Conversion Therapy what would a ban look like

Conversion Therapy: what is it and what would a ban look like?

The Scottish Parliament recently debated whether to ban conversion therapy for people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (+) but what is conversion therapy and what would a legislative ban look like?

Conversion Therapy is the disproved practice of attempting to change or ‘convert’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through talking therapies or prayer and in some cases even more extreme practices. In September 2021, medical organisations signed a memorandum on conversion therapy including a statement that they ‘agree that the practice of conversion therapy, whether in relation to sexual orientation or gender identity, is unethical and potentially harmful’. Signatories included representatives from NHS Scotland, NHS England, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

What a proposed ban would look like in Scotland is as of yet unclear, with the Scottish Government almost mirroring the statements of the UK Government from November 2021 proposing an exploration of non-legislative options on conversion therapy. In 2019, the Scottish National Party manifesto stated that the SNP opposed the practice of conversion therapy but the power to ban it was a reserved issue and could only be legislated on by the UK Government. In the build up to the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021 however, the Scottish Government’s interpretation of the Scottish Parliament’s powers had changed, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stating that ‘If the UK Government does not take serious action on conversion therapy, an SNP government will bring forward our own legislation to end these discriminatory and harmful practices against LGBT+ people insofar as the powers of the Scottish Parliament allow’.

The UK Government has since confirmed that any ban it brings forward will apply in England and Wales, signalling that the matter could be legislated for in the Scottish Parliament.

In January 2022, the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee backed that the Scottish Parliament legislate for a ban more extensive that that being discussed in Westminster – removing exemptions for ‘consenting’ adults and all forms of religious conversion therapy. By March, a petition was debated in the Scottish Parliament chamber with some controversy; while there was widespread support from across the political aisle, comments from SNP MSP John Mason were widely criticised after he talked about ‘self-control’ while debating the issue.

At this moment, it is unclear how the Scottish Government intend to proceed with following through on the First Minister’s promise to ban conversion therapy, considering the heavy reliance placed on process being set out by the Expert Advisory Group, established in November 2021. The Scottish Government have now laid out a loose timetable for introducing legislation within the powers that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, proposing to introduce a comprehensive ban on conversion therapy before the end of 2023 and build upon the recommendations of the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee.

For how the Financial Times is working to make the UK media a more inclusive and supportive industry for LGBTQ+ people, check out our accessmatters session with ProudFT’s Cassius Naylor

Rishi Sunak

Cost of living crisis dominates the Spring Statement

The Chancellor approached yesterday’s Spring Statement with inflation reaching 6.2% in April and what the Office for Budget Responsibility calls the biggest hit to household finances since comparable records began in 1956-57. Against this backdrop, the cost-of-living crisis was expected to dominate the Spring Statement.

Rishi Sunak previously said he can’t fully protect people from the consequences of rising prices and he has faced huge pressure to deliver relief for families. While Labour branded Sunak ‘the high-tax Chancellor’ and said he should use his speech to cancel the planned hike in National Insurance next month, the Chancellor stood by the Government’s decision to raise rates. However, he did raise the threshold at which workers start paying National Insurance; people will be able to earn £12,570 a year without paying any Income Tax or National Insurance.

To help further with the cost-of-living crisis, the Chancellor doubled the Household Support Fund to £1bn, cut fuel duty by 5p per litre and removed VAT on households installing energy efficiency materials such as solar panels or heat pumps. In February, he announced a £150 Council tax rebate for Bands A to D and a £200 energy bills rebate.

While the support offered is significant, many have argued that it has been poorly targeted and doesn’t go far enough to have a meaningful and immediate impact on the cost-of-living crisis facing the UK.

The Office for Budget Responsibility acknowledged in their forecast that the policy measures the Chancellor has announced since October have only ‘offset a third of the overall fall in living standards that would otherwise have occurred in the coming 12 months’. On a similar note, the Resolution Foundation argued that while typical incomes will fall by over £1,000 next year (2022-23), the Treasury is only offering limited support to household budgets: an average boost of £110.

The Social Market Foundation noted that the changes to National Insurance and cuts to fuel duty will help some households, but do much less for the poorest and more vulnerable. The Resolution Foundation pointed out that only £1 in every £3 for the measures announced yesterday will go to the bottom half of the income distribution while IFS Director Paul Johnson similarly noted that the Chancellor ‘has done nothing more for those dependent on benefits, the very poorest, besides a small amount of extra cash for local authorities to dispense at their discretion. Their benefits will rise by just 3.1% for the coming financial year. Their cost of living could well rise by 10%.’

Dave Innes, Head of Economics at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, also believes that the Chancellor had plenty of headroom to uprate benefits in line with inflation.

Looking further ahead, the Chancellor also announced a 1p cut in the basic rate of Income Tax for April 2024. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves mocked Sunak’s claims to be a tax cutter saying ‘The Chancellor can say as many times as he likes that he’s a tax-cutting Chancellor but it’s a bit like a kid in his bedroom playing air guitar – he’s not a rockstar. The problem is for this Chancellor, is that by the end of this Parliament seven out of eight people will be paying more taxes – only one in eight will be paying less taxes’.

On this, the Office for Budget Responsibility argued that the net tax cuts announced in this Spring Statement offset around a sixth of the net tax rise introduced by this Chancellor since he took over the role in February 2020, and just over a quarter of the personal tax rises he announced last year (the freezing of the income tax personal allowance and higher-rate threshold, and new health and social care levy).

The Resolution Foundation agreed that the gains of this and the lasting impact of a higher National Insurance threshold are more than wiped out by previously announced tax rises: the Health and Care Levy combined with the freeze to Income Tax thresholds. Similarly, IFS Director Paul Johnson noted that despite the tax cutting measures announced, almost all workers will be paying more tax on their earnings in 2025 than they would have been paying without this parliament’s reforms to income tax and NICs.

BBC license fee

Looking behind the abolishment of the BBC license fee

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries shocked many stakeholders and parliamentarians when she tweeted that 2027 will be the end of the BBC’s license fee funding model with a link to an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail.

The announcement is to set in motion a move away from the funding system that the BBC has used since 1923, and a reconsideration of its legal powers to collect and enforce the license fee. Dorries has personally been talking about ‘taking on’ the BBC on Twitter since 2014 and the organisation has attracted challenges of impartiality from across the political spectrum.

In her statement to the House of Commons, Dorries recognised the channel as an ‘great institution’ with a ‘unique place in our cultural heritage’ but said raising the license fee couldn’t be justified against the increasing cost of living. Julian Knight, the DCMS Committee chairman, said later that the cost ‘may not be much to presenters like Gary Lineker, but it’s a lot to constituents like ours’. It’s this sentiment that shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell challenged in her response, stating the license fee is a drop in the ocean when compared to the hike in energy bills and the Government’s plans to raise tax and national insurance contributions in April. Labour MP Chris Bryant pointed out the £159 yearly fee is the same as the proposed average national insurance increase. Nevertheless, Dorries stated that ‘the Government are committed to supporting families as much as possible during these difficult times’.

Following the announcement, Director General of the BBC Tim Davie stated the freeze will impact the BBC’s frontline output, and suggested the resulting funding gap would be £285m in the final year. He said the organisation remains focussed on providing household value.

How the BBC can prove themselves to have adequately addressed the ‘impartiality and groupthink’ Dorries accused them of in her statement to Parliament is yet to be seen, as well as if the Government can independently judge this redirection. The decision to freeze the license fee comes despite the BBC launching a 10-point plan focused on impartiality, whistleblowing and editorial standards last year. Clear progress so far has been insufficient; the broadcaster was only recently protested over how it has depicted transgender and other minority communities. In the Commons, Powell stressed the danger posed in this explicit link between charter renewal with editorial decision. In her statement, the culture secretary said the BBC must now put its words into action and ‘convince the British public’ that those changes are being made. Dorries also suggested the BBC’s legal powers to enforce the license fee should also be curtailed, which could go some way to tackle other issues with the BBC’s funding, like the disproportionate impact of prosecution for TV license evasion.

While some may agree with Labour’s sentiment that the announcement on this longstanding issue serves as a distraction from the current crisis over alleged parties during lockdown, it might take something bigger to distract the public from ‘partygate’.  And while Conservative MPs have endorsed scrapping the license fee over the years, there was reportedly lots of skepticism from the party following the announcement.

