Owen Thompson MP: The Internal Market Bill sets up Britain to build back worse, but Scotland can choose differently

The SNP Deputy Chief Whip and MP for Midlothian Owen Thompson explains why he believes the Internal Markets Bill is bad news for Scotland and the devolved nations and could see a lowering of standards.

Devolution may be easy to take for granted, but it’s hard to overstate how much of a difference it has made for people’s lives. It has allowed Scotland to forge its own distinct path, with unique policy approaches guided by principles of equality and opportunity.

This fact has been inescapable during the pandemic, where the Scottish Government under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership has garnered huge public trust through its transparent, accountable and science-driven approach to public health. However, the life-changing potential of devolution extends far beyond Covid.

Devolution has allowed the Scottish people to elect Governments which have used their limited powers to create a country where nobody is made to pay for education, where prescriptions and period products are free for all, where new parents are met with baby boxes and flexible childcare, and where the climate crisis is taken seriously.

We are all better off for having devolution.

It is no surprise then that it’s not just supporters of Scottish independence who celebrate devolution. Most supporters of the Union are keen to see it either strengthened or carry on as it is. However, the UK Government’s Internal Market Bill means that this is simply no longer possible.

The Prime Minister may claim that the Bill is an attempt to create a level playing field amongst the UK nations, but it is in fact a Trojan Horse for recentralising power into Westminster’s hands.

For instance, by giving the UK Government new spending powers in devolved areas, it allows Whitehall to bypass the Scottish Government and use Scottish taxpayers’ money to fund projects and organisations which align with their own Brexit agenda.

The Bill also creates an unelected body of bureaucrats, the ‘Office of the Internal Market’, tasked with monitoring and ruling on every decision taken by the Scottish Parliament. I have made clear in my contribution to the House’s consideration of the Bill that it strips power from Scotland’s transparent, democratic decision-making processes and puts it in the hands of an unaccountable panel appointed by UK Ministers.

Especially troubling is the Market Access Commitment, the effect of which is that goods and services that meet regulatory standards in one part of the UK will be entitled to enter any other part without having to meet local regulations.

This could mean that Scotland is forced to accept lower standards for our environment, animal welfare and world-leading food and drink sector if they are accepted at Westminster in a grubby trade deal. This is especially dangerous to public health, as the Market Access Commitment could feasibly allow for devolved governments’ actions to protect public health – such as minimum pricing or warnings on the packaging of tobacco or junk foods – to be undermined by allowing the import of products from other UK nations not subject to those protections.

The UK Government may promise to maintain high standards, but it refuses to put it in legislation, and we’ve seen how determined this Government is to create a low-standard, low-quality Bargain Bin Britain.

These concerns are far from being partisan point-scoring. They have been echoed in the Welsh Senedd, the Northern Irish Assembly and in the House of Lords, where the Lords Constitution Committee branded some elements of the bill ‘constitutionally unacceptable’.

Nor is this an abstract constitutional quibble. The Internal Market Bill will hamper the ability of Scotland’s parliament to continue acting to improve people’s lives. And this has never been as crucial as it is now, with imminent decisions to be made about the shape of our post-pandemic recovery.

‘Build Back Better’ has become a slogan for governments around the world, capturing the need to use the pandemic as an opportunity to reshape our countries to work better for all of us.

This Government’s eagerness to undermine devolution and lower our standards shows us the kind of ‘building back’ in store for the UK, and the Internal Market Bill will be the tool it uses to ensure Scotland follows down the same path whether it likes it or not.

Scotland stands at a crossroads between two different kinds of post-pandemic future. It is only through independence that we can forge our own post-pandemic recovery and continue along the path we have begun under devolution, to truly build back better.

This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blogPoint 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.


Dr Lisa Cameron MP: We must ban import of puppies for sale under six months old

The SNP’s Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Dog Welfare and Disability, as well as owner of rescue dog Rossi, writes that protecting puppy welfare doesn’t just affect dogs’ lives, it also helps human lives too. 

As well as ‘Lockdown’, ‘Covid-19’, and ‘unprecedented’, another word in severe danger of pandemic overuse, in both conversations and internet searches, is ‘puppies’. Every day my parliamentary inbox is full of concerned constituents highlighting animal welfare issues, most recently the worrying mass demand for dogs. Fuelled by a desire for companionship, improving mental health, maybe a project to train, or just to keep the kids happy; whichever street you walk down, you’ll most likely see one or more recently purchased, cute fluffy puppies. But where on earth are they all coming from?

Back in April, ‘Lucy’s Law’ came into effect in England, a brilliant campaign and new legislation banning third party puppy dealers that I proudly championed in Westminster. Named after an ex-breeding Cavalier King Charles Spaniel rescued from a Welsh puppy farm, it meant pups could now only be sold seen interacting with their mum in the place they were born or adopted from rescue instead. Unfortunately, timing couldn’t have been worse. In April as a result of the pandemic these restrictions were almost immediately lifted, when Government decided it was fine, in the course of a business, for puppies to be delivered away from their place of birth, without mum.

Of course many breeders produced pups responsibly, but with motherless puppy delivery normalised, in spite of the Government’s own advice for buyers to always physically seeing pup interacting with mum, this year’s seen an extraordinary increase in availability of poorly bred pups, often advertised online, purchased by unsuspecting owners, and mostly sold without mum, often very sick or dying. Here in Scotland, my constituency of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow is located just 80 miles from Stranraer Port, where thousands of young pups without mums are legally imported from Irish puppy farms. Sadly, the detrimental effects of receiving these sick pups on already fragile, human lockdown minds is unquestionable. This makes Lucy’s Law in Scotland all the more urgent.

Temporarily lifting the protections provided by Lucy’s Law meant that without seeing mum, breeder accountability and puppy provenance was often questionable, and as predicted, fully exploited by unscrupulous puppy sellers. Furthermore, this summer’s tragic passing of Love Island celeb couple‘s imported Pomeranian pup ‘Mr Chai’, exposed yet another legal route to market for pups bred in unsuitable conditions, and transported thousands of miles, such as from puppy farms in Russia and other countries where rabies is endemic, sparking the #BanPuppyImports campaign that I’m also proudly backing as Chair of the Dog Welfare Group in parliament.

The solution is simple. By increasing the minimum age of pups imported for profit sale (non-rescue) from 15 weeks to six months, we help ease age detection at ports like Stranraer, as the puppies’ secondary (permanent) teeth are clearly visible for new post-Brexit Border Control checks. This reduces the risk of rabies and other zoonoses (diseases spreading from animals to humans) entering the UK, hinders illegal puppy smuggling, plus makes sure pups are robust enough to travel long distances, ultimately making them healthier, more viable pets.

Finally, last month there was some encouraging progress made in Westminster with the #BanPuppyImports campaign. During EFRA’s Select Committee Inquiry, DEFRA Minister Lord Goldsmith agreed that the arguments put forward for raising the minimum age of imported pups to six months were ‘very compelling’, and something the Government were looking at ‘very, very seriously’. So, I am joining the majority of UK dog-lovers in looking forward to this being put into practice ASAP after 1 January 2021, and to prevent anymore unnecessary animal and human suffering.  In the meantime, I’m encouraging everyone to sign and share the petition.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish you and your pets a very happy, safe Christmas and New Year.

For updates on the #BanPuppyImports campaign, and info on Lisa’s APPG for Dog Welfare (APDAWG) you can sign up to APDAWG’s free monthly newsletter and follow @APDAWG1 on Twitter.

‘I wanted to change the world and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own’ – Lord Oates

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oates has given an interview to Vuelio’s External Relations Manager Sam Webber to promote his newly released memoir ‘I Never Promised You A Rose Garden’. Jonny Oates previously served in Government from 2010 to 2015 as Chief of Staff to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

What first inspired you to leave the UK as a 15 year old and flea to Ethiopia in 1985 to assist in the humanitarian efforts there?

I saw the now famous BBC news bulletin which inspired Band Aid and Live Aid and it seemed so outrageously wrong that despite there being plenty of food in the world, hundreds of thousands were facing starvation. It ignited a passion to change the way the world worked that was fuelled by the anger and alienation I felt as a result of my sexuality and my struggles with mental ill-health. I felt that I had to do something about it and I made a plan to run away to Ethiopia. It might have just remained a teenage fantasy – I had no money to make it a reality – and then one day I was walking through my Dad’s study and he had a new credit card on the desk which he hadn’t signed. It felt like a sign that I was meant to go and that I no longer had an excuse not to. My dad shared the same initial as me, so I picked up the card, got my passport and went to Ethiopian airlines and bought a ticket. A few days later I got on a plane to Ethiopia. Once there I rapidly discovered that the demand for unskilled fifteen-year olds was non-existent and I got myself into a fairly desperate state, feeling I had burnt all my bridges at home. Luckily, I was rescued by an Anglican clergyman. Father Charles Sherlock whose wisdom and kindness saved my life.

How did it change your relationship with your parents after you returned home?

My Parents were amazingly forgiving, considering all the pain and worry I had caused them, and we retained a very close relationship.

How has this episode shaped your subsequent life and career? 

Father Charles told me that if I wanted to be of use in future I needed to go home and complete my education, but he also told me that the TV cameras would soon forget about Africa again and that I should not. I got involved in politics, joining the then Liberal party when I was seventeen, largely inspired by their commitment to international development. After my A-levels I went and taught in a rural school in Zimbabwe and subsequently I worked as an adviser in the first democratic parliament in post-apartheid South Africa. My experiences in Africa taught me that you don’t change the world by standing on your own but that you can change it by standing together with thousands of others and doggedly and determinedly campaigning for change. I was lucky enough to be working for the Deputy Prime Minister and sat behind him in the Cabinet meeting when it was announced that we had met the UN target of providing 0.7% of GNI in overseas development aid.

What inspired you to go to South Africa later in your professional life? 

I had visited South Africa while working in Zimbabwe, to try and see the father of one of the students I taught. South Africa was under a state of emergency and still governed by the white minority apartheid regime. I was horrified by what I saw there, and I left as rapidly as I could. Never imaging that less than six years later there would be free elections. When I got back to the UK after my year in Zimbabwe the first society I joined at university was the anti-apartheid society. In 1998 I had the opportunity to go and work as an advisor in the South African Parliament as part of a project run by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I was assigned to work with the Inkatha Freedom Party, the party led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi who was then the Minister of Home Affairs in the Government of National Unity, and I spent two fascinating years working in the Parliament in Cape Town and frequently visiting KwaZulu-Natal where the party had its main strength. My role was to help establish media and research functions in parliament and to support staff and MPs in media and parliamentary skills.

