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.

Parliament Watch: Environment

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.

When MPs and peers return to Westminster next month, one of the most prominent issues they’ll face is the environment, with the Government echoing the rhetoric of campaigners who have been calling for a ‘green recovery’ and for the UK to ‘build back better’ from the coronavirus crisis. They will also have to vote on the three key bills to create a post-Brexit environmental framework, consider the implications of new trade deals, and prepare for the UN climate change conference COP26, which the UK will be hosting next year.

Building back better
Announcing a £350m decarbonisation package at the end of July, Boris Johnson said ‘our green ambitions remain sky high as we build back better for both our people and our planet’. This aspiration was also set out in Rishi Sunak’s summer economic statement as part of the Government’s ‘Plan for Jobs’. He said that the Government wanted ‘a green recovery with concern for our environment at its heart’ and announced a £3bn plan to create green jobs, including the Green Homes Grant to improve domestic energy efficiency. This, of course, is in addition the Government’s need to explain how it will meet the target set under Theresa May of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

As environmental campaigners have repeatedly pointed out, delivering a green recovery and attaining net zero requires more than just warm words, targets and isolated programmes, welcome though these are. For this reason, all eyes will be on the Budget Sunak is expected to deliver in the autumn. In order to drive private sector investment, the Government will need to give a clear steer on its direction of travel and give investors confidence that the UK is on a secure, long-term pathway to net zero, covering all of its activity.

It has a variety of tools at its disposal to achieve this. For example, the long-promised National Infrastructure Strategy, Energy White Paper and Low Carbon Heat Strategy are all now expected to be published in the autumn, alongside the Comprehensive Spending Review and an interim report from the Net Zero Review. Together, these could create a framework for a greener, more environmentally friendly post-Covid future. However, environmentalists will be concerned that the Government’s ‘build, build, build’ mantra could result in incoherent policy, with Johnson claiming in a speech that ‘newt-counting’ was delaying house-building, even as he asserted that the UK would ‘build back greener’.

Taking back (environmental) control
As we get closer to Parliament sitting again and to the end of the Brexit transition, those of us who focus on the environment will be on the lookout for details of the return of the three key bills which will define our post-Brexit environmental framework: the Environment Bill, the Agriculture Bill, and the Fisheries Bill. So far, the only one of these to appear on the parliamentary calendar is the Fisheries Bill, which will have its second reading on the first day that the Commons returns – 1 September.

Even as the bills progress through Parliament, there is plenty to be done to ensure that they can actually be implemented and many details that need to be fleshed out. For example, the Environment Bill will create a new environmental regulator, the Office for Environmental Protection and recruitment for its chair started earlier this month. Another example is the Environmental Land Management scheme being created through the Agriculture Bill, with more details on this promised by the autumn. The Environment Bill also contains a range of measures targeted at reducing waste and boosting recycling, including a deposit return scheme, extended producer responsibility for packaging, and consistency in waste and recycling collections. These all await further consultation to agree their details before they can be implemented.

Appearing before the Environmental Audit Committee in June, George Eustice, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told MPs that his priority ‘across all fronts, whether it is agriculture, fishing or our environment, is to demonstrate that we can chart a different course and do things better than the European Union’. The next few months will give us a good indication of how the Government’s actions match this rhetoric.

Trade deal or no deal?
The environment – and agriculture in particular – has taken a prominent role in discussion of the UK’s post-Brexit trading future. Concerns about the implications of a trade deal with the USA for the country’s food, environmental and animal welfare standards have proven to be a flashpoint, even within the ranks of the Conservative Party.

An amendment to the Agriculture Bill seeking to ensure that the UK wouldn’t agree trade agreements allowing the import into the UK of food which didn’t at least meet the UK’s standards was tabled by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair Neil Parish, a Conservative MP. This was rejected, but in light of the concerns the Government launched a Trade and Agriculture Commission in July to advise on its policy on this topic, with a report expected after six months. With suggestions that time is running out for a deal to be agreed before the American presidential election in the autumn, this is a key area to keep an eye on.

The proposed trade deal between the UK and Japan also seems to have run into agriculture-related problems, with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss reportedly holding out for better terms on British blue cheeses, such as Stilton. Perhaps more seriously, European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier said last month that the UK’s position on fisheries in negotiations on the post-Brexit relationship with the bloc was ‘simply unacceptable’ and ‘makes a trade agreement at this point unlikely’. All these are issues which will continue to develop in the autumn, and in years to come, as the UK tries to establish its position now it has left the EU.

