Conservative leadership race - housing and cost of living

Conservative Party leadership contest: Housing and the cost of living

As the Conservative leadership race heats up, with MPs from every side of the political divide making their allegiances and opinions known, here is an overview of candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss on housing and the cost of living.

Rishi Sunak on the cost of living

Rishi Sunak has been accused of making a ‘screeching U-turn’ on tax cuts as he has vowed to scrap VAT on energy bills for a year if he becomes Prime Minister. Under his plan, the 5% rate on household energy would be scrapped for one year from October, if the price cap on bills rises above £3,000 for the typical household. Sunak said the ‘temporary and targeted’ measure would save average households £160 a year and would ensure people get ‘the support they need’, while also ‘bearing down on price pressures’.

Sunak had previously been resisting calls for immediate tax cuts, instead saying the nation needs ‘honesty and responsibility, not fairy tales’. He had pledged to service public debt and hold off on tax cuts until inflation is under control, presenting his position as ‘common-sense Thatcherism’. He has also committed to taking a ‘tough stance’ towards public sector pay and the need to avoid wage price spiral.

The former Chancellor has said he would continue increasing corporation tax from 19% to 25% next year, as well as creating incentives for businesses to invest through relaxing financial regulations and scrapping the Apprenticeship Levy.

Rishi Sunak on housing

Sunak has pledged to speed up building in cities and on brownfield sites and crack down on ‘landbanking’ by big developers. He has suggested he wants to see Government funding for affordable housing scaled back and more incentives put in place for developers.

During the environment hustings, Sunak was slightly more vocal about his green policy intentions. He said he would keep the 2050 net zero targets and would focus on improving the energy efficiency of the country’s housing stock, saying the UK has ‘the worst houses in Europe’. He pledged to look at launching a new energy efficiency scheme – hopefully more successful than the Green Homes Grant launched in 2020. He said the new scheme would concentrate on measures such as smart heating controls and cavity wall insulation.

Sunak has signed up to the Northern Research Group’s (NRG) pledges, which include a commitment to a new Minister for the North, more devolution, a levelling-up ‘formula’ to ensure ‘left behind’ places get the Government funding they need, and two new vocational colleges – ‘the vocational equivalent of Oxford and Cambridge’, dubbed ‘Voxbridge’. He has also vowed to scrap EU Solvency II rules to encourage investment into infrastructure.

After just one month in the role of Chancellor, Sunak delivered his first Spring Budget in March 2020, during which he announced a £12bn Affordable Homes Programme. It was welcomed by the sector as one of the largest settlements in years. A few weeks later, he announced a temporary change to Local Housing Allowance rates to cover the cheapest third of rents during the pandemic. He also decided to introduce a £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit.

During Robert Jenrick’s time as Housing Secretary (between 2019 and 2021), Sunak signed off on the £5bn Building Safety Fund, however, he later said the Treasury was unwilling to increase funding despite the significant bills being handed out to leaseholders. Sunak told Jenrick’s successor Michael Gove that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities would have to step in and use their own budget if developers refused to pay for building safety remediation, rather than asking for more from the Treasury.

Liz Truss on the cost of living

Liz Truss has committed to £30bn of tax cuts and has said she would start implementing them ‘from day one’. She said she would cancel the planned 6% rise in corporation tax and during Monday night’s debate criticised Sunak’s plans to increase business taxes, arguing they would push the country into a recession.

Truss has also promised to cancel the National Insurance increase, which came into force in April this year. She said she would immediately bring in an emergency budget, arguing that it would alleviate the cost of living crisis. Truss has also pledged to hold a review of Government spending and believes the Government can and should borrow more. She has vowed to take a ‘tough stance’ on public sector pay and has highlighted the need to avoid wage price spiral. She said she would lift green levies on energy bills for two years.

Liz Truss on housing

The Foreign Secretary has pledged to amend the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to scrap centralised ‘Stalinist’ housing targets and would make it simpler for developers to build on brownfield land in ‘opportunity areas’ by focusing on deregulation and tax incentives. These areas would be low tax zones and would have lower businesses rates and fewer planning restrictions in the aim of encouraging investment and development. She vowed to introduce zones in the North of England. As has Sunak, Truss has signed up to NRG pledges.

She is generally very pro-development, as can be seen in a video posted in 2019 in which she speaks about the need to build more homes. The same year she told the Mail on Sunday that one million homes should be built on the green belt around London and that villages should be allowed to expand by four or five houses a year without having to go through planning. She thinks the UK should ‘build up more’ in cities and has previously expressed her support for zonal planning – a system that would see permission granted automatically on sites that have been earmarked for development.

On net zero, Truss has said she would maintain the 2050 targets and would introduce a ‘temporary moratorium’ on green energy levies ‘to enable businesses and industry to thrive while looking at the best way of delivering net zero’. Green levies are an environmental charge added to energy bills, dubbed a ‘social and environmental obligation’ by Ofgem. The money goes towards supporting the installation of energy efficiency measures in lower-income or vulnerable households.

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Cost of living crisis in the UK

Campaigning on the cost-of-living crisis: How can charities best communicate with Government and the media?

The cost-of-living crisis has been dominating news and politics since last year, but as the instability in the global economy is set to continue, charities must find innovative ways to continue engaging with parliamentarians and the media.

At a recent talk hosted by Prospect Magazine and Vuelio, panelists discussed what MPs and the media need from charities on this issue, and how charities of all sizes can build a voice in the saturated space of campaigns. The discussion, led by political editor Alan Rusbridger, aimed to share thoughts on stakeholder campaigning best practice in a crisis and the best way to share data to drive solutions to the cost-of-living crisis.


MP and Shadow Minister for Arts & Civil Society Barbara Keeley started off by noting the scale issues competing with the cost-of-living crisis. She said MPs have limited capacity to campaign on different issues and suggested they are driven to act by their constituent’s experiences. She suggested charities focus on providing real experiences as opposed to using mass template emails to engage with MPs, noting this would be key in issues around the cost-of-living crisis.