What first inspired you to join a political party?

I wanted to change the world and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. The Liberal Party had been the first Party to support Britain making a commitment to provide a proportion of its wealth in overseas development aid and that was very important to me but it had also been the first party to publicly support gay rights and that willingness and courage to do the right thing even when to do so was derided made me think it was the party for me.

What was the most important aspect of your political career in local, national and international affairs? 

I loved being a local councillor and being able to help people deal with problems very directly. I remember the first casework I dealt with which was for a man who had lost his wife and had a son with learning difficulties and was finding life very hard. He had lost his job and was housed in terrible temporary accommodation and the council had got itself in a bureaucratic denial there was any problem. I managed to sort it out and get them placed in decent housing and the difference it made to them made me realise that helping people was much more rewarding than grandstanding in the Council chamber.

My time in Zimbabwe was a life changing experience for me. I found myself the deputy-head teacher of a secondary school that hadn’t yet been built but was about to enrol 130 first year students. I was living in a rural area with no electricity or running water and I was completely out of my depth but the kindness and friendship of the local community and their determination to secure education for their children was life affirming. It gave me a great love for the country, and I am still in touch with many of the students I taught more than thirty years ago.

South Africa also taught me much about the pervasive evil of racial division and dominance and the long legacy that it leaves and once again I found myself surrounded by inspirational people. I had the privilege of being in the public gallery in parliament when Nelson Mandela gave his last speech as President. It was an amazing moment to reflect on the extraordinary strength of the human spirit as evidenced by Mandela’s struggle for freedom, his courage and his humanity.

Which policy changes are you proudest of helping to deliver in the five years your party was in a Coalition Government?

I was immensely proud that it was a Liberal Democrat MP who passed through parliament the Act of Parliament that guaranteed that 0.7% of our national wealth would be committed to supporting the poorest people in the world, that we ensured that we radically changed schools funding so that the most disadvantaged children were given greater support through the pupil premium, that we gained recognition for the importance of mental health services in the NHS, establishing the first waiting time targets and that we secured equal civil rights for lesbian and gay people through the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act.

Which lessons were learned from this period in Government?

We got many things wrong. Most notably on tuition fees. We should not have made the promise to scrap them in the first place but having done so we should have kept it. The lesson being to only make promises you can realistically keep. While the deficit had to be cut, the balance between tax increases and spending cuts was out of kilter and we should have insisted on a better balance and a more realistic timetable. We also learnt how ruthless vested interests can be if they feel their power is threatened – we would be better prepared for that now. Finally, I think we failed to recognise how much power we had in the coalition and we should have deployed it more effectively.

Do you feel the 2015 Lib Dem result will put off the party and other smaller parties from joining a future coalition?

I hope not. I was always impressed by how realistic the party was about coalition, understanding the huge pitfalls but believing that politics is about achieving change and there is no point in being involved in politics if you are not prepared to come off the sidelines and get stuck in. Having said that there are many things we learnt from the coalition and I am sure we would apply them to secure a better outcome from a future coalition.

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden‘ is published by Biteback Publishing

How will you be affected by the Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review?

Vuelio hosts a webinar to discuss Rishi Sunak’s Comprehensive Spending Review and its likely impact. Sign up here to listen to the event live on 26 November at 11am or to receive a recording afterwards.

With public debt levels soaring and billions to be paid as a result of nationwide lockdowns and job support schemes – how will next week’s Comprehensive Spending Review affect you?

Rishi Sunak will set out his recovery plan and is likely to honour commitments made in the March Budget, but savings have to be made across multiple departments. Which ones will be the winners and losers?

Join our webinar on 26 November at 11am to hear Navendu Mishra, Labour MP for Stockport; Ben Greenstone, founder and director at Taso Advisory; Faye Greaves, Head of Policy, Practice and Development at the Centre for Homelessness Impact and Sophie Robinson, External Affairs Officer at the Institute of Development Studies discuss what the Spending Review tells us about the Government’s intentions in 2021 and how it will affect policy engagement activities in the coming months.

Join us live to learn:

  • How previous spending commitments such as investment in infrastructure and International Aid are affected
  • How the Comprehensive Spending Review will affect policy development

Our panel has a wide range of policy and public affairs experience. Here is a short profile of each of our guest speakers:

Navendu Mishra was elected as the MP for Stockport at the 2019 General Election. Before entering politics, Navendu worked as a shop-floor trade unionist in Stockport, before becoming an organiser for UNISON. Since being elected, Navendu joined the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, and is a member of several All-Party Parliamentary Groups, including Rail, Fairtrade, Woods & Trees, Cricket and Beer. In addition, he is a member of Unite and USDAW trade unions. Navendu is a member of the International Development Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Sophie Robinson leads external affairs for the Institute of Development Studies, with expertise in public affairs and the UK policy landscape for international development and research. Over fifteen years she has worked in communications for the private and not-for-profit sectors, advising senior leadership teams on external influencing, policy engagement and media relations.

Ben Greenstone is the founder and director of Taso Advisory, a public policy consultancy with a particular expertise in digital and the creative industries. Prior to founding Taso Advisory, Ben served as a principal advisor to UK Government Ministers, including Matt Hancock, Margot James and Sajid Javid. While in Government, Ben’s advice centred on digital and the creative industries.At Taso Advisory, Ben works with businesses such as King, Pinewood, HSBC and Coadec.

Faye Greaves is Head of Policy, Practice and Development at the Centre for Homelessness Impact (CHI). She joined CHI from the Chartered Institute of Housing, where she led on homelessness work from 2016. Prior to that Faye worked in a local authority delivering front-line housing advice, support and services.

New Social Housing White Paper will give residents a voice

Vuelio’s Housing policy researcher Jennifer Prescott introduces the Government’s much anticipated Social Housing White Paper which she says represents ‘an important step in the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy’ and pledges to ‘increase safety and transparency and ensure landlords are more accountable to their tenants’.

More than three years ago the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid promised a ‘wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review’ of social housing. Four Housing Secretaries and a global pandemic later and the long-awaited White Paper has finally been published.

It represents an important step in the Government’s response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, setting out a series of proposals to give residents a voice, increase safety and transparency and ensure landlords are more accountable to their tenants.

The Regulator of Social Housing – until now only reactive – will become more proactive with the creation of a ‘new arm’, which will deal with issues including the quality of homes, repairs, engagement with residents and the handling of complaints. The new arm will carry out routine inspections for any landlord with over 1,000 homes every four years and will have the powers to take action against those who do not meet the standards. The powers of the Housing Ombudsman will also be strengthened, to improve the organisation’s role in dealing with complaints from residents.

Under the new proposals, landlords will be obliged to publish CEO salaries, as well as management costs. The Decent Homes Standard will undergo a review, which will look at including decarbonisation and energy efficiency, with a decision to be made by Autumn 2021. There are measures to improve fire safety, including a consultation on fire alarms and the sharing of fire safety data. A review on whether the sector is sufficiently equipped to deal with mental health issues and anti-social behaviour will also be carried out.

There is a whole chapter dedicated to measures designed to encourage home ownership – which some would argue has no place amongst social housing reforms – and makes the absence of new social housing investment even more apparent. Despite calls from nearly every trade body in the sector, the Government has not committed to spending any more money on social housing. While the White Paper has been welcomed by many, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said the reforms do not address the severe shortage of homes and long waiting lists – which are only going to get longer due to the pandemic. A recent report by the LGA, the National Federation of ALMOs and ARCH  (the Association of Retained Council Housing) calls for an extra 100,000 social homes for rent to be built each year in order to address the crisis.

2020 Party Conference Season: Housing policy update

In a series of blogs, the Vuelio Policy team is sharing insight from the main Party Conference speeches. Jennifer Prescott has summarised all of the announcements on increasing home ownership, housing supply, net zero housing and reducing homelessness.

Home ownership
Speaking to the Chairman of the Government’s newly commissioned Design Review Group, Nicholas Boys Smith, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick discussed the Conservatives’ plans to widen home ownership – one of the ‘most fundamental Conservative values’ according to their 2019 manifesto. Amid increasing concerns that the recovery seen in the housing market since the lifting of lockdown measures is starting to subside due to growing economic concerns, Boris Johnson pledged to ‘fix our broken housing market’, promising to ‘turn generation rent into generation buy’. He announced that to achieve this, the Government will take forward its manifesto pledge to set up a market for long-term fixed-rate loans for first-time buyers, which will require deposits of just 5%. It is likely that this policy will be used to stimulate the housing market as the Help to Buy scheme starts to wind down in April 2021. There was no mention of social housing in the PM’s speech.

Housing supply
Robert Jenrick acknowledged the Government’s duty to build more new homes and said that the proposed planning reforms set out in the Planning White Paper combined with investment in brownfield land and the cuts to Stamp Duty would help achieve this. Jenrick also expressed his support for Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and said he wanted to see MMC feature in the Chancellor’s spending review, due to take place in November. He added that the Government had made it a condition of the £12bn Affordable Homes Programme that at least 20% of those homes should be manufactured through modern methods and that the quota and the percentage will be reviewed every year, depending on market conditions.

Shadow Secretary for Communities and Local Government Steve Reed criticised the reforms set out in the White Paper – dubbed the ‘Developers’ Charter’ by Keir Starmer. Reed said that through the proposals, the Government was ‘waging war’ on towns and coastal communities.

Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey committed to opposing the reforms set out in the Planning White Paper. He also highlighted the need for more council homes. Other speakers at the Lib Dem conference denounced the threat to local democracy and blamed developers and land-banking for the housing crisis. A motion to oppose the Government’s planning ‘power grab’ was passed with a strong majority.

Building Better, Building Beautiful
Jenrick was clear that the increased need for additional housing should not come at the cost of standards or design. He said he wants ‘Build, Build, Build’ to lead to building more beautifully. He added this included a focus on nature, making sure all new streets are tree lined and that all new homes have access to playgrounds and open spaces. He added that the Government will ensure no new home can be built unless it meets minimum space constraints. Jenrick said communities should be able to set the minimum design standards for their area, and cited Bath, Belgravia and Bournville as examples where beauty was a part of the original town planning of a community.

Net zero housing
A year after the ‘Green New Deal’ was introduced, the Labour Party renewed their commitment to investing in sustainable housing. Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonaire outlined the Party’s intention to set up a sub-committee on climate change that would focus on where and how housing is built to set a standard for all new homes across the UK.