Delivering global change
It’s important to remember that climate change is ultimately a global concern which needs coordinated international action – no matter how good the UK’s policies might be, the planet’s current trajectory cannot be altered unilaterally. One of the events which fell foul of COVID-19 was COP26, the UN’s climate change conference, which was due to be hosted in Glasgow this year. The event has now been postponed to 2021, and environmental organisations will be keeping a beady eye on what Alok Sharma, who is both COP26 President and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, has been doing to ensure that the conference is regarded as a success in challenging the climate crisis, rather than a missed opportunity.

A crucial moment
One of the few upsides of the current pandemic is that it allows for some thought about things we might want to change as we start the process of recovery, while Brexit allows a similar opportunity for thinking about future environmental, agricultural, fisheries and trade policy. However, there are also significant risks involved – will the Government’s planning reforms negate the ‘green recovery’? Will the UK’s new environmental framework deliver the improvements the Government claims? The next few months will give us some clarity on the UK’s future trajectory.

Comprehensive spending review

Parliament Watch: Comprehensive Spending Review speculation

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.

One of the most significant political events this Autumn, once Parliament returns from its Summer recess on 1 September, will be the long awaited Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). First scheduled for 2019 as Boris Johnson took office; it was postponed over concerns about Brexit and an early General Election followed instead. It is considered by many to be a very bold move for this Government to press on with a 2020 CSR during the COVID-19 recovery and a possible second wave of cases.

The Treasury is accepting written representations in advance of the CSR, from any interest group, individual or representative body, up until 24 September 2020.

You can see the scope of the Review by the Government priorities listed here for submissions to address:

  • Strengthening the UK’s economic recovery from COVID-19 by prioritising jobs and skills
  • Levelling up economic opportunity across all nations and regions of the country by investing in infrastructure, innovation and people – thus closing the gap with our competitors by spreading opportunity, maximising productivity and improving the value add of each hour worked
  • Improving outcomes in public services, including supporting the NHS and taking steps to cut crime and ensure every young person receives a superb education
  • Making the UK a scientific superpower, including leading in the development of technologies that will support the Government’s ambition to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050
  • Strengthening the UK’s place in the world
  • Improving the management and delivery of our commitments, ensuring that all departments have the appropriate structures and processes in place to deliver their outcomes and commitments on time and within budget

The Review will address current Government spending from next year, 2021-22, to 2023-24 as well as capital, or infrastructure, spending for an additional year, to 2024-25 so it is clear the CSR is critical given the next General Election will be in 2024 or earlier.

This key fiscal event presents the Government with a rare opportunity to shape not just spending, but its vision for modern UK Government administration.

Strengthening the UK’s place in the world after the long-running Brexit issue is crucial for this Government, yet we have already seen an indication of the different path this administration is taking in terms of the abolition of the Department for International Development and creation of a larger Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Its new Permanent Under-Secretary was announced recently as Sir Philip Barton and he takes up this position on 1 September.

Despite being widely criticised by the development community and three former Prime Ministers, Boris Johnson has been clear he thinks a new ‘super department’ is the right way forward for a post-Brexit Britain, with a far greater emphasis on trade rather than aid. The Prime Minister said: ‘For too long, frankly, UK overseas aid has been treated like a giant cashpoint in the sky, that arrives without any reference to UK interests.’

This CSR might be less controversial in terms of public spending cuts, not least because in light of COVID-19 there will be little appetite to reduce NHS spending, and also because of Boris Johnson’s mission to level up Britain and increase spending across the nations and regions of the UK, through improved infrastructure and better public services. The 40 new hospitals promised will need to be paid for and delivered, and the PM has also been consistently clear that there will be no return to austerity. Conversely, he has promised a significant rise in number of NHS doctors and nurses, as well as new police officers and a school building upgrade programme.