Lara Stanley, Campaigns & Public Affairs Manager at Citizens Advice, said that the charity holds a huge amount of data on the cost-of-living crisis through its community support work. This data-led approach helped for work with the Government during the pandemic because it enabled the charity to also provide ideas for what targeted support was necessary. She emphasised that good engagement doesn’t just flag the problem but offers solutions as well.

In keeping with the narrative around the use of data, Nicole Sykes, Policy & Communications Director for Pro-Bono Economics, said data can be a good tool to engage with media and politicians. However, she noted 50% of Conservative MPs are concerned about the quality of charity data, although it doesn’t stop them using it.

Sykes went on to note the demands on charities during the cost-of-living crisis, stating 40% of charities in the latest Pro-Bono Economics survey have said they will struggle with demand due to rising costs. She also said that keeping wages up with inflation would amount in a £3bn loss for the sector. In relation to engaging with parliamentarians, she said charities can be influential by aiding MPs in helping their constituents. Stanley noted there is better collaboration between charity groups, which enable effectiveness in communicating specific issues. She said this should be particularly beneficial to smaller and more diverse charities.

Dr Matthew Sowemimo, Head of Public Affairs and Social Policy at the Salvation Army, specified that messaging is key when engaging parliamentarians and civil servants on specific issues. He stated that sharp messages can help cut through the noise on social media. Providing insight through data is key; Sowemimo gave the example of the Trussell Trust showing that the initial roll out of Universal Credit was causing an increase in food bank usage. He thought providing local stories was particularly helpful for MPs in marginal seats, and suggested charities compile useful baseline data on the cost-of-living crisis before the recession sets in.

The talk concluded with a question-and-answer session with the audience. Panellists reiterated that the scale of the crisis can be tackled by cross-departmental work and suggested focussing on what non-fiscal asks could enable support. Barbara Keeley agreed that charities should be cautious about asking Government to make spending commitments, whilst others suggested charities should also consider the role local Government and regulators can play on this specific issue.

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City Hall Journalists

Inside City Hall – The journalists shining a light on London politics

Pictured, left to right: Callum Marius (MyLondon) Joe Talora (Evening Standard, LDR) Jessica Frank-Keyes (LondonWorld), Josiah Mortimer (MyLondon), James Cracknell (Social Spider).

For those outside of the Press Gallery, the inner workings of political journalism can seem like a closed-off and mysterious part of the media.

What does a typical day look like for City Hall journalists, how do they like to work with PRs and how does one get into this line of reporting?

ResponseSource community manager Andrew Strutt caught up with MyLondon City Hall editor Josiah Mortimer, founder of the recently-launched City Hall Journalists lobby, to find out…

City Hall journos are a close-knit group

‘Having worked in Parliament’s Press Gallery for a couple of years, I found it to be a really useful and supportive network.’
‘When City Hall moved east to Newham earlier this year, it got me thinking about provisions for reporters in the new building – which aren’t quite up to scratch.

‘Often people say that reporting in the UK is ‘London-centric’. This isn’t quite true – it’s Westminster-centric but a lot of what happens in devolved politics goes ignored.

‘There aren’t many of us covering City Hall, so it is great to be working together to speak with a louder voice, improve transparency and build the profile of GLA reporting. I wanted to get this network off the ground to shine a brighter light on London’s politics. Hopefully we can bring some of the best of the Press Gallery to The Crystal, adapted for today.’

No day is ‘typical’, but here is an idea of how things work…#

‘It will involve watching a committee hearing – whether that’s economy, planning, health or oversight/scrutiny.’

‘We work closely with the Assembly Members who are a font of knowledge on City Hall, and are – like us, in a way – there to scrutinise the Mayor, so there is a lot of interaction there. The Mayor has a lot of sway over high profile issues like transport and policing so we tend to trawl through new documents and data, and will often do one or two interviews with the Mayor a week. But the GLA impacts all Londoners, so we try to build links with as many community groups, activists, resident groups, unions and so on as possible.’

How PRs can work with those reporting from City Hall

‘I tend to primarily work with non-profit PRs – those at campaign groups and organisations affected by the GLA.’

‘In terms of for-profits, that will often be in a reactive way, getting rights of reply or checking facts. I enjoy writing the occasional review so will work closely with PRs for music, food or travel content. On getting in touch, I’m a big fan of chatting on the phone but a Twitter DM is usually a good way in – it is a good platform for a very succinct pitch. Please don’t send ten identical emails, though!’

The best part of working the City Hall patch?

Having started in the role last October, Josiah already has some highlights:

‘Getting to ride on the Elizabeth Line before it opened – Londoners had been waiting for it for so long. I was there on the day it opened, too – on the first train from Paddington, following the Mayor and revelling in the transport geekery.

‘Sometimes the highlights are also lowlights, in a sense. I recently did a London Assembly tour of Brixton speaking to market traders about the cost-of-living crisis. It was moving to hear what they’re going through, and it’s also my patch so great to get to know more of the community.’

Find out more about the City Hall Journalists group and its members here.

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Rwanda deportation policy

Overview of the Rwanda deportation policy

On the 14 of April the British Government announced collaboration with Rwanda for a new Migration and Economic Development Partnership to redress the imbalance between illegal and legal migration routes.

This collaboration means those travelling to the UK from Ukraine via problematic and illegal methods and routes will be considered for relocation to Rwanda, whereby their asylum claim can be processed. However, the plan also includes consideration for any person who has arrived in the UK in this way since the 1 of January 2022. Under no circumstance will they be given the opportunity to return to the UK at any stage – rather, if rejected, they will be offered the chance to stay in Rwanda, or to return to their home country.

Under this plan, those considered for relocation will be provided with the appropriate legal advice on how to go forward, as well as a seemingly generous support package, including safe accommodation, food, healthcare provision and amenities. To further aid the legal advice provided, those seeking asylum will have full access to translators in order to support court decisions and appeals. This strategic alliance forms part of a suite of measures under the New Plan for Immigration. Sky News has compared the plan to immigration policies in Australia, Israel and Denmark.

