in May 2022 and widely condemned across Northern Ireland’s political spectrum – key contentions included provisions for immunity from prosecution for Troubles-related offences, and shutting down civil cases such as inquests.

Ultimately, the team knew stopping the Bill’s passage through Parliament would likely be an insurmountable task, and in September 2023, the Bill was passed into law. CVSNI’s energy and resources during its passage were focused on amendments; trying to keep victims and survivors front and centre:

‘There is such a vested interest in this Bill because of what it means for other conflict zones and the rest of the world who would look to the UK as a leader in upholding human rights,’ said Alana.

Actions: Educating on Northern Ireland’s history and influencing decision makers in Parliament

Education on the ongoing impact of Northern Ireland’s past would be a vital part of the CVSNI’s campaign – especially for stakeholders missing knowledge of the issue. Stakeholders to reach alongside victims and survivors were the media, NGOs and academics, international groups including the United Nations, the ECHR, and the US. Key stakeholders with the power to implement change were in UK Parliament:

‘We wrote to parliamentarians likely to have vested interest in this issue and developed very specific requests to be considered as amends to the Bill,’ explained Alana.

‘We were able to have a breakfast meeting with House of Lords Peers, bringing them together with victims and sharing what the Bill would mean for them, their families, and wider society. We got them early around a table, and highlighted those personal stories.

‘Most of the victim sector in Northern Ireland took an approach of no engagement with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), which is Westminster’s branch looking after NI. The Commission came from a different point of view – we are a statutory organisation, and we have to advocate for all victims. We were vocal in our opposition to the Bill in the media, but alongside this, we adopted a pragmatic approach of leaning, in determining the power and influence we could have in the final shape of the Bill.’

‘The media and our own comms channels were an important way to highlight our messages – traditional media as well as self-generated. We produced podcast episodes on this issue, animation videos – different ways that we could raise the profile and how it was not an appropriate approach to deal with Northern Ireland’s past.’

Results: Growing understanding of impact
‘We really got to grow knowledge and understanding of the continuing impact of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, not just on victims and survivors, but through the generations,’ said Alana. ‘That isn’t always there in mainland UK, particularly with generational change.

‘Many members within the House of Lords went on record to say that this is the wrong approach, and at one stage during its passage, the Lords voted to remove the clause around immunity from prosecutions (it was, however, reinstated by the House of Commons).

‘We were able to get our message onto media channels in mainland UK as well as in Northern Ireland and international journalists, like those at the New York Times who were now keeping eye on this.’

Ultimately, the objective was to centre the voices of those who would be impacted the most, and CVSNI placed them in a position to be heard.

For success in your own cause-led campaigns, remember the people at the centre of your issue

‘When you put human beings in front of other human beings, it’s a different level of understanding that comes about,’ advises Alana.

‘We can put together as many communication tools and press releases as we want, but the power of personal stories was pivotal to us in highlighting what this Bill will do, both for the victims and survivors and their families, but also for the wider reconciliation aspect in Northern Ireland.’

Whatever you’re communicating, getting the word out to those who need to hear it is key. Know what you want to achieve, make sure your team is onboard and prepared, find your stakeholders, and get connecting – it really can make a difference.

Watch the full webinar here, and check out these four brands making a big impact with their cause-led comms.

Autumn Statement Breakfast Briefing

Vuelio x Trade Association Forum: Highlights from the 2023 Autumn Statement

The morning following the Government’s Autumn Statement on 22 November, Vuelio and the Trade Association Forum came together to hold a breakfast briefing for a crowd of communications and public affairs professionals.

Autumn Statement Breakfast Briefing

The discussion was driven by a panel of experts eager to discuss the most pressing issues and their predictions following the announcement.

– Emily Wallace, CEO, Trade Association Forum
– Jeremy Gray, Head of Policy, Federation of Master Builders
– Craig Beaumont, Chief of External Affairs, Federation of Small Businesses
– Thomas Pope, Deputy Chief Economist, Institute for Government
– Jennifer Prescott, Political Services Team Lead, Vuelio

As British newspapers followed up on the statement, the most popular topics were tax cuts and public service spending, quality of education, inflation and fiscal drag, support for small businesses, and welfare among marginalised communities.

Springtime speculations for General Election

A prominent prediction – in both the media and public affairs sector – is that Jeremy Hunt’s tax-cutting motives are a ‘populist move’ ahead of a possible General Election next spring. When the crowd at Vuelio’s breakfast briefing were asked for a show of hands, a little over half predicted May, the rest said Autumn, while nobody thought January.

As reported by The Independent, Hunt insisted his tax cuts were orientated towards ‘long-term growth’ for the economy, and called it ‘silly’ to suggest this was a populist move tied to the timing of the next election.

In the two days following a piece from The Guardian quoting Hunt that the cuts were the ‘biggest in history’, 68 national newspapers and 103 regional news outlets shared the claim.

Threats to public services

As part of these cuts, an estimated £19bn cut in public service spending also raised concerns on the impact on NHS treatment and the relative labour force. Shortly after the Autumn Statement, The Independent quoted The Institute for Fiscal Studies in warning that Britain was on course for ‘drastic public-sector cuts’ that are ‘even more painful than the austerity of the 2010s’.

Hunt was quoted in 48% of tax-cut coverage in national British newspapers, stating ‘if you want to put more money into the NHS, you need a strong economy’.

Alongside healthcare, a member of Lambeth Council, who attended the briefing, raised concerns to the panel about the survival, quality, and maintenance of local governments. They also added that the issue could potentially be tackled by raising minimum wage for staff employed by councils.

Panelist Jeremy Gray, Head of Policy at The Federation of Master Builders, agreed with this statement and furthered that local authority funding has been restricted so heavily, cases of local authorities going bankrupt or not being able to provide basic services are on the rise.
Heather Stewart, The Guardian’s former political editor, voted it as one of the public sectors that will ‘suffer most’ to ‘pay for Tory tax-cuts’ – second to courts, prisons, and probation services.

Fiscal drag

The relative impact of fiscal drag – a concept whereby inflation of wages pushes people into higher tax brackets – is a rapidly growing concern. Economists have repeatedly argued across the press that the overall tax burden will remain at a record high, because of the continued freeze on tax thresholds.

A representative for a well-known homeless charity who attended the briefing, referenced the issue when arguing against Hunt’s decision to reduce national insurance by 2%. Their argument, that this reduction doesn’t hold up next to the ‘failure’ to address Brits under the poverty line, was widely supported by the panel, adding that Brits are not protected from falling deeper.

Vuelio’s Jennifer Prescott added to this conversation, stating that tax cuts were framed as a ‘positive spin’ in the statement, but the media has rapidly revealed studies suggesting why the opposite could be true. This is due to recent research, including IPPR’s release that only £3 of every £100 goes to worse-off families. Further, Sunak’s claims of ‘halving inflation’ have been widely criticised as ‘misleading’ and ‘boastful’.

Support for businesses

On a more positive note, business proposals were overall welcomed by the breakfast briefing crowd; particularly due to the focus on start-ups and smaller companies, i.e. business rates relief and full capital expensing.

Panellist Craig Beaumont added to this conversation that we should pay as much attention to the Liberal Democrats for this kind of support, pointing to their successes in South West England.

Unsupported education goals

Jennifer Prescott mentioned that Sunak’s 20 November speech, including his five key priorities for 2023, mentioned goals for a ‘world class education system’, yet any sort of plan for this was missing from the Autumn Statement.

Change in OBR attitudes

Panellist Thomas Pope, Deputy Chief Economist of Institute for Government, placed significant emphasis on how the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has ‘downgraded’ its economic forecast, stating that it is ‘usually optimistic’. This observation was also covered by The Guardian, adding that inflation will likely exceed the 2% target until 2025.

Publishing updated forecasts from the OBR, the Chancellor said the Government was moving to ‘get the economy back on track’ after the pandemic and energy crisis. However, while the economy will avoid a recession this year – with a revision to forecasts for a drop of 0.2%, to growth of 0.6% – the OBR slashed its estimates for 2024 from growth of 1.8% to only 0.7%.

Disability Welfare

Alongside concerns for families under the poverty line, Hunt has been accused of ‘demonising’ disabled people in the press – a term used in 86 of the 483 national news headlines that emerged four days after the statement. This followed sweeping welfare changes that will ‘strip’ disability benefits for those who don’t appear to be actively looking for work. The regime will mean welfare recipients who do not get a job within 18 months will have to do mandatory work experience, while those who don’t look for work for a six-month period will have benefits stopped.

While the Chancellor said the goal is to save ‘wasted potential’ in the population, criticisms were high among the breakfast briefing crowd. Hunt also confirmed a rise in benefits and the state pension but said he would penalise those who took the taxpayer for granted with a crackdown on the long-term unemployed. The work capability assessment will be changed to assume that more of those with physical disabilities are able to work from home, while unemployed people who have been claiming universal credit for 18 months will lose work benefits unless they have a good reason.

Jennifer Prescott added that this was not reflective of a ‘compassionate conservatism’, a philosophy that the party has frequently identified with since election in 2010. Others added that the speech and statement lacked support for the working class and marginalised communities as a whole.

Polarising the conversation

Whether or not Hunt’s announcements are catered to an oncoming election, several members of the panel, including Emily Wallace, CEO at Trade Association Forum, expressed belief that there was an essence of ‘owning’ the past 13 years of power throughout Hunt’s speech and the Autumn Statement – for example, Hunt referencing the education system proposed under David Cameron’s power. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves responded to this commentary by arguing that public services have been repeatedly neglected, and that it is now ‘too little too late’.