Additionally, in what is being viewed by many Westminster watchers as a victory for the Prime Minister’s Chief Adviser Dominic Cummings, the Government’s long-awaited foreign policy and defence review is being conducted alongside the CSR. This could see cuts to the defence budget and is certain to see a shift away from traditional military spend, such as tanks, to modern defence capability such as information operations and technology to tackle the threat from cyber warfare. The overall size of the Army might be reduced too as the 82,000 troop target was dropped from the 2019 Conservative manifesto and the Government has found it increasingly difficult to meet this figure in recent years.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, will the CSR seek to fund the crucial local government and social care services that have been under such strain in recent months? We will find out soon enough, but the problem isn’t going away for the Government. Leading thinktank the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned recently of local government facing an additional £2bn funding shortfall this financial year. The IFS warned that the Government needed to decide on whether to offer local government additional support this autumn including allowing them greater borrowing flexibility or face seeing cuts to services.

The autumn 2020 Comprehensive Spending Review offers the Government and its relatively inexperienced Chancellor Rishi Sunak the opportunity to set out how it intends to operate over the coming years, as Britain adjusts to its new status, no longer in the European Union and adjusting to life after the pandemic, with all of the additional Government spending which that entailed. The Chancellor has said the CSR is: ‘Our opportunity to deliver on the third phase of our recovery plan – where we will honour the commitments made in the March Budget to rebuild, level up and invest in people and places spreading opportunities more evenly across the nation.’

Keeping track of the CSR or other political issues? Get a free trial of Vuelio Political Monitoring and make sense of new political times. 

Parliament Watch: Education and Skills

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 education and skills sector will be a critical one this Autumn, as it will be central to the recovery from COVID-19, and particularly important as the furlough scheme draws to a close in October. This ties into Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s announcement of an overhaul in further education in July as part of the Government’s levelling up agenda. Hopefully, we will see further details of this ‘fundamental change’ with the publication of a White Paper in further education, as well as the implementation of Government measures to counteract the impact of the employment crisis on young people.

Opportunity Guarantee
As part of the Government’s ‘build back better’ plan for recovery from Covid-19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised an Opportunity Guarantee to help young people get into work, stating in June that every young person will be given the chance of an apprenticeship or work placement. This was first mentioned by Education Committee Chair Robert Halfon and further supported by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his Summer statement, announcing a bonus of £2,000 for firms who hire a new young apprentice aged 16-24 and £1,500 for apprentices over 25. It is unclear how successful this will be, as apprentices were made redundant amidst the wider employment crisis caused by the pandemic. Furthermore, some stakeholders have said the bonus will be wasted on larger employers who would be hiring apprenticeships anyway. Nevertheless the promise has gained traction, with many calling for the Government to publicly commit to the promise, given numerous reports that the economic consequences of the pandemic will fall heavily on young people.

The Government is planning to launch T-levels this autumn, despite requests to postpone the launch due to coronavirus concerns. These 2 year-courses, equivalent to 3 A levels, will be a mix of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience from Industry Placements, and have been introduced. The first 3 T levels will be available from September 2020 in Design, Surveying and Planning for Construction, Digital Production, Design and Development, Education and Childcare, with a further 7 courses set to be introduced in 2021.

This is a major part of the Government’s plans to improve technical education in the UK and the courses are supposed to differentiate from apprenticeships, which are more heavily geared around on-the-job experience and designed for people who want to enter the workforce at 16. As opposed to a direct route to work, T levels are described by the Government as an alternative to A levels and a pathway to further study. However, the roll out is controversial as in March the awarding bodies for the first three T levels asked the Government to delay their plans, on the basis that colleges would likely be in ‘crisis and recovery mode’ until the Autumn term. However the Government has decided to go ahead with the initial launch date, with Skills Minister Gillian Keegan writing to providers in April about how important it is that students do not lose out on opportunities due to COVID-19.

Further Education White paper
In a speech hosted by the Social Market Foundation, Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson announced the publication of a White Paper this autumn which will set out ‘long-term change’ for further education. This will be an important step in supporting the Government’s ambitions to level up the country, and address skills shortages in certain sectors which may be impacted by Brexit later in the year.

Reform in this area will also be tightly linked to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic as many will need to reskill. Although speculative, it is thought the document will focus on four ‘pillars’ of funding, qualifications, workforce and careers, as well as a mechanism for bringing failing colleges under state control and giving Ofqual powers to make funding decisions about different qualifications.

