Alistair Carmichael MP: Government was ‘working in a hurry’ and must do more now to support the dynamic self-employed sector

Former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael asks that the Government makes more support available to small businesses and the self-employed, or risk a far smaller and less vibrant self-employed sector in the future.

It takes a particular sort of person to start your own business or to make your living in self-employment. It is not for everyone. Yes, it can give freedom that will never be found in a large corporate or in the public sector. It can also bring a lot of risk and uncertainty. There is no chain up that blame can be passed. For good or ill, you know where the buck stops.

For many people who are self-employed it is not just a means of earning a living but can also be a lifestyle choice, informing how they see the world.

It is that mindset that Government always finds difficult to understand, and not just in the current COVID-19 crisis.

Last week when the Government announced new measures to support self-employed people, I welcomed the efforts, however overdue.

One week on, however, and it is becoming clearer from my inbox that there are large gaps in this support, even setting aside the extended delays in getting it. Few of the self-employed feel any more reassured today than they did this time last week.  For many, the despair is deepening. Lockdown pulled the rug from under their feet and they see nothing to cushion their fall.

One accountancy practice in my constituency tells me that more than 75% of their clients do not qualify for any of the support measures offered by the Government. That is the scale of the failure here.

These are often young businesses – sole traders who either have yet to file a tax return or filed their first tax return last year. Their accounts are often complex due to the short period covered and high level of start-up costs reducing their recorded profit. Most importantly, these businesses have not had time to build up cash reserves to see them through this crisis.

One constituent who contacted me set up a small groundworks company in 2018. Due to the purchase of essential equipment that year, he spent more money than he made, and because the last financial year is the one his eligibility is based on, he has been told that he cannot receive any support aside from Universal Credit. He feels – and I agree with him – that it seems very unfair that he must use his savings to stay afloat, while the vast majority of the UK are receiving assistance.

A further complication is presented for those working in tourism, which makes up a vital part of the local economy in my constituency and others. Outside major cities like London it is highly seasonal, and yet this is not recognised in the Government’s measures. Those who rely on the summer trade – now likely to be minimal as a result of the virus – to cover them through the rest of the year cannot live for twelve months on three months of Government support based on an ‘annual average’.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect for these businesses is the inability to access grants available to business rate payers. Most small businesses starting out are run from home, and many continue in this way for practical reasons. Home based businesses are no less important than businesses that operate from rateable premises and yet so far, no support is offered to them.

The issues I highlight here are just a few examples of those that I have encountered from constituents in the last few days. My hope is that the current measures are inadequate because the Government was working in a hurry, rather than because they have designed something that they think will do the job. It has been my experience, though, that Government departments struggle to ‘get’ how self-employment works. That, I believe, is why the scheme took longer to design and why it has so many flaws and gaps.

No one is expecting to get through this crisis without any hardship at all, as the Prime Minister suggested when I put my concerns to him before the parliamentary recess. All that self-employed people are asking for is the same treatment and the same assurances as people in employment have already been given. If we cannot stretch ourselves to support our dynamic self-employed economy now, we cannot be surprised if it is far smaller and less vibrant in the future.

Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Brexit and the party’s Chief Whip. He is the MP for Orkney and Shetland.

How will the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic?

The think tank Policy Exchange hosted a webinar this week bringing together some of the players who responded to the last global crisis: the banking crisis of 2008-9.

Policy Exchange hosted a webinar to discuss the economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, chaired by its Senior Fellow Juliet Samuel. It brought together three of the key players who led the UK response to the 2008 economic crisis: Lord Darling, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord King, the former Governor of the Bank of England and Lord Macpherson, former Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury. They were joined by Dr Gerard Lyons, newly appointed Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange and a former adviser to Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London.

Juliet Samuel opened the discussion on 1 April by warning that economic predictions by Deutsche Bank that this global crisis could well be the third largest economic reduction in the last 100 years, with a 6.5% drop in GDP, compared to only a 4.2% drop in 2008-9. She said this could well put the economy into recession if not a depression and said the fiscal backdrop was likely to be very different once the immediate crisis had passed. Samuel asked if taxes would have to sharply increase as they did after the Second World War?

Dr Gerard Lyons said the Government response to this pandemic needed to be ‘unconventional, unlimited and urgent’. Where the 2008-9 crisis was largely a western financial crisis, this pandemic is obviously global and does not respect national frontiers. In 2008-9 the solution was financial first then macroeconomic, with this COVID-19 crisis, the initial solution was a health one and a macroeconomic solution would follow when Governments would need to look to boost the global economy again. He observed that the action in 2008-9 was global, with this crisis many countries are more ‘on their own’ in terms of their varied responses and he added the G20 forum that met virtually at the beginning of the crisis had been ‘left wanting’ in its response.

Dr Lyons said the consensus was a possible economic recovery in the fourth quarter of 2020 and added while there was ‘no ideal policy response’ he did think there was agreement on the scale of the problem.

He added the Government accepted the collapse in demand and income and was seeking to minimize and offset that lost income and to ‘provide liquidity and ensure financial stability’ to make sure the hit to the economy was temporary and not permanent.

While initially the Chancellor said his measures would be ‘timely targeted and temporary’, Gerard Lyons said it was now clear the Treasury’s actions were ‘coherent, coordinated and comprehensive’.

He accepted, as many politicians and commentators have been saying, that more still needs to be done to assist the self-employed, adding that delay to them receiving any financial help until June was ‘problematic’ and said it was likely that more resources had to go into Universal Credit to assist the increase in applicants.

Dr Lyons said it wouldn’t be advisable to ‘burden the corporate sector with more debt’ so suggested that more grants should be offered in place of loans. Big companies were still not paying suppliers quickly enough, which is a traditional problem for small firms and even more serious now. He said it was important for Government to ensure as many companies as possible survived this shock and came out on the other side of the crisis. He also dispelled the myth about a magic money tree and said the Government was perfectly able to manage its debt through the debt management office.

Former Bank of England Governor Lord King said there were lessons to be learned from the banking crisis of 2008. He gave the example that banking system then was running right up against the margins and didn’t have sufficient capital to absorb losses or the ability to raise liquid assets; we now see the NHS will need additional capacity to be ready to cope with this pandemic. He urged all concerned to ‘avoid bogus predictions’ especially given it was very difficult to know how long the lockdown measures were likely to be needed.

Lord King added there needed to be ‘collective insurance’ from the Government to all affected and that nobody should blame the private sector for this when it is a Government decision to ‘lockdown the economy’ and ‘push down on economic activity’.

As a result of this, Lord King said the Government had to ensure cash flow to all businesses ‘large and small and the self-employed’ and agreed with other panelists that it was ‘not good enough’ to make the self-employed wait until June without any tangible support. He was also concerned about the ‘mechanism of delivery’ for this Government support if most bank branches were closed and unable to support businesses. Banks either by phone or in person had to be open to ensure the Government-backed emergency loans that were available in principle were ‘available in practice’.

Lord King concluded that the Government needed to find an ‘exit strategy’ to avoid a ‘rebellion against the lockdown’ the longer it is sustained, and added that as a result of this crisis the Government needed to support the NHS to ensure it was better able to ramp up the number of intensive care beds and for the NHS as a whole to be more robust and resilient.

Former Treasury Permanent Secretary Lord Macpherson said overall the Government and the Chancellor had ‘done a good job so far’ in this crisis but it was clear that more was required.

He noted that the social security system was likely to be put under more strain to help the ‘poorest in society’.

He echoed other panelists in pressing for a credible exit strategy and said the key questions was ‘How do we pay for this crisis and how do we come through it stronger?’.

Speaking as a former Treasury civil servant, he said it was critical to strike the right balance between ‘taxation, borrowing and printing money’ and suggested that the time might now be right for Government to consider a health tax to cover the cost of demographic pressures on the NHS and funding additional capacity.

Former Chancellor Lord Darling said the COVID-19 pandemic is different from the banking crisis of 2008 as there is no way of seeing the scale of the problem or knowing how long it will last.

He was clear that the Government message on testing up to this point had not been clear but said only a huge roll out of testing would ensure the NHS could get back on to the front foot in tackling the virus and this would also establish who has the virus and who has had it and is likely to be immune.