Housing Minister Christopher Pincher participated in a discussion on how upgrading homes can play an important role in reaching net zero targets. The Government’s Green Homes Grant was widely mentioned throughout the Conservative Party Conference as an example of the Party’s commitment to sustainable housing.

Tenants’ rights and homelessness
Thangam Debbonaire argued for housing as a human right and for that right to become law and be acted upon. She said that despite the Government’s success in initially helping rough sleepers off the streets, there is no plan for what happens to these people. She said that private sector tenants are inadequately protected faced with the economic hardship created by the pandemic and called for further measures of support. Homelessness, renters’ rights, social housing and the quality of homes have been Debonnaire’s main priorities since her appointment as Housing Secretary and this doesn’t look set to change.

2020 Party Conference Season: Energy and the green recovery

In a series of blogs, the Vuelio Policy team is sharing insight from the main Party Conference speeches. Thomas Stevenson has summarised all of the announcements on energy, the green recovery and plans to create a more sustainable economy.

Politicians and campaigners looking for an upside of the current pandemic have been quick to seize on the linked concepts of the green recovery and building back better. This is the idea that the economic reconstruction required in the months and years to come can be harnessed to effect the delivery of a greener, cleaner future economy, retaining some of the more positive adjustments made by humanity to minimise viral transmission. It was therefore no surprise to find politicians on all sides seizing on this topic at this year’s party conferences.

With infections worsening, it was unsurprising that Boris Johnson decided to major on the green economy in his address to the Conservative conference – a bold, positive, boosterish message to create the sense that his ship of state is not merely being buffeted by the waves of the virus, but steering a confident course towards a ‘new Jerusalem’.

Johnson promised that the Government was progressing towards the ‘green industrial revolution’ at ‘gale force speed’, pledging to make the UK ‘the world leader in low cost clean power generation’ and to deliver 40GW of energy from offshore wind by 2030, with an investment of £160m in ports and factories to manufacture turbines and a promise to deliver 1GW from floating offshore wind. This would, he claimed, make the UK the Saudi Arabia of wind and create 60,000 ‘green-collar’ jobs.

Is this enough and will the UK really ‘lead the world’ in tackling climate change at next year’s COP26 conference, as Johnson claimed? For now we are left wondering about the course ahead, as Number 10 revealed that the Prime Minister’s promises were just the first part of a ‘ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution’ to be set out later this year. It was perhaps concerning that the Chancellor’s speech did not mention the green economy, beyond a brief mention of the Green Homes Grants. With so much uncertainty ahead, there is a risk that Rishi Sunak will be unwilling to commit the high levels of investment that campaigners believe is needed in the coming years.

Labour were quick to go on the attack, with Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Ed Miliband warning that ‘Boris Johnson rarely delivers on his rhetoric’, claiming the funding was ‘a drop in the ocean’, and calling for ‘a genuinely ambitious green recovery that will create jobs now’. Shadow Energy and Green New Deal Minister Alan Whitehead added that Johnson’s target was insufficient and that other forms of energy would be needed, criticising the lack of a ‘proper plan’.

While Labour might think the Government was unambitious, it didn’t have a dramatic policy announcement of its own. Instead, Keir Starmer outlined his vision of ‘the country I want us to be’, including a commitment ‘to a greener, cleaner and fairer society’. He also said that the UK should be ‘leading the world – and leading by example – in tackling the climate emergency’. This is a bold promise, but Starmer did not set out how he hoped to achieve it.

This theme was developed by Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, who pledged that she would test ‘every single budget line against the goal of net zero carbon emissions’ because ‘investment that favours our climate, also favours jobs’. Those interested in her thinking could do worse than to cast their eyes beyond the UK’s shores, as she contrasted the Government’s ‘limited ambitions’ to green investments being made by Germany and France.

The challenge for both parties, therefore, is to add detail which will help them to realise their ambitions for a green recovery. This is most acute and urgent for the Conservatives, as the party of Government, and whose promises that an Energy White Paper and a National Infrastructure Strategy addressing these issues will be published soon have worn very thin.

2020 Conference season: What were the key themes for health and social care?

In a series of blogs, the Vuelio Policy team is sharing insight from the main Party Conference speeches and from fringe meetings. Imogen Brown focussed on announcements affecting the Health and Social Care sectors.

Conservative Party – Prevention, Technology in the NHS and Workforce

With the coronavirus response placing unprecedented demands on the health sector over the past year, this conference focussed on the impact of the virus, as well as the long-term changes it could have on the health sector.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock spoke at numerous events across the Conservative Party conference focussing on three of his key policies; prevention, technology in the NHS and workforce. In conversation with Baroness Blackwood, Hancock highlighted the large role of technology during the pandemic, including the massive shift to virtual GP appointments which he said helped protect the NHS during the peak of the pandemic. The shift to virtual appointments is also an example of where the pandemic could alter the health sector for the long term, with Hancock arguing that the shift is useful for patients, clinicians and can expand the capacity of the wider NHS. He also highlighted the other roles technology can play in the NHS, including the use of AI in diagnostics and modernising data sharing across the health sector.

On prevention, he highlighted that the Government’s new obesity strategy has come in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with people who are obese more likely to die from the virus. He encouraged people to take a greater responsibility on their own health, with the hope that people are better informed on their own health risks.

Finally, Hancock touched on the key Conservative pledges formed at last year’s Party conference, including the pledges of ‘50,000 more nurses’ and ‘6,000 more GPs’. He pledged that the Government, despite coronavirus pressures, will still deliver on their promises and argued that the Government is on track to meet these targets, in part because of retired doctors and nurses returning to their profession during the pandemic. On wellbeing, he said that historically there hasn’t been enough wellbeing support for the people who work in the NHS, the pandemic has showed how much they must be valued and that their voices must be heard policy decisions.

Labour Party – Social Care and Health Inequalities

Social care was a key theme at the Labour Party conference with Angela Rayner opening the Women’s Connected event arguing that with social care workers being systemically undervalued, they should receive a real living wage. The concerns were echoed throughout the conference, including during a fringe event where Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Vicky Foxcroft spoke on how coronavirus has exposed the issues in social care which have been entrenched for decades. The panel called for long term funded reform plans to be implemented, with provisions on integrating health with social care and plans to address the high turnover rates in the social care workforce. Shadow Mental Health Minister Rosena Allin-Khan in an event with IPPR and the Royal College of Nurses highlighted the mental strain that the pandemic has on those working across the health and care sector. She called for the Government to adopt Labour’s Care for Carers package which would give immediate, tailored mental health support for the health and care workforce.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said addressing health inequalities are an imperative for Labour. Speaking at a fringe event he argued that the Government’s response to coronavirus is weak, in part because of 10 years of austerity on the country, with cuts to social care and diagnostics leaving the health service at a lower capacity to handle a pandemic. He highlighted that those living in poverty in overcrowded houses, or those in low paid public facing jobs have been some of the hardest hit by coronavirus. He called for a working track and trace system to be implemented as well as support for those on low incomes to be properly supported during their self-isolation periods so that people are protected during the pandemic.

Liberal Democrats – Coronavirus response

In her speech, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Health and Social Care Munira Wilson highlighted that issues including hospitals ‘falling apart’ and the ‘long-running crisis’ in social care, were present even before coronavirus hit. But with coronavirus more problems have emerged, including the impact of isolation and bereavement on mental health, a failure to protect frontline workers and the continued lack of a ‘world-beating’ test and trace system. She said that failures on messaging and communications, contact tracing and the lack of support for social care have led to a weak coronavirus response and called for local leaders and councils to have a greater role in the response.

2020 Party Conference Season: Education and Skills

In a series of blogs, the Vuelio Policy team is sharing insight from the main Party Conference speeches and from fringe meetings. Policy Researcher Lucy Grove sets out the wider discussion on skills and the impact of Covid-19 on school age children.

This Party Conference season much of the focus was on further and vocational education, in line with the Government’s coronavirus response and the reforms expected in the further education white paper expected later this year. Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson used a ‘fireside chat’ with his former politics teacher to endorse the roll out of new T levels in childcare, digital and construction, reiterating the Government’s commitment to provide alternatives to university and increase productivity in the UK.

Skills provision and who is best to deliver it was unsurprisingly a hot topic. Former Universities Minister Jo Johnson suggested universities and colleges work together on a credit transfer system to allow students to move between higher and further education. Meanwhile, the current Universities Minister Michelle Donelan urged modern universities to be flexible in order to meet the UK’s need for better higher technical education. She urged universities to commit to providing 20-50% of higher technical courses and floated the idea that Vice-Chancellors’ salaries could be dependent on delivery.

The Conservative Party’s recent move away from the Labour initiative to get 50% of the population into universities featured was challenged by Lord Willetts, who pointed out that the aim was to get more young people into higher education, not just through the doors of universities. Across both the Labour and Conservative conferences, the idea that too many students attend university was met with the question of who should then be excluded, and what the consequences for this cohort would be. Labour panellists argued that decreasing student numbers would be akin to ‘pulling the ladder up after you’, whilst the Conservatives’ suggested some 3-year courses were not preparing graduates for work or providing them with adequate opportunities.

Inevitably, the impact of the pandemic and economic downturn on family life and children was also in focus. Panels discussed the rising levels of poverty having a knock-on effect for child nutrition, which is vital for physical and mental health. The pandemic has widened inequality around food provision and digital access, all of which are crucial to education, an issue which campaigners have recently been arguing. Children’s Minister Vicky Ford acknowledged the attainment gap had widened over the lockdown period following a period of it decreasing over the last few years. For this reason, she said the Government has funded a comprehensive catch up programme, with additional support for vulnerable or disadvantaged children. However, how far these issues are resolved by the programme has yet to be seen, with recent reports suggest large amounts of funding hasn’t been allocated yet.

Can Britain fix its housing crisis?

Join Vuelio and a panel of experts on a webinar to discuss tackling the challenges facing the housing and planning sectors.

The Government has announced several new policies to revolutionise how we build communities in the future, as part of its ‘levelling up’ agenda aiming to fix regional inequalities.

Its controversial ‘Planning for the Future‘ white paper is currently being consulted on, and the long-awaited Social Housing White Paper expected to be published imminently – but are the proposed reforms enough to solve the crisis?