Schools Reopening
Over the summer the Government have been clear that Schools and Colleges will reopen fully in September, despite controversy over the safety of doing so. Plans for returning safely include staggered start times and grouping whole year groups into bubbles, with teachers moving between different groups to facilitate teaching the full curriculum. Teachers unions have expressed continuing fears over the safety of reopening, as they say Government plans rely on lower-levels of COVID-19 in the community and a fully functioning test and trace contact system. They have also called for the Government to have a ‘Plan B’, in case these qualifiers have not been reached. However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has stated that teaching unions cannot be allowed to ‘dictate’ when children go back to school and urged cooperation and support from the unions to get children to help the ‘national recovery’. There have also been suggestions that further restrictions in other areas of the community may be necessary to allow this to happen.

Another issue is that in a deal with Government to secure a bailout package, TfL agreed to suspend free transport for under-18s from September onwards. Undoubtedly this will impact low-incomes families and young people’s access to education and campaigners, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, have called on the Government to reconsider these changes. Following Marcus Rashford’s successful campaign on free school meals support for disadvantaged children, it is possible that there will be some change here, but undoubtedly will be a talking point when schools return in September.

Parliament Watch: The Health and Social Care 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.


Over the past few months, the health and social care sector has been dominated by its response to coronavirus. This blog will look at the biggest impacts COVID-19 has had on the health and social care sector and highlight where we could see temporary or permanent changes to its systems.

In the early phase of the pandemic non-Covid NHS services were rolled back amid fears that the NHS would become overwhelmed with the approaching coronavirus peak. Over the past few months there has been a reduction in diagnostics, referrals, and treatment for illnesses, as well as a drop in the number of people attending appointments with their GPs and hospitals, amid fears of catching COVID-19. Consequently there is a now massive backlog in care need, and fears that NHS waiting lists could reach 10 million by the end of the year. The impact of this has been felt across the health sector. Cancer Research has said that a third of cancer patients have had their treatment disrupted by coronavirus and estimate 38,000 fewer treatments than usual have taken place, since lockdown began. Similarly, the British Heart Foundation has highlighted that in cardiovascular health, an estimated 5,000 heart attack sufferers in England may have missed out on life saving hospital treatment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, coronavirus has exacerbated mental health problems for many, leaving charities worried that services need additional Government support. This comes as Mind reports that during lockdown one in four people who tried to access NHS mental health services were unable to get any help.

There has been a phased return to services, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock calling in late April for people to use non-Covid health services, and more recently in July, NHS England announced its third phase to the pandemic response, where it said: ‘Having pulled out all the stops to treat Covid patients over the last few months, our health services now need to redouble their focus on the needs of all other patients too, while recognising the new challenges of overcoming our current Covid-related capacity constraints.’ The plan calls for a return to near normal level of service in August and preparations to be made for increased winter pressures.

This comes with £3bn worth of Government funding for the NHS to prepare for winter, including upgrades to A&E services. However, with greater social distancing, PPE and hygiene measures required in hospitals treating coronavirus cases, the Nuffield Trust have warned that the capacity and speed at which health services can operate in the coming months will not reach typical levels. In addition, for the longer term, there are calls for a rethink of how NHS systems and bodies interact with each other, in light of greater partnership working during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Social care
Coronavirus has been felt most harshly by the social care sector. From March to July, there were 30,500 more deaths among care home residents, than would usually be expected for the same time period. With a COVID-19 social care plan not announced until the mid-April, issues including PPE shortages in care settings, deaths amongst care staff and the discharge of 25,000 patients from hospital into care homes without a COVID-19 test, dominated headlines in the pandemic’s early stages. Elderly people with dementia have been acutely impacted with the Office for National Statistics estimating in July that half of all deaths in care homes from COVID-19 were people with dementia. Meanwhile, in the Care Quality Commission reported that between April and May there was a 134% increase in the number of deaths of people with a learning disability and/or autism, who receive services from adult social care, independent hospitals and in the community.

Calls for social care reform have grown. The Health Foundation has argued that successive Governments have failure to improve the social care system and left it ‘underfunded, understaffed, and at risk of collapse’ at the start of the pandemic and it calls for urgent reform to address the ‘longstanding policy failures exposed by COVID-19’. Matt Hancock promised social care reform in his recent ‘Future of Healthcare’ speech to the Royal College of Physicians. He said: ‘Now it’s time to set clear ambitions about the future of social care in this country and fix an issue that has been ducked for far too long’. He indicated plans for a fairer system with more money going into social care, greater integration with health systems, the building of effective structures on accountability and recognition for carers.