He said the delivery of the measures announced for the self-employed would take longer to deliver than many people have got, and this was not helped because people were finding it difficult to get access to the banks or information they required. Reflecting on his own time in Government in the Blair and Brown Governments, he suggested a temporary VAT reduction could be one solution to boost the economy and added national governments needed to ‘work as never before together if we are going to get through this’.

When questioned about the impact the crisis would have on national transport infrastructure projects like HS2, Lord Darling, as a former Transport Secretary, said Government should focus on delivering small ‘shovel-ready projects’ rather than huge and costly projects likely to take many years to come into use, like HS2.

Lord Clement-Jones: If we truly want people to stay home, they need the cash to get by

Liberal Democrat House of Lords spokesperson for Digital, Lord Clement-Jones, urges the Government to think again about how best to support the self-employed who cannot survive until June without any financial help, and to do more for people who weren’t helped at all by the package announced last week.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis the self-employed have been neglected by the Government. Even with Rishi Sunak’s announcement last week of a financial package for the self-employed, it seems they will not receive a single penny until June.

This took far too long to come, but with consistent pressure from the Liberal Democrats such as through tabling amendments in both Houses of Parliament, finally the Government came forward with something. We consistently made clear that millions of individuals had been plunged into financial insecurity, and subsequently far too many were wondering if they can even afford to put food on the table over the next few months. However, this then begs the question how do they expect people to wait months before they see any material financial support?

The self-employed are not high-flying entrepreneurs as often pictured – they are taxi drivers, hairdressers, builders or child minders. Many of these people will not have savings large enough to cover the cost of living for months on end without any money coming in.

The majority of the self-employed have taxable incomes of less than £10,000 a year, and that compares with just 15% of employees on incomes that low. Without any money before June, they won’t be able to pay their mortgages, rent and bills, and potentially face financial ruin.

Another industry largely forgotten about is the creative industries. The Creative Industries Federation survey last week revealed that 60% of creative freelancers estimate that their income will more than halve in 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak, and almost 50% of freelancers who responded to their poll have already had 100% of their work cancelled.

The wait until June is not the only concern Liberal Democrats have. The scheme proposed by the Chancellor also ignores all those who have been self-employed for less than a year. Between November 2019 and January 2020, the number of self-employed workers increased by 194,000. Many of these individuals will have risked their savings to get started and it looks like they will get nothing from the package. Equally, the Chancellor’s pledge that the self-employed can access loans is also useless to the majority who cannot to afford the personal guarantees banks are saying small businesses need.

If we truly want people to stay home, we must ensure people have the cash to get by now. This is not just about protecting their finances, but also their health. We need to protect them and those around them from the virus – this cannot become a luxury for those who can afford to. If we have seen anything over the past few days, it has been how easily and quickly this virus can spread. The financial packages announced are not just there to protect people’s bank accounts, but to give them the ability to follow the advice we have been given regarding social distancing. If we truly believe that no-one deserves better healthcare because of who they are, where they’re from, or how much they earn, then I would urge the Government to think about how soon they can get the funding to the self-employed during this crisis.

Lord Clement-Jones is a Liberal Democrat peer and the party’s House of Lords Spokesperson for digital.

The Public Affairs working from home challenge: Think about reading

The Head of Public Affairs at the law firm BDB Pitmans, Stuart Thomson, offers his suggestions on how to best use the additional time we have when working from home, to further our personal development.

The time that we now all have working from home can be used productively. We have the ‘day job’ to be getting on with, but we should think about personal development as well. And what better way than reading a book or two!

Working from home can be quite challenging and there is a real danger of simply being sat staring at a screen all day. So, one way that you could choose to bring a bit of useful variety into your set-up is to put some time aside each day to read.

While I am sure that you have a stack of fiction books to get through, there are some really useful non-fiction titles out there for your personal development as well. This applies across the whole of the communications profession but I’ll stick to public affairs!

So, here are a few thoughts that I’ve had about some useful public affairs reading:

  • The systems and processes – books on political processes can often be really quite dull and technical. However, take a look at Besly and Goldsmith’s ‘How Parliament Works’ for a good guide to the Westminster parliament. The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly both have good online guides.
  • Campaigns and strategies – I can’t rate the materials freely available on the Government Communications Service highly enough. There is everything from evaluation to digital communications and the OASIS framework for campaign planning.
  • How To Guides – there aren’t many ‘how to’ guides available covering public affairs. The most comprehensive ones are probably Lionel Zetter’s ‘The Art of Political Persuasion’ and my own ‘Public Affairs in Practice’. Both cover everything from the basics of what public affairs is through to effective engagement and political processes. While ‘Public Affairs in Practice’ is mainly UK and Brussels based, Zetter has an international dimension. If you are interested in how public affairs is done in different countries around the world then my ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ would be a good starting point.
  • Best practice – it is always useful to take a look at the CIPR and PRCA They both have great resources, guides and case studies as well. I’d also suggest taking a look at the training options they have. Both are working on more online courses for obvious reasons, but they have some already available.
  • Others – there are also some more general communications books that really help with public affairs. I’d point to Measure What Matters, which gets you thinking about KPIs, Good Strategy / Bad Strategy, with some constructive thoughts that I found useful when starting off with new campaigns, and Words The Work, which helped me to focus even more on every word I write.

If it’s helpful, I have added the books, as well as a few others, to an Amazon page.

It would be great to hear ideas from others about what books they have found useful and maybe why as well. There are no end of really good books available but personal recommendations are always worth just that little bit more.

You’ll have to forgive me a little cross-selling as well but you may also find my regular (and free!) blog useful as well:

I look forward to hearing what I should be adding to my book list. Happy reading!

Bob Blackman MP: Homelessness Reduction Act was the first major legislative change for 40 years

Conservative MP Bob Blackman writes about his journey from being drawn second in the Private Members’ Bill ballot to passing a ground-breaking piece of legislation: the 2018 Homelessness Reduction Act. The Act ‘places a duty to refer on to agencies like the NHS, the prisons service and Jobcentre Plus, to try to ensure no one is missed in the system’ and ensures local authorities offer help up to 56 days before the crunch occurs, reducing the need for unsuitable temporary accommodation.


In April 2018, I was proud to see my Homelessness Reduction Act given Royal Assent to become the first major change to legislation on the subject in England for nearly forty years.

This piece of ground-breaking legislation came about after I was drawn number two in the Private Members’ Bill ballot in 2016. It is a comprehensive change to the law that has shifted the emphasis firmly towards preventing homelessness from ever occurring in the first place, and it ensures that care leavers, ex-offenders, NHS patients, armed forces veterans and other vulnerable groups will receive help and advice for the first time.

From the moment I was drawn in the ballot, I was inundated with requests to use the opportunity to further interests or a particular cause by multiple groups. I settled on homelessness reduction after giving thought to issues I have seen in my time in politics, having been a councillor and member of the London Assembly before entering the House of Commons.

A lot of work went into ensuring the Bill would be workable and credible and I was naturally pleased that it gained valuable backing from the Government and all opposition parties. My colleagues on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee deserve particular mention for their support, as this was the first time a Private Member’s Bill was given pre-legislative scrutiny by a Select Committee and it made a big difference in ironing out the finer points at an early stage.

The homelessness charity, Crisis, deserve a great deal of credit for helping to support the early formation of the Bill through its extensive groundwork, and I also owe thanks to Shelter and several other charities for their support as well. The Residential Landlords Association, and London Councils, to name a few are also to be commended for having the insight and vision to recognise the need for this legislation and I am also grateful for their support. Throughout the process I was repeatedly surprised by how dated homelessness law was and how long had passed since proper scrutiny by lawmakers.

The experience gained from the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 was perfectly timed to help inform measures put forward in the Homelessness Reduction Act. Wales saw a 69 % decrease in the number of households owed the main homelessness duty for example. While there are obvious differences between the nations, this was a demonstration that shifting the balance towards prevention work could really make a difference.

Drawing on lessons from Wales, there is a strong evidence base to suggest that the costs of transforming local authority services towards prevention work will rapidly offset the savings to local authorities on temporary and emergency accommodation. As of the end of 2018, there were 78,930 recorded households in temporary accommodation, with 69% placed in temporary accommodation in London, and the number of families with children stuck in completely unsuitable B&B-style accommodation on the rise. The National Audit Office (NAO) report on Homelessness in September 2017 showed that, of the £1.1bn spent by English local authorities in 2015-16, £845 million was spent on temporary accommodation, and this figure has only continued to increase.