Our webinar, Future Planning for the Built Environment explores the challenges housing and planning sectors are facing. Leading the discussion will be Dr Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of LGIU; Baroness Kath Pinnock, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Communities and Local Government in the House of Lords; Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Planning, Oxford City Council; Councillor Bridget Smith, Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council and Phil Hutton, Head of Product and Strategy at Idox, who will talk us through the proposed changes and share their thoughts on what we need to do in order to deliver more houses, rejuvenate local economies and to strengthen our communities.

Join us live on 27 October at 11am to hear our panel of leading sector voices unpick this autumn’s policy challenges and to learn how successful stakeholder engagement can inform the debate around the reforms.

Can’t make it? Register and we will send you a recording after the event.

2020 Party Conference Season: Treasury roundup

In a series of blogs the Vuelio Policy team will be sharing insight from the main Party Conference speeches and from fringe meetings. Here Ingrid Marin compares the speeches of the Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor.

Is Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s goal to balance the books premature?
During his speech at the Conservative Conference last Monday, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, highlighted the success of the furlough scheme which has been widely praised for protecting jobs during the height of the pandemic. He reiterated that he would not be able to protect every job in the UK, and instead pledged: ‘I am committing myself to a single priority – to create, support and extend opportunity to as many people as I can’. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has also promised to ‘always balance the books’ in his speech at the Conservative Conference. He claimed that the Conservative Party had a ‘sacred duty’ to ‘leave the public finances strong’ but also promised to use the ‘overwhelming might of the British state’ to help people find new jobs. He warned that the Government could not ‘borrow our way out of any hole’ and that debt and spending would need to be controlled in the ‘medium term’. Responding to the Chancellor’s speech, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds said Sunak didn’t appear to have ‘grasped the magnitude of the jobs crisis we’re facing’ and said that this is not the time for tax rises, this is the time to “remain focused on the jobs crisis”. She was particularly concerned that there was no further support in the speech for areas subject to localised restrictions. Similarly, in the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ (IFS) Green Budget the think tank concludes that ‘now is not the time for tax increases or any other form of fiscal consolidation’ and calls for government policy to focus on ‘supporting the economy almost irrespective of short-term impacts on borrowing’ for the next 18 months at least.

Four days after this speech at the Conservative Conference, Chancellor Rishi Sunak did set out more financial support for businesses that will have to close by law as virus restrictions are tightened in parts of England.

Is the Shadow Chancellor’s three-point plan for the economy out of date?
The core of Anneliese Dodds’ speech at the Labour Conference was to highlight that the UK Government’s response to the public health crisis has been slow and that it is not dealing with the major economic challenges the country is facing. During her speech, Ms Dodds unveiled three steps Labour wanted the Government to take on board and put into place as a ‘matter of absolute urgency’. Since then, much has changed, with the Government announcing various support schemes, however, parts of Anneliese Dodds speech still remain relevant today.

She championed a ‘Job Recovery Scheme’ that would allow businesses in key sectors to bring back more staff on reduced hours. Even though, Rishi Sunak did introduce the Job Support Scheme as part of the Winter Economic Plan, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds questioned whether the scheme actually incentivises short-hours working as it has to be more attractive for employers to retain more staff on reduced hours than to retain some full time and make others redundant. Since then, she has been constantly calling for reforms to fix the flaws in the design of the Job Support Scheme.

Anneliese Dodds said there needed to be a retraining strategy that was fit for purpose, at a scale appropriate for the crisis. She said the Government has already advocated a National Skills Strategy and set aside £3bn for it, but said it wasn’t getting on with it.

During a fringe event hosted by the Institute for Government at Labour Conference, asked how he would spend that money, Shadow Exchequer Secretary, Wes Streeting said he would work with local authorities and metro mayors to direct skills funding to the right places for their authorities. Shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister did announce the Lifetime Skills Guarantee, however, Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Dan Carden, said that the new training initiatives are little more than a mix of reheated existing policies and funding that won’t be available until April 2021. He thinks that by then, some people will have been out of work for a year or more, so it risks being too late for many.

Is Labour now the party of financial responsibility?
During the Labour Conference, the party sought to paint itself as the party of financial responsibility. Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds accused the Government of taking a ‘cavalier’ approach to the public finances during the coronavirus crisis. In her speech, she accused the Government of wasting ‘enormous amounts of public money’ on failed schemes to tackle Covid, such as a £130m contract with a Conservative donor for testing kits that were unsafe and £150m on facemasks that could not be used by NHS staff. She published a ‘file of failure’ which shows the billions of pounds wasted and mismanaged by ministers during the Covid crisis.

During a fringe event hosted by IPPR, she emphasised that her speech was not an argument in favour of austerity, it was ‘quite the opposite’. Anneliese Dodds said the Conservatives claim they are already spending lots, but she thinks we need to look at where that money is going. She said that in many cases, the Government’s response to the crisis has been an ideological one. For example, they have provided significant contracts, which are part of our public health response, not to local public services in the case of Test, Trace and Isolate, but to major outsourcers which are not required to integrate with local services. The result is that is has set us back much further than other countries.

Three-tier system of local Covid alert levels approved by MPs

Vuelio has produced a summary of recent announcements following the launch of the Government’s latest scheme to reduce the rate of coronavirus infection, and a new package of economic support for businesses and employees in the most affected areas.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has launched the Government’s latest approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic, as a second wave is now spreading across the country, and with daily case numbers, hospital admissions and Covid deaths all rising. The measures have been voted through by MPs as part of a series of Statutory Instruments which were passed by 299 votes to 82.

We have produced an FAQ list which we hope is helpful.

What are the three tiers?
The medium alert level will cover most of the country and consists of the current national measures, which came into force on 25 September.

These principally include the existing ‘Rule of Six’ and the closure of hospitality venues at 10pm.

The high alert level will reflect many current local interventions, but there will now be consistency across England, with Scotland, Wales expected to introduce similar or even tougher measures shortly. Northern Ireland announced a package of measures today which amount to a two-week circuit break to overlap with school half term holiday that has been extended to 2nd November. The closure of pubs, bars and restaurants will commence on the evening of Friday 16th October.

This high alert level primarily aims to reduce household to household transmission by preventing all mixing between households or support bubbles indoors. The Rule of Six will apply in outdoor spaces, including private gardens.

Most areas which are already subject to local restrictions will automatically move into the high alert level.

The very high alert level will apply where transmission rates are causing the greatest concern, based on an assessment of all the available data and the local situation.

This includes the number of cases, including amongst older and more at-risk age groups, as well as the growth rate, hospital admissions and other factors.

In these areas, the Government will set a baseline of prohibiting social mixing indoors and in private gardens, with the Rule of Six allowed in open public spaces like parks and beaches. Pubs and bars must close and can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant – which means serving substantial meals and they may only serve alcohol as part of such a meal.

People will be advised not to travel in and out of these ‘very high’ areas.

Which local authority areas have been designated ‘very high’?
So far only the Liverpool City Region have been designated in the highest category.

BBC News reports that Essex County Council has requested a move from medium to high in a bid to get on top of the infection there. There are also reports that Greater Manchester and Lancashire could move into the very high category. The Independent reports that the Mayor of London could move London from medium risk to high risk ‘within days’ because the virus is spreading rapidly across the city again.

How can I find out the level for my local council area?
A postcode search on the Gov.uk website will update people on how the measures are affecting their local authority.

What support has been offered for businesses forced to close?
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced an expansion of the Job Support Scheme to assist businesses forced to close because of the new restrictions. The key aspects of the scheme are that the Government will pay two thirds of employees’ salaries to protect jobs over the coming months up to a maximum of £2,100 per month.

Cash grants for businesses required to close in local lockdowns are being increased to up to £3,000 per month as well.

Rishi Sunak has said:
‘Throughout the crisis the driving force of our economic policy has not changed. I have always said that we will do whatever is necessary to protect jobs and livelihoods as the situation evolves. The expansion of the Job Support Scheme will provide a safety net for businesses across the UK who are required to temporarily close their doors, giving them the right support at the right time.

What was Labour’s response to the three tier system?
Keir Starmer has publicly supported the Government’s introduction of tighter measures, though the party abstained in the vote to introduce them, which passed by 299 votes to 82.

The Labour leader has instead proposed a tougher approach, noting that more people are currently in hospital with coronavirus than there were in March when the UK entered its original lockdown and that the number of Covid cases in the UK has ‘quadrupled in the last three weeks’. He cautioned that the Government has ‘lost control of the virus’ given it is rising in all regions and noted that the Government is ‘no longer following scientific advice’.

Keir Starmer proposed a ‘circuit breaker’ for a short period of two to three weeks, coinciding with school half term holiday at the end of October, with the aim of bringing the rate of infection down.

Whilst there is an increasing likelihood that tougher measures will need to be introduced if the three tiered system doesn’t reduce the spread of the virus, the initial response to this call from Keir Starmer was not supportive, with a senior Government source calling the Labour leader ‘a shameless opportunist playing political games in the middle of a global pandemic’.

New Lib Dem leader pledges to be the voice for nine million UK carers

Leading a group of only 11 MPs in Westminster, and with critical elections just around the corner in May 2021, Vuelio’s Sam Webber writes about Sir Ed Davey’s first party conference speech as Liberal Democrat leader.

One week on from Keir Starmer’s first party conference speech as Labour leader, this week was the turn of newly elected Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey.

An MP for more than 20 years and a former Energy and Climate Change Secretary during the Coalition Government, Davey has tended to focus his attention on environmental or economic policy. He often quotes his record in Government of ‘nearly quadrupling’ Britain’s green energy from renewable sources and ensuring that the UK is now a global leader in offshore wind. However, this conference speech was a deeply personal one.

Ed Davey used his first major speech to set out his vision for how the party could become the voice for carers across the UK. Detailing his own experience caring for his mother before she died when he was 15 years old, and now caring for his severely disabled son with his wife, he said: ‘So, let me say this, to all of you who need care. To all of you who are carers. To the parents of disabled children. To the thousands of young people, caring for your mum or your dad. I understand what you’re going through. And I promise you this: I will be your voice. I will be the voice of the nine million carers in our country. It’s you I’m fighting for.’

Moving to the next major electoral test for the party in May 2021, when there will be elections across the country for Mayors, local councils, Police and Crime Commissioners, as well as critical elections in Wales and Scotland, Davey pointed out the significance of the Scottish parliamentary elections: ‘Next May, we must get more Liberal Democrats elected to councils across England, to the Assembly in London, to the Senedd in Wales and – crucially – to Parliament in Scotland’.