Reeves also received high volumes of national coverage for ‘attacking’ the Conservative party, particularly for ‘presiding over low growth and high taxes’. The Guardian quoted the Shadow Chancellor in her statement that working people are ‘worse off under the Conservatives’ with ‘growth down, mortgages up, prices up, taxes up, debt up’.

When asked about presumptions for the near future, Jennifer Prescott added that Labour are in a strong position to use the fact that the Conservatives have been in power for 13 years and therefore have a record to defend.

Vuelio Political Monitoring can help you track the impact of political activity on your campaigns. Want to know more about how our services can support your PR and communications? Get in touch.

Autumn Statement 2023 overview

Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement for growth: rhetoric or reality

On Wednesday 22 November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt unveiled the Government’s Autumn Statement – just over a year after former Prime Minister, Liz Truss’ mini budget caused an economic rupture in the UK’s economy. In this sense, this statement represented a culmination of a year of politicking from the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in an effort to reassure the public.

The mission of calming the choppy waters has seen the return of David Cameron and the Autumn Statement has been an extension of this: the focus on ‘economic responsibility’ through welfare sanctions and scepticism on borrowing are self-evident staples of Conservatism. This was also complemented by a moral and practical argument for cutting personal taxes and supporting businesses and innovation.

Nevertheless, the statement had missing pieces which made some question whether it really is the coherent economic plan for Government that is claimed, or is, instead, the start of the Conservative’s re-election campaign.

Two days prior to the Autumn Statement Sunak, proclaimed that now is the time to cut taxes. The previous day, Hunt had told Sunday with Laura Kuenssbergy that the Government could not rule out tax cuts, while also refusing to detail specifics. Both of these developments came after a year of the No.10 and HM Treasury press rooms briefing every week that tax cuts would only come once inflation had reduced – after all, Hunt had briefed this at the Conservative Party Conference. This key pledge to reduce inflation formed an important part of Sunak’s five key priorities for 2023 – in essence, the start of the Conservative’s mission of calming the waters.

Sunak’s speech on Monday reaffirmed this sentiment as he announced a further five missions. These were phrased specifically as long term with three out of five focusing on the UK’s macroeconomic situation: reducing debt; cutting taxes and making work pay; and supporting British business. These missions were expanded upon in the Autumn Statement: a cut to NI contributions by 2%; a cut to NI contributions from self-employed; a ‘responsible’ approach to public spending; increasing benefit sanctions; making full expensing permanent; investments in manufacturing and the creation of four new regional investment zones.

Throughout both Sunak’s speech on Monday and Hunt’s speech on Wednesday, the Government’s alleged long term economic plan was emphasised. They both argued that Labour’s strategy is its antithesis; clear dividing lines were set up between the Conservatives and Labour’s supposed preference for regulation, borrowing, taxes, inflationary policies, trade unionism, and intervention.

This approach perhaps raises wider questions for the Conservative’s political strategy. It could elucidate Sunak’s focus on the economy instead of ‘culture wars’ as he attempts to clear the blue water with Labour – that only under Conservative rule will your money be looked after. The very fact that the statement is titled an ‘Autumn Statement for growth’ is testament to this, also. This represents a clear attempt to battle over economic prudence and economic responsibility, just as the Conservatives centred its election strategy in 2010 and 2015. Maybe, then, Lord Cameron’s return last week was not purely ceremonial.

While the Conservative’s Autumn Statement helped illuminate its priorities, by that very nature it also revealed what is potentially on the back foot for the Government.

Despite Sunak and Hunt both focusing on the Conservatives’ commitment to deliver a ‘world class’ education system, there were glaring voids in the concrete substance. A continued commitment to apprenticeships through a £50m pilot scheme will do little to change the fact that the implementation of apprenticeship levy and T Levels has failed. Additionally, the absence of any additional support for childcare could mean that the Government’s plans for 30 hours of free childcare may fall flat due to the significant concerns over the sector’s ability to implement them without additional support. Just 3.9% of the UK’s GDP is spent on education, compared to 5% in OECD. Therefore, perhaps just like the Advanced British Standard, the Government’s vision for a ‘world class’ education system is still in the preliminary spin stage.

In his address to Parliament, Hunt also commended the UK’s Creative Industries for their important role in any growth strategy for the UK economy. However, the sentiment started and ended at warm words; a call for evidence on increasing Film and High End TV tax credit and funding increases to the British Film Institute and British Board of Film Classification may do little for a sector that has been impacted severely by austerity since 2010 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the Government’s vision for the creative industry perennially joins that ‘world class’ education system in the preliminary spin stage.

Moreover, there were no commitments to additional public spending in public services in the Statement, with the Government funding its tax cuts by tightening spending. For instance, under the current spending set by this Autumn Statement, there will be real term spending decreases from 2024-25 to 2027-28: -0.7% in Local Government, -0.9% in Schools, -5.6% in the Courts and -6.7% in Prisons. Considering the sluggish growth of the economy and the huge problems faced by public services – RAAC in schools, bankrupt councils, court backlogs and a staffing crisis in prisons – this raises the question of whether more state spending is needed than the Government lets on.

Finally, the Office for Budget Responsibilities’ stagnant growth forecasts and reports that Hunt could fail to meet his debt reduction target could stipulate that the Autumn Statement represents a punch in the dark at Labour, ahead of a nearby election, rather than the long term economic strategy it purports to be. There could be a discrepancy between the rhetoric of the Autumn Statement and its reality.

For regular updates on what is happening in UK politics and public affairs, sign up to our weekly Point of Order newsletter, going out every Friday morning.

Lord Cameron returns

Lord Cameron: a refreshing return or unwelcome gatecrash?

On Monday 13 November, David Cameron was a surprising guest to Downing Street as the Westminster press bubble looked on in disbelief. His appointment as Foreign Secretary represented a return to the front line, seven years after resigning as Prime Minister on 11 July 2016.

With Sunak previously bemoaning the political orthodoxy of the last 30 years, that Cameron was deemed part of, Cameron’s appointment represents a dramatic change in political strategy from the current PM. The question remains whether the appointment of Cameron is a calculated pivot or a desperate plea to voters that will only reopen wounds in the Conservative Party.

A pivot back to the blue wall?

Cameron’s appointment could not only represent a change in Sunak’s political strategy, but a step away from the Conservative’s political strategy since Brexit.

Since 2016, the Conservatives have aimed to appeal to disgruntled Brexit voters who felt that politicians akin to Cameron did not represent them. Both Theresa May, and Boris Johnson in particular, appealed to a perceived ‘red wall’ of voters. Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto featured a spree of perceived spending increases into public services, a hardline take on immigration levels and asylum seekers, coupled with a hardline conception of Brexit. This was the very position that Sunak had endorsed, with his conference speech and continued emphasis on stopping the boats and the Rwanda plan serving as testament to this.

Yet on Monday 13 November, Sunak seemingly repositioned his party away from this and more towards the Cameron consensus. Out went Suella Braverman following inflammatory comments and in came Cameron. Sunak’s shift from one to the other is perhaps best captured by the mission of Cameron’s 2005 leadership campaign: to clean, modernise and sanitise the Conservative party. In his acceptance speech in 2005, Cameron called on the party to ‘modernise our culture and attitudes and identity’ and to ensure their message is ‘relevant to people’s lives today.’

Cameron’s appointment was not a solitary chess move by Sunak. Laura Trott, a former advisor to Cameron, was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Victoria Atkins was appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. This coupled with the promotion of Claire Coutinho to Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero in August perhaps represents a concerted effort by Sunak to help the Conservatives appear younger and more sober to voters and the media – just as Cameron tried with the appointment of then young upstarts, George Osborne (2005) and Jeremy Hunt (2007), to the Shadow Cabinet.

In this regard, Cameron’s appointment might be a symptom of a wider calculated pivot to the blue wall to appeal to the many voters the Conservatives have lost to Labour and Liberal Democrats in affluent seats in the South West, South East and Middle England – just as Cameron’s electoral strategy relied upon in 2010 and 2015.

A desperate move that reopens wounds?

Part of the reason that Cameron’s appointment was unexpected was because it seemed at odds with everything that Sunak had attempted to model his leadership and a future Conservative election strategy on.

It may also beg significant questions for Sunak’s decision making, judgement, and planning, as the public and press wonder what could have changed in 40 days for Sunak to invite back the very politician who was seemingly part and parcel of the very political consensus he had blasted. In this sense, Sunak’s decision risks coming across as a desperate last roll of the dice. Moreover, bringing in a previously disregarded Prime Minister into an unelected position risks Sunak being perceived as part of that very opportunistic political orthodoxy that he tried to reject.

Cameron’s appointment could also reopen wounds with Conservative backbenchers. As the leader who was accused of lying to his MPs over the need to offer a referendum on an alternative vote system to the Liberal Democrats in the coalition agreement in 2010, he also experienced a fairly fractious relationship with backbenchers in his time as PM.

Testimony to this, it only took Conservative backbencher Bill Cash MP two days to question Sunak in PMQs on his new Foreign Secretary’s commitment to the result of the Brexit referendum and the 2019 manifesto. Meanwhile, backbencher Andrea Jenkyns MP submitted her letter of no confidence to the 1922 committee on the same day as Cameron’s ascension. Additionally, recent murmurings by Braverman and her supporters over Braverman’s sacking and the UK Supreme Court’s judgement on the Rwanda plan may mean that Sunak’s attempt to reposition the Conservatives could be frustrated by his very own backbenchers.

The next, and potentially final, stage of Sunak’s premiership might be influenced by the common denominator in the demise of prior Conservative leaders: their parliamentary party.