I am very pleased that the Government is funding the initial implementation of my Act to the tune of £72.7 million, helping local authorities to make the adjustments and provide the new services needed to turn things around and change how we approach homelessness entirely. As a result, I believe there will be fewer people hitting the point of becoming homeless in the first place, with local authorities empowered to step in and offer help and advice up to 56 days before the crunch occurs, in turn causing a reduction in the need to use unsuitable temporary accommodation.

Of course, this piece of legislation cannot be considered a fix-all. Homelessness is typically the end point that occurs due to numerous other issues and no one thing can provide a complete solution. The Act places a duty to refer on to agencies like the NHS, the prisons service and Jobcentre Plus, to try to ensure no one is missed in the system, and it also reinforces legislation to ensure Private Rented Sector accommodation has been inspected for suitability prior to it being offered. I hope all the different measures contained within this legislation will really make a difference on the ground and I intend to continue to press the Government to keep monitoring it and listening to local authorities as they feed back.

Bob Blackman is the Conservative MP for Harrow East.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: Reflections on Coronavirus – Test, Test, Test!

Former Business Minister and Tesco director Baroness Neville-Rolfe writes: ‘Supermarkets are on the frontline in crises such as this one with their unique knowledge of the supply chain, a vast employee base of all ages and skilled operational mangers’.

The importance of establishing the facts clearly, the unintended effect of the counter measures adopted, and the sheer unpredictability of events are themes that recur in all crises. The point is to overcome these problems. I speak as a former supermarket executive at Tesco and civil servant at No 10, and now as a peer and former Government Minister.

You might be surprised how impressive the exchanges have been in the House of Lords on the virus. Gnarled politicians and former ministers who lived through the 1987 crash, BSE, 9/11, SARS and the financial crisis; Bishops reminding us of the plight of the vulnerable and of prisoners; distinguished doctors; and pillars of the voluntary and education sectors. All have contributed positively and wisely.

Supermarkets are on the front line in crises such as this one with their unique knowledge of the supply chain, a vast employee base of all ages and skilled operational mangers. They have to deal with panic buying – a gut instinct in the absence of facts. My four-year-old granddaughter was yesterday piling up her toy food under the kitchen table because she had heard we ‘have to stockpile’.

The fact is that there is enough food for everyone during the current crisis although home demand will be higher because people will eat at home more. And cupboards can only take so much spaghetti and loo paper! The Competition and Markets Authority need to help by indicating that the enforcement of competition law will be temporarily relaxed to make it easier for supermarkets and food businesses to act in concert for the public benefit. Also keeping prices down in all circumstances is not always wise; the laws of supply and demand are still true.

Supermarkets rely on the news networks to keep customers informed, because when information is scarce, they are inundated with queries. The Government’s daily press conferences are a wise step forward. However awful things might seem, there is a need to ‘stay cheerful’. The free to air broadcasters are a lifeline in times of crisis providing repeats of Foyle’s War and Sunday services now the churches have closed.

Pandemics start in a small way so there is a tendency to delay radical action for too long. I remember that in the foot and mouth (FMD) crisis of the early 2000s the country was shut down too late. Later, the wider impact of shutting footpaths did vast damage to the tourist industry, an economic impact significantly larger than the damage FMD caused to the meat sector.

In the terrifying circumstances of a pandemic, we have to rely on scientific advice. However, like economists, scientists can be wrong, so it is wise to draw on a range of expertise. In the BSE crisis some scientists published a paper speculating that deaths might amount to 100,000. The figure to date is below 200.

What can we do now? The Government is overwhelmed with suggestions. Today I have one demand which would do more than anything else to ease current strains. Get on top of testing so actions and behaviour can be informed by the facts. We must find a way of testing more people for the virus so those infected can be isolated and those not infected can contribute their skills.

Also, we must accelerate and make widely available the new test for anti-bodies. This will ensure that vital workers can get back to work quickly. In Taiwan, in Singapore and one brave Italian town this emphasis on Test, Test, Test has slowed the pandemic significantly.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe is a former Treasury & BEIS Minister and a Conservative peer. She is a former Director of Tesco.

Government promises all the tools every UK Citizen needs to get through this

Vuelio’s Sam Webber assesses the latest Government response to the Coronavirus pandemic, including a new fiscal stimulus and school closures.

The Coronavirus pandemic has now affected every aspect of Government and public life in a way that this country has not experienced since the Second World War.

The Chancellor’s comprehensive Budget, announced last week, has already had to be updated and overhauled with a far more generous package of measures to safeguard businesses and families. After pressure from MPs representing tourist destinations and from key cultural institutions like small attractions, pubs and restaurants that are set to be particularly affected, the Chancellor increased measures offered to this sector: ‘I announced last week that for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, with a rateable value of less than £51,000, they will pay no business rates this year.

‘Today, I can go further and provide those businesses with an additional cash grant of up to £25,000 per business – to help bridge through this period. Additionally, I also am today extending the business rates holiday to all businesses in those sectors, irrespective of their rateable value.

‘That means every single shop, pub, theatre, music venue, restaurant – and any other business in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector – will pay no business rates whatsoever for 12 months, and if they have a rateable value of less than £51,000, they can now get a cash grant as well.

‘I also announced last week that we would be providing £3,000 cash grants to the 700,000 of our smallest businesses. In light of the new circumstances, and to support their cash flow, today I can increase those grants to £10,000.’

Hinting at additional measures for other sectors of the economy he added:

‘Some sectors are facing particularly acute challenges. In the coming days, my colleague the Secretary of State for Transport and I will discuss a potential support package for specifically airlines and airports.’

For those affected by COVID-19 who will lose income and not be able to pay their monthly mortgage, the Chancellor also offered support: ‘Following discussions with industry today, I can announce that for those in difficulty due to coronavirus, mortgage lenders will offer at least a three month mortgage holiday – so that people will not have to pay a penny towards their mortgage while they get back on their feet.’

While he was immediately criticised because this statement offered nothing to those in rented accommodation, they have now been offered additional protections too.

Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said: ‘The Government is clear – no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.’

His detailed statement includes a promise that: ‘Emergency legislation will be taken forward as an urgent priority so that landlords will not be able to start proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three-month period. As a result of these measures, no renters in private or social accommodation needs to be concerned about the threat of eviction.’

An announcement from Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Wednesday also confirmed what many parents had been expecting: ‘After schools shut their gates on Friday afternoon, they will remain closed until further notice except for children of key workers and vulnerable children, as part of the country’s ongoing response to coronavirus.’

While this has serious implications for those studying for exams that will now not be taking place in the usual way, the Government is clear it will do whatever is necessary to ensure no students are adversely affected by these challenging conditions.

Finally, the Government has set up a new structure of four implementation committees focusing on health, public sector preparedness, economy and international response to deal with the crisis.

  • Healthcare: chaired by the Health Secretary to focus on the preparedness of the NHS, notably ensuring capacity in the critical care system for those worst affected
  • General Public Sector: chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to look at preparedness across the rest of the public and critical national infrastructure, excluding the NHS
  • Economic and Business: chaired by the Chancellor, with the Business Secretary as deputy chair, to consider economic and business impact and response, including supply chain resilience. It will also coordinate roundtables with key sectors to be chaired by relevant Secretaries of State
  • International: chaired by the Foreign Secretary, to consider our international response to the crisis through the G7, G20 and other mechanisms, including like-minded groups, and the UK five-point plan

This shows that as well as relying heavily on the advice from his Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser, the Prime Minister is receiving support from his Cabinet colleagues Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Rishi Sunak, Alok Sharma and Dominic Raab and all their respective teams of civil servants to feed into the UK’s holistic approach to defeating this virus.

As Rishi Sunak said this week: ’I want to reassure every British citizen, this Government will give you all the tools you need to get through this.’

Budget dominated by Coronavirus was well received on social media

Much of the media commentary in response to the Budget statement has been positive for Rishi Sunak, barely four weeks after he was appointed as Chancellor.

At 39 he is the youngest Chancellor since George Osborne took office in 2010 and has degrees from Oxford and Stanford Universities, as well as business experience at Goldman Sachs and in several hedge funds.