‘Elections often determine the future of our country, but these Scottish elections could well determine if our country has a future. Once again, the forces of nationalism threaten to tear our family of nations apart. So, it is imperative that we get brilliant Liberal Democrat MSPs elected to Holyrood in May.’

Ed Davey said his party in Scotland would seek to ‘reject more division and instead put forward a positive partnership. To work for Scotland and work for a better United Kingdom.’

It is worth recognising that despite losing the East Dunbartonshire seat of the party’s former leader Jo Swinson very narrowly in 2019, the Liberal Democrats were the only party in Westminster to actually gain a seat from the SNP with Wendy Chamberlain gaining North East Fife from SNP rising star Stephen Gethins.

Equally, with the next General Election not expected until 2024, Ed Davey is keen to point out in an Evening Standard interview that his party and Keir Starmer’s Labour were ‘not competitors’ given the electoral map shows the vast majority of Liberal Democrat target seats are now held by the Conservatives. Whether this is the first sign of a pre-election non-aggression pact between Starmer and Davey, is too early to tell, but it could maximise both parties’ chances of removing the Conservatives from office.

The road ahead for Ed Davey will be a challenging one, and with crucial elections only eight months away, he hasn’t got long to show that the party has turned a corner and can get back to winning once again.

Labour’s long, hard road back to Number 10

The thinktank IPPR hosted a fringe event at Labour Connected, the party’s virtual conference on 20 September asking how Labour can rebuild a winning coalition of voters in order to regain power at the next election.

Carys Roberts, the Chief Executive of IPPR, chaired the event and said that clearly a future winning coalition would look different to previous ones in 1997, 2001 and 2005. She acknowledged the road back to power for Labour ‘looks challenging’ after the heavy defeat of 2019.

Lucy Powell reflected on the report into the 2019 election defeat that she put together with help from Ed Miliband and many others across the Labour party. She recognised the report needed to ‘look to the future and learn lessons from the past’ and she also stressed how important it was to do this work, given no analysis was done of the three previous Labour General Election defeats in 2010, 2015 or 2017.

Reflecting on the historic 2019 defeat for Labour, Lucy Powell said 2019 had been a very low point for the party in terms of Brexit, its then leadership under Jeremy Corbyn and a manifesto that wasn’t widely seen as an effective document. She said the crumbling of the red wall heartlands constituencies, however, had been ‘a long time coming’ given changes within the party and its policies over time. She also said that in 2019 the Conservatives managed to turn out two million more non-voters that Labour which had a significant impact on the result.

The report highlights several routes back for Labour which include a clear focus on immigration to win back the red wall seats; a credible centre-left economic package of measures similar to the party’s 1997 manifesto or an ambition for Labour to be the agents of change in difficult economic circumstances. She concluded the latter option was by far the best for the party and added: ‘We have to be the party at next General Election of big economic change’ and this meant in the workplace as well as in the community.

Nadia Whittome said the party had great policies within its 2019 manifesto but it didn’t have a narrative tying everything together. She also said the party was always going to struggle in an election fought solely on Brexit, but added the party lost more votes to the Greens and the Lib Dems than it did to the Conservatives.

Ms Whittome recognised the importance for the party of regaining seats across the UK from Scotland to Swindon and said deindustrialised towns were key to whether the party will win power again or not. She warned against a global right-wing media stoking fear of others, but also added some manifesto policies that were perceived to be too radical in 2019 would now, in light of Covid, be seen as not radical enough.

Matt Kerr, a Glasgow City councillor reflected on the situation in his city where some of Labour’s safest constituencies ‘fell like dominoes’ to the SNP in 2015. He reflected that though the party made progress in Scotland in 2017 it was reversed in 2019. Kerr warned that Labour took post-industrial communities for granted or failed to tackle the fundamentals that were eroded under successive Conservative Governments.

He warned the party to take note of the 2019 defeat and change as he said Scottish Labour was still suffering after its 2007 defeat to the SNP. He urged ‘fight hard now and don’t let them [the Conservatives] dig in’. While he opposed Scottish independence, he said the party need to face up to a bigger question about it not least because 40% of Scottish Labour voters moved to the SNP in 2015 and have not come back to the Labour fold.

Paul Mason said the party needed to change its strategy and its economic agenda. He also said that if it was clear before the next election that the party is unlikely to gain 123 seats required to form a Government, then it need to embrace working with other opposition parties in terms of electoral pacts.

Paul Mason reflected on the differences between Holborn in London and Wigan in the North West. These were two very different types of working-class communities and said Labour still needed to explain the benefits of immigration in poorer communities outside London.

Mason also said that the party was on the backfoot in terms of its media presence and the dominance of the Conservative leaning press. He said the party should address this and noted currently the ‘heavy lifting’ in terms of publicising Labour’s campaign messaging was being done by fringe outlets like Skwawkbox and Novara Media.

In terms of policies that the party needs to win an election, Paul Mason said they need to be ‘substantial’ to make someone vote Labour and not Conservative. He added that ‘Water nationalisation not a big enough issue to make people change sides.’

James Morris, a former adviser to Ed Miliband said that given Keir Starmer inherited a ‘tarnished brand’ from his predecessor only months ago, the fact the party is already level with the Conservatives in some polls shows major progress has been made already. He also urged the party to once again embrace people who were left leaning economically but right leaning on culture and identity, in order to win a majority again.

Morris said the media doesn’t focus on Conservative credibility in the same way as Labour credibility, given the lack of criticism for Boris Johnson’s £100 billion ‘Moonshot’ idea. He added that the party had to focus on winning and worry less about policies that are of little interest to most of the public at this stage in the electoral cycle. He concluded that with a new leader in post, the party now needed to begin to establish its agenda and build trust with the public in order to stand any chance of winning in 2024.



TV companies took extra measures to support vulnerable freelancers during lockdown

Leading Television companies Netflix, Sky and Channel 5 gave evidence to the House of Commons Digital Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee earlier this week. All three confirmed they had taken steps to support freelancers and others who were prevented from undertaking film and television production at the height of the pandemic.

Benjamin King, Director of Public Policy, UK and Ireland at Netflix pointed out that on a global level the company had established a $150m hardship fund and, specifically in the UK, Netflix ‘worked with the BFI to set up a fund to support the hardest hit by the pandemic in the film sector’ and then donated £1m to the fund. He also said that the company worked with the director Sam Mendes to establish a similar fund to support the theatre sector and Netflix donated £500,000 to this fund as well. King said Netflix valued the theatre sector as ‘very important to the screen sector in terms of nurturing talent’ and providing a pipeline for future production as well.

Sky’s UK and Ireland Director of Policy, Ali Law said the company had supported all the freelancers it employed on a PAYE basis, mirroring the Government’s furlough scheme but not using it, so these staff will receive 70% of their average monthly pay until the end of October.

Channel 5’s Maria Kyriacou who is President, Networks UK and Australia at ViacomCBS – the Channel’s parent company – said it had contributed to a TV and Film fund to help freelancers and supported industry calls for insurance cover for the most vulnerable. Channel 5 also ensured that production kept going as much as possible and it has 120 shows in production at present.

The Committee session on ‘The future of Public Service Broadcasting’ also heard that all three companies valued the role of public service broadcasters (PSBs), especially the BBC, in terms of programme making and nurturing talent.

 Anne Mensah from Netflix was asked about the long-term viability of the license fee and said she believes in the long-term sustainability of the BBC and added that she supported the ideas of a UK creative economy built in different ways with both a subscription and license fee model operating together. Asked about the size and impact of public service broadcasting in the UK, Benjamin King from Netflix said that 80% of commissioning in UK comes from PSBs with under 20% from ‘streamers’ like Netflix. He added that the impact the BBC has had is one of the main reasons that ‘we have made our home here in UK’.

It was pointed out that average daily viewing time on Netflix alone had increased from 30 minutes per day to over an hour, but it was unclear how long term this trend would be.

The Committee heard that local and national news was still a huge focus for the PSBs and therefore not a focus for streaming services like Netflix to get into given their ambition to focus on ‘the things we can do best’ according to Anne Mensah, but she added the PSBs should secure a sustainable footing so they can focus on the news and sport programming they are best at. She noted also that PSBs were ‘terrific training schools’ to nurture talent in this sector.

Sky TV noted it had seen a 40% reduction in income in the second quarter of 2020 and that many customers had paused their subscriptions, however almost all had now returned as full subscribers. Asked if Sky’s 24,000 UK jobs were now safe given a reported 9.4% reduction in profits, Ali Law said there was still ‘a significant level of uncertainty’ but insisted the company still had major plans to double UK investment by 2024 including the construction of new studios at Elstree. Law added that the UK benefits from having an ‘incredible thriving independent production community’ which was helped by the likes of Channel 4, ITV and BBC using them as well. Asked if Sky would be interested in moving into the regional news sector, Law said that there were ‘already two subsidised broadcasters in the regional news market’ and that he believed the company now had the right-shaped portfolio.

Speaking on behalf of Channel 5, Maria Kyriacou said the channel had a distinctiveness from other public service broadcasters which it didn’t want to lose. She added that while the channel wasn’t the first port of call for many viewers, it was still seen a 20% increase in growth in its  prime time hours viewing figures and highlighted the success of its 5pm news programme, Jeremy Vine’s programme on five days per week and new successes like ‘My Yorkshire Farmer’ and ‘Bettany Hughes Greek Odyssey’. She concluded that while most of the PBSs had now seen their viewing figures reduce after lockdown restrictions were loosened, Channel 5 had not yet seen a drop-off in viewing figures.

Party political update: Time to secure an EU trade deal is running out as PM sets new 15 October deadline

Vuelio’s Sam Webber writes about the challenges for the main party leaders now parliament has returned from recess, as Brexit begins to dominate political bandwidth again, while COVID-19 remains a critical political issue following a rise in UK case numbers.

Now returned from summer recess and a long period between March and July dominated by the initial response to the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit is again the principle issue being discussed in Westminster.

This could be a tactic by the Government to take the focus away from its handling of the pandemic and a series of U-turns on school exam results, mask wearing, local lockdowns and air travel corridors, but it is also the result of the window of opportunity left to sign a deal with the European Union closing fast.

Though the UK’s transition period officially concludes at the end of 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set a new deadline of the next European Council meeting on 15 October to allow sufficient time for European leaders to sign off the deal. This is, in effect, a five-week period left to prevent a no-deal exit from the European bloc, but the Prime Minister is clear that he believes this would be a ‘good outcome’ for the UK. It is thought that the remaining stumbling blocks preventing a deal being agreed to is an EU demand that the UK signs up to its own rules and standards as well as a dispute about fishing rights.

