Budget speculation Housing

Budget 2021 Speculation: Housing

In the run up to next month’s Budget, housing industry bodies have been leading numerous campaigns – from protecting leaseholders from cladding costs, to extending various tax cuts, to accelerating the decarbonisation of buildings.

Here are six policies that could be included in the Chancellor’s statement.

1. Stamp Duty holiday extension
Many in the housing sector are calling for the six-month Stamp Duty holiday to be extended beyond the current 31 March expiry date. Both buyers and sellers have called for an extension to the six-month tax break, introduced to support the property market during the pandemic. Experts have predicted that the end of the scheme could see house prices decrease significantly. Other than setting the end of the Stamp Duty holiday to another date, the Chancellor could choose to introduce exemptions for buyers already at a certain stage along the process, or permanently maintain the threshold for eligibility at properties over £500,000.

2. Property tax
There have been reports that Stamp Duty could be scrapped altogether, along with council tax, to be replaced with a new property value tax. This could appear in the form of a proportional property tax – a levy that homeowners would have to pay each year on the value of their property. For landlords with more than one residential property, the tax would apply for each property owned. There have been suggestions that the money raised from the levy could be split between the Treasury and the local authority.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has already announced that developers seeking permission to develop certain high-rise buildings in England will have to pay a ‘Gateway 2’ developer levy. In addition to this, a new tax will be introduced for the UK residential property development sector, expected to raise at least £2bn over a decade to go towards cladding remediation costs. Details of this will be the subject of a consultation paper, which could be put forward at the Budget.

3. Domestic reverse charge
The ‘domestic reverse charge’ change means companies in the construction supply chain will no longer receive their 20% VAT payment when they submit bills. The VAT cash will instead be paid direct to HMRC by the customer receiving the service, who will reclaim it in the normal way.

Despite the changes coming into effect on 1 March, industry bodies, such as the Construction Leadership Council and the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) are hoping for a last-minute change of plan ahead of the Budget, warning that more than 150,000 construction companies will experience a 20% drop in cash flow as a result. In a letter to the Chancellor, Chairman of the Construction Leadership Council Andy Mitchell argued that the policy ‘risks reversing any recovery industry has made from Covid-19 and will limit the scope for protecting and creating jobs across the UK’. An Early Day Motion expressing concern over the Treasury’s decision to go ahead with the policy was tabled last week by SNP MP Kirsten Oswald.

4. National Retrofit Strategy
There have been numerous calls from industry bodies, including the National Housing Federation and the FMB, for a National Retrofit Strategy. Decarbonising homes and buildings is a vital step in achieving net zero emissions by 2050. In its Energy White Paper released in December, the Government said a programme for retrofitting homes to improve energy efficiency will be introduced. This could happen at the Budget.

5. Another extension to the Green Homes Grant
The Green Homes Grant has already been extended once, until March 2022, however, poor uptake of the scheme – described as complex and difficult to access – has led the Government to cut funding by £1.5bn from April. Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Philip Dunne argued that unless the scheme is further extended, it will fail to meet its ambitions.

6. Extension to the Universal Credit uplift
Universal Credit claimants have been receiving a weekly £20 rise during the coronavirus pandemic. The Government is under increased pressure to extend the rise past 31 March, however, speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was a ‘temporary measure’ and that the Budget would set out support ‘in the round’.

Instead of extending the rise, there have been numerous reports in the media that the Chancellor is contemplating offering Universal Credit claimants a one-off payment of £500. However, this was rejected by Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey.

Vuelio Political clients will receive the Budget Summary on 3 March. 

Healthcare

Health and care system reform

The Government laid out wide ranging reform of the health and care system yesterday. The White Paper ‘Integration and Innovation’, marks a structural shift away from the coalition Government reforms of 2012, and sets out ambitious legislative proposals for a new Health and Care Bill. 