The UK is providing substantial investment to boost the development of Rwanda, including jobs, skills and opportunities to benefit both migrants and host communities. This includes an initial investment of £120 million as part of a new Economic Transformation and Integration Fund. However, that doesn’t explain why Rwanda is the chosen one.

Rwanda is a State Party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the seven core UN Human Rights Conventions. It is also recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants, including over 500 people evacuated from Libya under the EU’s Emergency Transit Mechanism working in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency, and 30,000 Burundian refugees.

This plan has apparent advantages. The agreement supports those in immediate and serious need of peace and safety, as well as providing stability and the structural opportunity and means to rebuild a safer life. Further, it disrupts the opportunity for organised gang crime, predominantly crimes relating to smuggling. This also has the potential to enhance the UK’s relationship with Rwanda and has the potential to enhance the economic prosperity within the Rwandan region.

Despite everything being compliant with our legal and international obligations, over 160 organisations have urged the UK government to scrap this so-called ‘cruel’ plan, including Amnesty International, who have labelled it a ‘shameful abandonment’ of human rights responsibilities. Religious institutions are not an exception to this with the Methodist Church claiming the UKs response gives ‘yet another insight unto its hostile, uncompassionate and ineffective response to asylum seekers and refugees’.
However, it doesn’t stop there, opponents of this plan (the British public) have headed to court for an appeals hearing on the 13 of June amid the political backlash following reports that our Prince Charles has described the policy as outrightly “appalling”. A coalition of groups, including immigration rights advocates and unions have asked the Court of Appeal to reverse a lower court ruling allowing for the first deportation flight to go ahead.

These reactions perhaps aren’t a surprise… though, Charles’s comments could be deemed problematic due to his position as heir to the throne, and the British monarch being supposedly distant or above the political fray. The United Nations’ refugee agency has also opposed these plans. Despite this, the Home Office and Johnson’s government show no signs of ceasing or altering these plans, and movement has begun.

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Independent football regulator

Independent regulator for English football

The UK Government is supporting the creation of an independent football regulator for English football following a fan-led review.

The ‘three points of crisis’ leading to its creation were the collapse of Bury FC, the European Super League and the financial insecurity caused by COVID-19. Sports minister Nigel Huddleston formally confirmed the Government’s support for the regulator in a Commons statement with further details expected to be published in a white paper this summer.

There were 10 recommendations made on the review of the game by Tracey Crouch in November and some of the key ones were to recommend that the Premier League should make ‘additional, proportionate contributions’ to support the game through fairer distribution of money; a review of women’s football; and to consider whether the sale and consumption of alcohol in sight of the pitch should be allowed at lower levels of football.

The collapse of Bury happened after the club fell into financial problems and the English Football League (EFL) expelled them. Creditors had initially approved a company voluntary agreement to help settle the debts but this did not satisfy the EFL’s requirement to provide enough evidence for being financially stable.

Meanwhile the European Super League was a proposed breakaway league by twelve of the biggest football clubs worldwide who wanted to establish a new midweek competition to replace the current one. Proposals came as dissatisfaction with the rewards of winning the current competition, the UEFA Champions League came to fruition, but this was seen as detrimental to the game by fans and pundits alike leading to mass protests against it. The regulator seeks to stop such future proposals to protect the game and its origins as fans were extremely upset with the motivations behind the breakaway which appeared to be financial gain.

The financial impacts of COVID-19 in football would have been felt by all football clubs across the country, but particularly the ones at the lower end of the spectrum. Sponsorship and commercial revenue is a big source of income for the top clubs as well as matchday revenue, but clubs in the lower leagues have a greater dependency on matchday revenue. Consequently, the empty attendances for matches during the pandemic due to restrictive measures was a massive hit for clubs that fall into that bracket. For example, the average revenue for clubs in the Premier League is £258 million, compared to just £6m and £4m for clubs in tiers 3 and 4 for England. These clubs were hit hardest and introduced salary caps for players in an attempt to keep costs in check.

Campaign group Fair Game has backed the move for a regulator but have called for a ‘firm timetable for change’. Department for Culture, Media & Sport secretary Nadine Dorris said ‘football is nothing without its fans and for too long the football authorities have collectively been unable to tackle some of the biggest issues in the game’. The Football Supporters’ Association also urged the Government to move fast because each day drafting the white papers ‘is another day when a club might cease to exist’. The Professional Footballs’ Association added that ‘support needs to be consistently and adequately funded, and we look forward to playing a major part in establishing a system that achieves this’.

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Hinkley Point C

Nuclear power: the future of UK energy?

Nuclear power has been a hot topic in parliament lately, largely as one of the Government’s answers to how they’re responding to the energy crisis. The Conservative Party’s Energy Security Strategy, published in April, is part of the Government’s attempt to diversify the UK’s energy mix in order to build our resilience against outside shocks to the energy market. A key element of the strategy promises to reach 24GW of nuclear by 2050, which would meet 25% of the UK’s electricity demand. But to what extent can nuclear power be relied upon for energy supply, while also maintaining commitments to tackling the climate crisis?

A common battle line used by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson against the New Labour administration is their decision to turn their back on nuclear in the noughties, an allegation that Keir Starmer has responded to by asserting that the Labour line now backs new nuclear. Due to a pause in nuclear investment, most existing nuclear capacity is to be retired by the end of the decade as nuclear stations come to the end of their life. Therefore, the Government has decided to kickstart the nuclear process once more, committing to building up to eight new reactors by 2030, the first of which (Hinkley Point C) is currently under construction. This station, combined with potential developments at the Sizewell C project in Suffolk, would produce 6.5GW power. The Government is also supporting Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) which work on a smaller scale to nuclear plants. The new investment is on top of the decommissioning costs needed for end-of-life treatment.

Though it is clear from Government (and Labour) policy that nuclear holds a future in the UK’s energy mix, there are questions over whether it is wholly compatible with climate change policy. Nuclear power is heralded as a ‘clean’ energy source because it doesn’t directly produce carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, but this underestimates the large scale at which carbon emissions are produced from the construction of nuclear plants, uranium mining and manufacturing operations. Furthermore, at multiple stages of the nuclear process, large volumes of radioactive waste are produced. Without concrete, scientifically and environmentally-proven plans on nuclear waste management, fallout from nuclear power would cause long-term harm for the environment and communities. Environmentalists have been critical of the Government’s focus on emissions when discussing the climate crisis, urging them to look at the ecological system as a whole and consider the impact of solutions such as nuclear on future generations.