With social distancing, the coronavirus pandemic has generated a massive shift in the number of people accessing the healthcare system digitally. In the 4 weeks leading up to 12 April, 71% of routine GP consultations were delivered remotely, compared to 25% being held remotely the same period last year. Matt Hancock has suggested that this should continue with telecommunications being used firstly, and face-to-face appointments only used when clinically necessary or for when people can’t use digital technology. He believes the use of digital could free up time for clinicals and enable the NHS to run a smoother service. Alternatively, the Royal College of General Practitioners has argued that a 50/ 50 split between in person and digital is a more ‘realistic and sensible’ target. It warns that a digital first approach to general practice could exacerbate health inequalities as those with complex needs, or people who are less ‘tech savvy’ risk being isolated from healthcare services.

The Health Foundation has raised similar concerns, highlighting that digital appointments are more likely to happen in regions of high deprivation, as GPs at high risk of COVID-19, and required to work from home, are more likely to live in poorer areas. Meanwhile, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has released a statement on access to emergency care, where it recognised the role telecommunications could play in maintaining social distancing in urgent care units. It recommends that 999, general practice and NHS 111 are used to direct people to the correct services, instead of allowing people to turn up at A&E units themselves.

Health inequalities
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated health inequalities across multiple intersectionalities. Research from the Office for National Statistics has showed that people of a black ethnicity are over 4 times more likely to die from a COVID-19-related death than people of a white ethnicity. Whilst those highly deprived and densely populated urban areas, or those who work in lower paid occupations such as in construction or social care, were the hardest hit by the virus. Public Health England published a rapid review in May, which confirmed concerns over widening health inequalities. Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch is now leading the work on its findings. Work includes reviewing the effectiveness of Government actions to lessen the disproportionate impact of coronavirus and the commissioning of further research where there are gaps in evidence.

Winter coronavirus outbreak
Despite coronavirus infections levels diminishing since the peak, the health sector is still on alert for future waves, with fears being compounded by a potentially harsh winter flu outbreak spreading alongside coronavirus. Last month, the Academy of Medical Sciences warned in a report commissioned by the Government’s SAGE committee, that a potential second wave of coronavirus infections this winter could be ‘more serious than the first’.

It highlights that with the NHS typically under more pressure in winter, numerous measures are essential to prevent a second spike, including minimizing the spread of coronavirus, creating ‘Covid-free zones’ in hospitals and increasing the capacity of Test and Trace. In preparation for winter, the Government has rolled out a 90 minute return Covid test which will enable clinicians to rapidly advise patients on their coronavirus status and differentiate between the more common winter flu. They have also expanded the winter flu immunization programme, so millions more vulnerable people will be able to access the flu vaccine, in the hope to relieve some winter pressures on the health service. Finally, the Test and Trace programme, which has come under recent criticism with decreasing levels of contacts being followed up by contact tracers, is considered to be a key part of the Government’s coronavirus response in coming months.

Parliament Watch: Higher Education

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 Higher Education sector has been severely impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic and this disruption is likely to continue into the Autumn. Universities this year face competition for domestic students because of the drop in international student numbers, as well as pressure to deliver attractive-looking courses under ‘new normal’ social distancing restrictions.

In Research and Development, funding will also be crucial as the Universities bail-out tapped into £100m of future R&D funding, which is even more concerning as we approach the end of the transition period in December 2020, having left the European Union. The Government has committed to working with Universities as part of developing the UK’s research and innovation output and announced a move away from the target of getting 50% of young people into University this year, so it will be interesting to see how these objectives play out in parallel.

A new version of the University experience
Universities will return in the Autumn with a very different looking version of the ‘University Experience’. Although they have been given guidance by the Government, during a recent Education Committee session University Minister Michelle Donelan was careful to stress that Universities are autonomous institutions and will need to carry out their own risk assessments to ensure the safety of students. This will severely impact how freshers’ week and the social elements of University life is carried out, as well as the everyday logistics of thousands of students, small campuses, and other learning facilities. Despite fears over student numbers dwindling because of the restrictions, a record 40.5% of all 19-year olds in the UK applied to go to University this year, with the numbers actually increasing during lockdown.