The main aims of the proposals are to integrate healthcare systems, reduce bureaucracy and strengthen accountability in the sector. Announcing the plans, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘Even before the pandemic, it was clear that reform was needed to update the law, to improve how the NHS operates and to reduce bureaucracy… All parts of the system told us that they want to embrace modern technology, to innovate, to join up, to share data, to serve people and, ultimately, to be trusted to get on and do all that so that they can improve patient care and save lives.’

The plans propose that Integrated Care Systems (ICS) are rolled out across the country, bringing together NHS organisations, local government and wider partners at a system level. In order to increase collaboration, bureaucracy will be reduced and there will be greater flexibility for the workforce with increased data sharing mechanisms. Aiming to improve accountability and public confidence, the Secretary of State will have greater powers of intervention, including over a newly merged NHS England and NHS Improvement organisation.

Response to the proposals is mixed; although plans to integrate the healthcare system are largely positive, there is some concern over moving power away from NHS England to central Government. Additionally, with the health system still battling an acute wave of the coronavirus pandemic, some are concerned that now is simply not the right time for reform.

Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary Johnathan Ashworth welcomed integration plans, but asked for greater clarity on how the new structures will be governed. He called the decision to give more control to the Government a ‘power grab’ and suggested that changes to competition rules would leave the door open for ‘institutionalised cronyism at the top’.

NHS Providers suggested that the proposals provide an ‘important opportunity to speed up the move to integrate health and care at a local level’, but called for greater detail on the Secretary of State’s new powers over NHS England.

NHS Confederation called the reforms ‘vital for improving patient care’ after the 2012 reforms have ‘largely failed’.

Lou Patten, CEO of NHS Clinical Commissioners and NHS Confederation ICS Lead, called the decision to establish ICSs across the country a ‘logical step’ to build on the progress seen from the past few years. He called for greater detail on how the new systems will be governed, highlighting that retaining the expertise of senior staff throughout the restructuring process is essential.

Alzheimer’s Society said that with the pandemic exposing how ‘truly broken’ the social care system is, greater integration between health and social care is a ‘good step forward’. It argued that any reforms should come in conjunction to a social care system ‘overhaul’.

The Health Foundation also welcomed the decision to increase collaboration between services, suggesting that the proposals could bring ‘real benefits’. However, it argues that with the NHS facing huge challenges due the pandemic and rising waiting lists, a reorganisation of the health system could cause ‘distraction and disruption’. Furthermore, the decision to increase Government power is ‘politically driven’, it argued that ‘the Government’s handling of Covid-19 is no advert for more ministerial intervention in the health system’.

The King’s Fund also welcomed greater collaboration across the heath and care sector. Richard Murray, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, said: ‘These new plans could give the NHS and its partners greater flexibility to deliver joined-up care to the increasing numbers of people who rely on multiple different services.’

However, it worries that under the new proposals, the day-to-day clinical and operational independence of the NHS will be diminished, and argued that devolving greater power to NHS England was one of the ‘successes’ of past reforms.

In a similar vein, the Institute for Government’s Nicholas Timmins has said greater ministerial control ‘threatens to take the NHS back to the wrong sort of future’. He suggests it could lead a ‘constant chopping and changing of goals’ and less public pressure from within NHS England, which would ultimately be to the detriment of long term performance.

Vuelio Political clients received their copy of the white paper summary yesterday. Find out more about our political products and services.

Weekly Health Summary

Covid-19: Weekly Health Summary – 11 February

The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

Efforts to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine have continued, with the latest figures showing that 13,058,298 have had their first dose.

Close to meeting the Government’s 15 February target of offering the vaccine to everyone 70 and over, to all frontline NHS and care staff, to older care home residents and to all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for everyone who hasn’t had a vaccine, but is eligible, to book a appointment and take up the offer.

He also said that, if we can keep the pace and supplies of vaccines up, the Government hopes to reach everyone in cohorts one to nine, which would include all those over 50, by the end of April. He said that it is vital that the public takes up their offer of a vaccine ‘to save lives, prevent serious illness, and so the whole country can take another step on a long and hard road back to normality.’