The pressing issue raised by several MPs is how the license fee will be replaced, to which there has been no answer. Dorries suggested her announcement allows for a solution to be debated, supported by the work of the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, while others suggested it should be decided by the public. Sir Peter Bottomley, the father of the house, questioned whether an assessment of alternatives have been undertaken with no direct response.

As supporters of the channel point out, a change in funding arrangements should be balanced with the good the BBC has to offer, both as a contributor to the UK’s soft power globally and at home, as a provider of education and supporter of local news. As the announcement of the freeze sat alongside a further £7.5m invested in S4C, the first channel to be specifically geared towards a Welsh speaking audience, the Government appears to be aware of the importance of the BBC in devolved and regional matters. Powell suggested to Times Radio following the announcement that ‘what we are getting for (the license fee) payment is incredibly cheap’.

Whether or not the inspiration behind the decision to freeze the license fee was to distract from bigger issues, it may appease Conservative Party critics of the BBC. They are not alone; if YouGov polls are anything to go by, the public don’t currently find the fee good value for money. However, the sudden announcement on social media, coupled with the lack of an alternative, kicks a complicated issue into the long grass for now, as a job for a different minister.

For how the scrapping of the BBC license fee could impact public relations and communications, read our previous post PR needs the BBC.

Referendum in Scotland

The state of Unionist Politics in Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon has announced her intention to hold a second independence referendum once more – what does the current debate around Scottish Independence mean for the Unionist political parties in Scotland, and how will it impact the forthcoming Scottish local elections in May?

The Scottish Conservatives have taken a hit before their local election campaign after their leader Douglas Ross called for Boris Johnson to resign earlier this month, before Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg hit back by calling him a ‘lightweight figure’ and saying the Prime Minister had the support of more ‘important’ MPs.

The Member of Parliament for Moray, who is also currently one of the regional MSPs for the Highlands and Islands, will likely want to focus on constitutional issues and appearing as the main opposition to Scottish Independence and the Scottish National Party. There may, however, be some concern that current issues facing the Conservative Party at a UK level could have a knock-on effect on turnout of their core vote in May.

The Scottish Conservatives have also been mixing in pro-union constitutional arguments with some domestic issues in recent weeks, criticising the SNP government’s record on maternity services in the Highlands and the long-standing drug crisis in Scotland.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour have been trying to reach out to both those who voted No and Yes in the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum. UK Labour leader Keir Starmer recently accused the Prime Minister of endangering the union and laid out his vision for Scotland’s place within it at a speech in Glasgow, likely trying to bridge the current gap between unionist and nationalist voters in Scotland. In his speech, the MP for Holborn and St Pancras said that the Prime Minister is the ‘single biggest threat to the future of the UK’.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has also been demanding that the First Minister puts the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic first, rather than making plans for another independence referendum top of the agenda. He has also made calls for more to be done to tackle gender-based violence and misogyny in a visit to a gym.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats are seemingly undertaking a different strategy after falling from five MSPs to four in last year’s Scottish Parliament election. Not long after the result, former leader Willie Rennie announced his intention to resign as leader of the party leading to the uncontested election of new leader Alex Cole-Hamilton. The MSP for Edinburgh Western has already directed his focus on constitutional issues and scrutinising the SNP for pushing for a second independence referendum, possibly in a hope of picking up disaffected former Scottish Conservative voters. The new leader recently discussed issues relating to council budgets stating: ‘if Westminster had treated the SNP Government the way they treat our councils, they’d be marching in the streets’.

Overall, the strategy of all unionist parties appears to be to focus on constitutional issues while mixing in some attacks on the SNP’s domestic record in government, with perhaps Scottish Labour choosing to focus a bit more on domestic record and what they would like the Scottish Parliament to legislate for. It’s unclear how the Scottish local elections will play out, which take place under a unique transferable vote system which should, in theory, allow unionist voters to vote tactically against the more unified nationalist vote. At this moment in time, it isn’t completely obvious who will be the main beneficiary of possible transfers.

Household bills

Energy prices, fuel poverty and options ‘under discussion’

The UK’s cap on energy prices limits how much firms can charge consumers, which means that wholesale energy cost surges have so far mostly fallen on suppliers. The GB-wide price cap was raised in October. The charity National Energy Action estimates showed that another half a million households — on top of the existing 4m households — were then classed as fuel poor.

The cap is subject to its biannual review on 7 February. Experts forecast that it will be permitted to rise by an additional £400 at the very least, with the increased prices coming into force from April. The charity National Energy Action predicted that a further 1.5m households will be in fuel poverty. That’s 6m households in total and a 50% increase in just over six months.

New research revealed older people are paying more than twice as much for their energy as the younger generation. Analysis from the Labour Party showed UK households aged 65 and over spent £15 a week per person on energy bills, compared to £8 for households aged between 30 and 49 and £7 for those under 30.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon demanded ‘urgent action’ from the Government over the energy crisis and expressed his concern that ‘ordinary folk are set to be £1,200 worse off’ over the coming year in a column for The Sun. His remarks came after 20 Conservative MPs and peers demanded, in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph, that the Government slash the 5% VAT on energy bills.

Similarly, Labour has this week urged Conservative MPs to vote for a VAT cut to home energy bills over the next year. The binding motion, if it would have passed, would have guaranteed Parliamentary time for a Bill on a VAT cut to home energy bills, forcing MPs to actively vote for or against the legislation to implement this cut. However, MPs voted by 319 to 229 — a majority of 90 — against the proposal, with Anne Marie Morris the only Conservative MP to rebel and support the measure.

Rachel Reeves announced last weekend that the Labour Party would fund its bid to reduce the expected price rise in April with a one-off windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers that have profited from recent record-high prices. Nadhim Zahawi rejected the idea last Sunday, telling LBC Radio listeners that the proposed tax ‘just doesn’t add up’. He claimed that the companies are ‘already struggling’.

In his column for the Sun, Robert Halfon MP also argued that the Prime Minister should at least suspend the Green Levy — perhaps by introducing a downward escalator, lowering this tax when energy bills rocket. He said that this Green Levy is spent on some very questionable things. The letter written by the 20 Conservative MPs also called for the removal of environmental levies, saying they account for 23% of consumer electricity bills.

Meanwhile, reports by the BBC have suggested that that expanding eligibility for the winter homes discount that offers a one-off £140 payment is ‘under discussion’. The BBC reported that another option would be to subsidise the energy companies themselves by establishing a fund or facility which would allow them to draw down Government cash when wholesale prices were very high and then pay it back when prices dipped again.

Vuelio’s weekly Friday morning political newsletter Point of Order shares insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

Health and care policy in 2022

What’s Coming Up In 2022 For Health and Care Policy

2021 was a busy year for health policy, starting with the country in lockdown because the alpha variant was causing a massive wave of COVID-19 cases across the country. At this time, the NHS was also embarking on its largest vaccination roll-out in British history.

Under the shadow of the pandemic, the NHS has witnessed record high waiting lists and has been forced to rethink its delivery of key services. This has led to widespread reform of the sector in 2021.

In February, the Department for Health and Social Care announced its plans to reform the NHS, which has led to the Health and Care Bill. This Bill would introduce statutory Integrated Care Systems with the aim to provide greater integration of services across the health and care sector. In December, a ten-year social care reform plan was announced that includes plans for the social care workforce and housing sector. 2021 also saw the reform of public health governance with the breakup of Public Health England into the UK Health Security Agency which focusses on public health protection and infectious disease capability, and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, which focusses on population health and disparity.

Meanwhile, there has also been a shift in leadership, with Sajid Javid becoming Health and Social Care Secretary. Considered as a ‘Hawkish’ Conservative in terms of introducing strict COVID-19 restrictions, he overtook from his predecessor Matt Hancock in June. He has introduced some COVID-19 restrictions to tackle to the Omicron wave, including rules on working from home, masks, and the contentious vaccine passports, but has stopped short of introducing rules on social mixing as seen earlier in the year.

Looking into 2022, in January the Health and Bill will continue in its House of Lords Committee stage. This will be an opportunity for peers to bring forward amendments to this Bill, including one from Baroness Cumberlege, which if successful, would require the Government to publish independently-verified assessments of workforce numbers every two years. A similar high-profile amendment had been proposed in the House of Commons by Jeremy Hunt, the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, but was rejected by the Government. If the Health and Care Bill passes, likely to be in April, the Government plans to have statutory Integrated Care Systems introduced across the country by July 2022.

April will also mark a shift in how the health and care sector is paid for as the Health and Care Levy is introduced. The 1.25% levy based on National Insurance Contributions aims raise £12bn a year for the next three years. This will provide £5.4 billion of investment over the next three years for the Adult Social Care Cap, which will limit personal care costs to a maximum of £86,000 over a person’s lifetime.