Instead, campaigners have been arguing for the focus to be on renewable energy, saying that sources such as wind and solar would be genuine solutions to the climate crisis, providing ‘no’ rather than ‘low-carbon’ solutions at a much smaller cost. Greenpeace said that ‘a thriving renewable energy industry will create jobs, provide cheaper electricity and help cut emissions much faster than nuclear power’ while nuclear power is ‘incredibly expensive, hazardous and slow to build’.

The Government has defended nuclear by saying they are committed to using Geological Disposal Facilities to dispose of nuclear waste (considered ‘the best long-term solution for dealing with radioactive waste’). They have also denounced renewable energy as the central option for investment, saying it would be too difficult to roll out on such a large scale, necessitating the use of nuclear power. Whilst speculation exists on both sides, what is certain is that people across the political spectrum are calling for greater investment and ambition in alternative energies, to help tackle the energy crisis in the short-term, and the climate crisis in the long-term.

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Economic Crime Manifesto is launched

Economic Crime Manifesto is launched

Rt Hon Dame Margaret Hodge MP and Kevin Hollinrake MP, Chairs of the APPG on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax and the APPG on Fair Business Banking, launched their ‘Economic Crime Manifesto’ last Thursday. The Manifesto comes as the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill was announced during the Queen’s Speech last week.

Dame Margaret Hodge noted the £290bn a year that is lost from the UK economy through ‘dirty’ money, with London as a laundromat for washing dirty cash. As the biggest financial centre in the world, the UK now has an unique opportunity to take leadership and to clean things up. Set out in the Manifesto is a cross party set of proposals with an aim to make real change.

The Manifesto calls for the Government to consider four principles for reform in its new Economic Crime Bill and beyond:

• Transparency – identify who really owns companies, trusts and assets so that law enforcement, journalists, civil society and more can readily follow the money
• Enforcement – toughen up policing agencies with enough resource to consistently enforce existing laws and deter wrongdoing
• Accountability – empower Parliament, journalists, civil society, the courts and whistle-blowers to unearth criminality and hold Government to account
• Regulation – strengthen supervision of the professions so that enablers of economic crime answer for their actions

In her speech, Dame Margaret Hodge talked in more detail about these four principles. On transparency, she argued that the Foreign Office must ensure that public registers of beneficial ownership in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are faithfully implemented by early 2023. Moreover, they want the register for overseas entities to be introduced with speed and for the UK trust register housed in HMRC to be much more transparent.

On enforcement, she noted that key national level agencies continue to suffer real term declines in budgets – the National Crime Agency has seen a real term decrease in its budget of 4.2% in the past five years, while the USA is significantly expanding capacity. She thinks the Treasury should at the very least increase spending targeted at economic crime enforcement to £300m in this Spending Review to match private sector funding raised through the economic crime levy. The Government should also establish an Economic Crime Fighting Fund with a proportion of proceeds reinvested to fight economic crime.

Kevin Hollinrake noted a lack of accountability, stating his belief that the Government should legislate to introduce new ‘failure to prevent’ offences for economic crimes that applies to both companies and senior executives. On the topic of criminal liability, during Treasury oral questions this week, Kevin Hollinrake noted that NatWest and HSBC have been hit with big fines for facilitating money laundering, and Danske Bank will probably see a fine of £2bn for £200bn of money laundering. He said this is seen not as a deterrent, but as a cost of doing business for these big banks. He asked whether the Minister agrees that the only way that we will tackle this is through criminal prosecutions both at a corporate level and of senior managers. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury John Glen mentioned that the Law Commission is undertaking an in-depth review of laws around corporate criminal liability for economic crime will make an announcement on this subject imminently.

On accountability, Dame Margaret Hodge suggested a new Select Committee of both Houses, which will hold agencies accountable for activities related to economic crime. Moreover, Kevin Hollinrake mentioned that most cases don’t come to light because of enforcement agencies but from whistleblowers. He added a request for the establishment of an Office for Whistleblowers to provide protection and compensation for those who speak out and uncover economic crimes.

Lastly, Dame Margaret Hodge called for smart regulation, not more regulation – recent data shows that 4 out of 5 of professional money laundering supervisors don’t have a proper system to supervise members of their professional organisation. She called for a  complete overhaul of how supervising bodies work, noting that at the moment banks fill in a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) form when there is a suspicion of activity, but in 2019/2020, there were 500,000 SAR forms filed yet the NCAs Financial Intelligence Unit only has 118 employees to scrutinise them.

To conclude, Kevin Hollinrake stated that ‘one of the real opportunities with where we are today is that this is right in the viewfinder of Government because of what has changed in Ukraine’. When asked about the possibility of vested interests preventing the manifesto’s measures from being implemented, Kevin said that while vested interests are still there, and there will be a pushback, there is a better mood within Government than ever before. Dame Margaret Hodge noted they are building a strong cross party coalition and are getting more and more confident they will build a strong consensus.

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Bricks being laid ahead of the Queen's Speech

Which housing bills could be in the Queen’s Speech?

Six bills were passed last week ahead of prorogation – the end of the parliamentary session, which brings nearly all parliamentary business including most bills and all motions and parliamentary questions to a halt.

These six bills include the Building Safety Bill – now the Building Safety Act – which lays out the Government’s attempt to overcome the building safety crisis following the Grenfell tragedy in 2017. It has faced opposition from peers in recent months but received Royal Assent just before the end of the parliamentary session, on 28 April.

The Act details how leaseholders caught up in the crisis will be protected from paying for repairs to the buildings where they live. Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove recently announced a mechanism for property developers to pay up to £5bn to cover the costs of remediating cladding in buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres in height, as well as a building safety pledge to force developers to carry out works. But campaigners have warned the new legislation does not go far enough. Lib Dem Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson Baroness Pinnock told the Lords that the Bill’s passage through the House was a ‘shattering defeat’. The UK Cladding Action Group have said that its next steps ‘will be to look at the secondary legislation and lobbying to make sure that it comes with protections for leaseholders’.