New measures have been brought in at the border to increase the country’s security against new variants of concern arriving from abroad. As well as having to take a predeparture test, and quarantine for 10 days upon arrival, all international arrivals, will soon be required by law to take further PCR tests on day two and day eight of that quarantine.

From Monday, those arriving from ‘red list’ countries will have to stay in an assigned hotel room for 10 days from the time of arrival and carry out their quarantine there. The new measures have come with strict enforcement plans, including a £5,000 fixed penalty notice, rising to £10,000, for arrivals who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel, and for anyone who lies on a passenger locator form and tries to conceal that they’ve been in red-list country in the 10 days before arrival will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Announcing the new measures, Health and Social Care Secretary said: ‘Our fight against this virus has many fronts. And just as we’re attacking this virus through our vaccination programme, which is protecting more people each day, we’re buttressing our defences through these vital measures so we can protect the progress that we’ve worked together so hard to accomplish.’

Office for National Statistics figures published this week showed that the number of deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 29 January was 18,448; this was 228 fewer deaths than in the previous week. The number of deaths was 44.6% above the five-year average.

Responding to the figures, Dr Layla McCay, director at the NHS Confederation, said: ‘These figures are a clear reminder of the heavy human cost of the Covid-19 crisis. This is still a very real emergency, with more than 112,000 lives tragically lost to the virus across the UK, and nearly 30,000 people in hospital with Covid-19 – more than at the height of the first peak last spring.’

Nuffield Trust said the figures show the ‘harsh reality of the second wave’, adding: ‘It is striking how long and widespread the impact of the second wave has been. In all regions, the number of deaths recorded has been above the five-year average for 12 weeks running. The lasting impact on families and carers after this long period cannot be underestimated.’

Finally, a report by the Public Accounts Committee on supply and procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) published this week argued that front line health workers were left ‘risking lives to provide treatment and care’. It said that an ‘inadequate’ pandemic plan and equipment stockpile left frontline workers having to care for people with Covid-19 or suspected Covid-19 without sufficient PPE to protect themselves from infection.

Surveys by staff representative organisations showed at least 30% of participating care workers, doctors and nurses reported having insufficient PPE, even in high-risk settings. PPE from central government was sometimes not usable and the Government’s emergency helplines referred them to suppliers that did not have PPE.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has welcomed the Committee’s recommendation that the Government improve its approach to managing and distributing stocks of PPE. BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The Government needs to listen to the experiences of doctors, of all health and social care workers, understand the life-threatening risks they had to take to care for their patients and then, do everything possible to make sure no healthcare worker is ever put at risk in this way again.’

NHS Providers said the Committee report highlights the difficulty in accessing PPE supply in the early pandemic stages: ‘PPE supplies are now much improved, including in social care settings, where the situation was worst. UK manufacturing efforts have been successful, and it is important that these continue to ensure sustainability of future supplies.’ It argued that ensuring staff have the right equipment to do their jobs safely is an ‘absolute priority’.

 

Weekly Economy Summary

COVID-19: Weekly Economy Summary – 11 February

The Economy Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

This week, the Government announced that businesses that took out Government-backed Bounce Back Loans to get through Covid-19 will now have greater flexibility to repay them.

The Treasury’s Pay as You Grow repayment flexibilities enable borrowers to tailor their repayment schedule, with the option to extend the length of their loans from six to ten years (reducing monthly repayments by almost half), make interest-only payments for six months or pause repayments for up to six months. They can also delay all repayments for a further six months, meaning businesses can choose to make no payments on their loans until 18 months after they originally took them out.

Pay as You Grow will be available to more than 1.4m businesses that took out a total of nearly £45bn through the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.

The resurgence of Covid-19 has led to a downward revision in forecasts of UK economic growth in 2021, made by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), from 5.9% to 3.4%.