The additional funding will also be used to boost NHS capacity to address the rapidly growing waiting lists that are hovering around 5.8m, according to latest figures. This includes spending on more diagnostic scans and surgical hubs. The Health and Social Care Committee has recently called the backlog a ‘major and unquantifiable challenge’. It has recommended that the Government sets out a broad national health and care recovery plan to include mental health, primary care, community care, and social care as well as emergency care. This comes as the fast spread of Omicron variant impacts the capacity of the health and social care workforce. NHS England estimates that in recent weeks more than 80,000 staff were absent each day on average with almost half of these absences due to COVID-19.

More reform is also expected in 2022. Two upcoming strategies were announced with the publication of the Social Care White Paper. Firstly, the Integration White Paper which is expected to outline proposals to improve person-centred care with measures to improve the interface between health and care services. Alongside this, an individual strategy for people with Dementia and their carers is also expected.

Moreover, the Health Secretary has indicated that he will publish mental health strategy this year, along with a public consultation. Finally, in alignment with wider Government aims, a Levelling-up White Paper is also due this year, which could include measures to address health disparity across the country.

Vuelio’s weekly Friday morning political newsletter Point of Order shares insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

Challenges and triumphs of 2021 in comms

What were the biggest challenges and triumphs for comms in 2021?

And we thought 2020 in comms, marketing and PR was difficult – 2021 brought yet more challenges, forcing everyone to adapt to the constantly changing environment we found ourselves in.

In this part of our series of features looking back at this year, and forward to the next, seven practitioners from across the industry share what they saw as the biggest challenges of 2021 and some of the organisations, people and brands that did great work in 2021.

Sarah Waddington, Astute.Work and #FuturePRoof
Main challenges of 2021?
‘The biggest challenge for comms practitioners this year has been battling fatigue. Working practices and client expectations have changed throughout the pandemic, in part through people working from home, and it seems to have exacerbated the ‘always on’ culture we’ve been trying to move away from. The biggest challenge for the year ahead will be managing this and re-establishing boundaries so the workplace is a happy and healthy one.’

Comms winners this year?
‘I thought the Don’t Be That Guy video by Police Scotland was particularly well thought out and timed in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard and following the wave of anger up and down the country relating to violence against women. It actually looked at the cause of the problem, rather than place responsibility onto women to stay safe.’

Sudha Singh, The Purpose Room
Main challenges of 2021?
‘The world has changed and like everyone else comms practitioners have had to adapt to the fast-changing world. I think the biggest challenge has been to understand how best we can serve our clients’ needs, help them to stay authentic and relevant. The other big challenge was providing adequate support to the disparate (and ever evolving) needs of team members and employees.’

Comms winners this year?
‘Brands that were true to their core purpose and were authentic were the winners – Zoom, IKEA, UK Gov Comms (…not politicians), Deliveroo, football campaign against racism, Raheem Sterling’s campaign, and the Aldi Free Cuthbert campaign.’

Gavin Devine, Park Street Partners
Main challenges of 2021?
‘Maintaining focus has been really difficult in 2021. The year has been a rollercoaster of lockdowns and normality, international travel being impossible and then opening up, office working prohibited, frowned upon and then encouraged. It hasn’t always been easy to know how in practice to deliver for clients and to keep colleagues motivated and positive. These challenges are not unique to comms but we perhaps feel them particularly acutely because often we have been called in to help clients shape and communicate their responses to COVID-19. Entering more of a ‘steady state’ of near-normality in the last couple of months has been an enormous relief.’

Comms winners this year?
‘I can think of so many individuals and organisations who had a bad year in terms of comms in 2021. There were few real winners, although it would be hard to argue that Kate Bingham and Nadhim Zahawi didn’t have a great year in terms of their personal ‘brands’.’

Emmanuel Ofosu-Appiah, Mercer
Main challenges of 2021?
‘One clear challenge has been constant news flow and sheer amount of change since the pandemic hit. This has made it harder for clients and stakeholders stories to penetrate into the mainstream. PRs really need to think about what they are sharing externally and what key messages they want to get across. There has also been a shift with organisations focusing more on ESG and sustainability issues which has required practitioners to think outside of the box to get their stories heard.’

Comms winners this year?
‘I was blow away by the FIFA and EA Sports campaign for The Kiyan Prince Foundation and QPR. It was a genius creative idea from Engine Group with such a strong and moving message following such an unfortunate incident. I know many young people will be inspired by the campaign.’

Anne Gregory, University of Huddersfield
Main challenges of 2021?
‘Resilience and stamina, given the relentless nature of the on-going crisis. Working remotely – the watercooler moments are so important to ‘temperature check’ the organisation, particularly what is happening internally. Major flop to digital/online working. Educating senior managers on how to be really competent in genuine communication and not talking in soundbites.’

Comms winners this year?
‘Pfizer, Unilever and health scientists!’

Tolu Rachel Akisanya, Ariatu PR
Main challenges of 2021?
‘Not just this year, but for several years now, is the industry has struggled with the ability – or lack of – to switch off. This has always been an issue, however with the pandemic and working from home, it’s been harder to separate work life and personal life. Especially when both happen in the same room now (my front room is both my office space and leisure space). Additionally, with the growth of new social media platforms and media outlets, it means we’re constantly consuming media, even in our downtime, which often means we never really ever switching off. Whether we consciously or subconsciously realise it, we’re always looking for the next opportunity or connecting with a new contact online or horizon scanning – it can sometimes be information overload.

‘However, this has led to a positive movement and we’ve seen the wider industry acknowledge this issue and work towards raising awareness, providing support and resources, and creating more open and wider discussions about how to improve the mental health and well-being of PR practitioners.’

Comms winners this year?
‘I’ve really enjoyed seeing the work Ariatu PR has done with podcasts, such as Broccoli Content and Coiled. In a market that is oversaturated, being able to ‘cut through the noise’ and deliver impactful campaigns, generate coverage (in the likes of the Financial Times and Stylist magazine) to raise awareness and lead to listeners, for shows that are not celebrity led, has been incredible.’

Stuart Thomson, BDB Pitmans
Main challenges of 2021?
‘In public affairs, we have had to put up with seemingly continuous outrage caused by the behaviour of some serving and former Parliamentarians and their lobbying activities. It has done little to help the reputation of politics or public affairs. The CIPR and PRCA have been very firm in their condemnation of the activities but sadly such behaviour damages us all.

‘A large part of public affairs is the development of relationships and, however good online activity is, there is nothing to really replace face-to-face interaction. The extended lockdown at the start of the year and now worries about another wave has curtailed that. We really do need to get back to normal in-person political activity.’

Comms winners this year?
‘The Beatles. The brand of a band that ceased to exist before even I was born continues to astound. The release of Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary Get Back has been trailed and tantalised for more than a year building up on the anticipation of its release on Disney+. A great piece of communications.’

Read predictions for the trends PR and comms professionals can expect in 2022 here and start your campaign planning with Vuelio’s media, PR, public affairs and political services – find out more here.

Adult Social Care

Is the Government’s latest white paper on adult social care reform enough to help the sector?

After much anticipation, the Government quietly published its adult social care proposals last week. The Putting the Heart into Care White Paper included headline announcements such as £300m to develop the housing for the elderly sector as well as details on the Government’s £500m investment in the social care workforce.

The reforms promise to create a care system that will give people a greater choice and independence and give the people who work in social care better routes for career progression. Introducing the reforms to Parliament, Minister for Care Gillian Keegan said: ‘Today’s White Paper is an important step on our journey to giving more people the dignified care that we want for our loved ones, setting out important changes that will last for generations and stand the test of time.’

Any indication of reform to the sector is welcome, given the intense capacity and workforce issues seen in recent years. However, many critics have accused the Government of not going far enough.

On the opposition bench, Labour’s Shadow Care Minister Liz Kendall argued that the White Paper has ‘utterly failed to deal with the immediate pressures facing social care, as we head into one of the most difficult winters on record’. She also continued Labour’s attack on the social care cap which will cap personal care costs at £86,000. Labour voted against the measure as they argue it will still leave people with unaffordable care costs.

The Liberal Democrat’s Daisy Cooper said that the measures laid out are ‘incredibly thin’ and will not address the problems with fragmentation and integration between the NHS and care. Meanwhile, Philippa Whitford has called for the Government to follow the lead of the Scottish National Party in Scotland and introduce a national care service.