Further, to add to financial pressure caused by a drop in international student numbers, groups like NUS have been campaigning for an option of reimbursement for the last academic year. Students have been told they can complain to the Ombudsman if they haven’t received adequate tutoring in line with other years, so there is pressure to deliver on COVID-safe courses.

It will be interesting to see how different Universities navigate this, with some famously suspending all lectures until 2021. There have also been warnings that risk assessments should include mental health considerations, as students face being away from their families for the first time, combined with restrictions around social support.

Augar Review Response
The Government commissioned Augar Review into post-18 education was published in May 2019, and made sweeping recommendations for further and higher education, including cutting tuition fees and setting up lifelong learning allowances for degree or further education programmes. Although the Government has delayed its response and any policy changes, a press release outlining changes to higher technical education in July mentioned the upcoming measures announced would complement the review.

The Government has announced commitments to improve the further education sector and but haven’t so far commented on any other higher education reforms, so it will be interesting to see if it includes this sector, and if so, what the response will be.

Grades Scandal
Due to the pandemic, A level examinations were cancelled this year and replaced by a combination of teacher predictions and a class, school and subject standardisation process. Exams regulator Ofqual confirmed the appeals process earlier this year; with concerns being expressed early on by the Education Committee and stakeholders around the suppression of grades, potential for bias, and adequate support for disadvantaged students in the appeals process.

The Scottish Exam Board SQA recently came under fire for suppressing the grades of thousands students when external markers downgraded teachers’ predictions. Statistics have suggested this disproportionality impacted pupils at schools in disadvantaged areas, and in response First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologised and agreed to accept teachers assessments.

Despite this foresight, A level results day in England has been similarly disruptive, with just under 40% of A levels being downgraded from teacher’s assessments on Thursday 13 August and thousands of young people missing out on University places. The Government has said grades remained broadly stable with a 2.5% increase in As and A*s, however because of the standardisation used, students from disadvantaged areas were worst hit whilst private schools saw an increase in the proportion of students achieving top grades.

The Government have so far announced a taskforce of Ministers and exam regulators Ofqual to tackle this issue, and have offered free appeals for students this year, echoing Sturgeon’s actions a few weeks ago, however we can expect to see further movement on this extremely important issue. Similarly to Scotland, there have been calls for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to resign over the mishandling of this issue from the Liberal Democrats, with Labour asking for the results system to be scrapped.

The Government has celebrated more disadvantaged students going University this year than ever before, but it remains to be seen how the disproportionate impact of standardisation effects social mobility and access to University.

Research and Development Spending
The Government has been focussed on Research and Development spending as a means to turn post-Brexit Britain into a ‘science-superpower’. As such, the Conservative Manifesto committed to increasing R&D spending by 2.4%, with an increase in public investment to £22bn a year by 2024-5 announced in the Budget in March 2020. You can expect this conversation to be ramped up in the lead up to the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020, but also as part of the recovery from COVID-19, mentioned by the Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the UK Research and Development Roadmap published in July.

The Roadmap defines dynamic innovation and research as part of an interconnected system across government, academia and universities, and states the Government is ‘not afraid to make tough choices’ in ensuring this system is fit for purpose. It’s possible these changes will start to be made this year, given the Government’s apparent focus on this area of the sector.

Parliament Watch: Housing

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.

One of the Conservative Government’s manifesto pledges ahead of the December 2019 election was to increase the number of new homes being built. The Chancellor spoke of an ‘infrastructure revolution’ in the March 2020 Budget – echoed by Boris Johnson in his recent Build Build Build speech – and announced new funding for an extension of the Affordable Homes Programme with a new, multi-year settlement of £12bn and over £1bn of allocations from the Housing Infrastructure Fund to build 70,000 new homes.

Despite this funding, the Covid-19 pandemic has inevitably impacted the delivery of new homes, with sites being shut down, projects facing difficulties securing labour and materials, and disruption to supply chains. The crisis has also had an impact on the removal of dangerous cladding, but building safety has remained high on the agenda, with the Government taking steps to implement the recommendations of the ongoing Grenfell Tower inquiry.