At a crucial set of talks between the two negotiating sides this week, tensions will be even higher than usual after a story in the Financial Times explained that the Government now intends to introduce new legislation to override key parts of the Withdrawal Agreement. This move is likely to make the chances of getting a deal agreed even more remote and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has tweeted that she trusts the UK Government to ‘Implement the Withdrawal Agreement, an obligation under international law & prerequisite for any future partnership.’

The Prime Minister is also finding his Conservative backbenchers are now more critical of the Government; whether its MPs demanding higher wages in the poorest areas of the UK, many of which elected Conservative MPs for the first time in 2019, or former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who has pledged to vote against any new Budget proposing tax rises.

Davis said: ‘When on earth is the Treasury going to learn that putting taxes up ends up getting you less money?’. He added: ‘Our economic engine is sputtering because of the crisis. We have to ensure it gets going again and runs fast otherwise we won’t have the jobs, the welfare cost will be enormous […] and therefore we won’t have the money to turn the economy into the sort of future-proofed economy we actually want to see post-Brexit.’

Conservative Chair of the Justice Committee Sir Bob Neill also achieved a significant answer from Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis in the House of Common. Responding during an Urgent Question on the UK’s commitment to its legal obligations under the Northern Ireland Protocol, Lewis said: ‘Yes, this [new legislation] does break international law in a very specific and limited way’.

This is thought to also be the reason also for the sudden resignation of Sir Jonathan Jones QC as head of the Government’s Legal Department.

Labour under Starmer
Labour leader Keir Starmer has had a relatively successful few months since becoming leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition and his supporters will be pleased that in at least one significant poll Labour and the Conservatives were level on 40%. Though he campaigned to reunite the party and not turn the clock back on the Corbyn era, Starmer has, however, still been able to make his mark quite significantly over the last few months. First his principle opponent in the leadership contest Rebecca Long-Bailey was asked to stand down from the Shadow Cabinet over sharing an interview on social media that contained an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

The Labour leader said: ‘My primary focus is on rebuilding trust with the Jewish communities. I didn’t think sharing that article was in keeping with that primary objective’.

Another Labour frontbencher, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, also stepped down from his role as Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment, after what he called a campaign waged by the ‘right wing media’ following two occasions when he has had to apologise for his actions.

Those in the party seeking to move to the centre and consign the Corbyn project to history might well be encouraged by these two departures, coupled with the fact Keir Starmer ensured his preferred candidate, David Evans, was appointed as the party’s new General Secretary. He also ensured a small but potentially significant internal party change: Labour will now use STV (the single transferable vote system) for elections to its National Executive Committee.

Will this see a national shift away from first past the post and Labour embrace proportional representation for Westminster elections? Only time will tell, but the Electoral Reform Society warmly welcomed the move, saying it was ‘A real win for members across the party: preventing one side taking 100% of seats on a minority of the vote. Now it’s time for Labour to join almost every other party and get behind fair elections for Westminster, too.’

Ed Davey elected
Liberal Democrat members elected Ed Davey as the party’s new leader at the end of August, after a campaign that was run purely online, with over 40 different zoom hustings.

Davey won with 63.5% of the vote on a 57.6% turnout, beating the party’s Education spokesperson, Layla Moran. He has reshuffled the Liberal Democrat team of MPs with Ms Moran becoming the new spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and International Development.

Scottish politics
Scottish politics is in a febrile state in anticipation of the critical Scottish parliamentary elections in May 2021. In a shock move over the summer break, the Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw announced his resignation and former minister Douglas Ross was announced as the new leader.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard’s position is said to be hanging on ‘by a thread’ after four of his MSP’s publicly called for him to go last week. Leonard has hit back in an article for Tribune threatening his colleagues before selections take place:  ‘The events of the past two days have sharpened my resolve that we need a new generation of Labour representatives in the Scottish Parliament. When our executive meets on September 12 to set out the process for selecting list candidates, they will no doubt reflect on this too – and so will members when they take part in that ballot.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her Government’s programme for the year ahead entitled ‘Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland’. The First Minister also confirmed that, before the end of the Parliament, a draft Bill would be published on a new independence referendum. It would set out the terms, timing and question wording to be used by such a referendum. Vuelio’s Thomas Stevenson has summarised all of the key policy announcements in the document

‘Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland’ – A summary of the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government, 2020-21

Vuelio’s Thomas Stevenson summarises the key announcements in Nicola Sturgeon’s latest ‘Programme for Government’ published this week. It kicks off a crucially important period in Holyrood politics, in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament elections next year, the result of which could decide if there is another Scottish independence referendum or not.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivered her latest Programme for Government on Tuesday 1 September. Entitled ‘Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland’, it sets out the actions the Scottish Government will be taking in the next year, ahead of the elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 2021.

As Sturgeon said in her speech: ‘This is not a normal, business as usual, Programme for Government’. Some measures announced, such as the new proximity tracking app, ‘Protect Scotland’, are aimed at minimising the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic going forward. Others, such as some of those for schools and the NHS, are aimed at restoring services which have been disrupted by the pandemic.

Another category of measure includes those aimed at taking advantage of changes in behaviour forced by the current situation, such as improving homelessness services and the use of digital technology in healthcare. Many measures, however, are focused on delivering a recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. These include those aimed at delivering employment, such as the National Transitional Training Fund and the Green Jobs Fund, the £500m to be allocated to active travel, and measures to deliver a net zero economy and zero carbon housing.

Sturgeon also confirmed that, before the end of the Parliament, a draft Bill would be published on a new independence referendum. It would set out the terms, timing and question wording to be used by such a referendum.

The Vuelio political team has summarised the announcements made and confirmed in the Programme for Government below, under the three sub-sections it uses.

A National Mission to Create New Jobs, Good Jobs and Green Jobs

Employment and Skills:

  • A £60m Youth Guarantee, giving all 16-24-year-olds an opportunity to study at university or college, take up an apprenticeship, job or work experience opportunity, or take part in a volunteering or training programme. This will be supported by an investment of up to £10m in Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) Regional Groups and £10m for up to 8500 people to complete or start an apprenticeship.
  • A £100m package of support for those looking for work or at risk of redundancy because of COVID-19. This includes a £25m National Transition Training Fund to support up to 10,000 people, doubling funding for the Flexible Workforce Development Fund to £20m and working with interested parties to ensure training provision is more targeted.
  • A £100m Green Jobs fund will be created over the next five years.
  • Nature and land-based apprenticeship schemes in public agencies will be expanded, including doubling the commitments to young people by Scottish Forestry, Forestry and Land Scotland and NatureScot.
  • A Green Workforce and Skills Development package will be developed, based on analysis by NatureScot of the nature-based jobs needed for the net-zero transition.
  • The Scottish Government will work with employers to expand the real Living Wage, will put an additional £2.35m in the Parental Employability Support Fund, and extend Fair Start Scotland services for disabled people until March 2023.
  • As part of the ‘No One Left Behind’ agenda to support those who face significant barriers to employment, a Shared Measurement Framework for collecting data, a Customer Charter and National Standards Guarantee will be produced. A recruitment toolkit to increase ethnic minority recruitment will be published in September and actions from the ‘Fairer Scotland for Women: Gender Pay Gap Action Plan’ will be reviewed.
  • TimeWise will develop a ‘fair, flexible work programme’ by the end of March 21, supporting 300 employers to adapt to flexible working and recruiting advisers to help 1000 more employers and 1000 individuals. The scope for a new centre for workplace transformation will be assessed, while the Productivity Club Pilots are to be expanded, growing from two to five.


  • A national network of ‘Tech Scalers’ (start-up incubators) is to be established.
  • A public-private Ecosystem Fund to make strategic investments will be created.
  • The Digital Action Plan is to be updated to accelerate the transformation of digital public services.
  • A Digital Strategy for Planning will be published in November
  • An additional £23m is to be committed to provide a digital and data safety net to digitally-excluded people and households.


  • £1.6bn is being invested in heat and energy efficiency programmes, with an aim of increasing renewable heat installations from 2000 in 2020 to 64,000 in 2025. A new funding call for the £50m Green Recovery Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme for low carbon and renewable heat projects will open in September, and at least £95m will be invested in decarbonising the public sector estate.
  • A draft Heat Policy Statement and refreshed Energy Efficient Scotland Route Map will be published by the end of the year, with an expert group established to make recommendations for a heat pump sector deal.
  • A consultation will be launched on requiring new buildings to use renewable or low emission heat from 2024.

Green Investment and Businesses:

  • A £3bn Green Investment Portfolio will be launched to secure global investment in Scotland.
  • £60m will be invested in supporting the industrial and manufacturing sectors through the green recovery, via a £24m Scottish Industrial Energy Transformation Fund and a £26m Low Carbon Manufacturing Challenge Fund.
  • A Grangemouth Future Industry Board will be established, recognising the area’s economic importance and its contribution towards Scotland’s emissions.


  • Carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) will be supported and research commissioned. Working with North East CCUS, a Scottish Net Zero Roadmap will be worked on in 2021. A consultation will take place on a £5m Carbon Capture and Utilisation Challenge Fund.
  • A refreshed Energy Strategy and updated Offshore Wind Policy Statement will be published.
  • £6.9m will be allocated to Scotia Gas Network’s H100 hydrogen heating project in Fife, and a Hydrogen policy Statement and Hydrogen Action Plan will be produced.

Sustainable Recovery:

  • A Scottish Health and Industry Partnership is to be established, and Supply Chain Development Programmes will be rolled out in key economic sectors.
  • The Scottish Government will use its buying influence to establish a zero emission heavy duty vehicle programme, establish a zero emission drivechain testing facility and support research and development in zero emission mobility. It will also produce tools to use procurement to support a green recovery.