Much of the criticism of these reforms is focussed on the lack of additional funding which the sector will see. This is despite the Health and Care Levy, announced in September, which will raise £36.5bn for the health and social care sector over the next three years. As most of this money will initially be spent on addressing the waiting lists in the NHS, the proportion to be spent on social care is only £5.4bn. Moreover, with £3.6bn of this funding being spent on the social care cap, the remaining funding for investment in the sector is just £1.7bn over the next three years.

The Health and Social Care Committee Chair Jeremy Hunt argued that the funding set out in the White Paper doesn’t even give enough funding for local authorities to carry out their core responsibilities, let alone give them enough to deal with demographic change and national living wage increases. He highlighted that the Committee had called for a £7 billion-a-year increase by the end of the Parliament to address the current challenges. This was echoed by the Health Foundation which has argued that the reforms will ‘feel like hollow words without the money to deliver it’. The Think Tank has suggested that additional funding of around £7.6 billion in 2022/23 is needed, rising to £9 billion in 2024/25.

There are some positive notes for what is included in the reforms – ADASS have said that although the sector needs more funding, the White Paper is a good foundation for reform with ‘strong values and principles’. Likewise, Skills for Care have welcomed the workforce components of the reforms, including the investment in professional development processes. ARCO has also praised the White Paper’s attention on developing the specialist housing sector.

Overall, although the White Paper doesn’t contain anything particularly contentious for the sector, there are concerns that it does not go far enough to address the long-term challenges, particularly on funding and within the workforce. With this, the sector can expect more proposals in the coming months. A standalone strategy for people with dementia and their carers is planned, as well as an Integration White Paper which will set out measures to improve the join up of care in local areas.

Vuelio’s weekly Friday morning political newsletter Point of Order shares insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

Cabinet Office

What the Shadow Cabinet Reshuffle means for the UK political environment

Lucy Grove and Charlie Campion from the Vuelio political team take a look at the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer surprised us with a reshuffle this week, beginning with the resignation of Cat Smith, who had continued to serve as Shadow Secretary of State for Young People and Democracy under Starmer’s leadership, following her appointed to the role by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Nick Thomas-Symonds has been removed as the Shadow Home Secretary having served in the role since Starmer’s victory in the Labour Leadership Election last year, but having come under some criticism for his performance in the role, has been moved to serve as Shadow International Trade Secretary. He has been replaced in Shadow Home Secretary by Yvette Cooper, who has returned to the role having previously served in the same position under the leadership of Ed Miliband. The former Chair of Home Affairs Select Committee has received some acclaim for her scrutiny of Government during her stint in the role including an exchange with current Home Secretary Priti Patel on the lack of up-to-date figures related to COVID-19 and border issues in July 2020. The MP for the marginal seat of Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford will arguably add some experience to Keir Starmer’s senior leadership team, where few have had the opportunity to serve in government.

Lisa Nandy will see her portfolio switch from meetings with foreign dignitaries to a role more focused on local communities and government. The co-Founder of the Centre for Towns and active campaigner for towns and communities will be a popular choice with social media users who turned her passion for towns into an internet sensation during the 2020 Labour Leadership Election. The MP for Wigan has long taken an interest in local government repeating her calls for a ‘functioning bus network’ and will shadow Michael Gove as the government rolls out its Levelling Up agenda.

Ed Miliband retained a quarter of his former post, moving from the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to the newly-created position of Shadow Secretary of State of Climate Change and Net Zero. Although not having a direct opposite in Government makes it unclear who Miliband will be shadowing, the creation of this role indicates a commitment from the party to one of the most central issues plaguing Government, particularly after a last-minute compromise at the COP26 summit. The appointment also acknowledges Miliband’s passion for the topic, demonstrated in his challenge to Boris Johnson over COP26 ambitions.

There was movement in store for Wes Streeting and Jonathan Reynolds, who took on the roles of Shadow Secretary for Health and Social Care and Shadow Secretary for Business and Industrial Strategy respectively. Streeting, the Member of Parliament for Ilford North, has been an MP since 2015 having taken the London seat from the Conservatives in an upset win, he then went on to serve as Shadow Secretary for Child Poverty. Meanwhile, Reynolds is moved to the Business and Industrial Strategy role having previously served as the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.

The reshuffle also saw Cardiff Central MP Jo Stevens move from her previous role shadowing Nadine Dorries, the recently appointed Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to return to the Welsh portfolio. She replaces Nia Griffith, MP for Llanelli, who has now taken a step back from frontbench politics.

Former Shadow Secretary for Justice David Lammy has been promoted to the Foreign Affairs brief opposite Liz Truss. Albeit a slightly surprising appointment, former barrister Lammy is a powerful speaker and will be well placed to hold the Government to account on a challenging foreign policy landscape. Following his appointment, he said he looks ‘forward to setting out Labour’s vision for a values-led foreign policy’. Working alongside him will be Shadow Cabinet Minister Preet Gill, who has been in post since September 2020.

Some quarters were perhaps left surprised as Dr Rosena Allin-Khan wasn’t moved to a more senior role in the Shadow Cabinet, especially with Jonathan Ashworth vacating the Health portfolio. The MP for Tooting in South London has been touted as a rising star in the Labour Party and while she saw no promotion in this reshuffle she will continue to attend the Shadow Cabinet in her role as Shadow Minister for Mental Health.

Peter Kyle, the MP for Hove, joins the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He was previously Schools Minister and replaces Louise Haigh. Another member of the 2015 intake, like Wes Streeting, he upset the Conservatives turning a 4% Conservative majority into a 3% Labour Majority before winning a 30%+ majority in the 2017 and 2019 General Elections.

There were rumours that Wes Streeting was on the cards to take over Shadow Secretary of State for Education from Kate Green after his appointment as Shadow Schools Minister in 2020 and his long history of being an active voice in education. Phillipson, the former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is the first MP representing a northeast constituency to be Shadow Education Secretary since Pat Glass, who held the role for two days in 2016 and has spoken about the poor outcomes for young people in her area. Conclusions could be drawn here about the parallels between this and the Government’s ambitions for levelling-up education.
Jim McMahon has become the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, moving from the Transport portfolio. He has been the MP for Oldham West and Royton since 2015 having previously served as the Leader of the Council.

The reshuffle also sees Emily Thornberry stay in the Shadow Cabinet, but she returns to her role of Shadow Attorney General, despite rumours of her ending up in home affairs. She brings expertise from her substantial work in the legal profession before entering Parliament as a barrister to the role.

Steve Reed moves from Shadow Secretary for Communities and Local Government to justice. His first shadow ministerial role was in home affairs from 2013-2015, providing some background to the role, as well as having been commended for his work establishing the Co-operative Councils Network, which sought to transform local public services prior to his election. Although he hasn’t worked as a lawyer, like his predecessor, Reeds’ background publishing includes spells with the Law Society. Following his appointment, he reminded Twitter of his work introducing Seni’s Law to secure justice for mental patients.

Lucy Powell moves from Shadow Secretary of State for Housing to her new role shadowing Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries. She takes on this role following a brief period as Labour’s front-bench housing spokesperson, which some argued lacked a strong campaign against the Government’s actions over the leasehold scandal. Powell has relevant experience for the appointment, introducing the Online Forum’s Bill way back in 2018, arguing unregulated ‘echo chambers’ on social media are allowing the online spread of abuse, including racist conspiracy theories, revenge porn and illegal trading. Despite achieving cross-party support, the Bill failed to complete its passage through Parliament.

Jonathan Ashworth has held previous shadow cabinet positions for the Department of Health and Social Care, for which he served longer than any other Labour politician, as well as the cabinet office. He will be shadowing incumbent Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey, who welcomed Ashworth to his new job, stating that the two have a ‘shared mission to improve the quality of life for millions of people in this country’.

Also noteworthy, Angela Rayner kept her former roles in the November 2021, but nonetheless hit the headlines as the reshuffle coincided with her long-planned speech on Labour’s plans to clean up politics at the Institute for Government. Papers reported that the deputy leader appeared blind-sided, while sources close to the Labour leader said Ms Rayner was told a reshuffle would be taking place.

Louise Haigh was moved from being Northern Ireland’s Shadow Secretary of State a week after being criticised by some for suggesting the UK Government should remain neutral in the event of a border poll. Upon her appointment she said she was looking forward to ‘getting stuck into the Tories on behalf of communities who have been sold out by their transport betrayal’.