In NIESR’s main-case forecast scenario, unemployment is expected to rise significantly following the end of job schemes in April, reaching 7.5% or 2.5m people by the end of the year. The report warns against Covid support being withdrawn prematurely and calls on the Chancellor to announce policies to support the labour market beyond April.

Similarly, Labour warned that businesses face a bombshell in April of more than £50bn, which will cost jobs and blow a massive hole in the recovery, as rates holidays, tax deferrals, VAT cuts, the furlough scheme and other Government support packages are due to end. On a similar note, IPPR published new analysis which concludes that more than half a million UK employers are at risk of collapse in the spring without the extension of business support, as cash reserves fall ‘perilously low’.

Resolution Foundation agrees with the extension of current support but also goes further, urging the Chancellor to introduce targeted grants for firms in the sectors most affected. Similarly, the Institute of Directors’ Budget submission calls for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to put entrepreneurs at the heart of his Budget and deliver a ‘shot in the arm’ through a stimulus package to unleash investment in start-ups alongside measures for the millions of owner-directors who have been without significant financial support for almost a year.

Members of the Work and Pensions Committee argued that the Chancellor must maintain for another year ‘at the very least’ the £20 per week increase in Universal Credit (UC) and Working Tax Credit introduced to support families during the coronavirus pandemic. The report warns that removing the payment as planned in April, while the effects of the pandemic are still being felt, would ‘plunge hundreds of thousands of households, including children, into poverty’ while dragging those already in poverty ‘down into destitution’.

While the Committee recognises that continuing with the increase would come at a ‘substantial cost’, it argues that this should be seen in the context of the Treasury’s own £280bn figure for total spending on coronavirus support measures this year.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated that keeping the £20 rise would cost around £6.4bn in the next financial year. Similarly, in a new Women and Equalities committee report, committee members have issued 20 recommendations for the Government to tackle the gendered economic impact of coronavirus, including maintaining the £20 increase to Universal Credit.

Weekly Economy Summary

COVID-19: Weekly Economy Summary – 4 February

The Economy Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

It has been reported that proposals to support the economic recovery will be published in the week of 22 February, alongside a ‘road map’ out of the current Covid-19 lockdown in England.

In a letter to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warned that the current lack of clarity for businesses is hindering investment. CBI has called for more details from the Government on which sectors will be allowed to reopen first and how any new tier system will work, to enable them to plan ahead. Running alongside the roadmap, CBI argued there must be clear parameters for determining what, and for how long, economic support measures remain in place. On this, the trade group UKHospitality is urging the Government to extend the current VAT cut for the hospitality sector for another 12 months, alongside a business rates holiday for 2021-22.

Rishi Sunak has been warned by the leaders of Britain’s most influential business groups and the trade union movement that he risks plunging Britain into a period of mass unemployment unless he extends the furlough scheme.

Before the upcoming budget on 3 March, both sides of industry told the Chancellor that the economy was too fragile to end the wage subsidy scheme at the end of April and that he risked undoing the efforts to protect jobs over the past year if he did so. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said Sunak should announce immediately that furlough would remain in place until the end of the year. The British Chambers of Commerce also called for an extension. It warned that the planned phased relaxation of lockdown restrictions does not mean that the problems of business are at an end.

Last Friday marked the deadline for applications to the third phase of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS). The Labour Party suggests that 2.4m self-employed people who rely on the SEISS scheme will be ‘left in the dark’ for weeks, with no announcement on the fourth grant due until the Chancellor’s 3 March Budget.

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that ‘leaving entrepreneurs in the dark about future support risks pushing even more out of business – and that will damage our recovery’. Labour also called on the Chancellor to open his support scheme for the self-employed to the 200,000 people who only have a 2019/20 tax return.