His experience in Government however has been relatively brief, having only been appointed as a junior MHCLG minister in January 2018, before joining Boris Johnson’s cabinet in July 2019 as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He received his unexpected promotion following Sajid Javid’s shock resignation last month.

After the relatively dull and uneventful delivery of Philip Hammond, the last Chancellor to deliver a Budget speech in 2018, Rishi Sunak offered some genuine enthusiasm. Daily Mail reporter Andrew Pierce tweeted in response to the speech: ‘A star is born’ describing it as a ‘commanding performance’ by Sunak, whilst referring to him as ‘a PM in waiting’.

Torsten Bell, chief exec of the Resolution Foundation tweeted: ‘British politics in 2020: A Conservative Chancellor outlining plans for a bigger state than under Tony Blair and more borrowing than Gordon Brown’.

This concern about the amount of borrowing announced in the small print of the Budget to fund new commitments rather than higher taxation, was picked up by several political journalists including the political editor of The Guardian, Heather Stewart:

‘Don’t underestimate how big a moment this is – Sunak says he’ll invest an extra £175bn over next 5 years, which he says OBR calculates will add 0.5pp to GDP growth. The Tories are embracing the benefits of borrowing to invest. You could say Labour has, “won the argument”.’

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg noted an increase in research and development spending: ‘Very significant increase in govt spending on R + D, up to £22bn – and govt will change the way science is funded too – introducing UK version of ARPA – one of long held dreams of PM’s adviser Dominic Cummings’

Vuelio’s sister company Pulsar conducted some social media listening in the week leading up to and including the Budget, tracking the Twitter traffic of 50 leading political journalists. Unsurprisingly this showed that Coronavirus dominated both the social media conversation over the last week and the Budget itself, with 40.9% of the Twitter traffic.

The NHS featured second in the list of topics with 20.7% of the conversation and infrastructure, another topic which dominated the Budget as the Government set out its levelling up agenda was the third most popular topic with 12.8%.
An additional Pulsar graph showed that positive tweets by the top 50 political journalists being tracked outnumbered negative and neutral ones.

However, the media response was not uncritical, with The Guardian’s Kate Proctor questioning whether Rishi Sunak’s claim that the Conservatives were now ‘the party of public services’ was evidence of amnesia from the Government which had itself introduced austerity and appeared to have had ‘a re-think on borrowing’. She also noted the package of announcements aimed at moving the civil service out of its London base with 22,000 jobs heading out of London and a devolution deal for West Yorkshire including a £4.2bn funding settlement.

The Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn summarised the Budget by saying the ‘rabbit out of the hat’ announcement that all Chancellors seek to deliver was most likely the ‘business rate holiday’ for small businesses. He added that most other major decisions had been ‘delayed as a result’ of the coronavirus, especially setting any new fiscal rules. Therefore, he noted there was ‘no reason for Javid to resign after all’.

Vuelio’s Budget analysis, summary and stakeholder response document is available to read and download here.

Hannah Bardell MP: Good and proper healthcare must be available for everybody in the LGBT community

Scottish National Party MP Hannah Bardell writes following her House of Commons debate on lesbian, bisexual and trans women’s health inequalities.

I came out literally as I was being elected, initially to myself, then later to my family and friends and publicly sometime after that, and that was challenging. It is fair to say that the impact on my mental health was profound.

For me, and for many other people coming out later in life, there is an element of regret and, in fact, mourning for a life not lived as my authentic self and it is hard to describe what that feels like. I try very hard to look forward – to make the most of what is in front of me, not to look back and have regrets that I was not living my life as my true self. There are many reasons why people come out later in life, and there is also much research around the profound impact that that has on people’s mental and physical health.

Coming out as lesbian, gay or bisexual can be a very different experience from coming out as trans. I cannot imagine how incredibly difficult that is, particularly in the current climate. We owe it to our trans and non-binary citizens to support them and ensure that discussion around changes in legislation or any matters relating to their lives and healthcare is conducted in a respectful and decent way.

We know the LGBT community, including lesbian, bi and trans women, experience significant health inequalities and specific barriers to services and support, and are sadly at a higher risk of experiencing common mental health problems than the general population.

The Science and Technology Committee report states that there is ’emerging evidence demonstrates that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT+) people experience significant health inequalities across their lifespan, often starting at a young age.’

Stonewall Scotland’s survey of LGBT people in Scotland found that half had experienced depression in the past year, including seven in 10 trans people, and that more than half of trans people have thought of taking their own life in the past year.

Stonewall Scotland’s survey of LGBT people in Scotland found that:

  • Half of LGBT people (49 per cent) have experienced depression in the last year, including seven in ten trans people (72 per cent).
  • More than half of trans people (52 per cent) have thought of taking their own life in the last year.
  • One in six LGBT people (16 per cent) have deliberately harmed themselves in the last year.
  • One in four LGBT people (24 per cent) have witnessed discriminatory or negative remarks against LGBT people by healthcare staff.
  • One in eight LGBT people (13 per cent) have received unequal treatment from healthcare staff because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Almost two in five trans people (37 per cent) have avoided healthcare treatment for fear of discrimination.
  • One in four LGBT people (27 per cent) have experienced healthcare staff having a lack of understanding of specific lesbian, gay and bi health needs.
  • Nearly three in five trans people (59 per cent) have experienced healthcare staff having a lack of understanding of specific trans health needs.

I understand that some of these matters are very technical. They are challenging and they require a level of expertise. That is why education, open discussion and proper resourcing in Scotland and across the UK is absolutely vital. We know how incredibly hard staff in the NHS work in all countries and parts of the UK. We salute them. However, the studies show that there is a bit more work to be done.

In 2013, a study in the USA said, unsurprisingly, that legalising gay marriage might improve health and reduce healthcare costs. Another similar study last year found that legalising equal marriage could improve the mental health of same-sex couples. Wow — what a revelation! You can marry the person you love and live the life you want as the person you are, and it might actually make you happy and reduce the burden on the healthcare system.

We know that legislative change does not in itself necessarily change culture or fix the problem, but it is an important step.

The specific health needs of disabled people who are also LGBT are often overlooked by healthcare professionals. According to Stonewall, which has produced some compelling briefings on the subject, disabled people in the LGBT community can be left with a lack of trust in their healthcare providers. Multiple needs are often not taken into account, which affects some of the most vulnerable people. LGBT people are not necessarily open about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity when seeking medical help, because of a fear of unfair treatment and invasive questioning.

Stonewall goes on to talk specifically about issues around PIP assessments and it has said that one in five non-binary people and LGBT disabled people have experienced discrimination. Similarly, one in five black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT people, including 24% of Asian LGBT people, have experienced it.

There is still a long way to go and debates such as this one are part of the picture of making sure that good and proper healthcare is available for everybody in the LGBT community. We as MPs must do everything we can to make sure that no one suffers from poor mental or physical health just because of their gender, sexuality or gender identity.

We are all equal. At the end of the day, we are all human.


Hannah Bardell is a member of the SNP’s Shadow Foreign Affairs and International Development teams and the MP for Livingston.

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

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP: I’ve been the underdog all my life, but I have the ideas and the energy to take Labour forward

When I saw the results of the last election, it broke my heart. I saw a door close on a whole generation of children growing up in difficult circumstances, just as I did, but who’ll never get the same life chances that I eventually enjoyed under a Labour Government. It also lit a fire in the pit of my belly to do something about it. That’s why I decided to run for Deputy Leader. The door I saw close doesn’t have to stay shut forever, but to re-open it, we need a Labour Government.

Working as an A&E doctor on the front line of our NHS, means I see a snapshot of our society in technicolour. Here, everything is on show and it’s clear to me how people are suffering. Growing up poor and cold while my single mum worked three jobs to support me and my brother, taught me the reality of daily life for people across the UK. My mother always told me that there were people worse off than us. I have never forgotten that; it drove me to fight to become a doctor, despite failing my A-Levels first time around because things were difficult at home, and it spurred me on to work as a humanitarian doctor in conflict zones across the world.