Environment and Agriculture:

  • £100m will be invested in increasing new planting by Scottish Forestry, with £30m for Forestry and Land Scotland to expand forests and land. £20m will be invested in increasing tree nursery capacity.
  • The Scottish Land Commission will produce advice on factoring land into economic thinking.
  • The rate of peatland restoration will be increased.
  • The Biodiversity Challenge Fund will have £3m in 202-21 and a high-level statement of intent on biodiversity will be published by the end of the year.
  • Recommendations will be made on new agricultural support mechanisms.
  • The Scottish Land Matching Service will be extended to bring vacant crofts into use.
  • The third Land Use Strategy will be published
  • Work will take place to establish a statutory national Nitrogen Balance Sheet.
  • A joint recovery plan for the food and drink industry will be launched, and a new agriculture producer organisations created.
  • A Blue Economy Action Plan will be developed.
  • A £70m fund to improve local authority waste collection infrastructure will be established, and the Household Recycling Charter will be evaluated.
  • The Scottish Government will work with local authorities and deposit return scheme administrators to unlock investment in reprocessing.
  • The carrier bag charge will be increased from 5p to 10p, a consultation will be launched on banning some plastic items, and charging for single-use beverage cups.
  • Public bodies will be required to set a date for becoming net-zero emitters.
  • The first meeting of a citizens’ assembly on climate change will take place in the autumn.
  • Regional hubs will allow communities to develop local solutions to reach net-zero, with a network of Climate Action Towns.
  • An extra £150m will be invested in flood risk management and £12m in coastal change adaptation.

Trade, Investment and Migration:

  • By the end of 2020, the Scottish Government will publish its vision for trade and ‘A Trading Nation’ (the export growth plan) will be refreshed in 2021.
  • An inward investment plan (‘Shaping Scotland’s Economy’) will be published this year, with a capital investment plan to follow in 2021
  • A Population Strategy will be published in 2021, the Stay in Scotland campaign for those in the EU Settlement Scheme will be maintained and a Welcome to Scotland resource for migrants will be launched.
  • Proposals for a rural migration pilot will be developed and published.
  • £2m of the International Development Fund will be ringfenced for COVID-19 efforts this year.

Local Economies, Third Sector and Social Enterprise:

  • Local community wealth building action plans will be developed for five more areas.
  • Funding will be provided for a new Scottish Land Fund.
  • £1m more will be given to the Scotland Loves Local campaign.
  • Part of the Communities Fund will become a £25m Community and Third Sector Recovery Programme. Other social investment, such as capital loans, will be explored.
  • A new Social Enterprise Action Plan and new Credit Union Strategy will be launched.
  • The process of revising Charity Law will be restarted.
  • A £2m Green Recovery Programme for the islands will be established.


Promoting Lifelong Health and Wellbeing


  • A proximity app to identify COVID-19 contacts, ‘Protect Scotland’, will launch this month.
  • Seasonal flu vaccination will be extended to social care workers, those aged 55 and older, those in a household where someone is shielding, and those aged 50 and over (depending on supplies).
  • There will be a Framework for Rehabilitation and Recovery and Respiratory Care Action Plan for Scotland.
  • Actions will be taken based on the recommendations of the Expert Reference Group on COVID-19 and Ethnicity.


  • More elective capacity will be provided by the National Elective Centre Programme.
  • A Women’s Health Plan will be developed.
  • A new national body on infection prevention and control will be established in spring 2021.
  • A national cancer recovery plan will be published in the autumn. A new lung cancer awareness campaign will be launched as part of the ‘Detect Cancer Early’ programme.
  • A Recovery Framework for Pain Management Services and a Framework for Chronic Pain Service Delivery will be published.
  • The digital health and care strategy will be refreshed, and a data strategy for health and social care created.
  • ‘Near Me’ video consultations will be made the default option, with an aim for all appropriate consultations to be provided via this service or telephone, with its use in social care also developed.
  • A digital monitoring solution for COVID-19 suffers will be rolled-out.
  • Digital cognitive behavioural therapy services will be expanded and developed.
  • A&E services are to be redesigned, encouraging people to be assessed by phone first.
  • Community health services are to be bolstered.
  • More clinical conditions will be added to the Pharmacy First service, more community link workers will be recruited, and more mental health workers will be recruited.
  • NHS dental and eye care service reforms will be accelerated.

Social Care:

  • An independent review of adult social care is being launched immediately, reporting by January 2021, and recommending improvements to services. A number of immediate improvements will also be made.
  • The capacity of services to support carers will be increased, with £11.6m to implement the Carers (Scotland) Act.

Health and Social Care Staff:

  • The Scottish Government is working with unions on a timetable for 2021-22 pay deal.
  • A national race equality network with annual targets will be established.
  • £5m will be provided for a Health and Social Care Mental Health Network and to expand digital resources for staff. Additional funding will be given to provide therapeutic intervention for staff, with a Workforce Specialist Service
  • A Patient Safety Commissioner will be established.

Improving Health:

  • A targeted approach will be taken to improve healthy eating for those on low incomes, with legislation on Restricting Food Promotions, and work to increase participation in physical activity, including social prescribing.
  • A Recovery Framework for Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses will be developed.
  • The Scottish Government will consult on drug law reform to make temporary arrangements for Naloxone distribution to people at risk of opioid overdose permanent.
  • There will be a consultation on restricting alcohol and e-cigarette promotion, restricting e-cigarettes and removing smoking from outside hospitals.
  • A Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan will be published.
  • The National Trauma Training Programme will be expanded for two more years.
  • Action on women and girls’ mental health will be taken, working with women’s organisations.
  • The Distress Brief Intervention will be extended for a transitional period to 2024.
  • Mental Health Assessment Centres will be retained and developed.
  • A new suicide public awareness campaign is to be launched.
  • A number of measures will be taken to support children and young people, including digital support and provision of school counsellors.
  • A recovery plan and programme for mental health services will be developed.
  • A Personality Disorder Managed Network will be established and a Brain Health and Dementia Prevention Strategy will be published.

Promoting Equality and Helping Our Young People Grasp Their Potential

Benefits and Debt:

  • The Scottish Child Payment will be introduced, paying £10 a week for each eligible child, starting with children under 6. Applications will start in November 2020, with the first payments for those eligible will be made from February 2021.
  • Payments of Child Winter Heating Assistance will start this winter.
  • £2.4m is being made available for debt advice.
  • The Scottish Government will work to promote affordable credit.


  • The Best Start programme will transform maternity and neonatal services.
  • COVID-19 led to the Scottish Government missing its childcare commitments; it will now work to set a date for full implementation by the end of the year.
  • A framework for school age childcare will be delivered.


  • £50m is being given to local authorities in order to help deliver a safe return to school.
  • £30m is being invested to provide laptops to disadvantaged children.
  • Guidance will be produced on pandemic-related issues, including remote learning and prioritising the curriculum during the recovery period.
  • An Equality Audit will assess the impact of the pandemic on children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The recommendations of Angela Morgan’s independent review of additional support for learning will be implemented.
  • A new mental heath training and learning resources for all school staff will be delivered.
  • £3m will be allocated to a Youth Work for Education Recovery Fund.
  • In additional to the independent review into the awarding of qualifications this year, another review will take place of the broader assessment approach in Scotland.
  • A second phase of new schools projects will be announced as part of a £1bn Learning Estate Investment Programme.

Higher Education:

  • The Scottish Government will continue to work to implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Widening Access, and to develop a School Engagement Framework.
  • A student income and expenditure survey will be carried out.
  • A lifelong learning strategy to integrate youth and adult learning into the wider education and skills system will be developed.


  • £4m is being invested in the Promise Partnership for holistic family support
  • Kinship carers will be better supported, the recovery plan for the Children’s Hearing System will be implemented, and revised National Guidance for Child Protection will be published.
  • A redress scheme for historical child abuse in residential care will be legislated for.
  • A new Bill will incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Children into Scots law.


  • The Housing to 2040 Vision and Principles and Route Map are to be published later this year.
  • An accord will be agreed between the Scottish Government and the construction industry.
  • The quality of Scottish Government grant-funded homes will be improved, with guidance on the use of offsite construction, outdoor and home working space, and digitally enabled social housing.
  • The current hosing adaptation system will be reviewed.
  • The use of night shelter and dormitory provision for the homeless should end and be replaced with Rapid Rehousing Welcome Centres. A six-month pilot project to provide settled accommodation for those currently living in Edinburgh hotels will be funded.
  • An updated Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan will be published
  • Guidance on discretionary housing payments will be strengthened, and funding will be increased by £3m.
  • A £10m Tenant Hardship Loan Fund will be established legislation preventing evictions will be extended for up to six months.
  • Homelessness prevention pathways will be implemented and the requirement for those facing homelessness to have a local connection will be removed.
  • A review of purpose-built student accommodation will take place.
  • Local authorities will be given powers to license short-term lets and introduce control areas.

Equality and Human Rights:

  • An equality and human rights mainstreaming strategy will be developed.
  • The First Minister’s National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership will work on incorporating the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women into legislation and consider incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People and the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination.
  • Funding for the Scottish Human Rights Defenders Fellowship will be increased.
  • Access to free period products will be enshrined into law.
  • A £13m Delivering Equally Safe Fund will support prevention and early intervention for women and children at risk of violence and abuse.
  • A review of past and present initiatives to tackle systemic racism will take place.
  • The Scottish Government will work with local authorities to make sure local housing strategies reflect challenges faced by minority ethnic communities.
  • An independent expert group will make recommendations on reflecting Scotland’s colonial and slavery history in museums and society.
  • A Minority Ethnic Leadership and Development Programme will be established.
  • An anti-destitution strategy will be published to support those affected by no recourse to public funds.

Transport and Planning:

  • The Scottish Government will promote the idea of the ’20-minute neighbourhood’.
  • The Town Centre Action Plan is being reviewed.
  • Through a Place Based Investment Programme, £275m will be invested in community-led regeneration. The Empowering Communities Programme will strengthen community anchor organisations and create more shared space local working hubs.
  • £500m over five years is to be committed to active travel.
  • Local authorities will be able to turn temporary infrastructure projects implemented during the pandemic into permanent schemes.
  • Engagement on the future of transport will take place with young people and work has begun to deliver free bus travel for under-19s.
  • Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2030 will be published.
  • Work will take place to introduce more low emission zones and a new air quality strategy will be consulted on.


  • The Scottish Government will work with stakeholders to tackle the backlog of court cases caused by COVID-19.
  • Action will be taken to support the use of community interventions rather than short sentences.
  • The prison estate will be modernised, with replacements for HMP Barlinnie and HMP inverness, and a new female custodial estate.
  • The recommendations of Lady Dorrian’s Review of the management of sexual offences will be considered.
  • The Fireworks Action Plan will be taken forward, with a public awareness campaign before bonfire night, and tighter legislation on fireworks considered.
  • Further consultation on dangerous dogs will take place.