Autumn Statement 2023 speculation

Autumn Statement 2023 speculation

Tax cuts and fiscal headroom
Jeremy Hunt has been facing renewed calls from Conservative colleagues to cut taxes after new figures from the Resolution Foundation revealed that Government revenues had increased by an estimated £15bn this year. The Chancellor is now expected to have £13bn of fiscal headroom, double the £6.5bn he allowed for at the March budget.

Despite this, the Foundation cautions that this level of headroom is a ‘fiscal illusion’ and that higher inflation would eventually feed public spending too. Similarly, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research said that the Chancellor’s priority for the Autumn Statement should be investment in the economy rather than tax cuts ahead of the election.

On the other hand, the Growth Commission, set up by Liz Truss, insisted that we need to reverse
stagnating UK living standards and stated “If we carry on the same way, we are likely to [see] rising taxes [and continue to] pay for ever growing public spending.”

The commission proposed:
• Cutting corporation tax from 25% to 15%
• Unfreezing tax allowances
• Abolishing inheritance tax and stamp duty
• Imposing more stringent requirements for benefits and freezing the minimum wage
• “Use it or lose it” time limits on planning permission
• Cutting the time taken to approve big transport and energy projects by 75%
• Ending the ban on fracking
• Scrapping net zero levies

Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones said: ‘Liz Truss and her backers in the
Conservative Party are once again pushing the policies that crashed the economy last year and left working people worse off, with higher prices and mortgage bills.’, while the Treasury declines to comment.

Over the past few weeks, Treasury sources have highlighted the risk of fuelling inflation and insisted the Chancellor will take a cautious approach. Jeremy Hunt has downplayed expectations of any big giveaways ahead of the Autumn Statement saying his priority is to steady the ship and cut inflation.

It is rumoured that any major fiscal measures are getting pushed back to the Spring Budget, closer to the general election.

Inheritance tax cut and abolition
Despite the Government insisting repeatedly that tax cuts are not currently on the table, there have been rumours about possible changes to inheritance tax (IHT). Around 50 MPs have called for it to be abolished, however, as the IHT currently pockets the Government around £7bn a year, it is possible that the Chancellor may open a consultation on reform, to lay the ground for a future announcement at the Spring Budget or as a General Election manifesto pledge.

Business
Moreover, since the figures on the fiscal headroom have been released, the Daily Mail reported that the Chancellor is mulling over a £10bn extension of a temporary tax break that rewards firms for investing in their businesses. The CBI has been pushing for an extension to full capital expensing beyond the current 3-year window; they show that the move could deliver a permanent boost of 21% to business investment and increase GDP by up to 2% by 2030/31.

To help businesses, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), alongside other industry groups, have been calling for the 75% business rates relief for small hospitality, retail and leisure firms in England to stay in place past its March expiry date, warning of the devastating consequences if letting it expire.

The FSB also recommends the Government take decisive action to incentivise employers recruiting those who have been out of work for a long time. Moreover, to kickstart a new era of skills development, FSB is calling on the Government to make training for new skills tax-deductible for the self-employed as part of its Autumn Statement plan.

Lord Harrington’s review into how the UK can better attract foreign direct investment into key growth sectors was due in September and businesses will be keen to see the findings of how the Government is going to respond.

Tax thresholds
The 2022 Autumn Statement announced the freezing of various tax thresholds, however, with an election looming in the not too distant future, it is possible that the Chancellor could revisit the timescales for the thresholds.

ISA changes
Savers are currently restricted to opening and putting money in just one of each type of ISA a year.
However, it seems like Jeremy Hunt will use the Autumn Statement to announce an ISA shake-up that will allow savers to open multiple Isas of the same type in a single tax year without losing their £20,000 allowance.

This would be a relatively minor change compared to the ISA overhaul that seemed to be on the cards until a few days ago. While it seemed like Jeremy Hunt was planning to give savers an extra £5,000 ISA allowance to invest in British stocks, The Telegraph reports that this plan has been abandoned. Moreover, while Martin Lewis called for ISA reforms to help first-time homebuyers this week, The Telegraph reports that the Chancellor does not plan to lift the Lifetime ISA limit or scrap the penalty charge for savers who breach it.

All in all, it is expected that a consultation into wider ISA reforms will be announced at the Autumn
Statement.

Financial advice
The Government is expected to release a consultation on reforms to address the boundary between
regulated advice and guidance in the autumn – potentially as part of the Autumn Statement.

Energy & Environment
Energy prices
The energy price cap was introduced by the Government and has been in place since January 2019; Ofgem is required to regularly review the level at which it is set. It ensures that an energy supplier can recoup its efficient costs while making sure customers do not pay a higher amount for their energy than they should.

Last month, Reuters reported that Ofgem was considering a one-off increase to its price cap on energy bills to reduce the risk of suppliers going bust, amid record levels of customer energy debt. This could mean bills will rise again but Ofgem said this wouldn’t be until April 2024.
In an open letter backed by MoneySavingExpert and its founder Martin Lewis – a coalition of 140 charities, consumer groups and MPs called for urgent action to introduce a social tariff for energy.
NFU President Minette Batters sent a letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, outlining the pressure points on farming businesses; as well as fertiliser and energy costs, farmers are also facing cuts to direct support payments while new support schemes are yet to offer similar levels of support. The NFU has called on the Treasury to: review long-term energy contracts in the commercial sector; remove the uncertainty over the tax treatment of agricultural land entered into environmental schemes; and lead a cross-government taskforce to ensure the regulation and oversight of the UK’s environmental markets.

Measures for automotive industry
According to BDO’s Budget Predictions, the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), which took effect from 1 October, will affect some UK importers going forward. The UK has consulted on creating its own carbon leakage tax and, although we can expect feedback on the proposals, it may yet be some time before it imposes new reporting burdens and taxes on importing companies. Extending the exemption from 10% import duty for electric car batteries (currently due to expire on 31 December 2023) may also prove to be on the agenda if the government has not completely given up on its plans to reach net zero; it would also remove a potentially inflationary measure.

MHA’s budget ‘wishlist’ also stated that a key area for the Government to look at is the VAT charge on public charging. Partner at MHA, Alastair Cassel comments, “Despite the recent PM statement regarding a delay to the banning of selling new ICE vehicles, the ZEV mandate remains unaltered in its mission to drive an acceleration to EV adoption. This means that EVs have to be made more attractive to buyers and in particular private buyers. We have significant investment being made in charge points and a reduction in VAT to parity with the domestic electricity rate of 5% would help with the total cost of ownership cast and also would continue to encourage further infrastructure investment.”

Additionally, Mike Hawes, Chief Executive of SMMT, said: “With demand for new cars surpassing prepandemic levels, the market is defying expectations and driving growth. As fleet uptake flourishes, particularly for EVs, sustained success depends on encouraging all consumers to invest in the latest zero emission vehicles. The Autumn Statement is a key opportunity for [the] Government to introduce incentives and facilitate infrastructure investment. Doing so would send a clear signal of support for drivers, reassuring them that now is the time to switch to electric.”

Green tax measures
There are rumours that the Chancellor may introduce a “green” stamp duty land tax (SDLT) measure, which would give an SDLT rebate to buyers who improve the energy efficiency of their home within two years of its purchase. Under the scheme, a buyer would pay more or less stamp duty depending on a building’s Energy Performance Rating (EPC) – with A being the most efficient and G the least. If the plan is announced in the Autumn Statement, it’s hoped it will incentivise more people to make the changes and reduce household energy bills.

Sian Steele, Head of Tax at Evelyn Partners, also said that the prospect of lowering stamp duty could be a ‘crowd pleaser’ of the Autumn statement: “SDLT has come under increasing criticism for congesting some parts of the property market and being a disincentive towards downsizing for older homeowners, and even damaging UK business by restricting labour mobility.”

It is also expected that the Government may respond to its consultation (which closed in the summer) on expanding VAT energy savings materials (ESMs) relief. The consultation proposed including additional technologies (for example, electrical battery storage) within the relief and reintroducing the relief for installations of ESMs in buildings intended solely for a relevant charitable purpose. As stated by ICAEW, the key objectives of the relief are: (1) improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions; (2) cost effectiveness; and (3) alignment with broader VAT principles.

Fuel duty hike
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has already made it abundantly clear there is currently no room for tax cuts or increases in public sector spending; that said, there is pressure on the Chancellor to raise fuel duty, a move which is likely to be highly controversial. This is a tax included in the price you pay for petrol, diesel and other fuels used in vehicles or for heating. It was cut by 5p in March 2022 by then Chancellor Rishi Sunak, but Treasury officials have reportedly told Hunt he needs to hike the rate by at least 2p to make back the £5bn apparently lost each year since it was reduced. This would mean fuel duty would rise to 55p for petrol and diesel.

Achieving net zero
Caroline Brooks, Environmental Taxes Director at PwC, said: “The Autumn Statement presents an
opportunity to outline a broad vision for how the Government will […] incentivise both green investment and environmentally friendly behaviour. Tax policy will have a significant role to play in the UK’s efforts to reach net zero by 2050 and the Government has committed to developing and using environmental taxes to encourage positive behavioural change and discourage pollution. The Chancellor may consider […] tweaks to existing policies, such as greater encouragement for businesses to register for the Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT).”

Thousands of businesses now pay the PPT because they create and use plastics that do not have a 30% recycled plastic content. BDO states, however, that it is sometimes difficult for companies to assess what is and is not recycled plastic. The Government is consulting on adopting a ‘mass balance approach’, to ensure that chemically recycled plastic can be counted towards the 30% target in order to make monitoring and compliance in this area easier for many businesses.

RenewableUK’s Chief Executive, Dan McGrail, has called on the Chancellor to set out specific policies on renewable energy and to speed up grid connections to reach net zero. As written in a letter to Jeremy Hunt, McGrail says: “The UK’s energy security and net zero goals can only be met if we have offshore wind as the backbone of our energy system. […] We’re urging Mr Hunt to help the UK to regain its position as the most attractive place to invest in offshore wind, despite fierce competition from the US and the EU.”