Planning White Paper
The long-awaited Planning White Paper was published on 6 August. It sets out reforms to streamline and modernise the planning process, bring a new focus to design and sustainability, improve the system of developer contributions to infrastructure, and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed. It contains proposals to give greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use without planning permission and create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings. These changes aim to support both the high street revival – and minimise the damage caused by the changes in working trends – allowing empty commercial properties to be quickly repurposed and reduce the pressure to build on greenfield land by making brownfield development easier. The proposals are being consulted on until 29 October.

Building Safety Bill
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick described the Bill as ‘the biggest change to our building safety regime for 40 years’. Businesses will need to quickly adapt to ensure they are prepared. Reforms include the creation of a new Building Safety Regulator, housed within the Health and Safety Executive, to oversee the safety and performance of all buildings and impose sanctions on those who fail in their responsibilities. Several new bodies will be set up to support its work, including a Building Regulations Advisory Committee, which will provide evidence-based guidance on new issues that emerge in the built environment sector; a Competence Committee, to create consistency amongst the competency of workers in the building safety sector; and a new residents panel. A Homes Ombudsman will also be established, and the safety of construction products will be granted to the Secretary of State. A draft bill has been published and is currently going through pre-legislative scrutiny before it is introduced to Parliament.

Consultation on Fire Safety
Published alongside the draft Building Safety Bill, the Fire Safety consultation is a key part of the Government’s package of reform to improve building and fire safety in all regulated properties. The consultation is seeking views on proposals to strengthen the Fire Safety Order, implement the recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and strengthen the regulatory framework for how building control bodies consult with Fire and Rescue Authorities. The deadline to submit evidence is 12 October 2020.

Green Homes Grant scheme
The £2bn Green Homes Grant was one of the major updates in the Government’s Summer Statement — laying the foundations for a green recovery. The scheme, set to launch in September, will help homeowners in England improve the energy efficiency of their properties through a government grant of up to £10,000. The money, which will be distributed in the form of vouchers, can be used for a whole range of energy saving improvements including double-glazing, loft insulation, solid wall insulation and floor insulation. Homeowners and landlords in England and Wales can apply.

Public sector land review
Alongside the new planning rules and ahead of the Spending Review, the Government said that a new cross-government strategy will look at how public sector land can be managed and released so it can be put to better use. This would include home building, improving the environment, contributing to net zero goals and injecting growth opportunities into communities across the country.

English Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper
The Government has planned to bring forward the English Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper this Autumn, detailing how the UK Government will partner with places across the UK to build a sustainable economic recovery and launch the long-delayed National Infrastructure Plan.

Henry Dimbleby

Helping out with eating well

Today sees the publication of Part One of the National Food Strategy, written by Henry Dimbleby [pictured], son of broadcaster David Dimbleby, but, more relevantly, founder of the restaurant chain LEON. The report was commissioned by Michael Gove during his tenure as Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, but its scope goes well beyond that department’s powers.

Today’s instalment focuses on two highly topical issues – food poverty, which has gained a new salience in light of the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis, and food standards in new trade deals, already the subject of great political dispute.

Indeed, these pressing circumstances have changed the report’s schedule. Part One had originally been envisioned as a diagnostic document, with proposals for reform of the UK food system to follow next year; instead it now makes a series of urgent recommendations, though a full strategy is still scheduled for 2021. The rapidly changing circumstances have also led to revisions to the report right up to its publication – recommendations on advertising of unhealthy food were excised after the Government unilaterally announced them on Monday as part of its obesity strategy.

The report therefore fits nicely into the wider discussion about ensuring that the UK builds back better after the pandemic. As it identifies, ‘in the age of COVID-19, a poor diet is almost as great a threat to life as cancer or old age’. Dimbleby explores a wide range of aspects that have led to poor diets: ‘individual’, in which he splits the population into six groups with shared characteristics; ‘social’, noting that the UK doesn’t put as high a social value on food as other European countries; and ‘material’, claiming that the free market is ‘the single most important force that shapes our food environment’ and outlining the factors that drive companies to produce and market unhealthy food, using Marks and Spencer’s Percy Pigs as an example.

The complexities of the food system are well demonstrated by even the limited number of recommendations that Dimbleby makes at this stage, crossing a number of different policy areas.