The beginning of the next parliamentary session begins on 10 May, with the Queen delivering a speech to Parliament to outline the Government’s plans for the coming year. It is an important year as it is likely to be the last year major legislation is taken forward before the next general election, expected in 2024. Written by Government ministers, the speech details a list of Bills – but not everything announced in it is guaranteed to become law. The Prime Minister brings the list of Bills to the attention of MPs before the Leader of the Opposition has the chance to respond, and then in turn all other MPs.

It had been expected that the Planning Bill which was announced in the 2021 Queen’s Speech may be taken forward into the new session, however, several newspapers have suggested that planning reform will not be addressed through standalone legislation due to back bench Tory and opposition MPs’ concerns that the proposals in the Planning Bill would mean less elected councillor scrutiny over individual planning applications and less public involvement in the planning process. Some measures on planning reform will instead feature in a new Levelling Up Bill.

Potential subjects of legislation for the 2022-23 session include social housing regulation. The Government’s Levelling Up White Paper features a commitment to delivering the proposed measures in the Social Housing White Paper to bring forward a Social Housing Regulation Bill. Giving evidence to the House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee in February 2022, Michael Gove said that the Government hoped to introduce the Bill in either May or June 2022.

Another potential subject is leasehold and commonhold reform. On 11 January 2021, the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick stated that leasehold reform would be carried out through two pieces of legislation.

The first piece of legislation, the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill, gained royal assent on 8 February 2022. The act sets future ground rents to zero, and, when in force, will apply only to new lease agreements. Retirement properties are also in scope of the act.

During the Bill’s Committee stage in the House of Lords in June 2021, the Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Lord Greenhalgh said that the Government aimed to pursue a ‘second tranche of reforms’ in the third session of this Parliament.

The Government has previously suggested that this may include:

  • Reforming the process of enfranchisement valuation that leaseholds must follow to calculate the cost of extending a lease or buying their freehold
  • Abolishing marriage value
  • Capping the treatment of ground rents at 0.1% of the freehold value and prescribing rates for the calculations at market value
  • Introducing an online calculator to ‘further [simplify] the process for leaseholds and ensuring standardisation and fairness for all those looking to enfranchise’
  • Retaining existing discounts for improvements made by the leaseholder and security of tenure, alongside a separate valuation methodology for low-value properties known as ‘section 9(1)’
  • Giving leaseholders of all types of property the same right to extend their lease ‘as often as they wish’, at zero ground rent, for a term of 990 years
  • Allowing continuation of redevelopment breaks during the last year of the original lease or the last five years of each period of 90 years of the extension, subject to existing safeguards and compensation
  • Enabling leaseholders, where they already have a long lease, to buy out the ground rent without the need to extend the term of the lease
Financial Services Queen's Speech Bill Act

Ahead of the Queen’s Speech: Financial services and possible legislation

A Financial Services Bill – now the Financial Services Act 2021 – was introduced in the 2019–21 session and received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021. It contained a range of measures, including some related to Brexit following the end of the transition period and some aimed at making other improvements to the regulatory framework. At the time, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Glen mentioned the Bill was ‘an important first step in taking control of our financial services legislation’ but that a more ‘fundamental review’ of our financial services regulatory framework is needed.

Back in February 2022, the Financial Times reported that a Financial Services Bill is expected in the upcoming Queen’s Speech, which would ‘set out a regulatory framework for the City’. During an European Scrutiny Committee oral evidence session, Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency, Jacob Rees-Mogg also confirmed there would be a Financial Services Bill, to replace some retained EU law provisions.

The Government’s Financial Services Bill is likely to include a new Future Regulatory Framework. The Treasury launched in October 2020 a consultation on the Future Regulatory Framework, to determine how financial services regulation needs to adapt to be ‘fit for the future’. This was followed by a further consultation (which closed in February 2022) on its proposals, including giving regulators a greater focus on growth and competitiveness by introducing them as new secondary objectives for the regulators. In an article in The Times, member of the Treasury Committee and chair of the Fair Business Banking APPG Kevin Hollinrake, noted that ‘asking regulators to focus on industry competitiveness risks sowing the seeds of another financial crisis.’

There are a number of financial services regulatory reforms that have been highlighted as areas for possible legislation either individually, or within a wider Financial Services Bill:

  • Insurance capital requirements. In February 2022, the Government announced reforms to the ‘solvency II’ rules that govern capital requirements for insurance companies. A consultation opened in April 2022.
  • Access to cash. In the 2020 Budget, the Government announced it would legislate ‘to protect access to cash and ensure that the UK’s cash infrastructure is sustainable in the long-term’. The Treasury published a consultation document on access to cash on 1 July 2021, setting out its proposals. It is most likely that any such legislation would be part of a wider Financial Services Bill.
  • Insolvency arrangements for insurers. The Government consulted on reforms to insolvency arrangements for insurers. The response said the Government would continue to consult with relevant bodies and would legislate for reforms ‘when parliamentary time allows’.
  • Regulatory regime for wholesale markets. In 2021, the Government consulted on reforms to the regime. In its response, the Government proposed reforms that it said would create a ‘simpler and less prescriptive’ regime now that the UK has left the EU, while maintaining or improving regulatory outcomes.
  • Credit unions. In the March 2020 Budget, the Government said that it would bring forward legislation allowing credit unions to offer a wider range of products and services.
  • Regulation of stablecoins and cryptoassets. In April 2022, following a consultation in 2021, the Government stated that it intended to legislate to bring certain ‘stablecoins’ within the scope of regulation. A separate consultation on financial promotions for cryptoassets such as bitcoin concluded that regulations to reduce consumer risks would be introduced through secondary legislation.
  • Open finance and smart data. The FCA issued a ‘call for input’ on the wider possibilities of open finance in December 2019 and published a feedback statement in March 2021. The Government has also consulted in the area of ‘smart data’, publishing a response in September 2020. It said the Government would introduce primary legislation to mandate participation in smart data initiatives when time allows.