The APPG on Poverty released its report on the impact on poverty of not keeping the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and working tax credits, and of not extending the uplift to legacy and related benefits. The report references modelling carried out by Policy in Practice which found that if the uplift was withdrawn, 683,000 households, including 824,000 children, would no longer be able to afford to meet their essential needs. This number grows by 11% when the impact of the two-child limit is taken into account.

Research by Save the Children indicates that parents who received the uplift predominantly spent the money on essentials such as food, rents and bills, and items for home schooling. The APPG received multiple submissions calling for the extension of the uplift to legacy and related benefits. This was particularly pertinent as most people claiming legacy and related benefits are disabled, carers or have a long-term illness – the majority of whom fall in the poorest 10% of the population.

Similarly, according to a report by the Trussell Trust, nearly a quarter of a million parents who receive Universal Credit say they would be likely to cut back on food for their children if the £20 uplift to the benefit is removed. Over 40% of people who receive the benefit, around 2.4 million people across the UK, would be likely to cut back on food for themselves, the report reveals, and the charity forecasts a rise in the need for food banks if the £20 uplift is removed. It recommends maintaining the uplift and extending it to legacy benefits.

Weekly Health Summary

Covid-19: Weekly Health Summary – 4 February

The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

Speaking at the Downing Street Press Conference this week, England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said that the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths are on a ‘downward slope’.

This is the first time since the onset of the current wave that the numbers are being to fall, but despite this, the level of infection is still ‘incredibly high’ with the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 still above that of the first peak in April 2020. The Prime Minister suggested that by 22 February, the Government would be setting out a roadmap on restrictions including on plans to reopen schools in March.

Responding to the Press Conference, NHS Providers said it is ‘really good’ that infections are falling, but the situation for hospitals, the mental health community and ambulance services ‘remains extremely difficult’ with more than 27,000 Covid-19 patients in hospital and intensive care running at one and a half times baseline capacity. It argues that: ‘We should only loosen restrictions when we are absolutely sure we won’t risk triggering another wave of infections.’

On Wednesday, the UK recorded a further 1,322 deaths reported within 28 days of a positive test for coronavirus, bringing the total number of people who have died by this measure to 109,335, while a further 19,202 new cases were recorded.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that last week the number of deaths in care homes related to Covid-19 increased, accounting for nearly half of all deaths in care homes. Responding to the numbers, the Alzheimer’s Society has called on the Government to roll out the second dose of the Covid-19 jabs across care homes, and to provide a ‘concrete plan for safe meaningful visits to ensure people with dementia get vital contact with family carers’.

Nuffield Trust said the ONS figures represent another ‘terrible and deadly week of this relentless wave of the pandemic’. It has stressed that the level of death is ‘a long way from a typical winter’ highlighting that ‘excess deaths against the five-year average for this time of year are over 40% higher’.

Efforts to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine have continued this week with the Government reporting that more than 10 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a vaccine, including nine in 10 people aged 75 and over in England. It puts the Government in line with its Vaccines Delivery plan which aims to offer vaccines to the top four priority groups by the middle of February. It is thought that these top four groups account for 88% of COVID deaths, which is why the vaccines will play such a crucial role in saving lives and reducing the demand on the NHS.

Announcing that 10 million people have been vaccinated, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This terrific achievement is testament to the monumental effort of NHS workers, volunteers and the armed forces who have been working tirelessly in every corner of the UK to deliver the largest vaccination programme in our history.’ NHS Confederation said that the milestone is an ‘amazing achievement’ but called for clearer information on how well the vaccines will guard against ever-changing COVID-19 mutations as well as more clarity on the supply and delivery of the vaccines.

Finally, a study from Oxford University shows that the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine provides sustained protection of 76% during the three-month interval until the second dose. After the second dose vaccine efficacy from two standard doses is 82.4% with the three-month interval being used in the UK.

The study supports the 4-12 week prime-boost dosing interval being adopted by the UK. Furthermore, the study indicates that the vaccine may have substantial effect on transmission of the virus with 67% reduction in positive swabs among those vaccinated. This is the first study to show this trend.