Vuelio’s weekly Friday morning political newsletter Point of Order shares insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

Reflections on COP26

Reflections on COP26 from the House of Lords

The House of Lords podcast episode ‘What comes after COP26’ interviewed two members of the House, chosen because of their great interest in the environment: Baroness Bennett who previously led the Green Party, and Baroness Parminter, Chair of the Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee.

There were reflections on the successes of the summit, with Baroness Bennett commenting on the significance of fossil fuels and coal’s inclusion within the COP declaration. The conference saw the creation of a coalition made up of 190 countries committing to phase out coal power as well as pledges from the G20, Japan, Korea and China to end overseas finance for coal generation. However, environmental NGOs and activists said commitments on coal were not sufficient. Both peers called for the Government to sign up to the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, a coalition built by Costa Rica and Denmark to facilitate the phase-out of oil and gas production. This push for stronger action from the UK Government was one call amongst many from Baroness Bennett and Parminter.

Despite the UK Government presenting themselves as the pioneers of climate finance, Baroness Bennett expressed disappointment over the failure to secure the $100b global finance target while Baroness Parminter called for the Government to re-establish the 0.7% aid budget. Baroness Bennett said it was essential for enough funding to be raised to pay ‘reparations’ to the world’s poorest people who will be the worst affected by climate change despite not causing it themselves. She and Baroness Parminter reiterated the points made by many at the conference, that rhetoric about saving our future misses the point that many countries are feeling the effects of climate change now, from which they must be protected.

Baroness Parminter criticised the Government for failing to embed climate change across Governmental departments, with no clear plans drawn up to achieve this in the Net Zero Strategy. She argued that the Government is failing to hold its own Departments to account, as seen with the trade deal with Australia, cutting Air Passenger Duty for domestic flights and failing to include policies for home insultation in the Heat and Buildings Strategy despite an urgent need to decarbonise the UK’s housing stock.

There was some optimism during the episode, with both peers highlighting the increased momentum behind environmental issues within the House of Lords with some unlikely characters joining the movement. Baroness Bennett gave the example of the sewage amendment, calling for stronger action against water companies and storm overflows in the Environment Act, which had been tabled by the Duke of Wellington, a hereditary peer.

With a growing consensus in both Houses that the climate crisis must be prioritised, Baroness Bennett emphasised the importance of public engagement, arguing that the ideas at COP26 came largely from civil society rather than the leaders sat at the negotiation tables. Agreeing with David Attenborough’s focus on young people at the summit, both peers put a spotlight on young people for driving change. However, Baroness Bennett concluded by saying that unless the way the society and economy is restructured through full system change, we will not be able to meet our targets, arguing that ‘you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet’.

An ode to trade associations

An ode to trade associations

This is a guest post from Emily Wallace, interim CEO of the Trade Association Forum.  

The combination of Brexit and COVID-19 has seen trade associations unequivocally demonstrate their value to the UK business community.

Trade associations have such an important role to play in our economy. They see problems way before they hit the desks of Ministers, providing eyes and ears and an effective early warning system.

Trade associations make policy workable; without trade associations, the Government would have a really hard job implementing policy. Not only do they spend huge amounts of time working on the details of regulation and guidance, but they then push it out to their members and drive compliance too.

Trade associations also drive up standards that protect consumers and businesses, as well as supporting public sector inspection regimes. Trade associations are often driven by a group of businesses that want to differentiate themselves from those in their sector who are cutting corners on regulation, taxation or using low quality materials. They self-organise, set standards, change culture and drive innovation. They prevent a race to the bottom and protect us all in the process.

Trade Associations deliver investment in the skills that businesses actually need. They put in place accreditation programmes, run regular training sessions, develop routes to entry through apprenticeships and vocational learning, support continued professional development, share best practice and reward excellence.

As the pandemic hit, under increasing financial pressures, they stepped up their support to members, to help them to navigate the myriad of changing rules, regulations and government support schemes.

At the same time, many associations had to reshape themselves to be able to operate with a very different financial outlook, as in-person events, awards and other revenue-generating activities were cancelled.

The annual salary and benefits survey of trade associations from the Trade Association Forum lays bare the impact of COVID-19 on UK trade associations. It shows:

Over a quarter of respondents (27%) saw a reduction in staff numbers in 2020

  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) was used by just over 50% of respondents
  • 33% report that Covid-19 had affected their ability to increase staff pay in 2021, and 29% that they had not awarded or budgeted for salary increases in 2021.
  • 64% of associations are looking to recruit, a figure that has almost doubled from our last survey in 2019 when just 36% of associations were planning to hire
  • Just 8% have or are planning to return to full time office working. 83% will adopt hybrid working and 8% are allowing staff to work from home permanently.

While COVID-19 has provided the most challenging of times for Trade Associations, it is great to see some confidence return and a more positive outlook for 2022. The survey shows the sector embarking on a hiring spree, and recruiters report that demand for communication, policy, and advocacy skills in UK trade associations has increased significantly in the last six months.

The skills required to lead a trade association are a complex mix that require speedy transition from sector champion, to regulatory expert, to event organiser, to marketing manager to PR guru and much more besides. There are a lot of spinning plates, entrepreneurial spirits and oodles of ingenuity that keep all the parts in motion.

While the last year might have been a challenge, trade associations are bouncing back, reinvented, reinvigorated and with an important role for the future.

More information on the Trade Association Forum and the annual salary and benefits survey of trade associations can be found here on the website

Vuelio’s political newsletter Point of Order shares insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

ARCO

ARCO – putting care in ‘housing-with-care’

ARCO’S new report ‘Putting the care in Housing-with-care’ recentres the role Integrated Retirement Communities can play filling gaps in the social care sector while fostering improvements in care quality.

The report shows that with the right amount of support and backing, Integrated Retirement Communities could boost the capacity of the UK’s social care system and address shortages in the social care workforce. It highlights a lack in the provision of care across the country, particularly for lower and intermediate care needs. With this, it demonstrates that as well as boosting capacity in the social care sector, Integrated Retirement Communities can offer unique packages of care. In particular, the report highlights the many health benefits of retirement communities as on-site care means that people are less likely to need more acute health care, ultimately to the benefit of the resident, and local NHS services.

The report recommends that the Government bolsters the role of Integrated Retirement Communities within the wider social care sector, by setting a firm definition of Integrated Retirement Communities and by giving monitoring duties to local authorities to oversee the delivery of new developments. It also proposes the introduction of a cross-departmental taskforce, which can work on issues across social care and housing by cementing the position of Integrated Retirement Communities within the planning system.

At the report launch, speakers including Damian Green MP, Chair of the APPG on Longevity, Natalie Reed, interim Head of Inspection at CQC and Simon Bottery from the King’s Fund highlighted the current challenges in the social care and housing sectors.

Damian Green MP highlighted that people living in retirement communities are less likely to experience ill health or digression in health. He also spoke about the need for a long-term perspective on the social care sector and said that the upcoming White Paper on social care should provide policy on housing for the elderly. Natalie Reed from the CQC focussed on the high quality of care that is provided within retirement communities and suggested that the care model allows people to live fulfilling and happy lives. Simon Bottery from the King’s Fund also highlighted the evidence around the quality of care in retirement communities and said that people living in them are less likely to experience loneliness or depression. Moreover, Joanna Grainger, Executive Director of Operations at ExtraCare, highlighted that with onsite care, retirement communities’ staff can provide personalised and flexible care.

The Government has already set forward indications of how the social care sector will be funded with the announcement of the Health and Care Levy in September. As the sector eagerly awaits the contents of the White Paper, which has promised to be published by the end of the year, reports such as this will be valuable to policymakers so that the new reforms ensure long term quality of care across the sector.

Sustainably managing the soil is crucial to biodiversity

Baroness Bennett: Sustainably managing soil is crucial to our biodiversity

Green Party peer and former leader Baroness Natalie Bennett calls on the Government to accept an amendment to the Environment Bill to ensure that soil health and quality is sustainably managed, given that it stores carbon and its biodiversity is ‘severely under threat’.

Perhaps this morning you enjoyed a piece of satisfyingly crisp toast, after you pulled on a soft, favourite cotton T-shirt. You looked out at the garden where the last of the autumn flowers are adding morning cheer.

All of those experiences are entirely – completely – dependent on soil.

Mostly, we don’t think about this key component of life on our land. If we do, it is as ‘dirt’ – trodden into the house by children or dogs, or ‘mud’, something to plod through at festival time.

Yet increasingly, farmers, scientists and governments, are recognising that the soils that feed us, clothe us and provide the basis for the plant oxygen we breathe, are in a terrible state.