The Labour Party changed my life and the lives of so many others. It’s incredibly sad then to see the party in a critical condition. This is no accident, but the result of a chronic failure to address symptoms that were visible for all to see. We shouldn’t have ignored the warning signs in Scotland, and now we’ve paid the price in northern England, across the midlands and in Wales. The Labour Party has to start listening, with humility, not put words into people’s mouths. Only by listening can we begin to heal.

I truly believe I’m the candidate for Deputy Leader with the best ideas to take Labour forward. I have listened to our local Councillors, candidates and activists and, based on their feedback, I’ve put together my ‘Grassroots Revival’ plan to suggest ways we could campaign more effectively, to win. I’ve talked about my ideas to overhaul our broken social care system, based on my own experiences both as a doctor and as a daughter with a father found bruised, bloodied and unconscious in a care home. I’ve signed up to the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ Ten Pledges for dealing with antisemitism within Labour, and I’ve published my own pledges as well to ensure our response to this awful stain on our party is as robust as possible. As a humanitarian doctor, I’m committed to internationalism and the relationship the UK has with the rest of the world – this must lead our policy making going forward, during these uncertain times. I’ve also committed to making myself fully accountable to the membership, by pledging to hold a confidence vote in myself after one year of being Deputy Leader, so the membership can decide whether they’re happy that I’m fulfilling my promises to them.

Those ideas are connecting with the membership of our Labour Party, which is why polls show support for me growing faster than all the other candidates. I know I’m the underdog in this campaign, I have been all my life, but I believe I have the ideas and the energy to take Labour forward together with our members – that’s why I’m standing to be the next Deputy Leader.

Doctor Rosena Allin-Khan is a candidate for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and MP for Tooting.

What to expect from Rishi Sunak’s first Budget?

The first Budget for 16 months will be delivered on Wednesday 11 March by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has only been in the post for three weeks. Sunak’s appointment swiftly followed the resignation from Government of Sajid Javid in the recent reshuffle, when he chose to walk away rather than sign up to a new joint Number 10 and Number 11 Downing Street team, which would have involved firing his team of advisers.

With a previous Budget set for November 2019 cancelled due to the parliamentary hiatus over Brexit and the subsequent General Election, this Budget, as well as being delivered by a newly appointed Chancellor, is also set to be dominated by the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak, which is predicted to escalate into a global pandemic.

Civil Service World reported that the Chancellor was ‘being forced to rewrite next week’s Budget to take account of the likely economic effect of the Covid-19 outbreak.’ This is expected to include additional cash for the NHS and other public services. It might also include a tax holiday for businesses that will be widely affected by any economic downturn due to the virus.

Travel and commuting restrictions, reduced imports from overseas, including the far east where the virus originated, and a self-exclusion plan that might have to come into force, would all have a significant effect on the UK economy and the Treasury is being asked to step up and make guarantees to businesses and citizens.

The Budget is also expected to formalise the Conservative manifesto pledge to raise the threshold at which people start paying National Insurance Contributions (NICs) by more than 10% to £9,500. If confirmed at this rate, a typical employee will save around £104 in 2020/21, while self-employed individuals, who pay a lower rate, will have £78 cut from their bill, according to Government figures.

A key aim of this Government’s mission is to ‘level up’ spending across Britain and to reduce regional disparity through increased spending and better infrastructure, not least in the former Labour heartland seats that the Conservatives won in 2019 and now seek to retain at the next election.

One likely way to find extra cash is to scrap Entrepreneurs’ relief. This tax relief brought in by Labour in 2008 and subsequently extended by George Osborne, allows business owners when they sell their company to pay capital gains tax at a reduced rate of 10% rather than the usual rate of 20%, which applies to gains up to £10m.

The Sun reports that this could have serious effects on SMEs including retailers selling a shop for £150,000 who would lose £15,000 if the plans go ahead. The proposal is apparently unpopular with some backbench MPs and The Sun quotes national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Mike Cherry, who said: ‘Scrapping entrepreneurs’ relief would destroy the retirements of thousands of business owners. The Conservative manifesto committed this Government to reviewing and reforming this incentive, not scrapping it entirely. The Conservatives should keep their promises – it’s a question of trust.’

The FSB spokesperson suggests a compromise: ‘Keep the relief for the first £1m of a business sale and scale it back at the top end. Doing so would save the Treasury more than £1bn and maintain a vital incentive which encourages entrepreneurs to start up, hire and invest.’

In a dig at the authors of the likely policy to scrap the relief entirely he adds: ‘A lot of entrepreneurs see their business as their retirement plan. They don’t have the gold-plated pensions enjoyed by Treasury civil servants.’

Mike Cherry also said that small business confidence has already suffered a slump over the past 18 months and this proposal risks making a bad situation worse for small businesses, and risks losing them to other more welcoming tax jurisdictions.

The Financial Times reports (£) that Sunak could use the Budget to end the freeze on fuel duty which has been in place since 2010 or at least start by removing the £2.4bn subsidy for ‘red diesel’. This is used by off-road vehicles and machinery and would demonstrate that the Treasury is prepared to use the tax system to encourage a move away from fossil fuels.

A Daily Telegraph pre-Budget analysis predicts that ‘Changes to tax, pensions, housing and social care’ are all set to be included. It also speculates that additional funding for adult social care could be included as well as measures to increase the roll out of high-speed broadband and reduce single-use plastics.

Changes to pension contributions have been suggested as an idea alongside a wealth or ‘mansion tax’, but it is understood that Rishi Sunak took these proposals off the table when he became Chancellor. A scheme to cut the cost of buying a home for key workers and first-time buyers would perhaps prove more popular nationally to ensure that renters can buy a home in their area at a reduced rate.

As with many across the country and especially public affairs professionals, we will watch with interest on Wednesday as with previous Budgets, to see if this newbie Chancellor has a rabbit to pull out of his hat in terms of a key announcement that will get everyone talking and, unlike the pasty tax or caravan tax of the George Osborne era, won’t unravel as soon as the journalists and financial experts crunch the numbers in detail.

The Vuelio Political team will be summarising the Budget and stakeholder reaction to all of the key announcements and measures.

Sign up to receive your complimentary copy of The Budget Summary and Reaction.


2020: An exciting time to be in Public Affairs

Dr Stuart Thomson is head of public affairs at BDB Pitmans. Following our recent event, where Stuart was a panelist, he has written his thoughts on the new political landscape.

The Conservative Party’s significant win in the General Election has changed the political landscape. With this change should come a reassessment of Public Affairs activity. What should those in Public Affairs now be thinking about?

With a majority now in place, the normal business of Government can resume. Instead of being utterly fixated on Brexit, new policies can be developed that consider the challenges facing the country. Public Affairs can help engage with Government in the development of these new policies.

Getting organisations and people involved is important but critically across Public Affairs we have to keep a watch on what the Government wants to achieve. The current priorities for this Government are ‘levelling-up’, addressing climate change (through COP 26) and preparing for life outside the EU.

But we also need to keep an eye on the delivery aspects for voters. Why?  Because timescales become critically important. The Government really needs to show what it has achieved by the time of the next election. Of course, all governments have that requirement, but Boris really believes in infrastructure and that can take a long time to deliver. So how do they show what they have achieved if the infrastructure hasn’t yet been built? How do they ensure that the ‘red wall’ of former Labour seats in the North remains nothing more than a memory?

If Boris is to keep those seats in former Labour voting areas, then the Government also needs to continue to speak about those issues that have traditionally been seen as Labour strengths – such as the NHS and education. But also maintain their strength in their own core areas – Brexit and the economy. The paper by the British Psychological Society on making better policy provided some useful insight into these issues.

I can also hear echoes of Tony Blair here as well. He went onto areas of Conservative strength and owned them for Labour. ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ was a direct play for the traditionally Conservative area of law and order.

Labour’s great failure this time, apart from its leadership, was to take their own ‘core’ issues for granted.

So it is all very good tracking, as Labour and Corbyn did in the Pulsar survey, really well on social media but it did not turn into votes. Again, the same survey showed an association between each party and particular issues. The Conservatives made sure they controlled the agenda on the top issues – Brexit, the NHS (increased spending to neutralise Labour) and the economy.

Therefore, our Public Affairs work has to reflect the reality of a majority Government and, as I blogged about recently, that means everything from taking the House of Lords seriously to looking at developing long-term relationships and champions, thinking about public campaigns and, of course, the new No 10/No 11 super department. That also means being aware of how best to engage with our audiences and not relying just on any exciting social media channels. As the Vuelio report, The Politics of Social Media, confirmed, there remains a key role for face-to-face meetings with MPs.