 

LGBTQ+ flag

LGBT+ History Month: Where we are now and what comes next

February is LGBT+ History Month, making it an appropriate time to review the progress made so far with LGBT+ rights in the UK and also some of the issues where action is still needed.

As a helpful summary by the House of Lords Library shows, the last two decades have seen a sustained push forward at Westminster with legislation to deliver LGBT+ rights. This started with the equalisation of the age of consent in 2000, moving through the 2003 repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (this forbade local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality’ and schools from teaching ‘the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’) and the 2004 introduction of civil partnerships and Gender Recognition Certificates, to the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2013.

There has also been action to right historic wrongs, most recently shown by the inclusion of posthumous pardons for army personnel convicted or cautioned for buggery under legislation dating back to 1688 in the Armed Forces Bill introduced last week.

Westminster has changed a lot since the era of the first openly lesbian MP Maureen Colquhoun, whose death was recently announced. 55 MPs identify as LGBT and the UK Parliament has been described as ‘the gayest in the world’, though there are no trans MPs.

Similarly, Government policy has moved on from the era of Section 28 – it has an LGBT Action Plan, which says its ‘vision is for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, to be able to live safe, happy and healthy lives where they can be themselves without fear of discrimination.’

Census and data
In another sign of progress, next month’s census will contain questions on sexual orientation for the first time. Iain Bell, deputy national statistician at the Office for National Statistics, says this will improve a situation in which ‘decision-makers are operating in a vacuum, unaware of the extent and nature of disadvantage which LGBT people may be experiencing in terms of health, educational outcomes, employment and housing’.

However, as Bell indicates, it is certainly not true to say that this progress means that LGBT+ people in the UK don’t continue to face significant challenges. The findings of the Government’s National LGBT Survey conducted in 2017 make for stark reading:

  • LGBT respondents were less satisfied with their life than the general UK population
  • Over two-thirds avoid holding hands with a same-sex partner
  • At least two in five had experienced an incident (such as verbal harassment or physical violence) because they were LGBT in the previous twelve months, yet over 90% of the most serious incidents weren’t reported
  • 24% had accessed mental health services in the previous twelve months
  • 2% had undergone so-called ‘conversion therapy’ and a further 5% had been offered it

Ahead of the 2019 election, Stonewall published a manifesto setting out a range of policies to address some of the issues facing the UK and global LGBT+ population. It is worth selecting just a handful of these to see where the Government is coming under pressure to act, and how it is responding.

Trans rights
Perhaps the most contentious issue is reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Stonewall’s manifesto called for reform to ‘remove the requirement for intrusive medical tests, introduce a simple administrative process based on the principle of self-determination, and provide recognition for under 18-year-olds and non-binary people’. The Government consulted on reform in 2018, noting that trans people find ‘the current system intrusive, costly, humiliating and administratively burdensome’ and ‘too few’ are able to get legal recognition.

However, when Liz Truss responded to the consultation last year in her capacity as Women and Equalities Minister, she said ‘the balance struck in this legislation is correct, in that there are proper checks and balances in the system and also support for people who want to change their legal sex’ but the Government would make the progress of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate ‘kinder and more straightforward’ and open new gender clinics.

Speaking in a debate on Truss’s response, Conservative MP Crispin Blunt said it was a ‘crushing disappointment for trans people’, while Truss’s Labour shadow Marsha De Cordova described it as ‘deeply disappointing’. The decision fell within the broader context of a widespread debate around trans issues, with campaign groups raising concerns about the impact on single-sex spaces for women, and the NHS trust which provides the UK’s main gender identity development service for children currently appealing against a High Court ruling stopping it from referring under-16s to treatment that would block puberty.

LGBT+ education
In November, the BBC reported that the Government had withdrawn financial support from projects to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools, although the Government insisted that the funding had always been due to run out. However, a change to the school curriculum from September 2020 means that the Government now expects ‘all pupils to have been taught LGBT content at a timely point’ as part of relationships and sex education.