Check out the other Queen’s Speech speculation posts here. 

Health and Care Act

Health and Care Act 2022

The Health and Care Bill achieved Royal Assent on Thursday (28 April), becoming the Health and Care Act 2022. The legislation will bring forward the largest reform seen by the sector in a decade. The Bill was first announced as the Government’s Integration and Innovation White Paper in February 2021 and introduced to Parliament in July that same year.

The reforms, which will see wide ranging organisational restructure to the health and care system, has three key aims: to ensure a focus on prevention, to deliver more personalised care and to improve overall healthcare performance.

A key change that the legislation will bring forward is the introduction of statutory Integrated Care Systems (ICSs). From July, it is expected that all of England will be covered by an ICS. These will aim to bring together NHS services, local government and wider system partners including the third sector to improve collaboration within healthcare planning. The Act will also implement improvements to patient safety and improve practices by establishing the Health Services Safety Investigations Body, an independent public body which will investigate incidents.

On public health, the Act introduces regulation on food and drink advertising by restricting the advertising of less healthy food or drink on TV. A 9pm watershed has been introduced, and a restriction on paid-for advertising of less healthy food or drink online. This policy was announced in the Government’s 2020 Obesity Strategy. The Act will also introduce new powers for the Secretary of State on the reconfiguration arrangements of local health services.

The Act also provides details on funding arrangements for personal care costs. Last September the Government announced its plans for a cap on personal care costs, so that people in England will not spend more than £86,000 on their personal care over their lifetime. In November, Health Secretary Sajid Javid added a clause to the Health and Care Bill which stipulates that the money paid by a local authority (means-tested support) towards meeting a person’s eligible care needs will not count towards the cap. The funding arrangements proved controversial as stakeholders, including the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and the Health Foundation, raised concerns that the new arrangements would benefit those with more assets who would see a smaller percentage of their overall wealth spent on care, compared to those with more modest assets. Despite efforts by the House of Lords to remove this Clause the Bill, it has been added to law.

This was not the only contentious part of the Bill. Parliamentarians in both Houses sought to improve the Bills provision on workforce planning. An amendment first introduced by Health and Social Care Committee Chair, and former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, would have ensured that the Government independently reported on NHS workforce numbers every two years. This amendment aimed to give clarity over the current workforce pressures and had wide support from over 100 health and care stakeholders. However, the amendment did not have Government support and despite being briefly added to the Bill during the House of Lords after it was picked up again by Baroness Cumberlege, it was ultimately removed during the ‘ping- pong’ stage of the Bill.

The passing of the Act has received mixed response. NHS Providers said that the lack of workforce planning in the Act is the ‘biggest, unwelcome, legacy of this act’ but overall welcomed many parts of the reforms including putting ICS on a statutory footing which it hopes will improve the ability of leaders to make significant improvements to the physical and mental health of their communities.

Focusing on health services, the Health Foundation also raised concern that the Act will not address the ‘existential threat’ of current staff shortages. It also suggests that gapping holes remain in the legislation, meaning that the reforms will not be able to address the backlog of unmet need, or growing pressures on services.

Many organisations have welcomed the Act’s provision on public health, including the Obesity Health Alliance which said the 9pm advertisement restriction is ‘great news for children’s health’. Cancer Research UK also said the new advertising laws will help tackle obesity levels among children and address widening inequalities.

For a weekly overview of the latest news from the political and public affairs sectors, sign up for the Friday Point of Order newsletter

Government broadcast white paper

Government shares what’s next for the broadcasting sector

The Government has published the long-awaited broadcasting white paper: ‘Up next – the Government’s vision for the broadcasting sector’, addressing several of the announcements from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the last year such as the privatisation of Channel 4 and the end of the BBC TV license fee.

In keeping with the Secretary of State’s engagement with the press on these issues, Nadine Dorries spoke to The Spectator on her vision for the sector, confirming that decisions on the license fee will be taken ‘well ahead of the Charter renewal in 2027’. She noted these policies have been in the ether for years and stated that ‘over a long period of time, not a huge amount had been delivered from my department’.

On the license fee model, the white paper stated there were ‘clear challenges on the horizon to the sustainability of the license fee’ and that controversial criminal sanctions for non-payment were ‘disproportionate and unfair’. In response, the BBC welcomed ‘the steps to secure the ongoing success of public service broadcasters’ and said it ‘looks forward to engaging with the Government on both the forthcoming mid-term review and then the national debate on the next Charter’.

Up Next detailed how new legislation will ensure broadcaster content is accessible on connected devices and online platforms. Streaming services will be required to feature them and PSBs will share the content, with the Government consulting on this. On demand services will also be brought into Ofcom’s Broadcasting code to protect viewers from harmful material including unchallenged health claims. Among other changes, DCMS stated the broadcasting remit will be overhauled, with a new definition on what it means to be a public service broadcaster (PSB) with a focus on creating shows that reflect British culture and support domestic film and TV production in all parts of the country. The Government also stated that only PSBs will be able to secure rights to major sporting events such as FIFA and Wimbledon.

The privatisation of Channel 4 was confirmed in the policy document, despite 96% of responses to the Government consultation stating they did not agree that there are ‘challenges in the current TV broadcasting market’. Under the new plans, the channel will be able to produce and sell its own content as a private entity but will still be required to commission a certain amount of content from independent producers. DCMS has also reinforced the expectation that Channel 4 continues to provide distinctive and experimental programming and said the proceeds of the channel’s sale will be used to set up a ‘creative dividend’ for the sector. In a statement, Channel 4 said it remained committed to upholding and maximising its remit and public service purpose.