It’s an exciting time to be in Public Affairs!

You can read Dr Stuart Thomson’s blog here. He tweets @redpolitics. More information about his new book on reputation management can be seen here.

Wera Hobhouse MP: Heathrow decision was a landmark victory for climate campaigners

Yesterday was a historic day for the climate campaigners.

The Court of Appeal has taken the climate emergency into account and made it a key part of its decision to stop the expansion of Heathrow.

The Government now has a choice: they can continue with business as usual, appealing the Court of Appeal decision and continuing to push for infrastructure that will ultimately stop them reaching their climate targets; or they could use this as a wake-up call and start legislating for climate action now.

Achieving net-zero involves cutting emissions across all sectors to almost zero and offsetting the remaining emissions by planting forests and investing in carbon capture technology.

This is a daunting task and the sooner we start the better chance we have of avoiding widespread environmental chaos that will define the lives of future generations.

We are living through a climate emergency.

Yesterday’s decision, against the expansion of Heathrow Airport, is a victory.

Now is the time to be cutting our emissions, not adding infrastructure that will cause them to skyrocket.

It is a victory for the thousands of local campaigners who have spent years protesting the expansion. It shows communities, across the country, that people power can make the difference. The Liberal Democrats has been backing these campaigns from the very beginning, supporting grassroots action to make today’s decision possible.

For far too long the Government has been committed to Heathrow expansion, with no consideration of the impact on our carbon footprint and the local environment.

This Government’s own target – to reach a net zero by 2050 – is not compatible with airport expansion. Whether that be expansion of Heathrow Airport or Bristol.

Flying long haul, in 2020, requires fossil fuels. As a result, flying always comes with a carbon cost. Research into cleaner fuels is important and yet green alternatives will not be replacing oil-based aviation fuel anytime soon.

Flying is a positive part of life in a globalised world, but we have an obligation to not to expand an industry that is contributing to the climate crisis.

And it is because of this that my party opposes airport expansion.

If Boris Johnson makes the wrong choice now, he may well have to lie down in front of the bulldozers and the wider impact on our climate will be catastrophic.

I will be urging the Government to respect the Court of Appeal decision and to use this moment as a turning point, investing in substantive climate action now.

We can help – The Liberal Democrats are the only party to have a detailed plan to reach net zero, including a sector by sector roadmap.

This decision was a landmark victory for climate campaigners. For the sake of future generations, let’s make tomorrow an even better one.

Wera Hobhouse is the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for the Climate Emergency, Energy and the Environment & MP for Bath.

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


2020: The new political landscape

Vuelio’s first political event of 2020 was attended by 60 public affairs and comms professionals and saw a insightful discussion of the current political landscape, following the recent general election victory that saw the Conservatives rewarded with the largest House of Commons majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

Gavin Freeguard, programme director for digital, data and transparency at the Institute for Government, reflected that 2019 was a significant year in British politics with more MPs changing their party allegiance than any time since 1886 as well as a change in Prime Minister in July as Theresa May was succeeded by Boris Johnson and numerous lost Brexit votes, prorogation of parliament overturned by the Supreme Court and then the General Election itself after MPs eventually agreed to support one by the two thirds majority still required under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

Gavin added that a more settled political landscape would be widely seen as a positive change following a tumultuous few years. He said that the importance of data would be significant in the years ahead and public perception of this would vary depending if it was for public benefit to society or whether personal data was being used to target messaging to voters, which is likely to be far less popular.

Giles Kenningham, a former head of Press at Number 10 Downing Street and the founder of Trafalgar Strategy, explained that the circumstances of the 2019 election were not going to be repeated so it was a one-off election that Boris Johnson’s campaign team used to great effect. A significant public desire to ‘get Brexit done’ was crucial but will be settled by the next election and the substantial anti Jeremy Corbyn sentiment in much of the country including in Labour’s heartlands will also not be repeated once Labour elects its new leader. Giles acknowledged the front runner, Keir Starmer, could have a ‘Kinnock effect’ on the Labour party, not winning power outright but getting the party in a better shape to be able to win in 10 years’ time

He described 2020 as a ‘brave new world’ and added that the Government has a brief window now that it doesn’t need to let the 24-hour news media dictate the pace of political events. He added that if the PM failed to agree an EU trade deal by the end of 2020 and left the transition period on WTO rules, that it would be ‘problematic’ for the Government and for Boris Johnson himself: ‘there are reputational issues there’.

Dr Stuart Thomson, head of public affairs at BDB Pitmans said it was reassuring for the public affairs sector that the UK now has a Government ‘that can-do stuff’. He argued that despite claims that the election winning Conservative manifesto was light on policy detail, he said there was actually a significant amount for the Government to deliver on given the tight timeframes on things like infrastructure before the Government will need to head back to the polls in 2024.

Saskia Perriard-Abdoh, psychological government programme lead at the British Psychological Society said that a lot of assumptions held by individual voters about why they vote the way they do were challenged in the 2019 election, which saw the political chess board completely reset. She urged campaigners to engage with policymakers as people, given how much people move from role to role within Government. She also added that the Government has a very short window of three to four years before voters will revert to being less engaged and ‘go back to thinking politics and policy is not for them’.

Speakers also engaged in a lively Q&A with the audience, covering social media, campaigning and the change in representation of the ‘red wall’ of northern, midlands and Welsh constituencies, which largely fell to the Conservatives in the General election.

Baroness Bennett: The plastics pollution crisis is pushing our fragile planet to the limit

We are – finally – recognising that there is no such thing as throwing something ‘away’ on our poor choked planet. Every bit of waste has to go somewhere.

Globally, most of the eight billion tonnes of plastic produced since the 1950s is still in existence – in our drinking water, our soils, our animals and our air. Even in our beer.

Last year in the UK, a group of supermarkets and other stores announced with much fanfare that within the next seven years they are planning to cut out non-recyclable plastic packaging.

That is seven more years of producing something that won’t ever disappear, but this was far more positive than the Government proclaiming that it will ban unnecessary single-use plastic by 2042.

There’s a crucial point to make about both the voluntary ban and the Government announcement: ‘recyclable’ doesn’t mean an object is going to be recycled and who defines what is and isn’t ‘necessary’?

Our plastics recycling facilities are already groaning with over-supply of recyclables from the impact of the Chinese decision to stop importing most plastic waste for recycling there.

At the consumer end, households are struggling with a hugely variety of different schemes with different rules: if you move house there’s a good chance you’ll have to learn a new system. Live in a flat in Wandsworth and you are expected to put your recycling into a large single-use plastic bag. Really?

How much better if an unnecessary item isn’t produced at all. That more than 40 per cent of the plastic produced goes into single-use packaging is shocking, even before you consider the fact that the world total is more than 300 million tonnes each year.

After massive public pressure, the Government is supposed to be introducing a bottle deposit scheme, for plastic and other bottles, although we’re still waiting for actual action, and there’s always going to be significant numbers that escape the net.

Pub and café chains are rushing to promise to get rid of plastic straws, and there’s now some decent discounts on coffee in some places if you bring your own cup. Some are also calling for a ban on single-use sachets – sauce, vinegar, sugar etc.

I will happily applaud all of this, but huge amounts of parliamentary time could be taken up passing limited, fiddly legislation that has to define and restrict specific categories of table condiments, or focus on plastic straws or stirrers, a tiny fraction of our plastics pollution.

The logical way to approach this is to start at the other end. Let’s begin with a ban on all single-use plastic – that would cover everything you could think of and then some – single-use cups, sandwich wrappers and those really annoying almost unopenable hard plastic frames around toothbrushes.

Then you could make exceptions for items that are actually necessary – wrappings to keep medical equipment sterile, maybe some packaging for meat products, wherever a genuine case of need could be made.

This could be a model for further action. The plastics pollution crisis is just one of the ways in which we are butting up against the limits of this fragile planet.

Ensuring that resources are used only sparingly, and well, is a model that we need in all aspects of our economy.

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

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

UK Boundaries

Lord Rennard: 650 or 600 MPs in the next House of Commons?