Claire Mack, Chief Executive of Scottish Renewables, cites the USA’s Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s REPowerEU plan as examples of plans which are pulling critical private investments for the clean energy transition away from the UK. Mack writes: “Put simply, we cannot afford to forfeit the UK’s global advantage as an early mover in the race for clean, cheap energy.”

RenewableUK have also asked for a change in the rules on capital allowances, so that offshore wind projects qualify for the main rate of 18% (rather than the lower rate of 6% which developers get at present), and for further measures to attract investment in the UK’s offshore wind supply chain and port infrastructure.

Similarly, Scottish Renewables also recommends spending to upgrade Scotland’s ports to ensure they are ready for the coming offshore wind boom and enacting a long-awaited financial mechanism to allow the development of pumped-storage hydropower in Scotland which could create almost 15,000 jobs and generate up to £5.8 billion for the UK economy by 2035.

Education, Skills & Work
Education and Skills
Despite there being no new bills announced regarding education and skills in the King’s Speech, it is likely to feature in the Autumn Statement given Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s focus on it in his conference speech.

Moreover, the increasing scrutiny from political organisations on the Government’s education policy and funding has raised numerous questions for the Government to answer in regards to childcare, schools and children’s social care in particular.

In his conference speech, Sunak announced an increased bonus of £30,000 tax free for teachers in key subjects in schools and colleges for their first 5 years. Moreover, he pledged that education would be the focus of every spending review going forward this will likely mean that education funding may feature in the Autumn Statement.

Early years
In regard to childcare, the Government is facing pressure from numerous organisations due to the
perceived crisis in early years education funding and workforce recruitment and retention.
In a recent report, the Early Education and Childcare coalition detailed the retention and recruitment crisis facing the early years education sector. They found that: 57% of nursery staff and 38% of childminders are considering leaving the sector, with 50,000 new staff needed in 2024 and 2025 to maintain existing childcare provision and the proposed expansion. They called on the Government to: increase early years pay to align it with the wider education sector within the next 5 years.

The Local Government Association made numerous recommendations to the Government in regard to children’s social care: they called on the Government to implement additional funding in support of children’s social care. This is due to concerns in funding placements for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and care leavers. Additionally, they detailed that the Government needs to provide funding to allow for interventions to reduce demand for children’s social care placements and retain and expand placement capacity.

Schools
Much has been made of the recent funding of schools with the Government consistently highlighting that they are the Government have implemented the highest levels of funding to schools, despite criticism of their funding plans. We can expect school funding to feature in the Autumn Statement given the aforementioned pledge by Sunak to put school funding at the heart of future spending reviews.

Despite this, the Government has faced criticism over their funding of schools and calls to increase funding in the Autumn Statement.

In a recent press release, the National Education Union called for increased funding of schools as the ‘funding crisis in education’ deepens. This statement was also supported by the Association of School and College Leaders, National Association of Head Teachers and Parentkind.

Moreover, we might see attention afforded to the teaching bursaries currently utilised within recruitment of teachers as a recent report by the National Foundation of Educational Research highlighted their benefits.

The report also called on the Government to raise bursaries for those subjects in particular need and those highly skilled subjects such as Science and Maths.

Health & Social Care
NHS
The impact of industrial action is still being felt, with NHS trusts across the country not only dealing with a backlog of missed appointments, but increasing debts. NHS England estimates a total system deficit over £1bn, most of which is believed to be due to the costs imposed by strikes. NHS officials asked that the Government foot the bill, but the Treasury have rejected calls for extra funding, asserting that the costs must be covered from the existing health budget. Health leaders are warning that the lack of extra funding will mean cuts to existing budgets, and inevitably worse quality of services heading into what is bound to be a difficult winter. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said that ‘if it cannot be compensated in full, the NHS will need to understand from the government how it intends to adjust expectations on what its services will deliver with the resources available’.

Social care
At the same time, more and more local authorities are declaring or considering bankruptcy, leaving the future of social care services in a perilous state. The Government did provide additional funding towards adult social care for 2023/24, but the Local Government Association asserts that ‘this will do little more than allow councils to stand still given their ongoing cost and demand pressures’, and that demand is still outstripping resources. They are calling for funding to bring social care worker pay into parity with equivalent NHS roles and substantial investment to expand provision, and focus on preventative services.

Public Health
Following the announcement of a new ‘Tobacco and Vapes Bill’ during the King’s Speech, the Prime Minister is apparently considering a levy on vapes as part of a phased ban on smoking. Whether the
tax would extend to all vapes or just the disposable kind is unclear. Anti-smoking campaigners have said it is important that vapes still remain cheaper than tobacco, so as not to dissuade people from quitting smoking.

Housing
Housing has long been a key issue for the Government, and given the current housing crisis, there is a lot of pressure to commit to providing support in this area.

Stamp Duty
Stamp duty reforms could stimulate activity in a slow-moving property market (latest official figures
published 15 November) and bolster house prices. SDLT cuts made in the 2022 mini-budget are set to remain in place until 31 March 2025, with reports suggesting that the Government could be looking at some sort of further stamp duty relief or holiday, which could be relatively inexpensive and appealing to voters ahead of a general election. Some reports are saying that new homeowners who improve energy efficiency could receive a stamp duty rebate. Stamp duty has been blamed for congesting parts of the market, discentivising downsizing and stopping labour mobility. However, critics say a cut will only worsen the chronic housing shortages that the UK has experienced in recent decades.

With the public facing higher interest rates and the cost of living, some aspiring buyers are in need of
additional support. Jeremy Hunt could possibly extend the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme to help more first-time buyers borrow with a 5% deposit. The scheme was extended for 12 months to December 2023 but could possibly be further extended.

With rising costs remaining an issue for many private renters, the Government could support tenants with their rent in different ways. Scotland has implemented a rent freeze, something the UK Government seem to be very strongly against. But a cap on rent rises is a possibility, or extra cost of living support for tenants struggling to pay their rent.

Welfare
Work Capability Assessment reform
The benefits system was a particular focus of Jeremy Hunt’s speech to Conservative Party Conference earlier this year, with the Chancellor saying ‘it isn’t fair that someone who refuses to look seriously for a job gets the same as someone trying their best’, and pledging a review of the sanctions regime. As part of a clampdown on benefits claimants, the Chancellor is expected to announce that they will have their bank accounts checked every month to make sure they are not lying about savings. Earlier this year, the Government proposed to scrap the controversial Work Capability Assessment and replace it with a different system. It is understood that ministers are proposing to change the eligibility criteria, so many people who are currently deemed ‘too sick to work’ will cease to receive additional payments and be obliged to look for work in order to continue receiving universal credit.

The proposed changes would not come in until 2025, and could save the Treasury £4bn and comes at a time when the Government is worried about the rising welfare bill and ill-health related economic inactivity. However, almost 2.8m people are at risk of losing support, and stakeholders such as the Royal Society of Psychiatrists have warned that ‘Reducing benefit entitlements runs the risk of forcing more people with mental illness further into poverty, and adding to the existing hardship being caused by the cost-of-living crisis. If more people face benefit sanctions and are forced into debt, the number of people requiring NHS mental health services will inevitably rise’.

Uprating benefits
Furthermore, it is not clear whether the Chancellor will uprate working age benefits in line with inflation. Even if benefits are fully uprated, low-income households will most likely still see themselves worse off than last year as the Cost of Living support payments are stopping. Anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have said that benefits must be uprated, and that the Government should also commit to an ‘Essentials Guarantee’, to ensure that universal credit covers basic requirements like food and bills. This demand has been backed by the London Mayor in his statement on the upcoming budget, which also asked for scrapping of the two-child benefit limit and the benefits cap.

Local Housing Allowance
Additionally, it is understood that both the Housing Secretary and the Work and Pensions Secretary have written to the Chancellor, asking for an uprating of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA). The inadequacy of the LHA is thought to be one of the contributing factors to the record number of people living in temporary accommodation, as rents have soared while the housing benefit has remained frozen since 2020. However, the Treasury is said to be resistant to demands for an increase in the LHA, and are instead considering proposals to amend the taper rate of universal credit – meaning that people on in-work benefits would be able to take in a higher income before their universal credit was cut – although this would do little to help claimants who are not in work.

Pensions
There are rumours that the Treasury may amend the ‘triple lock’ on pensions, which promises to increase the state pension by the highest of inflation, wage growth or 2.5%. Allegedly, the Government may exclude bonuses from its growth calculation formula – which would lower the amount the state pension is set to grow by – potentially saving the Government around £1bn. The Conservatives did promise in their last manifesto not to change the triple lock formula, so any perceived U-turn could spark a backlash, but Treasury officials point out that one-off payments to NHS staff and civil servants this year would have pushed up public sector bonuses. This announcement has sparked fresh political debate about the future viability of the triple lock. Former Conservative leader, William Hague said it was time to scrap the lock, saying it would put ‘insurmountable pressure’ on the Government to increase the retirement age.

Finally, industry was hoping for the King’s Speech to mention pensions and introduce a bill to progress the Mansion House pension proposals announced earlier this year. All eyes are now on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement to provide clarity on next steps.

Transport and Infrastructure
Long Term Planning
Industry bodies across the logistics and transport sectors have called for a new approach to strategic
transport infrastructure decisions. They highlighted the need for a clear, long-term plan that endures across political cycles.