Up Next set out Government plans to:
• Freeze the price of the TV license for two years.
• Increase the BBC’s commercial borrowing limit from £350m to £750m.
• Pursue a change of ownership of Channel 4.
• Make the importance of programmes broadcast in the UK’s indigenous regional and minority languages clear in legislation by including it in the new public service remit for television.
• Update S4C’s public service remit to include digital and online services and remove the current geographical broadcasting restrictions. The Government will also legislate to support S4C and the BBC in moving away from the current framework requiring the BBC to provide S4C with a specific number of hours of television programming.
• Replace the fourteen overlapping ‘purposes’ and ‘objectives’ that public service broadcasters must contribute to with a new, shorter remit. PSBs will be accountable for the extent of their contributions.
• Introduce a new prominence regime for on-demand television, with Ofcom being given the new enforcement powers.
• Make changes to the local TV licensing regime to enable the extension of the local TV multiplex licence until 2034 and subject to the same conditions that apply to the national digital terrestrial television (DTT) multiplexes. The Government will consult on the options for the renewal or relicensing of individual local television services at the same time.
• Protect the UK’s terms of trade regime while updating it to reflect changes in technology. The Government will also consider whether there is a need to extend aspects of this regime to radio and audio producers responsible for programming for the BBC.
• Designating additional regulated electronic programme guides to bring internet-delivered services within the scope of Ofcom.

The paper also set out the Government’s vision for the future of broadcasting which included:
• Carrying out a review of the license fee funding model ahead of the next charter period.
• Long-term commitments to support cross-border broadcasting on the island of Ireland including funding for the Northern Ireland digital terrestrial television multiplex.
• Consulting on embedding the importance of distinctively British content directly into the existing quota system.
• Looking at making qualification for the listed events regime a benefit specific to public service broadcasters. There will also be a review looking into whether the scope of the listed events regime should be extended to include digital rights.
• Conducting an evaluation of the contestable fund pilot. This will include considering the lessons in determining whether a contestable fund model would provide additional value to the breadth and availability of UK produced public service content.
• Initiating a review looking at whether to introduce a revenue cap for ‘qualifying independent’ producer status.
• Supporting the British Film Commission to facilitate the growth of seven geographic production hubs, including one in each nation, and numerous new studio developments.
• Consulting in early 2023 on new proposals to champion the community radio sector and, where necessary, bringing forward changes to licensing requirements through amendments to the Community Radio Order 2004.
• Exploring ways to support UK broadcasters through possible changes in the wider advertising ecosystem. The Government intends to consider how to create a level playing field between broadcast and online advertising through the Online Advertising Programme.
• Ensuring that the UK’s trade policy complements and protects the UK’s audio visual public policy framework, including maintaining membership of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Transfrontier Television.
• Establishing a pro-competition regime in digital markets.
• Developing legislative proposals with Ofcom to address the divergence in provision of access services between broadcast and on-demand services.
• Enabling the long-term renewal of DTT multiplex licences through to 2034.

The sector had a mixed response to the white paper:

WGGB The Writers’ Union
The WGGB stated they remain concerned about the Government’s plan to push ahead with ‘its unnecessary and controversial plans to privatise Channel 4, freeze the BBC License Fee and review its funding model’. They went on to say that these, and other proposals, will have a devastating impact on creative workers, the creative industry and the wider UK economy.

Radiocentre expressed disappointment from the DCMS Digital Radio and Audio review, and the joint representations that the BBC and the commercial radio sector have made asking for radio to be protected from tech platforms have been ignored by Government. They went on to say they’re disappointed the Government recognises the importance of legislation for television but not for radio, putting the radio industry at a disadvantage.

A spokesperson for ITV said: ‘We welcome the Government’s recognition of the huge value the PSBs deliver to the UK and it’s decision to introduce a Media Bill to deliver the necessary reforms to ensure PSBs can continue to thrive’.

Streaming giant Netflix reiterated that they are ‘supportive of measures to update the legal framework and bring [our] service in the UK under Ofcom’s jurisdiction’.

Media Reform Coalition
The Media Reform Coalition referred to the plans in the white paper as a ‘spiteful and ideological move’ that ‘does nothing to confront the…lack of representativeness, adventure, risk-taking, accountability and plurality’ at the heart of the UK media system. They went on to say that the privatisation of Channel 4 will not address the issues of commissioning being skewed towards larger media companies and the relative lack of investment in content production outside of London, stating that it will do the opposite.

Dyfrig Davies, Chairman of TAC which represents independent television production in Wales, welcomed the white paper’s recommendations on S4C’s future but said that removing Channel 4’s status as a publisher-broadcaster is ‘worrying’. They also noted the decision to revise the remit of Public Service Broadcasting and look forward to engaging on that over the coming months.

In response to the reforms, Head of Bectu Philippa Childs commented: ‘The government’s plans are big on rhetoric but light on detail, particularly regarding creating more jobs and fostering continued growth for the UK’s thriving independent production sector. The UK’s much-loved public service broadcasters bring so much to the media landscape, and we need robust plans and legislation to protect and nurture their unique offering’.

For more news from the political and public affairs sector, sign up to Vuelio’s Friday newsletter Point of Order.

Government Schools White Paper

Opportunity for all? Reaction to the latest Department for Education’s policy paper

Yesterday the Department for Education released the policy paper ‘Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child’, the first Schools White Paper since 2016. The Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi tied the paper to the Government’s levelling up strategy in his statement, calling it ‘levelling up in action’.

Mentions of standardising children’s experience of school was mentioned throughout the paper, particularly in relation to good teaching and the of school’s provision through the commitment to a minimum 32.5 hours a week. However, some stakeholders found the paper ‘lacking in ambition’ and ability to address schools funding problems, while others agreed reform was necessary as the current school system is ‘messy and confusing’.

Stakeholder reaction to key policies:

1) Academisation
As predicted by the sector, the white paper led with a commitment for all schools to belong to a Multi-Academy Trust or be in the process of joining one by 2030. The NEU stated the white paper is a ‘message that the education of the future will be a souped-up version of what we have seen over the last decade’ and that the ‘reliance on multi-academy trusts is simply not evidence-led.’ General Secretary Dr Mary Bousted also quoted last week’s public accounts committee report which suggested the existing system ‘lacked transparency and accountability’. Natalie Perera, Chief Executive of the Education Policy Institute, said that it was clear from their research ‘academisation is no “silver bullet” for improving school performance and there may simply not be enough capacity to absorb thousands of schools into higher performing MATs. The white paper does, however, allow local authorities to create their own trusts where provision is not suitably established, although the Green Party stated there is no evidence that academies raise standards overall.