The life that should make them thrive – earthworms, tardigrades and the billion microbes that should be in a healthy teaspoonful – has been poisoned by pesticides and artificial fertilisers, and increasingly contaminated with microplastics. A quarter of the world’s biodiversity is in soils, yet it is severely under threat.

Soils are packed down by multiple runs of heavy tractors, the air squeezed out, so the rain rushes off them, and floods our communities. Erosion by water and wind carries soil away, sometimes in great dust storms, other times in turgid, heavy rivers.

We’ve thought a lot more, recently, about the quality of our air and the pollution of our waterways.

Campaigners like Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, whose daughter Ella was tragically killed by filthy air, have been joined by many tens of thousands of supporters to demand a clean-up.

More recently, water campaigners, from SOS Whitstable to the Ilkley Clean River Campaign, which won the first bathing water status for a river, have attracted major attention.

Both of those campaigns are recognised in the amendments sent from the House of Lords for the Environment Bill, seeking to strengthen protections. Sadly, they were rejected, although the word on the street is that the Government might still give way under public pressure on one or both of these issues.

But at least the Government recognised in its plan for the law that long-term, serious targets were needed for air and water.

For soil, there was no target. The Government had produced a two-legged stool in its plans. It won’t stand up without a soil target as well.

That ‘third leg’ was added in the House of Lords, the amendment backed by the equal-highest balance of votes of the 14 sent back to the House of Commons.

Nearly all of them were thrown out (The one clear win was an undeniably sensible measure to change a provision allowing the Government to introduce charges for single-use plastic items to be extended to all single-use items – obviously essential for a circular economy).

There are many important amendments that I’ll be fighting for: for the Office for Environmental Protection to be independent and able to hold the Government to account; for strong water and air protections and for environmental rules to apply to the Treasury and the military.

But the soil is one obvious, essential, really unarguable change. After all, this is only delivering what the Government says is its own target. To have our soils sustainably managed by 2030, a scant nine years away.

And while Boris Johnson tried to say under the pressures of Covid and Brexit that ensuring the nation didn’t go hungry was a job for business, not his concern, it is clear that ensuring we can feed ourselves in future is something that the Environment Bill has to address, by looking after the soils that will do that, as well as store carbon and be the foundation for restoring our terribly nature-depleted islands.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (Natalie Bennett) was leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2012 to 2016.

This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order, which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

Conservative Party Conference 2021

Conservative Party Conference 2021: Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid on ‘renewal and reform’

Delivering his first major speech as Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid set out his vision for reform and renewal. His immediate priorities are to get the country of the pandemic and to tackle the NHS waiting lists, as well as setting out an agenda for reform across health and care for the long-term.

Although Javid doesn’t shy away from prioritising the funding that the sector will need to come out of the pandemic, he argued that previous Governments have made the mistake of choosing cash or reform. Instead, he promised that 2022 ‘will be a year of renewal’. With this, he mentioned the review of leadership and management in health and social care which will be led by Sir Gordon Messenger. The comprehensive review promises to highlight the outstanding leaders who drive efficiency and innovation across services. He also wants to drive innovation in the NHS to create a fully-digitalised system across the country.

Speaking on the impacts of the pandemic, he said that the country must ‘level up’ on health as entrenched health disparities have been exposed by the pandemic. The Health Foundation has welcomed the Health Secretary’s emphasis on health as part of the leveling up agenda, but highlighted research which shows that the public health grant has been cut by 24% in real terms per capita since 2015/16, with cuts falling more heavily on those living in the most deprived areas of England.

Javid also highlighted that the pandemic has caused long waiting lists for NHS care, which are currently hovering around 5.6million but could reach up to 13million under the Government’s own projections. He suggested that surgical hubs and 40 new Community Diagnostic Centres will form part of the catch-up programme. NHS Confederation has said that although inroads are being made in waiting lists, there is still intense pressures on health services and the Government ‘must now be upfront and level with the public as to how long it will take to deal with the care backlog’.

Speaking on social care, Javid said the upcoming social care reforms will prevent people from having to pay ‘catastrophic’ costs for their care, but fundamentally people should depend on their families and their community before they turn to the state.

Labour’s long-term social care campaigner Barbara Keeley has argued that this would force more of the care burden onto unpaid carers, she said: ‘These comments by Sajid Javid are shocking and deeply worrying from the Secretary of State responsible for social care’.

The Women’s Equality Party has highlighted the gender implications of Javid’s remarks, as women are more likely to hold the burden of care, asking: ‘And what do you actually mean by this? That women’s unpaid labour should be relied upon to uphold the state thereby pushing women out of careers and into financial decline? Are women not included in your plan to ‘level up’?’

For more from the Vuelio political team, sign up for our Point of Order newsletter, which goes out every Friday morning. 

Labour Party Conference Rachel Reeves

Labour Party Conference 2021: Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves on the ‘everyday economy’

Speaking at her first Labour conference as Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves said she doesn’t look at the economy as just some lines on a graph but instead she concentrates on the ‘everyday economy’, the workers that got us through the Covid crisis and the businesses which give life to our high streets. The steps she outlined ‘represent an approach that is unapologetically pro-worker and unapologetically pro-business’.

Accusing the Government of not respecting the workers that keep our economy going, she highlighted that the Conservatives would take £20 a week from Universal Credit recipients and increase National Insurance tax while allowing food, fuel and energy costs to increase. She set out Labour’s economic plan for Government, including a new deal for all workers which will see zero hours contracts banned, fire and rehire outlawed, sick pay increased, flexible working from day one as well as higher living wages. This came as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Reynolds told the conference that Labour would not only cancel the cut in Universal Credit but also look to replace Universal Credit with a better system.

In her speech, Rachel Reeves also pledged to make the tax system fairer. Labour will ensure that the tax burden isn’t just falling on the wages of working people, but that those at the top pay their fair share, too. This would include a review of the current tax break system so that it delivers for the taxpayer, rather than those ‘who can afford the best advice’. George Dibb, head of IPPR’s Centre for Economic Justice, welcomed the focus on a fairer tax system saying that right now the system is skewed to tax workers more than those who get their income from property or shares, and hasn’t kept up with the massive boom in property wealth over the past 20 years.

The Shadow Chancellor has pledged to scrap business rates and replace them with fairer system. Labour is also calling on the Government to freeze business rates next year and to increase the threshold for small business rates relief, giving small and medium sized businesses in all sectors a discount next year. To pay for these measures, Labour proposed that the Digital Services Tax should be increased to 12% on some online companies that thrived during the pandemic.

Responding to the Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’ pledges on business rate reform, the Federation of Small Businesses highlighted research indicating that 200,000 small firms would be removed from the business rates system if its reforms were taken forward by Labour as pledged. Their research showed that that the English regions that will most benefit from this reform would be the major political and levelling up battlegrounds of the North East, North West, Yorkshire, and South West of England. Tony Danker, CBI Director-General, said that ‘with businesses just recently starting to recoup their losses a freeze in rates will provide much needed breathing room, as will the rise in rates relief for SMEs. But going it alone on digital services tax is high risk and could undermine the UK’s competitiveness at a time when need to be prioritising going for growth’.

Julian Jessop, Economics Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said that while business rates do need fundamental reform, none of the main parties has a credible alternative. He also criticised the proposed rises in digital services tax as it is a tax on sales rather than profits – and any increase will inevitably be passed on to consumers.

In her speech, Reeves promised that she would be a ‘responsible chancellor’ and announced that Labour will create a new, independent Office for Value for Money tasked with keeping a watchful eye on how public money is spent. Some have questioned whether ‘Labour’s new quango might just be a rebranding of what is already happening’ while others have argued that key to the success of a new Office for Value for Money will be bringing more smaller firms into local and national government supply chains.

Lastly, Reeves promised that she would be ‘Britain’s first green chancellor’, and confirmed that the next Labour Government would commit an additional £28bn of capital investment in the country’s green transition for each and every year of this decade. The new investment would go on projects including offshore wind, developing hydrogen industry, and insulating homes. IPPR welcomed Labour’s ambition to boost investment in the UK’s transition to net zero saying it would be a significant move towards meeting the annual investment in reducing carbon emissions and the transition to net zero that IPPR calculates is needed at least until 2030, if the UK is to meet its existing net zero target.

For more from this year’s Party Conferences, sign up to our daily newsletters here.