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association commented: “After the sudden
government announcement in October to scrap HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester, with no consultation, the UK badly needs to find a way to convince businesses and investors that we can commit to and deliver major infrastructure schemes. Long-term planning is more vital than ever.”
To ensure that the ‘strategic gap left by the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2’is filled, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) urged the Government to review the rail schemes for the North and Midlands as part of Network North. ICE have also called for a national transport strategy for England so longer-term planning can take place.

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) have called on the Chancellor to commit to £30bn-a-year investment in upgrading the UK’s public infrastructure or risk the UK economy struggling globally. NIESR wants to see announcements on improving the UK’s transport and digital networks as well as a focus on skills and housing.

TfL
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called for the Autumn Statement to bring about a long-term funding deal for TfL as the current funding settlement ends in March 2024, Khan is calling for £569m in capital support for network upgrades and investment in road assets.

Science, Innovation and Technology
The Government comes into the Autumn Statement off the back of the UK hosting the AI Safety Summit and a King’s Speech, which featured science, innovation and technology heavily as the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill and Data Protection and Digital Information Bill were re-proposed to Parliament.

Research and Development
There have been several rumours of the Government proposing to simplify the R&D the tax relief system by proposing a single programme to replace the two existing schemes – the Research and Development Expenditure Credit (RDEC) and the SME scheme. This comes after draft legislation was proposed for a consultation and the Autumn Statement may detail whether the scheme comes into effect from April 2024 onwards.

This proposal has been welcomed by the PwC who have claimed that this move is particularly important in ‘light of a slowing global economy and inflationary pressures’. They then claimed that such a merger could allow the Chancellor to showcase a ‘pro-business agenda’.

Enhanced relief for AI
Off the back of the AI Safety Summit and the House of Commons’ Science, Innovation and Technology Select Committee’s criticism of the lack of AI focused bills in the King’s Speech, the Government may be under pressure to deliver something specific to AI in the Autumn Statement.
Moreover, techUK led a coalition of UK tech businesses, think tanks and trade associations in a letter to the Chancellor on the Autumn Statement. In particular, they suggested that the Government should show increased support to help SME’s digitalise. Specifically, they suggested that the Chancellor should provide an enhanced ‘support of 140% on the first £50,000 of expenditure on productivity enhancing digital services.’ They then stressed that this wou)ld provide an extra £232bn to the UK economy annually.

Culture, Media and Sport
The UK Government comes into the Autumn Statement with increasing pressure to deliver support and investment for the creative industries. This comes despite the King’s Speech announcing a new Media Bill and a bill to propose an Independent Football Regulator. Nevertheless, the King’s Speech only vaguely detailed that the Government will deliver ‘support’ for the creative industries- we may find out what exactly this support involves in the Autumn Statement.

Support for the Creative Industries
The Government may wish to deliver their support for the creative industries through tax reliefs for the creative industries. In particular, the Government is considering a response to the R&D tax relief scheme consultation from June 2023 with a reported decision being made at the next fiscal event – this may be the Autumn statement and something to look out for.

Additionally, in a session with the Lords Digital and Communications Committee, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Lucy Frazer, announced that the Department will eventually announce the second wave of the Creative Industries Clusters Programme. This proposal may come in the Autumn Statement or later.

To add to this, the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union has piled the pressure on the Treasury to put ‘its money where its mouth is and support the sector and its workers’ given how the Government has long been ‘vocal about how central the creative industries are to a strong UK economy.’

Moreover, the Live Music Industry Venues and Entertainment (LIVE) trade body, called for additional support for the creative industries from the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement. Specifically, LIVE suggested that the Government should ‘provide urgent financial support, including an extension to grassroots music venues business rates relief and wider hospitality and leisure relief.’

Home Office and Justice
Criminal justice
Over the next parliamentary session criminal justice reform is expected to take centre stage following the vast array of bills set out in the King’s Speech which set out to increase whole life sentence orders and ensure tougher sentences for those who commit the most horrific crimes, the pledges also held a fundamental focus on establishing greater confidence in the criminal justice system.

It is safe to say that this is expected to feature in Hunt’s upcoming budget due to it also being part of
Sunak’s long term vision for a future Britain, which has safer communities; lower crime rates; and longterm decisions for keeping the country’s worst offenders locked up for longer, while ensuring the worst offenders face their victims in court. His vision also extends to ensuring victims have greater confidence in the criminal justice system.

Anti-social behaviour
Anti-social behaviour reform has also been at the forefront of Government discussion in recent months, with the recent enforcement made from the Home Office making the possession of nitrous oxide or ‘laughing gas’ illegal. Those found in unlawful possession of the drug could face up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine, and up to 14 years for supply or production.

However, an area somewhat expected yet not mentioned during the King’s Speech is the Government’s plans or commitment to tackling knife crime. This has been echoed by International Legal Practice Osoborne Clarke who have recently anticipated measures in relation to knife crime and sentencing. Despite this, the Criminal Justice Bill was introduced to the House of Commons yesterday which did mention new powers for the police to search and seize knives.

Illegal migration and asylum seekers
This year, Sunak’s promise to stop the boats has been at the forefront of the Home Office with the passing of the Illegal Migration Act. However, with Suella Braverman no longer being in post and the Act passing it seems likely that little will be said in relation to immigration and asylum. Despite this, London Councils have called upon the Government to provide extra support for asylum seekers and refugees in this year’s budget, asking for a fairer dispersal scheme across the whole country, and an expansion of the Local Authority Housing Fund to help local authorities acquire more housing for refugees and the wider homeless population.

Legal, court, and prison reform
The Conservative Party Conference also saw two key pieces of legislation proposed which may make an appearance in this year’s budget. The first, namely Della’s Law, would prevent registered sex offenders from changing their identities, and ensure the Government works to strengthen background checks so that they can catch undisclosed changes of identity. The second, namely Jade’s Law, would ensure that parents who kill a partner or ex-partner with whom they have children will automatically have their parental responsibility suspended upon sentencing. This legislation will be embedded in the Victims and Prisoners Bill which has been carried over into this session of parliament.

In terms of court backlogs, following discussion around an expansion to the current budget to modernise courts and tribunals, it is expected that this may also appear in the budget. Alongside this it has been previously mentioned that the Conservative Government is expected to roll out the largest ever prison expansion program since the Victorian era.

Sunak and Starmer post conference

Sunak and Starmer’s conference season: A battle of agenda setting

Party conferences have often been an important tool for leaders to set the political agenda. Tony Blair’s establishment of the ‘New Labour’ moniker in 1994, his modification of clause 4 in 1995, Margaret Thatcher’s ‘this lady’s not for turning’ moment in 1980 or Neil Kinnock’s assault on Militant tendency in 1985 – all are powerful examples of when leaders used their conference speeches to announce a change in direction, or to clarify their goals.

As the party conference season is over, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer are both facing a potentially pivotal General Election next year. For this reason, both tried to use the conference season to do their own agenda setting as their parties prepare.

The Conservatives and Rishi Sunak as a ‘vehicle for change’?

Sunak came into this conference season in far from ideal circumstances, with leaked plans to scrap HS2 and his shift over Net Zero both receiving widespread criticism. Additionally, this represented Sunak’s first conference as Conservative Party leader, with the previous two Conservative conferences having two different leaders – a sign of the political instability of the last few years. Moreover, recent by-election losses in Selby and Ainsty and Somerton and Frome in July 2023 had possibly left the party feeling flat and potentially devoid of ideas, despite a victory in Uxbridge and South Ruslip, showing the importance of green issues. Sunak’s challenge was to reinvigorate a party whose MPs have been briefing journalists that they would lose the next General Election.

With this in mind, Sunak’s attempt to position himself and the Conservatives as a vehicle of change was plain to see. His speech started with a personal touch with his wife, Akshata Murty, introducing him to the stage. The comparisons to Sarah Brown introducing Gordon Brown to the Labour conference in 2009 are there – this also might be a reflection of the similarities in Sunak’s political position to Gordon Brown’s at the time. Nevertheless, Murty’s speech was perhaps an attempt to position him as something more than a spreadsheet guru – someone who could understand the hopes and fears of everyday people.

To complement the focus on Sunak himself as a vehicle for change, Sunak made a clear effort to reposition the Conservatives. In a bold approach, Sunak bemoaned the political orthodoxy of the last 30 years. He started by accepting the need for transformational political change, and noted that politics ‘does not work the way it should do’. He slammed the ‘vested interests’ and the ‘rhetorical ambition’ of politicians over the last 30 years and said Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, was an example of this.

This rhetoric of change was coupled with a series of policy changes: the announcement of a new Advanced British Standard Qualification for post-16 education; a gradual smoking ban; and the formal announcement of HS2 leg to Manchester being scrapped to instead invest in infrastructure projects across the country.

However, there are recent doubts over the ‘change’ Sunak is offering. Specifically, the new Advanced British Standard Qualification is not set to come in until 2033. Furthermore, Sunak’s series of ‘new’ commitments to transport infrastructure after scrapping HS2 contain a series of promises that have been discussed for years – such as dualling the A1 in Northumberland. This may leave Conservatives wondering if it is too little too late.

Sir Keir Starmer’s ‘light touch’ vision?

If Sunak’s political circumstances were far from ideal going into the conference season, then Starmer perhaps could not have asked for much better. A by-election victory against the SNP and a swing of 24.1% in Rutherglen and Hamilton West in September 2023 added to an already existing euphoric mood in the Labour Party – who have been leading the Conservatives in the opinion polls since December 2021. Moreover, a 47% personal approval rating for Starmer is nothing to complain about either.

Nonetheless, some have argued that Starmer has done little to explain to voters why they should vote Labour as a vote for a Labour Government and not purely as an anti-Conservative vote. In this sense, few knew what Starmer’s Britain would look like.