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard writes that the Government still seems uncertain about whether or not to bring before Parliament plans to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. He adds that doing so may cause infighting amongst Conservative MPs, as well as objections about the fairness of the methodology for boundary reviews introduced in the coalition period.

The answer to my written question in the House of Lords about Government plans for the re-organisation of parliamentary constituency boundaries suggests that it is still thinking about what to do. In September 2018, the four Boundary Commissions submitted their final reports. The relevant legislation (the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011) requires the Government to lay the reports before Parliament for approval ‘as soon as may be’. Nearly 18 months later, there is still no sign of them.

Prior to the December general election, the Government was clearly worried about obtaining a majority for an Order to bring in the new boundaries. But with a comfortable majority of 80 in the Commons, the question now is if it is thinking again about the principle of reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Many of the 365 Conservative MPs elected in December may not relish having to scramble for the reduced number of seats that would be available.

If the current proposals are approved, it will benefit the Conservatives overall. But in some parts of the country, three Conservative MPs may find themselves in competition for selection for perhaps two of the newly proposed constituencies, and in other places two Conservative MPs may be competing for the same seat. For example, the new Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart (Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire), could find himself competing with the former Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire), for the proposed new seat of Mid and South Pembrokeshire.

Few Conservative MPs seemed to realise that supporting the coalition’s 2011 proposals for changing the way that boundaries are drawn up would mean subjecting themselves to a fundamental re-organisation every five years. The extremely tight restriction on the quota (5%) by which constituency electorates can diverge from the average means that a small change in one constituency’s boundaries could trigger major changes to all the others in the region. Under the new scheme, the new boundaries would only become known in the fourth year of a five-year parliament, thereby handicapping both MPs and candidates who seriously ‘nursed’ their constituencies.

One of the purported justifications for cutting the number of MPs to 600 was the claim that previous Boundary Commissions had led to an ever-increasing number of MPs. But this is not the case. The number of MPs in 1945 was 640, rose to 659 in 1997 and went back down to 650 in 2010. More significantly, the increase in the number of MPs since 1945 (1.6%) has not kept pace with the growth of the electorate since then (43.2%).

An MP elected in 1945 represented just under 52,000 electors. An MP elected last December will have on average over 73,000 electors calling on their services. Over the last 75 years, expectations of what they should do for their constituents have also risen greatly. There are also many people expecting MPs to represent them who are not on the electoral registers. Levels of electoral registration were thought to be very high (around 90%) when plans for changing the methodology for reviewing the boundaries was announced in 2011. But the Cabinet Office’s subsequent research showed that it was nearer 80%. There may, therefore, be six million people entitled to be on the electoral registers, but who are not included on them. This makes the current intake of MPs responsible, on average, for around 83,000 adults who are UK citizens, as well as anyone else who may seek their assistance.

Seven years ago, I caused a storm by acting with others to block the boundary re-organisation proposals of 2013. I argued that electoral registration was far less thorough than we had been led to believe, and that reducing the number of MPs needed to be matched by reducing the number of Ministers and beginning elections to a reformed House of Lords. Otherwise the powers of the executive relative to that of the legislature would be increased disproportionately. It is also fair to say that stopping the boundary review benefitted my party by about three or four seats in each of the last three general elections (a significant proportion now that our numbers in the Commons have been greatly reduced).

It is generally agreed that MPs should generally represent roughly the same number of electors. But we should now be looking again at the best way of achieving this and considering carefully the recommendations in the report of the Commons Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform from 2015. Its proposals would mean more sensible, and more stable, constituency boundaries in future. Keeping with 650 MPs would also minimise disruption, which before 2011 was always an aim in boundary reviews.

Lord Rennard is a Liberal Democrat Peer and former Chief Executive of his party.

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.

Tackling the North-South divide with better transport infrastructure

Investing in the UK’s transport infrastructure to reduce regional economic disparities across the country is a key Government priority now we have formally left the European Union, and are negotiating our future trading relationship with the bloc before the end of 2020.

In the 2019 General Election, the Conservatives pledged to build the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme and well as invest £29bn in strategic roads, including £1bn to boost the UK’s electric car charging network.

The Government postponed a decision to approve or scrap the High Speed 2 rail project, instead waiting for the Oakervee Review to report its findings into the project.

The Prime Minister has been under pressure from both sides on this issue of a new high-speed railway from London to Birmingham and then onward to the North East, Scotland and the North West. While initial budgets in 2015 costed the project at £55 billion, leaked information from the as yet unpublished Oakervee Review report suggests this cost has risen to more than £107 billion.

One inescapable fact of the 2019 election is Labour’s red wall of heartland seats falling to the Conservatives. Across the Midlands, the North of England, North Wales and the North East, the Prime Minister is only too aware he has a brief honeymoon period to repay the trust placed in him by lifelong Labour voters, many of whom voted Conservative for the first time.

Among the new intake of Conservative MPs, several have spoken out against the HS2 project including Simon Jupp, the MP for East Devon, who has become a member of the Transport Select Committee and intends to highlight the need for investment in the South West: ‘I can’t back HS2 when the main and branch railway lines in Devon simply are not fit for purpose’.

Richard Holden, the MP for North West Durham has said his preference is to reconnect his area with the rail network, and not to prioritise HS2 or further rail infrastructure in London or the South East: ‘Consett and the surrounding area is one of the largest population centres in England without a rail line, despite having four rail lines there as recently as the 1960s. I will be campaigning for a feasibility study to reconnect our area to the growth centres of the North East’.

These MPs will note the Government’s promise to open up as many branch rail lines as possible following closures in the 1960s, though the cost of this is likely to be significant.

Whether or not the Northern vote was actually in favour of ‘Getting Brexit done’, the Conservative Government has a chance to deliver for these northern communities or face handing these seats back to Labour in 2024 if the Opposition’s fortunes are reversed under their new leader, who will be announced on 4 April.

A video released by the Conservatives showing a northern working-class voter meeting Boris Johnson and speaking about some of the reasons why he voted Tory for the first time has been widely viewed on social media. The PM says every time he meets newly elected Conservative MPs, he tells them: ‘This is on loan, this is conditional. We have to repay the trust of the electorate’.

Andy Street, the West Midlands Mayor, is hailed by Conservatives as a modern Conservative municipal leader and was managing director of John Lewis from 2007 to 2016 before winning the West Midlands Mayoralty in 2017 by a wafer-thin majority of 3,776 votes out of over 523,000 cast.

He will be heavily banking on the first stage of HS2 getting the green light and a formal decision by Cabinet and the PM is expected to be made within weeks. Street is not just constrained by HS2 though and has recently pledged a joined up approach to passenger transport across his Birmingham and the Black Country.  Andy Street incidentally faces a tough re-election battle on 7 May when his Labour opponent, announced yesterday, will be former Cabinet Minister and Birmingham MP Liam Byrne.

Further examples of how this Government intends to improve regional transport include Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ recent decision to strip Northern Rail of its franchise after a catalogue of delays and cancellations in recent years when he said: ‘People across the north deserve better, their communities deserve better and I am determined to achieve that.’

The move means that services will be operated by an arms-length Government-owned company.

This follows the January announcement by the Government that it would intervene to save the UK regional airline Flybe by postponing a payment of Air Passenger Duty, rumoured to be £100 million. The main reason behind the intervention is thought to be that the airline connects remote parts of the UK including in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the South West, as well as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

These recent decisions certainly show that the Government is prepared to think outside of the London and South East mindset that can often overshadow infrastructure decisions and also show that the Prime Minister recognises he needs to deliver on his promises to voters in the North and midlands. He knows he needs to improve their lives for the better and fast. Making sure the trains run on time would surely be a welcome start.

Mike Wood MP: Government must continue to support British brewing and pubs in the Budget

As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group – an enviable task I know – I have this week secured an important debate in Parliament covering beer and pubs. This debate is particularly timely with the Budget fast approaching on 11 March.

Beer in the UK is a home-grown manufacturing success story, represented in all parts of the UK. 80% of the beer that is brewed by this country’s fantastic brewers is consumed here. Beer and pubs support almost 900,000 jobs and the sector provides £23bn in value to the economy.