COP26 guest post from Vince Cable

Looking ahead to COP26

This is a guest post from Sir Vince Cable, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and a former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

COP26 is a vast intergovernmental conference under United Nations auspices and hosted by the UK in Glasgow. The key objective is to secure agreed national commitments leading to demonstrable action to limit climate change.

These annual conferences review progress in implementing the broad commitments agreed at COP21: the Paris Agreement. This year matters more than most since the scientific evidence and the consequences of climate change are starker than ever. A series of natural phenomena – unprecedent wildfires, flooding, extremely high temperatures in Siberia – have illustrated the risks of unchecked warming. COP 26 is crucial to get governments to commit themselves to ambitious but realistic targets for curbing emissions of Greenhouse Gasses (GHGs) which are consistent with safe and tolerable levels of warming (around 1.5% over the century).

It is easy to be cynical. Heads of government will give speeches making commitments to be implemented long after they have left office. Officials will then craft a communique reflecting the interests of countries ranging from small, island states worried about being swamped by sea-level rise to hydrocarbon-based economies like Saudi Arabia and Russia; from major GHG emitters like China and the USA to microstates; from post-industrial, to industrialising to pre-industrial societies.

There are some reasons for optimism. Biden has replaced Trump. Trump was skeptical about climate change; was a strong advocate of the coal industry; and withdrew from the Paris Agreement. Biden has re-joined the Paris Agreement and will commit the USA to ambitious targets backed up by money and legislation. He also sets store by alliance-building and may be able to extract commitments from hitherto uncooperative countries like Australia. Optimists can also point to the success of earlier multilateral agreements like the Montreal Protocol governing chemicals which damage the ozone layer (an agreement in which Britain’s Margaret Thatcher played a key role)

But there are serious obstacles to radical policies in the USA. Support varies greatly from state to state – from committed California to hostile Texas – and Congressional support is not guaranteed. Even in countries with a strong environmental awareness, action lags rhetoric, as with Germany’s continued attachment to coal. And many developing countries will demand large amounts of money from industrialised countries to adapt to climate induced changes that they themselves did not create. Britain’s cut in its aid budget sends the wrong message.

The biggest problem however is China which is currently the world’s biggest emitter by some margin. President Xi has made a strong commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2060 and to reduce emissions after 2030; but there is little detail and a continuing plan to build many new coal-powered power stations, though China has now committed itself to stop supporting overseas coal burning power stations. Relations with the USA are toxic making collaboration in science research and technology exchange more difficult. Anger over Britain’s role in an alliance to confront China also increases the risk that China may choose to postpone its climate change offer until after Glasgow.

The British government has put the odds of a successful summit at 60:40. My heart is with the 60%; my head with the 40%.

Want more on climate change and the environment? Check out our Top 10 UK Green Blogs ranking and advice shared during CIPR’s Climate Change and the Role of PR half-day conference earlier this year. 

All-Party Parliamentary Groups

Are All-Party Parliamentary Groups something to worry about?

This is a guest post by Gavin Devine, founder of Park Street Partners and member of the PRCA Public Affairs Board.

At the start of August, two newspapers splashed stories about All-Party Parliamentary Groups. First the Mirror claimed that a ‘Tory MP [had] handed paid roles on Parliamentary groups’ to a lobbyist; and then the Guardian said that ‘MPs serving on informal parliamentary groups while working in second jobs are facing scrutiny’. In both cases it was All-Party Parliamentary Groups in the spotlight. And each story revealed a whole bunch of misapprehensions about these Groups and also how regulation of them is actually working rather well.

First, the misapprehensions. It is standard fare for the media to overstate the importance of All-Party Parliamentary Groups, implying that they give some sort of privileged access or play a formal role in the legislature’s activities. Sometimes they are put on a par with Select Committees; as a former Parliamentary Clerk, this used to be pretty irritating. The fact is, they have none of these powers or responsibilities.

What APPGs do is bring together MPs with an interest in a particular subject to debate and discuss the issues, and perhaps even to work out ways to make their case to Ministers. But they have no formal role and their powers are no greater than an individual MP or Peer acting on their own. They have no access to public money, so the idea of doling our paid roles is a touch misleading. What these Groups do can be important, but it is really important not to overstate their influence.

Another misapprehension surrounds the ‘revelation’ that MPs who have interests in the subject matter often serve on these Groups – or even set them up. Well, that’s the point. Surely it can be no surprise that MPs from former coalmining areas dominate the Coalfield Communities APPG, or that those who have an interest in manufacturing or have relevant firms in their constituencies are part of the Aerospace APPG? And is it really unexpected that an MP who worked in the packaging industry for 30 years now has a role as Chair of the Foodservice Packaging Association and at the same time runs the Packaging Manufacturing Industry APPG? What is the Guardian’s point: that Mark Pawsey shouldn’t use his experience and contacts to ensure that an important industry is regulated efficiently and effectively?

Which brings us to the second point: that regulation of these matters works rather well. In fact, neither of these articles could have been written without the transparency engendered by the existing rules. We know that the various MPs cited by the Guardian have paid external roles, and even how much they are paid, because they have declared it in the Register of Members’ Interests. We know they serve on various APPGs because they have completed the very frequent returns required for the Register of All-Party Parliamentary Groups. We can see who their fellow office-holders are and if anyone provides them with support in the same, available-to-the-public-on-the-internet, register. In this case, at least, Parliament’s rules and regulations really deliver.

It seems to me that what’s really bothering the media isn’t APPGs at all: it is MPs having second jobs or being too close to ‘business’. There’s a debate to be had about Members received money from outside sources; personally, I think it is entirely legitimate if it is declared for all to see. And the discussion about proximity to companies is a tired conversation about lobbying itself. I don’t know how many times it has to be pointed out that if Parliamentarians do not speak up for major employers in their constituencies or industries they used to work in or businesses they understand and support we will end up with bad laws and regulations devised by officials who can never have knowledge of every facet of the economy and society they oversee. Lobbying is all about ensuring that the legislative process is well-informed, and if APPGs play a role in that, great.

Sitting behind all this is the on-going inquiry by the Committee on Standards into the rules for and regulation of All-Party Parliamentary Groups. This will consider all of the issues raised by the two newspaper articles and much else besides. I hope that the Committee will put any prejudices about ‘big business’ aside and judge the work of APPGs representing industry in the same way as those that are ostensibly more ‘worthy’. And I hope too that it will reflect on the way that the existing rules already promote openness; and that without APPGs MPs and Lords with common interests would simply get together informally without any transparency at all.

Read more political analysis from the PRCA in this overview of the association’s investigation into unregulated lobbying from February of this year

For more on the intersection of PR with politics, check out this guest post from BDB Pitman’s Stuart Thomson Guilt by association and why we need to fight back

Inflation spikes

Can the inflation spike still be justified as temporary?

As we emerge into a post-pandemic era, the inflation debate has been heating up. The key question is: will the price increases be isolated and short lived, or are they a cause for concern? It seems like central banks are not worried over inflation now – the catchword regarding inflation seems to be ‘transitory’ – but for how long is yet to be seen.

In the UK, the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rose by 2.5% in the 12 months to June 2021 – up from 2.1% in the 12 months to May; up from 1.5% in the 12 months to April 2021 and 0.7% in the 12 months to March 2021. CPI was at 0.7% in January 2021.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) sets monetary policy to meet the 2% inflation target and in their most recent report the Committee’s expectation is that CPI will pick up further above the target, owing primarily to developments in energy and other commodity prices, and is likely to exceed 3% for a temporary period. More generally, the Committee’s central expectation is that the economy will experience a temporary period of strong GDP growth and above-target CPI inflation, after which growth and inflation will fall back.

Explaining this further, Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey said that Covid has not had the same impact on our economy as other shocks did in the past. That’s because lockdown affected both supply and demand in the economy. The fact that the UK authorities supported many people’s wages, and helped business to keep going during lockdown means the economy should bounce back quicker. So he doesn’t expect the economy to suffer long term damage. He does expect the cost of living to go up in the coming months, but that should only be short-lived. Mr Bailey said: “It is important not to over-react to temporarily strong growth and inflation, to ensure that the recovery is not undermined by a premature tightening in monetary conditions.”

While the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) dismissed the rise in inflation as “transitory”, on his last day as Chief Economist Andy Haldane sounded the alarm over rising inflation. He expects that by the end of this year, UK inflation to be nearer 4% than 3%. He said ‘this increases the chances of a high inflation narrative becoming the dominant one, a central expectation rather than a risk. Even if this scenario is a risk rather than a central view, it is a risk that is rising fast and which is best managed ex-ante rather than responded to ex-post.’ Andy Haldane was the only member of the MPC to vote for tighter policy to head off the threat to price stability.