Reflecting on the need for an increased ‘nutritional safety net’ for children given the impact of COVID-19 on employment, he calls for the expansion of Free School Meals provision and the Holiday Activity and Food programme (both Department for Education schemes), increased value and eligibility of Healthy Start vouchers (a Department for Health and Social Care measure), and an extension to the work of the Food to the Vulnerable Ministerial Task Force (which is led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but also involved the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions).

Turning to Brexit, his recommendations cross the responsibilities of both DEFRA and the Department for International Trade. He rejects the ‘globalist model’ of trade, insisting that the UK should have ‘lines we will not cross’ and that ‘standards are not the same as protectionism’. Under his approach, the Trade and Agriculture Commission would set core standards on animal welfare, the environment and climate, and the Government would only agree to cut tariffs on products that meet these, with verification programmes to prove that foreign producers are doing so. There would also be improved scrutiny of trade deals, with statutory duties to commission independent reports and to give Parliament enough time to examine proposed agreements. He also calls on the Government to ‘be bolder’ and ‘go faster’ with its new Environmental Land Management scheme.

The challenge for Dimbleby now will be to put together a comprehensive set of recommendations, drawing together all these different policy streams to create an all-embracing vision for the future of the British food system. But the real challenge isn’t Dimbleby’s at all – it’s the Government’s, both in choosing how to respond to his initial recommendations, but also in ensuring that his final report is acted on, and the UK builds the ‘healthier world’ he calls for.

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Public affairs events

A recess like no other: when will events be back on the Parliamentary agenda?

This is a guest post from Nicole Wilkins [pictured], Publisher of forward-planning diary service Foresight News. 

Foresight news nicole wilkinsAs Parliament heads into its six-week summer recess, the effects of COVID-19 and the lingering lockdown restrictions continue to be felt in how diaries have (and haven’t) been filled.

In a normal year, recess caps off weeks of summer receptions and garden parties, giving everyone a chance to get some networking done before Westminster goes quiet in August. Public affairs teams can then take advantage of the summer to start planning for September, with party conferences often top of the list for engagement opportunities.

Not so, this year: there were no summer parties like last year, think tank events were replaced by Zoom webinars, and pubs were only open for the last two and half weeks of the session. While MPs have been back in Westminster since 2 June, most of Whitehall is still working from home and some parliamentary business remains subject to the constraints of remote working.

Most committee hearings, for example, are still being held virtually, with sessions and witnesses often announced at the last minute. This is partly due to the overall disruption and the urgent nature of many of the committees’ coronavirus-related inquiries, but they are also benefitting from not having to worry about packed diaries and the logistics of getting everyone in the same room at the same time.

While civil servants may begin to return to the office in August, Government guidance on events is not due to change before parliament returns, so September is likely to look pretty similar. With more people returning to work, and restaurants and pubs open, there will be more scope for one-on-one engagement, but APPGs, seminars and committees will still be virtual, and larger networking receptions will be off the table for another at least another month.

But the Government’s determination for lawmakers to lead the way back to normality does allow for some small, socially-distanced opportunities. The Henry Jackson Society was able to take advantage of MPs’ presence in Westminster to host a roundtable with visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer have both been doing the kind of site visits and photo ops that couldn’t be justified under lockdown. Even on the virtual front, organisations are beginning to get back to their main priorities; whereas the beginning of lockdown was a scramble to salvage pre-pandemic events and then to find the coronavirus angle, the past month has brought more groups getting back to their bread and butter issues.

Looking ahead to September, the most obvious challenge is the party conference-shaped holes in the calendar: the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have all moved their conferences online, while the parties that hold their events later in the autumn may not have clarity on changing guidelines in time to put together a physical event.

Some teams are already planning their own virtual fringe, but with no shortage of webinars to watch, it’s a good idea to start thinking about different formats to see if you can incorporate some of the other beneficial elements of attending conference, aside from listening to speeches. Though Zoom and Teams are now live-stream standards, the Lib Dems have announced that their conference will be held via Hopin, a platform that incorporates a randomised chat element to try to recreate the networking aspect of in-person events.

But for those who are really missing warm wine, small talk and even smaller sandwiches, there is some optimism in the not-so-distant future: Boris Johnson’s plans for conferences and business events to return from October and relaxation on social distancing in November offers hope for a return to normality just in time for Christmas receptions.


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