From the offset, Labour tried to answer this. The conference centre was draped in Union Jacks with ‘Britain’s Future’ on them – a clear attempt to equate the Labour Party with British patriotism. Starmer’s speech was marked by a commitment to a ‘decade of national renewal’ to get ‘Britain’s future back.’ Likewise, he tried to place the Labour party as the place for disgruntled Conservative voters – this may not just be a throwback to Tony Blair’s courting of Conservatives but also an attempt to show that Labour can represent everyone.

His speech reiterated some tried and tested formulas: abolishing the nom dom status to invest in the NHS; prohibition of zero hour contracts; establishment of a national living wage; creation of Great British Energy; and a national wealth fund. Additionally, while there were no new policy announcements on climate change, Starmer stressed his commitment to tackling climate change in face of Sunak’s recent policy change – some may welcome Starmer’s attempt to ‘clear the red water’ on this issue.

Starmer also focused on the housing crisis. He stressed that only Labour could get Britain building again as he promised to build 1.5 million homes by ‘bulldozing’ planning regulations and the creation of new town. However, Starmer’s plans on doing this remains to be seen. Starmer’s section on housing could be a reflection of his position after the conference, giving a clearer view on his priorities for Government while remaining light on the hows.

This brings us to today, where Labour have just won two by-elections in a swing of 23.9% in Tamworth and a swing of 20.5% in Mid-Bedfordshire – both, most importantly, from the Conservatives. With potentially less than a year until the next General Election, the conferences have set the parameters for this next stage.

For the UK media’s take on 2023’s party conference season, read our interview with The Telegraph’s political editor Ben Riley-Smith. 

Media Interview with Ben Riley-Smith, political editor at The Daily Telegraph

Party conference season, the Trump phenomenon, and preparing for the next UK General Election: Media interview with The Daily Telegraph’s political editor Ben Riley-Smith

The last two weeks have seen both the Conservatives and Labour hold their annual Party Conferences. Ben Riley-Smith, political editor at The Telegraph, was there to cover both of them as the two major UK parties prepare for a General Election.

Ben has covered many of the major political moments during his 11 years of reporting at The Telegraph, with the 13 years of Conservative Government covered in his first book The Right to Rule. He has reported on the seismic shift in UK politics following the Brexit referendum, and followed political unrest in the US, having become US editor shortly after Donald Trump was elected President. 

We caught up with him to discuss the Party Conference season this year, covering such a difficult period in American politics, and the key differences between political and general news reporting you should know about.

Ben Riley-Smith

What are your favourite things about this time of year in political journalism? 

The Party Conferences are kind of chaotic to cover as a journalist because you’re trying to stay across all news that is emerging. You almost don’t have as many reporters as potential news sources. There’s what’s happening in the conference hall itself and from the beginning to the end of the day, there are speeches that need to be covered. Then there are the fringe events which are often panels of four people where ministers or shadow ministers will speak more freely in a much more unprepared setting. 

Sometimes they say things that are eye-catching, and you need to jump on them, but there are more fringes than we have reporters so trying to work out which ones to prioritise and which ones to get to is tricky. Then you have briefings of what’s going on the next day and there’s lots of media interviews with people who might make news, and then you’re trying to find out your own story, so it’s hectic and chaotic. 

What was most interesting to cover during the political party conferences this year? 

The Conservative and Labour conferences were both fascinating in different ways. Certainly Labour was the more upbeat one. The Tories have been in power for 13 years and close to 20 percentage points behind in the polls. They are trying to work out what to do in the next 12 months to change the political dynamics to get the chance of another term. You saw Rishi Sunak take the stage and the theory of the Tory strategists is they need to make this guy appear to be the change candidate because the party seems to be the status quo. That they could  lose because the British electorate appears to be tired and frustrated with politics. 

The Prime Minister therefore came out with a series of different big announcements. Some of them the Tories knew would trigger criticism, like the scrapping of HS2, but they were hoping the message to voters was a willingness to change fundamental issues in the country. But then they need to somehow change the political dynamic. 

At the Labour Party Conference, they’ve been out of power for the past 13 years and possibly this time next year they’ll be in power. You could feel that optimism and feel that interest from the business community and other third party groups everywhere you went. The hall for Sir Keir Starmer’s speech was absolutely packed, even the standing room areas were full, and some people had to be turned away at the door. 

There were business representatives trying to catch the ear of certain Labour people because if you’re a business, or if you’re a public affairs company representing businesses, you know by the end of next year, it could be a Labour government for the next half a decade determining the rules and regulations. 

Everywhere you went at the Labour Conference, you got the sense that they genuinely believe come the end of next year, they could be in power. 

You have been covering politics at the Telegraph (both UK and US) for over 10 years now, how has the political landscape changed in that time?

I think there’s a very clear before and after moment which was the Brexit referendum, because that was something that threw Britain’s economic and foreign policy strategy up in the air. 

Obviously, at the time, the UK Government was urging people not to do it. Cameron and Osborne and likewise, the Labour leadership and likewise the Lib Dem leadership, etc. The major political parties and their leaderships were telling the country not to go down this route, and yet the voters decided otherwise. 

Whether you love Brexit or loathe Brexit, I think everybody would agree that it’s just dominated the political discourse for years. Other reforms or issues in British society were pushed to one side to some degree because it needed so much bandwidth in Westminster to work out the shape of what Brexit would be getting through Parliament. 

Brexit shook the snowglobe with politics and we’re still seeing things landing. 

And what have been some of your favourite stories to cover over the last ten years?

When I was in America as US editor, what was fascinating was the Donald Trump phenomenon. I call it that because it was beguiling and concerning, and trying as an outsider to get your head around that phenomenon was an honour and a real challenge. 

I went out there after he won the election and then covered the second election in 2020, and I think in Britain it can be viewed through quite a narrow, slightly stereotypical lens. But going out there and going to a lot of those Southern communities and trying to understand the appeal of Trump was fascinating.

In 2020, I think 70 million Americans voted for him. The stereotypes of these people being xenophobic and ignorant is far too simplistic – it’s a huge swathe of the country.

I remember when I first went out there and went to some of his rallies and some of the communities that voted for him, something that really struck me was how associated he was with the ultimate business success. ‘The Apprentice’ had been running for many years, and if there was one figure in American society who was most linked to business success, it was probably Donald Trump. There was this long-running mantra in American politics that someone needs to come in from outside and shake up Washington DC, and the country doesn’t need a politician, it needs a CEO. And this guy knows how to do it because he’s run businesses and he’s successful. That was certainly the image that was being projected. 

Going to those communities and going to his rallies, and trying to understand the nuance of the appeal that he had to certain sections in southern America particularly was fascinating.

What major differences are there between political reporting and general news reporting – what do people need to know? 

I think relationship development is a massive part of political journalism. If you’re a general news reporter, jumping on events that come out of the blue and trying to cover them, you’re coming to everything fresh. But if you have a beat like a political reporter does, you somehow need to develop contacts with MPs and advisors and campaigners with all the different political parties. 

A lot of the challenge is getting someone who has their eyes on something that you want to know about to talk to you. And striking that right balance can be very difficult because sometimes you think somebody might talk to you because it’s in their best interest to share what they know. Other times you might need to write a story that is critical about a particular MP or particular party who you have a relationship with. You just have to say, this is a massive story and we are covering it even if it’s damaging for you. So it can be quite transactional. You certainly don’t want to cross into the territory where someone thinks they’re your friend because then one day, you might need to write about ‘x Mp’ or ‘x advisor’ or ‘x policy area’. And you want to do that as clearly as possible. 

That challenge is central to political journalism; how you develop those relationships, how you convince people to pick up the phone and tell you what’s going on, but also how you keep sufficient distance that if you need to write critical things that you can do.

The other thing with political reporting is that you need to totally strip away your own political views. If you’re a sports correspondent or an arts correspondent, your own personal political views are not that relevant. But for us, you somehow have to go through this process of trying to be as objective as possible and try to switch off your personal political leanings. You’ve got to try to approach every story like that rather than thinking, ‘I hate x and y people or policies’. That’s another critical difference.

For a round-up of how the UK media are covering UK politics, sign up to the weekly Vuelio Point of Order newsletter here

Check out our round-ups of key mission statements from both the Conservative and Labour leaders at this year’s conferences. 

A closer look: Keir Starmer’s five ‘missions’

As Starmer’s party leads in the polls, the mood heading into Labour’s annual conference is triumphant, evidenced by the growing waiting list of business leaders queuing up to attend. However, the Labour Party conference is more than a networking event; historically it has been the supreme decision-making body of the party, and an opportunity for the party’s various stakeholders to have their say over party policy. Earlier this year, Keir Starmer outlined his five ‘missions’ which would form the backbone of the party’s next manifesto. As a general election draws closer, stakeholders will be watching eagerly for more detail on Labour policy, anticipating what the party may do in its first year of Government. So where is Starmer on his five missions, and what areas are likely to be a focus in a future general election campaign? 

Mission 1 – Secure the highest sustained growth in the G7

The fall-out from Truss’s disastrous mini-budget destroyed the remnants of her party’s reputation for sound economic management. In the context of an underperforming economy, senior Labour figures have been keen to stress the need for ‘fiscal responsibility’, and the party’s refusal to make ‘uncosted’ spending commitments. However, this move puts Labour in a difficult position. They have been fierce critics of the Tories’ record on public services, but they face the challenge of explaining how they would improve these services without breaking their own self-imposed fiscal restraints.

Starmer has made clear his first mission is the most important; his Shadow Chancellor’s refusal to back a wealth tax means that only with significant economic growth would a future Labour Government have the resources to increase spending without increasing borrowing. Of course, just repeating the word ‘growth’ won’t be enough to reverse the UK’s economic misfortunes. Labour have promised a consistent industrial strategy and competent economic management, but if they fail to start delivering growth within their first year of Government, they will quickly find themselves floundering. 