Michael Saunders, an external MPC member, has sent the strongest signal that he is now inclined to vote for an early end to quantitative easing, saying last month that ‘it may become appropriate fairly soon to withdraw some of the current monetary stimulus’. Sir Dave Ramsden, BoE deputy governor for banking and markets, has also taken a more hawkish tone, saying the conditions for tightening could be met ‘somewhat sooner than I had previously expected’.

Debates around inflation come as the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) warned that UK companies were the most concerned about inflation for almost a decade. 46% of respondents to the Quarterly Economic Survey cited inflation as an external factor of concern to their business, the highest percentage since Q4 2011, and up significantly from 30% in Q1. However, the BCC said there were signs that current pressures could prove temporary because there was little evidence of inflation from employers raising workers’ wages – regarded as pivotal for sustained price rises.

According to the most recent forecasts by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), CPI inflation is expected to rise to 3.5% in the last quarter of 2021, peaking at 3.9% in the first quarter of 2022 but then falling again to settle around 2% in 2023. ‘To prevent a possible dislodging of inflation expectations, the MPC should prepare the ground for normalising its monetary policy stance, and this involves clearly communicating how Bank Rate and asset purchases will be adjusted in response to higher inflation,’ NIESR Deputy Director Hande Kucuk said. The BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee should emphasise that policy tightening would be gradual, to avoid a sudden tightening of financing conditions that could derail recovery, she added.

Deforestation

Baroness Bennett: ‘We have to stop wrecking other people’s countries’

This is a guest post by Green peer Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (Natalie Bennett), who was leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2012 to 2016.

What’s been called the development of the Global North – the creation of the society we have today – was built on expropriation and extraction through force from the rest of the world. It is been calculated that India alone saw $45 trillion in wealth extracted over 173 years.

But the practice isn’t just history. It is still ongoing today, as the conclusions of the UK’s independent Global Resource Initiative Taskforce (GRIT) demonstrate. It was a far from radical group – including reps from Cargill, McDonald’s and Tesco – but it could not but conclude that the UK needed a ‘new strategic approach… to overcome the challenge of commodity-driven deforestation and land conversion.’ Between 2016 and 2018, an area equivalent to 88% of the total UK land area was required to supply the UK’s demand for just seven agricultural and forest commodities.

The new Schedule 17 of the Environment Bill – addressing products from forests and deforested lands – aims to address some of that. But in the debate in the Committee stage of the Bill, members from all sides of the upper house tore into that weakness of the Schedule.

It was the Conservative Lord Randall of Uxbridge who put down the most far-reaching amendment, calling for a global footprint target. In our climate emergency and nature crisis, in a world wracked by poverty and inequality, the need for that is obvious and undeniable. We need to reduce our ecological footprint by around 75% to fit within ecological limits.

In commenting on that, I looked at the ways in which it would directly, immediately, benefit the UK. It would reduce the risk of future pandemics. It would help safeguard against the economic costs of biodiversity decline and climate change; the WWF Global Futures report calculated that will cost the world at least £368 billion a year, with the UK suffering annual damage to its economy of £16 billion a year by 2050. It would also support the resilience of UK and global businesses and help businesses to manage risk proactively.

Crossbencher Baroness Meacher moved the simplest – unarguably right – amendment, noting that the Schedule only covers companies doing due diligence to ensure that they are not taking products from illegally felled forest land. But ‘legal’ deforestation is often profoundly disastrous and unsustainable: 2.1 million hectares of natural vegetation within the 133 Brazilian municipalities that currently supply the UK with soya could be legally deforested. It also introduces a perverse incentive to encourage the legalisation of deforestation.

UK businesses could also benefit from this amendment. Currently, in many parts of the world, laws relating to land use, forests and commodity production are numerous, uncertain, inconsistent and poorly implemented. It is very difficult to determine legality, and companies can be trapped in a regulatory, paperwork minefield from which the amendment could free them.

An amendment from Baroness Jones of Whitchurch brought in a further dimension, the inter-relationship of human rights and the protection of nature. It called for the recognition of customary land ownership and control. Some 80% of indigenous and community lands are held without legally recognised tenure rights. We know that in indigenous and tribal territories, deforestation rates are significantly lower. Ensuring respect for customary tenure rights is an efficient, just and cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions.

A further amendment, tabled by Lib Dem Baroness Parminter, was essentially the reverse of what the House of Lords achieved in the Financial Services Bill. After a lot of wrestling, the House of Lords finally got a reference to climate into that. What we also need to do is to get the need to control the disastrous impacts of finance addressed in all the other Bills.

The UK is the single biggest source of international finance for six of the most harmful agribusiness companies involved in deforestation in Brazil, the Congo basin and Papua New Guinea, lending £5 billion between 2013 and 2019.

If deforestation was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of carbon, behind China and the US. Some 80% of deforestation is associated with agricultural production, yet figures published recently from five major UN agencies show that the number of people without access to healthy diets has grown by 320 million in the last year. They now number 2.37 billion in total. A fifth of all children under five are stunted because of lack of access to the most basic resource of all: food.

The need to reform Schedule 17 when we get to Report Stage in the House of Lords in September is clear. We have to stop wrecking other people’s countries. We have to ensure that our lives are lived within the limits of this fragile planet, and that everyone else has access to that basic level of resources that is their human right.

This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order, which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics.

Moves at the Department of Health and Social Care

What’s on Sajid Javid’s agenda at the Department for Health and Social Care?

During an eventful weekend, Matt Hancock resigned from his position of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care after he and his aide Gina Coladangelo were caught on camera kissing in his Whitehall office, breaching Covid guidelines.

He has now been replaced by Sajid Javid, who being no stranger to Cabinet roles, is an experienced Government minister. He has previously been Home Secretary, Housing Secretary, the Business Secretary, and most recently Chancellor. In a statement, Javid said: ‘I’m incredibly honoured to take up the post of Health and Social Care Secretary, particularly during such an important moment in our recovery from COVID-19… I want our country to get out of this pandemic and that will be my most immediate priority’.  Jeremy Hunt, a former Health Secretary, has said Javid is an ‘excellent choice’ and argued that as an ex-Chancellor he will be able to ‘negotiate formidably’ with the Treasury.

However, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has raised concern over the decision. He called Javid’s appointment a step backward for the UK and highlighted that the NHS and social care suffered underfunding and cuts due to the decisions taken by Treasury ministers including Javid, ‘a key architect of Tory austerity’.

Meanwhile, the former Special Adviser Dominic Cummings has called Javid ‘bog standard’ and an ‘awful’ choice to replace Matt Hancock.

Stakeholders from across the health and social care sector have highlighted that Javid will likely find himself with a rather busy workload despite only starting his new role on Saturday. Aside from the immediate priorities of addressing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, rising NHS waiting lists, social care reform and NHS restructuring will be other key priorities for the new Health Secretary.

On his first day on the job Javid was focused on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and firm in his position that coronavirus restrictions should not be extended past 19 July. In his first statement to the House of Commons as Health Secretary, he said: ‘There remains a big task ahead of us: to restore our freedoms, freedoms that, save for the greatest of circumstances, no government should ever wish to curtail.’ This comes despite mounting concern over the spread of the Delta variant, which is reportedly responsible for 95% of cases in the UK.

The new Health Secretary will be supporting the ongoing Covid-19 vaccine rollout to reach the 19 July date. It is planned that that two-thirds of all adults in the country would have had both doses by then.

NHS Providers have highlighted the wider impacts of the pandemic on the health service. They have said Javid must provide the sector with the ‘support it needs to clear the substantial backlog of care’. This comes as NHS waiting lists are recorded at a record high with more than 5 million patients awaiting treatment, while demands on mental health and emergency services are also rising.

Social care reform was a key 2019 Conservative manifesto commitment, but there still seem to be no concrete plans. In the recent Queen’s speech, the Government promised it would bring forward detailed reform proposals by the end of this year. These proposals will need drive and commitment from the new Health Secretary if they are going to relieve the economic and structural pressures on the sector.

Aside from social care reform, plans to restructure the NHS are already underway with the Health and Care Bill expected to be brought forward to Parliament soon. This Bill would see NHS Integrated Care Systems placed on a statutory level and divulge greater powers over to the (newly appointed) Secretary of State. In the coming weeks, Javid will also help to choose a new NHS England Chief Executive as Sir Simon Stevens will step down from this role in the summer.