Legislative Programme

The following new bills are to be introduced in the forthcoming parliamentary year:

  • Budget Bill
  • Domestic Abuse Bill
  • The UNCRC (Incorporation) Bill
  • University of St. Andrews (Degrees in Medicine and Dentistry) Bill

The following existing bills will be progressed in the forthcoming parliamentary year:

  • Defamation and Malicious Publication Bill
  • Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) Bill
  • Hate Crime and Public Order Bill
  • Heat Networks Bill
  • Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) Bill
  • Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership Bill
  • UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) Bill

Parliament Watch: Infrastructure and Rail

In this series, we’re exploring how different sectors may be impacted by autumn policy announcements and how you can prepare for a period without physical party conferences.

The Government’s ambition for an ‘infrastructure revolution’ – set out in the 2019 Conservative manifesto – was reaffirmed in the March 2020 Budgetwith investment commitments reaching £600bn. This infrastructure revolution is key to the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, aiming to address regional inequalities across the countryAs we move into the recovery phase post Covid and adapt to a future outside of the European Union, investment in infrastructure will play a fundamental role in securing the UK’s future prosperity. 

Active travel
The lockdown has demonstrated that many parts of the workforce can efficiently operate remotely, and that the traditional 9 to 5 spent entirely in the office is no longer necessary. Meanwhile, the levels of people walking and cycling have increased dramatically. In response to these changes, the Government has announced the £2bn of investment to put cycling and walking ‘at the heart’ of the UK’s post-Covid transport plan, with a new body – Active Travel England – to oversee how the money is spent.  

New National Infrastructure and Construction Procurement Pipeline 
In an attempt to provide short to medium term certainty for the construction industry, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority has published a reviewed National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline, setting out contracts planned for 2020/21. The pipeline is made up of 340 procurement contracts over 260 projects, with a value between £29bn and £37bn – a broad range of works spanning across building, design and civil engineering contracts; repair and maintenance services; architectural, construction, engineering and inspection services; and consultancy services. 

National Infrastructure Strategy
The National Infrastructure Strategy is the Government’s response to the National Infrastructure Assessment that was published by the National Infrastructure Commission – the Government’s advisory board – in July 2018. The Strategy aims to provide a 30 year plan for infrastructure, including funding projections for transport, local growth and digital infrastructure. It was expected initially last December 2019 and then March 2020, before the Government announced it was another 19 months late. 

Transport Decarbonisation Plan
Reducing the infrastructure sector’s carbon footprint and ensuring that the sector plays its part in delivering net-zero emissions by 2050 will shape all major infrastructure investment decisions going forward. In March the Department for Transport published a policy paper on creating the decarbonisation plan for transport, detailing what the Government, business and society will need to do to deliver the significant emissions reduction needed across all modes of transport. The plan is scheduled to be published later this year. 

Infrastructure levy
The long-awaited planning white paper was published by the Government earlier this month, proposing sweeping changes to the current planning system. One of the proposals is that developer contributions, in the form of Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy, are to be replaced with a new Infrastructure Levy. This levy will be a fixed proportion of the value of the development, above a set threshold. Local authorities will be able to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues to forward fund infrastructure and speed up delivery. Revenues from the levy would be spent locally on economic and social infrastructure projects such as new roads, community amenities and discounted homes for local, first-time buyers. 

As part of plans to level up opportunity across the UK post Brexit, the Government has announced its intention to build ten freeports across the UK. The Government was collecting views on the proposals until 13 July and is now preparing a response. Airports as well as maritime ports across the UK will be invited to bid.


Parliament Watch: Energy & Utilities

The links between the coronavirus crisis and the energy industry might not seem immediately obvious and, at first glance, MPs might be forgiven for thinking they have more important concerns when they return to Westminster next week. However, it is clear that the economic damage being done to the country by the pandemic poses real opportunities for the energy sector, and for tackling climate change. As activists argue, this crisis really does pose an opportunity to deliver a ‘green recovery’ and to ‘build back better’.  

We saw the first signs of this being delivered in Rishi Sunak’s Summer Statement and ‘Plan for Jobs’, which included £3bn for a range of energy efficiency measures, including the Green Homes Grant. However, while welcomed by campaigners and businesses, these are all short-term programmes, rather than the long-term strategic investments and plans which it is generally agreed are needed. The industry will therefore be keeping its ear to the ground ahead of the Budget promised for later this year, which should hopefully put some flesh on the bones of the Government’s target of reaching net zero by 2050. 

In terms of specific actions, there are a number of policies and strategies whose publication would help to give businesses and investors the confidence in the UK’s future direction which they need to unlock private sector activity and funding; many of which have been long-promised and much-delayed. These include the National Infrastructure Strategy, Energy White Paper, Low Carbon Heat Strategy and the Transport Decarbonisation Plan. Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Alok Sharma has indicated that we can expect at least some of these to emerge later this year. The process of agreeing these documents will, however, involve making choices, and this will inevitably mean that there are both winners and losers. 

At the moment many technologies – some established, some new – are vying for Government attention and spending. Consider, for example, the issues of new nuclear, hydrogen or wave energy, or the challenges associated with decarbonising heating, transport and energy-intensive industries. It’s clear that ministers do not have easy decisions to make – but make them they must. They could make the UK a successful pioneer, able to export newly developed technologies, skills and expertise around the globe; alternatively, they could back the wrong horse and find the country landed with costly, ineffective technology while other nations overtake it. For all the focus on creating new, green jobs, there also needs to be consideration of how best to reuse the undoubted skills and knowledge of those employed in older industries, such as oil and gas, and how to support the areas which have prospered on the back of these to ensure a just transition. 

All this doesn’t even consider the end consumer either. Shifting away from fossil fuel technologies will cost money, at least in the short-term. With many people feeling the impact of the COVID-19 induced downturn in their wallet, the Government will be under pressure to shield people not just from the medical impact of the virus, but from suffering a financial hit, and to prevent a rise in unemployment, leading to a rise in fuel poverty.  

It isn’t just the Government the energy and utilities sector should be keeping an eye on either. While the threat of imminent nationalisation disappeared along with Labour’s hopes at the 2019 general election, the policy is undoubtably popular among the party’s grassroots membership. The appointment by Sir Keir Starmer of former leader Ed Miliband to the post of Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary shows the importance which the party places on the sector. Miliband is no stranger to the energy industry – he was Energy and Climate Change Secretary in the last Labour government and has maintained an interest ever since. As he settles into the role and focus returns to the longer-term, expect Miliband to be pushing the Government to be more ambitious. 

It may also be worth monitoring the Liberal Democrats – Sir Ed Davey, their acting leader and the bookies’ favoured candidate to win the leadership election (which ends today), also held the Energy and Climate Change portfolio during the Coalition government and has focused heavily on the area. It’s clear that the Government faces a heavyweight opposition which is well-equipped to spot failings and to set out an alternative vision. 

It’s clear that energy is an area where the Government will face some tough choices in the next few months, yet alone years. 

Parliament Watch: The Pharmaceutical sector

In this series, we’re exploring how different sectors may be impacted by autumn policy announcements and how you can prepare for a period without physical party conferences.

Autumn will be a waiting game for the pharmaceutical industry. With the end of the EU transition period fast approaching, the sector is closely watching emerging trade deals with Europe and the US develop, whilst the future level of cooperation with the EU on life sciences is still unclear. On top of this, coronavirus has sent the health sector into flux, with hopes pinned on approving a vaccine or effective treatment soon.   

Brexit and Trade
Brexit will be critical to the pharmaceutical sector amid developing trade deals and fears about future medical supply, while emerging regulatory gaps drive legislation through Parliament. Britain laid out its approach to negotiations with the EU in February where it advocated for zero tariffs and unrestrictive regulatory standards, the recognition of Good Manufacturing Practice and cooperation on data sharing, clinical trial infrastructure, and on processes surrounding patient safety in medical device development.

Responding to the negotiation strategy, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said: ‘The Government has set out a vision for a future relationship where both sides can work together in the interest of patient safety, public health, and the pursuit of scientific progress for UK and EU citizens. As negotiations get underway, we urge ambition and pragmatism to achieve these goals.’

However, with post Brexit trade talks under strain and limited by a tight time pressure, the threat of a no deal Brexit at the end of the year still looms. Furthermore, fears over the future medical supply have been compounded by warnings from the pharmaceutical industry, which raised concern earlier this year that the medical stockpile had to be used up ‘almost entirely’ by the coronavirus response. As a result, in its contingency planning, the Government has called on medicine suppliers to ‘buffer stocks of medical supplies where possible’, calling for companies to have at least six weeks’ total stock on UK soil.

Medicines and Medical Devices Bill
The Medicines and Medical Devices Bill is expected to pass into law this Autumn. The Bill, which covers human medicines, veterinary medicines and medical devices legislation, aims to address the regulatory gap in regulation after the UK concludes its transition period, having left the European Union. Announcing the legislation Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Now that we have left the European Union, we need a regulatory system that is nimble enough to keep up with those developments while maintaining and enhancing patient safety.’

Under the new legislation, the Government will have greater powers on the sector’s law including on the manufacture, marketing and supply of human medicines, clinical trials and the charging of fees in relation human medicines provision. The Government has indicated that it will use the powers to support the development of new medicines and medical devices while removing ‘unnecessary bureaucracy’ for the lowest risk clinical trials. In a briefing, the British Medical Association raised concern over the increased legislative power the Government will hold under the new Bill, calling for patient safety to be considered ‘first and foremost’ in future regulation and in market standards. The Bill ran through its committee stage in the House of Commons in June, with no major amendments, though the Government has since proposed a new UK registry for medical devices. It will have its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 2 September.

Coronavirus therapeutics and vaccines
Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, many pharmaceutical companies have been on alert to deliver a vaccine or a therapeutic drug to aid the Covid-19 response. The Government set up a Vaccine Task force in April, which is now chaired by Kate Bingham, to accelerate the development of a safe and effective vaccine. Though no vaccines have yet been approved, Bingham told the Science and Technology Committee in July that the Taskforce has invested in clinical trials and vaccine manufacturing and is supporting a portfolio of emerging vaccines potentials, including the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is ahead of others in the clinical trial process.

In addition, the Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial, also set up in April, evaluates potential coronavirus treatments from drugs already in the market in the largest clinical trial of its kind. Dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug, was authorised as a Covid-19 treatment as a result of the trial, as it was found to significantly reduce the risk of death among coronavirus patients requiring oxygen.