Mission 2 – Make Britain a clean energy superpower

Starmer’s second mission is closely linked to his first, as the proposed Green Prosperity Plan forms a core component of Labour’s industrial strategy and plan for growth. It also marks a clear dividing line between Labour and the Conservatives, as recent months have seen Rishi Sunak make some significant row-backs on the Government’s commitment to net zero. In the wake of the Conservatives’ win in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election – widely believed to be a result of local anger over ULEZ expansion – senior Tories have signalled their willingness to make net zero a central issue at the next election, hoping to sow scepticism and consolidate their base.

Alternatively, Starmer’s Labour proposes to instead see net zero targets as economic opportunities, pledging to create jobs in deindustrialised areas and deliver a package of investment reminiscent of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act. However, Rachel Reeves has come under criticism recently for apparently u-turning on the party’s commitment of £26bn a year towards the green transition, claiming that ‘financial stability’ may need to be prioritised. At the same time, Starmer will be under pressure from trade union leaders, concerned that Labour’s commitment to no new oil and gas licences will lead to the loss of unionised jobs. Whilst Labour have promised a ‘just transition’ for workers, this has yet to successfully quell union anxieties and, as with everything, the devil will be in the details.

Mission 3 – Build an NHS fit for the future

Starmer’s third mission focuses on the health system, and with industrial action showing no signs of stopping soon, people will be looking to see what Labour would do differently. As with everything, senior Labour figures have been tight-lipped about how much they’d be willing to spend on the NHS, and if they’d meet medical staff’s demand for pay restoration. Labour have committed to funding an increase in training places for doctors and nurses through the scrapping of ‘non-dom’ tax status, which they believe could raise upwards of £3bn. However, any other concrete spending commitments are unlikely to come until close to a general election. 

When challenged during a press conference earlier this year, Starmer was keen to stress that ‘it’s not all about money’, and that – in a context of fiscal constraint – improvements in the health service could be brought about through reform. Labour’s plan for a sustainable NHS rests on three principles; a shift away from hospital to community-based care, a focus on prevention, and better use of cutting-edge medical technologies. As laudable as these goals are, sceptics have pointed out they will cost money, and if these reforms are not underpinned by adequate funding they will struggle to gain traction.

Mission 4 – Make Britain’s streets safe

Starmer’s fourth mission focuses on the criminal justice system, pledging to reverse the collapse in the proportion of crimes solved and restore confidence in the police. Law and order has historically been Conservative territory, with Labour struggling to be perceived as ‘tough on crime’. However, repeated high-profile scandals have eroded public confidence in the Government and police, and polls show that Labour has begun to be the more trusted party on these issues.

But this doesn’t mean smooth sailing for Starmer; recent months have demonstrated the Conservative’s eagerness to make ‘culture war’ issues like immigration a core part of their election strategy, hoping that they can appeal to Blue Wall voters. (See the Home Secretary’s divisive comments at a speech in the US last week). Starmer has risen to the challenge it seems, pledging to ‘smash the gangs’ by expanding the use of civil orders that are used to treat serious terrorists, to target people smugglers and tackle illegal immigration. But will Starmer succeed in convincing Blue Wall voters his is the party to be trusted on immigration – or will the two main parties end up locked in a culture war, both trying to outdo the other? 

Mission 5 – Break down the barriers to opportunity at every stage

Starmer’s fifth and final mission has probably received the least media attention, and this is perhaps owing to its relative ambiguity, compared to the other more snappy titles. This mission focuses on reducing class inequalities and predominantly focuses on the education system, but also touches on a range of policy areas including health, housing, workers’ rights and reforming equalities legislation. Labour has recently been accused of u-turning, after scrapping plans to strip private schools of charity status. However, the party still plans to force private schools to pay VAT, and to use the money raised to invest in state schools.

The party leadership will feel enthused following Labour’s decisive win in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election. The larger than expected swing to Labour from the SNP will be interpreted as a sign that the party stands a good chance of winning back its former heartlands in Scotland if it continues to do well, throwing a spanner in the works of the Independence movement.

It is not just attacks from the Tories and the SNP that Starmer faces; he continues to preside over a divided party, and frequently faces opposition from within his own ranks. As a party leader, Starmer has proved Machievllian, taking a hardline against factional opponents and keeping a tight grip on the party candidates selection process, ensuring that should Labour win the next election, most of its new MPs will be loyal to the party line. The recent Shadow Cabinet reshuffle has also been interpreted as a consolidation of Starmer’s power; with old-school Blairites promoted into key positions whilst ‘soft left’ figures saw themselves marginalised. However, there is a danger that in stifling internal debate, Starmer will create more problems for himself in the long run. Leading a broad church party will always present challenges, with a delicate balance to be maintained between party discipline and keeping an enthusiastic coalition.

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‘Long-term decisions for a brighter future’ — Sunak’s five priorities for 2023

This weekend will see the start of Rishi Sunak’s first conference as party leader as the Conservatives head to Manchester. The third leader in three years of conferences and head of a party that has been in power for more than a decade, Sunak is hoping to use this time as a reset, breaking away from Boris Johnson and Liz Truss’ chaotic premierships.

With the slogan ‘long-term decisions for a brighter future’, we can expect to hear a lot about the long-term vision of the PM, who, since arriving at number 10, has been concerned with trying to manage immediate crises.

Likely to dominate discussions at the conference are Sunak’s five key priorities for 2023, revealed earlier this year in the hope that they could be delivered before the approaching general election. These include halving inflation this year; growing the economy and creating better-paid jobs across the country; seeing national debt fall; cutting NHS waiting lists; and passing new laws to stop small migrant boats crossing the Channel.

Halve inflation 

The most likely to be met is Sunak’s promise to halve the UK’s inflation rate by the end of the year. ONS data shows that inflation stood at 6.7% in August and the Office for Budget Responsibility is expecting inflation to fall to 2.9% by December, significantly lower than the 10% rate seen when Sunak made his ‘Building a Better Future’ New Year speech.

While Chancellor Jeremy Hunt believes the latest figures confirm that the Government’s ‘plan to deal with inflation is working’, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has pointed to research from the OECD that forecasts the UK to have the highest inflation of any major economy this year.

Grow the economy 

The pledge to ‘grow the economy’ will be achieved if the economy is bigger in the three-month period between October and December 2023 than it was during the previous quarter (July-September 2023). According to recent data, the economy shrank by 0.5% in July.

Reduce debt 

Following Sunak’s pledge, debt surpassed GDP for the first time since 1961, before beginning to fall.

NHS waiting times

NHS waiting times are one of the most pressing issues for UK voters right now. The number of patients waiting to start treatment in England has continued to climb since Sunak made his pledge, reaching record levels of 7 million.

Stopping small boats

The number of small boat arrivals to the UK in 2023 reached 20,000 in August, according to Home Office data. 5,000 arrived last month alone. A bill is currently making its way through Parliament with new measures to discourage people from travelling to the UK. However, some believe the measures could be inconsistent with international law. 

Net zero

It’s possible that discontent could surface in response to Sunak’s recent u-turn on major net zero policies. It has been reported that many within the party have been openly critical about the decision. The concerns that have been expressed by big businesses such as Ford and E.On may well also be distinct.

HS2

Long-term divisions over HS2 could well play out in Manchester. With such a significant split on the topic, it has been reported that Sunak’s aides fear Tory MPs will ‘be left squabbling over HS2 during fringe events’. It has the potential to dominate discussions, taking away from the party’s efforts to present their vision ahead of a general election. Rumours over the northern leg of HS2 being shelved could pose a problem with the conference’s location, and brings into question Sunak’s commitment to levelling up. 

Raising the bar for women's football

‘Raising the bar’ for women’s football

When Manchester City’s Chloe Kelly scored in the 110th minute it was about winning Euro 2022 and beating Germany in the final. However, it meant so much more than just winning a tournament. On 13 July 2023, the UK Government released a report on the state of women’s football, with an aim to improve the standard and increase professionalisation.

The Government worked with TV presenter and former footballer, Karen Carney MBE, to write and research the report. England’s success in Euro 2022 and the increased interest and awareness that resulted from this was directly mentioned in the report as instrumental in its development. Chloe Kelly’s goal contributed to more than winning a tournament; it promoted a shift in the perception of women’s football and sport.

The report is thorough in its analysis of women’s football. Specifically, it assesses the state of the women’s game currently, its limitations and benefits and explores what the Government, civil society and the private sector need to do to improve the game and ensure that women’s football is not an afterthought.

Here are the key points from the report’s recommendations:

1) Better standards for the women’s game

This involves improving youth recruitment and development in women’s football, promoting professionalisation and the FA delegating control over the top two women’s divisions to a new company, NewCo, who will strive for excellent standards.

2) Furthering equality and diversity

The report recommends that the FA challenges the lack of diversity in women’s football. Moreover, the Government should deliver on commitment for equal access to football in schools and those involved in grassroots football should accommodate women and girls.

3) Making the sport more accessible

This means ensuring that Clubs value and appreciate their fans, making women’s football more accessible on TV by creating a dedicated slot for matches.

Nevertheless, this report is not legislation; it still requires the Government to act and produce their own legislation. Immediately after the review was released, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Lucy Frazer MP released a written statement to Hansard, which briefly detailed the Government’s response. In this statement, Frazer welcomed the review and announced a full response would come in the Autumn.

While the Government’s statement illustrates that there is still work to do to promote women’s football, the review raises important points. As mentioned prior, it has contributed to an overall attitude shift about women’s football. On a separate note, the review and the process behind it reveals the potential extra parliamentary nature of policy development. The process for this review did not start in a London-based policy community, in a Think Tank report or in Parliament, but in football stadiums across England. It was a culmination of growing attendances in women’s football and thereby, growing awareness and interest.