2) English and Maths standards
‘Opportunity for All’ contained two commitments to standards of attainment. The parent pledge was a commitment from Government for 90% of primary school children to achieve the expected standards in Key Stage 2 reading, writing and maths by 2030. A second central ambition was to see the national average GCSE grade in both English language and maths increase from 4.5 to 5 by 2030. The Sutton Trust commented that ‘literacy and numeracy are the building blocks of a world class education, so the Government is right to make them the priority’. However, they also stated that this is a ‘tall order’ and that ‘it is extremely difficult for young people to catch up once they have fallen behind’. The Association of School and College Leaders commented that although improving English and maths is a laudable ambition, ‘there is little recognition of the wider societal factors which affect those outcomes’.

3) Mental Health Support
The Schools White Paper didn’t feature many new announcements for mental health support, which has been a key concern since the pandemic, but it did promise to accelerate the introduction of mental health support teams into schools. Several MPs, including Steve Brine, Neil Hudson and the Shadow Secretary for Education Bridget Phillipson, mentioned the issue, pointing to constituency issues like access to support services, following Nadhim Zahawi’s statement to the House.

4) Teacher recruitment and retention
The opportunity for all paper stated that at the heart if its ambitions is the need for an excellent teacher for every child. As well as restating the manifesto promise that teacher’s starting salaries would be raised to £30,000, the paper outlined an incentive to work in disadvantaged areas and specific incentives around maths, physics, chemistry, and computing teachers, in the beginning of their careers. However, the NASUWT stated this focus on retention was ironic given the profession ‘has seen their pay cut by 19% in real terms over the last 10 years’. Teach First welcomed the incentives but stated that it ‘remains unclear how schools – particularly those serving disadvantaged communities – can achieve those goals with the current level of financial support’.

5) Extending the school day
Extending the school day has been an ongoing conversation in Parliament since the pandemic and the white paper has in part addressed this by introducing a minimum expectation of 32.5 hours a week for mainstream state funded schools. Schools must meet this expectation by 2023 at the latest. Although this falls short of extending the school day, a passion project of Education Committee chair Robert Halfon, it should go some way to addressing inequality in educational offer, although it doesn’t apply to public schools or specialist provision.

In his response to the white paper, Halfon stated: ‘It is my hope that this will mean pupils up and down the country will have more time to catch up on their lost learning from the pandemic, and to also develop their skills’, in reference to the paper’s assertion that as ‘part of a richer school week, all children should be entitled to take part in sport, music and cultural opportunities’ as part of a ‘broad and ambitious curriculum. However, as noted by the Education Policy Institute, ‘the 32.5 hour school week, which amounts to a 9am – 3.30pm day, will not make much difference to most children. Moreover, Impetus commented that although they found variation in week length from school to school, there wasn’t much of a link between this and outcomes.

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

Conversion Therapy what would a ban look like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rishi Sunak

Cost of living crisis dominates the Spring Statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC license fee

Looking behind the abolishment of the BBC license fee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Referendum in Scotland

The state of Unionist Politics in Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Household bills

Energy prices, fuel poverty and options ‘under discussion’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health and care policy in 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRCA Ethnicity pay gap

Report on your ethnicity pay gap, says PRCA’s Race and Ethnicity Equity Board (REEB)

Ahead of tomorrow’s Ethnicity Pay Gap Day in the UK, the PRCA’s Race and Ethnicity Equity Board (REEB) is calling for full transparency from the PR and comms industry on its ethnicity pay gap.

Open conversations about inequality with pay are long overdue – data from the 2021 PRCA UK PR Census showed the industry’s pay inequality as being at 16% – £8,084.50. Research launched this week from networking group People Like Us underlined the work that still needs to be done on pay equity, finding that the majority of PR and marcomms practitioners taking part had been denied a pay rise; 30% surveyed felt that their race, nationality, or ethnicity had negatively impacted their salary or promotional potential. Over a third of those surveyed shared that they believe white colleagues are more likely to be successful when asking for a pay rise than those from diverse backgrounds. Almost a third believe that white colleagues are more likely to receive a pay increase or promotion without having to ask.

‘Nobody should earn less because of the colour of their skin, their sexual preference, gender or anything else that isn’t related to their performance,’ said People Like Us co-founder Sheeraz Gulsher. ‘Salary and job progression should be based on merit, but the data here makes it patently clear that currently, they aren’t.

‘Organisations need to get better at identifying pay gaps and progression bias within their companies because without understanding the issue, you can’t fix it.’

To aid organisations to track and fix their ethnicity pay gaps, PRCA’s REEB is urging decision makers to make use of its Ethnicity Pay Gap Guide, featuring advice on reporting as well as how to improve on disclosure.

PRCA REEB Chair Barbara Phillips FPRCA said:

‘The PR and comms industry is in rude health. We are making a great recovery. According to reliable sources including the PRCA, we have regained previous high levels of client confidence and can get back to the business of exploring creative ways for clients to build and maintain important relationships with customers, investors, partners, and most importantly, employees who are often all of the above. We are ready to tell their new stories, that once again, will lead to a mutually lucrative ending. And while we all pour ourselves excitedly into 2022 with anticipation – my outpourings (and those of anyone who looks anything like me) will be worth around £8K less a year than my white counterpart on average. The basis of the gap? My ethnicity. That’s it.

‘In October 2020, REEB launched an ethnicity pay gap guide. It’s free, and it’s readily available to use, should you choose to pay your Black, Asian, and non-white team members the same pay you find for their white peers in identical roles. This action even has its own day – 8 January, Ethnicity Pay Gap day! But I’m sure closing your EPG was already a top 2022 priority. Right?’

Find out more and download the Ethnicity Pay Gap Guide from PRCA’s Race and Ethnicity Equity Board and read our previous interview with Barbara Phillips on the formation of the Board and its work here.

Challenges and triumphs of 2021 in comms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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