The numbers are impressive but there’s so much more to beer and pubs than figures alone. The great British pub is one of our most loved national institutions and the heart of so many communities. Over 15 million of us go to the pub once a week. The pub has evolved and adapted with the times, but they remain a gathering place, sometimes referred to as ‘the original social network’. Often though they are now much more – the local post office, the local greengrocer, the local library and much more besides.

The link between beer and pubs is inextricable. Seven in ten of the alcoholic drinks sold in pubs are beers. A thriving brewing sector is intimately entwined with successful local pubs. It might not be Dry January any more, but it’s still worth highlighting that not only are pubs the home of responsible drinking, but beer is also on average the lowest-strength alcoholic drink available at the bar, with an increasingly wide range of zero alcohol alternatives too.

Supporting beer and pubs might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s an undeniable fact that the British pubs sit under an onerous tax burden. Every pub pays an average of £142,000 a year in taxes and one pound in every three spent in pubs goes on tax. Happily, successive Conservative Governments have taken action to limit the impact of beer duty on pubs. Since abolishing the hated beer duty escalator in 2013, Conservative Governments have cut and frozen beer duty; saving pubgoers millions of pounds.

This action is extremely welcome, but beer duty remains high, especially when compared to our beer-brewing European neighbours. Duty here is, for example, eleven times higher than it is in Germany. Britain pays 40% of all the beer duty paid in the EU, but we drink only 12% of the beer. So, while Conservative Governments have backed this great British industry, there is more that can be done.

What’s more, taking action to limit beer duty increases would send a positive signal to the 250,000 supporters of the Long Live the Local petition, not to mention the 25,000 individual pubs who are backing the campaign. Although a cut or freeze in beer duty is in theory a cost to HM Treasury, evidence suggests that keeping costs down for brewers and consumers actually leads to more money going into Government coffers. To give a recent example – excise revenue from beer is up £250 million compared to forecasts since 2017/18, thanks to the boost to beer and pubs following freezes in duty in the 2017 and 2018 Budgets.

Of course, it’s not just beer duty that presents issues for pubs – the business rates system continues to present challenges. The recently announced extension of the pub-specific relief, knocking £1,000 of the bill off pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 will help a huge number of premises, as will the 50% reduction in business rates bills for certain businesses. But for pubs the burden of business rates remains particularly acute – pubs account for 2.8% of all business rates, despite only accounting for 0.5% of rate-paying business turnover. That amounts to an overpayment of £500m every single year.

I hope the Government will hear the messages of gratitude for actions taken in the past, but also of the need for continued support to ensure that brewing and pubs remain viable for many years to come.


Mike Wood is the Conservative MP for Dudley South & Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group.

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.

Holly Lynch MP: Tax bills are driving our most experienced cops out of policing

When senior doctors started to reduce their working hours in significant numbers, in response to changes in tax paid on their pensions, what would otherwise be a niche and complicated pensions issue, suddenly became a general election focus with the Prime Minister wading in, promising to fix it. 
New lower thresholds (unadjusted for inflation since 2014) when public sector workers start to pay tax on their pension contributions have seen higher earners across the public sector receiving staggering tax bills. As a result of having crossed either their annual or lifetime allowances, doctors are reducing their hours, or simply retiring, impacting on the NHS’s readiness to respond to annual winter pressures, forcing the Government to intervene.  
While the Government has found a temporary sticking plaster on this issue with a view to finding a longer-term solution for clinicians, the same problem extends right across the public sector, not least to policing.  
With 21,000 fewer officers and 600 police stations closed since 2010, policing has been hammered in recent years. We’re already seeing record numbers voluntarily leaving policing. So if the Government is to have any hope of delivering its uplift in policing numbers without chronic growing pains, it needs to hold onto every last bit of experience and leadership it can. 
The Superintendent ranks and above are likely to breach the annual allowance if an officer has more than 20 years’ service, due to the structuring of police pensions in the last 10 years of an officers’ service, which is unique to Police pensions. Senior Superintendents and all ranks above, will breach the annual allowance by ordinary pension growth alone, without there even being any pay rises.  
Superintendent, Chief Superintendent, Assistant Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable and Chief Constable ranks have the potential to routinely breach the allowance, with some senior officers unbelievably receiving yearly tax bills that are greater than their annual salary. 
In a letter to the Chair of the Police Pensions Scheme Advisory Board sent just in the last few days, the Policing Minister argues that while he is open to reform of pensions in policing, their case ‘does not demonstrate evidence of recruitment and retention problems and a resulting impact on operational service delivery.’ 
Unlike doctors, police officers cannot reduce their hours or withdraw their service to mitigate the impact of such tax bills, so it is much harder to demonstrate the impact on the public, and I suspect the Minister fully understands that. 
Research undertaken by the National Police Chiefs Council shows that applications for Chief Officer jobs are reducing, as is the tenure served in those roles. My own force, West Yorkshire Police, had just one applicant apply on the previous two occasions they needed to fill the post of Chief Constable and Northumbria Police has recently had to open recruitment three times to recruit a Chief Constable. 
While there will be a variety of reasons for this, the Police Superintendents’ Association conducted a survey in 2018 that revealed that almost four in ten of their members said pension issues were increasing their intention to leave, with 56% of respondents attributing this specifically to the annual allowance. 
The Treasury is conducting a review in to this issue with a view to shaping the next Budget on 11 March, so I have asked the Policing Minister to look specially at how these perverse tax disincentives can be reformed, not least because it would seem Police Forces themselves are paying these tax bills for individuals, who are reimbursed by the Home Office, who are reimbursed by the Treasury, in order to square-off contributions to HMRC. 
In order to pay the money back in the long term, officers are realistically having to hand significant chucks of their pensions back upon retirement, in order to settle all the accumulated Annual Allowance taxes. There must be a better way of structuring police pensions to avoid this financial merry-go-round, by simply giving senior police officers parity with the solutions offered to NHS consultants.  
Police pensions need to be much clearer for both officers themselves and the public purse, but more importantly ensuring that we do not haemorrhage experience and leadership within policing at a time when we can least afford it. 
Holly Lynch is the Labour MP for Halifax.  
This blog post is part of a cross-party series on Vuelio’s political blog Point of Order which publishes insight and opinion to help public affairs, policy and comms professionals stay ahead of political change and connect with those who campaign on the issues they care about. To find out more or contribute, get in touch with Vuelio Politics. 

PRCA welcomes Government endorsement of its Public Affairs Code

The PRCA has welcomed the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists’ endorsement of its Public Affairs Code in its latest guidance, following an industry-wide consultation.

The Registrar accepted the PRCA’s central recommendation that the majority of industry codes of conduct declared on the statutory register were not relevant; and announced what amounts to a clampdown on companies’ own self-enforced codes.

In his commentary that ‘the current codes of conduct produced by the PRCA’s Public Affairs Board for members are relevant’, the Registrar, Harry Rich singled out the PRCA’s Code as the only one endorsed without reservation.

The new guidance notes:

A relevant code of conduct must go beyond setting out general, good professional behaviour and must contain provisions that are of particular relevance to the way that consultant lobbying activity is carried out.

A relevant code must also include oversight or control by an external process or membership body.

A code of conduct that is written for individuals can be declared by an organisation only if every employee subscribes to that code.

PRCA Director General, Francis Ingham MPRCA, said: ‘We welcome the Registrar’s confidence in the PRCA Public Affairs Code. It is already the gold standard of ethical public affairs practice, and this guidance promotes its status even further, as the only Code endorsed in all circumstances as ‘relevant’.

Ingham added: ‘We are also delighted that the Registrar agrees with us that industry codes should apply to entire consultancies, rather than to just a handful of individuals within the organisation – often a blatant attempt to workaround the spirit of the lobbying legislation. This change will support public trust in lobbying by enabling members of the public to distinguish between the organisations that subscribe to ethical standards and those that do not.’

‘There is now a clear challenge to the small minority of the industry who choose not to be held accountable to the highest standards. As of March 31, they will no longer be able to hide behind irrelevant or self-enforced Codes. They will therefore have to choose between observing the mainstream standards of the industry or making public their choice to be unregulated and unaccountable’ the PRCA’s Director General added.

The new guidance will be in place from July 2020 and all registrants must make changes to their internal process by 31st March 2020 to reflect the updated guidance.

Any organisation must join the Register if they conduct the business of consultant lobbying as defined by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 or for more information contact the PRCA.