Even if nothing has changed in law formally, maybe the publication exemplifies that everyday actions, such as attending a women’s football match, can be a stimulant for change. In this regard, maybe not all policy needs to start in Westminster.

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Lessons from the rights and wrongs of health and pharmaceutical communications

Lessons from the rights and wrongs of health and pharmaceutical communications

There have been plenty of challenges in health and pharmaceutical reporting and communications over the last 30 years, with the last three being particularly tumultuous for those tasked with communicating both complex and constantly evolving news to the public.

At a Vuelio lunch held at the Gherkin last month, Channel 4’s health and social care editor Victoria Macdonald shared the lessons to be learned from the good and bad of her 30-year career covering health and pharma.

Read on for her thoughts on high-profile political flubs you won’t want to replicate, the importance of ensuring any promises made can be met, and just how unhealthy misinformation can be to your audience.

PR teams: prime your spokesperson properly

‘Looking back over the various points in my career and the exciting breakthroughs – the scandals, the pandemics – I would say that Covid was an interesting roller coaster.

‘I was the journalist who asked Boris Johnson if he was still shaking hands. I wasn’t actually trying to catch him out; I was genuinely interested. His reply was so astonishing – “Yes,” he said.

“I am shaking hands,” Johnson added. “Only last night I was in a hospital shaking hands with coronavirus patients.”

‘The chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser went pale as they stood beside him. An hour or so later the Downing Street press office rang to say that of course he hadn’t shaken hands with coronavirus patients.’

Promises must be met

‘My first interaction with the pharmaceutical industry, and whether it was making excessive profits at the sake of people’s lives, was around reputation.

‘I am thinking about a court case in 2001 in which the South African Government won against 39 pharmaceutical companies that had sued because of a provision that would have allowed the production and importation of generic drugs for HIV/Aids. That case was dropped in the end because of national and international pressure.

‘I was there reporting it and it was a momentous day – undermined by the Government actually failing to distribute drugs until they, too, were taken to court.’

Balance celebration with caution

‘There’s news of another Alzheimer drug that can slow cognitive decline by 35%. And the quote was that this could be the beginning of the end of Alzheimer’s disease. The thought is so thrilling and anyone in this room who has seen or is living with family members who have Alzheimer’s knows what it’s like to watch it happening in front of your eyes.

‘This may be too late for our mothers or fathers or grandparents – but maybe it will be ok for us – I hope so.

‘Yet this is another one of those announcements where you have to be so utterly cautious when reporting and communicating it. You want it to be a celebration, you absolutely want it to be the beginning of the end of Alzheimer’s, but you have to tell your audience that there are many caveats.

‘The last thing you want to do is rain on someone’s parade, but neither do you want a relative ringing up and saying where is this drug, why can’t my Mum have it now?’

Inoculate your audience against misinformation

‘That most wonderful moment nine months into the pandemic when the announcement of the first vaccines was made – we had had so many briefings early on in 2020 that no vaccine was in sight and then suddenly there really was.

‘Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said the Astra Zeneca vaccine’s reputation had been battered by a toxic mix of misinformation, miscommunication, and mishaps.

‘Yet there were trial problems – and reporting on these was very difficult because you didn’t want to lose the excitement of such an important development, but had to give as much information as possible.

‘There was a real change in communications during the pandemic. At first, Government press offices were slow to get up and going. But it got better very quickly.’

‘Looking back on Covid – so much changed and yet also so little’.

For more about maintaining trust and communicating complex campaigns clearly in health and pharmaceutical sectors, download the Vuelio white paper ‘Medical misinformation: How PR can stop the spread’.

Labour's NHS fit for the future plan

Labour’s ‘NHS Fit for the Future’ plan: Stakeholder responses

Speaking at an ambulance depot in Essex last week, Sir Keir Starmer introduced Labour’s most detailed plans on NHS and health policy yet, as part of a series of keynote addresses intended to spotlight the party’s ‘missions’ which were announced back in February. Intended to form the backbone of the party’s next manifesto, the five missions are as follows:

• Secure the highest sustained growth in the G7
• Build an NHS fit for the future
• Make Britain’s streets safe
• Break down the barriers to opportunity at every stage
• Make Britain a clean energy superpower

In summary, Labour’s vision for the future of health policy is based on three fundamental shifts; a shift away from the hospital to community-based care, a shift towards innovative technologies and a shift towards prevention through a holistic view of public health which sees it as a cross-Government initiative. None of these ideas are particularly new – in fact, the basic principles of Labour’s plan have been generally well received by sector stakeholders.

There has been an emerging cross-party consensus going back to the Blair years; that principles such as prevention, early-intervention, a shift away from hospital-based care towards community services, efficient digitisation and a cross-Government approach to public health are not only best for patients but essential to the survival of the NHS.

Politicians from both sides of the House and across multiple administrations have all paid lip service to these principles. Sir Julian Hartley, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, the membership body for NHS trusts up and down the country, said that trust leaders ‘will agree with Labour’s goal to reduce waiting times. Trusts have made remarkable progress on the longest waits for planned operations given the recent challenges’. However, he added the caveat that ‘this goal will only be achieved if it’s underpinned by adequate funding for health and care workers as well as for infrastructure’.

The bulk of the press questions during the Q&A which followed the Labour leader’s speech focused on the issue of funding. Given Labour’s staunch commitment to ‘balancing the budget’ and ‘fiscal responsibility’, many journalists had questions about exactly how much money the party would give the NHS were it in government. Starmer avoided making any concrete commitments on funding; repeatedly stressing that Labour would not rely only on money to fix the NHS, but on reform and technology as well.

Critics may point out that this is a somewhat flawed argument; while reform and investment in technology are most definitely needed, these things will not come free of charge.

Nigel Edwards, Chief Executive of the influential health think tank Nuffield Trust, said that while Labour’s proposals on the NHS are ‘welcome and extremely ambitious… delivering them will require time, staff and more long-term funding than Labour have so far pledged’.

On a similar note, Chris Thomas, head of the Institute for Public Policy Research IPPR commission on health and prosperity, said that ‘Labour is right in its ambition to create a 21st century plan for a 21st century NHS. But there also needs to be a plan for investment alongside these bold reforms to help make such an aspirational target believable’.

Labour’s proposals are not final but rather intended as a blueprint for its next manifesto. Policy will be subject to debate amendment by the National Policy Forum, before being voted on during the annual party conference in September and finally by representatives at a ‘Clause V meeting’ ahead of a General Election.

Particular aspects of the party’s health policy, such as the use of the private sector to tackle NHS backlogs, will likely face internal opposition from the membership and some Labour MPs.

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Local elections 2023

Local elections 2023: wins and losses

The Conservatives lost 1,060 seats in last week’s elections, relinquishing control of 48 councils across the country. As was widely predicted, Labour made significant gains across marginal and Red Wall councils, picking up more than 500 seats. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats swept across the Blue Wall, winning 12 councils.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer has claimed his party’s performance has set them ‘on course for a Labour majority at the next general election’ with Labour now the largest party in local government, surpassing the Tories for the first time since 2002. Labour took control of authorities across the general election battleground, including High Peak, Swindon and Plymouth.

At a meeting of his shadow cabinet on Tuesday, Starmer said ‘people who turned away from us during the Corbyn years and the Brexit years are coming back’. The leaders of the 22 councils won by Labour have been tasked with drawing up ‘emergency cost-of-living plans’ within their first 100 days.

Labour does indeed seem to be bridging the Brexit divide, as the party made its largest gains in areas with the highest Leave vote. Many of Labour’s biggest gains came in Brexit heartlands such as Stoke, Mansfield and Hartlepool. The Johnson 2019 strategy was focused on attracting Red Wall Leave voters while holding on to Blue Wall Remain voters, however, with both Brexit ‘done’ and Corbyn gone, this strategy has collapsed.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has described the loss of more than 1,000 councillors as ‘disappointing’ but insisted he would ‘strain every sinew’ to fulfil his pledges on the economy, NHS waiting lists and small boats. On Tuesday he insisted those pledges are ‘the right ones’ to win back voters. However, some Conservative MPs have suggested Sunak will need to do much more than reiterate those pledges in order to improve the Conservatives’ position ahead of a general election. The Conservative MP for Swindon Justin Tomlinson said the results were ‘devastating’ and should serve as a ‘wake-up call for the party at all levels’. Talking to Times Radio, he criticised the Conservatives’ pitch to voters, adding it lacked a ‘coherent message’.

The Conservative Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, who is up for election next year, said the Conservatives’ losses were in part due to ‘the turmoil and upheaval of the last 12 months’. Similarly, in Swindon, where Labour took control for the first time in 20 years, overthrown Tory council leader David Renard blamed ‘the cost-of-living and the performance of the Government in the last 12 months’ for his party’s poor results.

In much of the country, it was the Liberal Democrats who benefited from the Conservatives’ decline. Achieving a share of 20% – the highest since the coalition in 2010 – Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey called it their ‘best result in decades’. Davey said he would table a vote of no confidence in the Government when Parliament returns: ‘The local elections showed that the public clearly has no confidence in Sunak or the Conservatives, so it’s time for a general election now. There’s only one reason Rishi Sunak would deny British people a say at the ballot box: because he is running scared and knows he’d lose.’ However, the Lib Dems are not able to force a debate on the motion, so it is likely to end up being mainly symbolic.

The Green Party gained 241 seats – their best-ever result in local elections – and gained its first majority on an English council, in Mid-Suffolk, although they were overtaken as the biggest party by Labour in Brighton and Hove.

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