Rachel Heah of Lancaster University has warned that the guidance is ‘vague’, while anti-bullying projects are required to ‘truly embed short and long-term positive changes for LGBT+ pupils’. That is this still a contentious subject was demonstrated in 2019 when the High Court upheld a ban on protests against LGBT+ relationships education outside a Birmingham school.

Hate crimes
Hate crimes against LGBT+ people also continue to be a problem, with the number reported to police trebling between 2014-15 and 2019-20 and rising by 20% in just the last year. While this could represent greater confidence in reporting them, the National Police Chiefs Council and Stonewall agree that they continue to be under-reported.

Nancy Kelley, Stonewall’s chief executive, said LGBT organisations were ‘definitely seeing a real increase in people reaching out for help’ and were ‘very concerned that this is a real rise in people who are being attacked because of who they are and who they love.’

Conversion therapy
Another area where campaigners would like to see more action is the ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ first promised by the Government as part of its 2018 LGBT Action Plan.

Speaking in the summer, Boris Johnson said the practice was ‘absolutely abhorrent and has no place in a civilised society’, and the Government would bring forward a ban once a study has been completed. In September, Truss said that she hoped this work would be completed by the end of the month, with further steps to be set out ‘shortly’ thereafter.

However, in January, Kemi Badenoch (Minister for Equalities) claimed that research was still ongoing.

National HIV Testing Week
This week is also National HIV Testing Week. Improvements in medicine have led to treatments which can make the virus undetectable and untransmittable, meaning that HIV/AIDS thankfully no longer has to lead to the awful consequences currently being so movingly portrayed in Russell T Davies’ drama It’s A Sin, which follows the lives of a group of young gay men in 1980s London.

To deliver the Government’s commitment to eliminate transmission by 2030, former health minister Steve Brine recently called for the Government’s forthcoming HIV Action Plan to include a commitment to make the ‘wonder drug’ PrEP which prevents HIV transmission available at GP surgeries, and for more routine HIV testing. Action is also needed globally, with the UN estimating that 38m people were living with HIV in 2019.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that the rights won so far are not guaranteed to remain secure. Promoting The Glamour Boys, his recent book about the gay or bisexual MPs who opposed Hitler,  Labour’s Chris Bryant warned ‘I often worry a younger generation of gay men and women think we will never go back to the era of repression. But I just say Berlin was the most liberal place in the world in 1930 – yet by 1934 gays were being arrested.’

Scottish budget Kate Forbes

Scottish Budget 2021-22

Vuelio’s Ingrid Marin writes about the highlights of the Scottish Budget, which aims to rebuild a fairer, stronger and greener economy.

As the Scottish Budget itself observes, this year’s publication ‘is like none before it, and is informed by the experiences and impacts of the past twelve months.’

The Budget has been developed against the backdrop of the clear and significant threat still posed by the virus, but also the hope for better days ahead, with Cabinet Secretary for Finance Kate Forbes claiming: ‘this is a Budget to provide help in the immediate term, but also to rebuild a fairer, stronger and greener economy’.

READ THE FULL SCOTTISH BUDGET SUMMARY HERE

The Scottish Fiscal Commission forecasts published with the Budget suggest that GDP will fall by 5.2% in the first quarter of 2021, but the vaccine rollout will allow a return to growth in 2021-22, though GDP is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until the start of 2024.

These forecasts have assumed that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will end in April and will not be replaced, acting as a driver for the forecast that unemployment will reach 7.6% in the second quarter of 2021. The Scottish Budget also notes the impact of Brexit on the Scottish economy; Scottish GDP could be 6% lower by 2030, compared to full membership of the EU.

In the immediate term, health must come first and lowering transmission rates remains the Scottish Government’s priority. The Budget supports the safe and sustainable recovery of the NHS, with record funding in excess of £16bn – an increase of over £800m in core Health and Sport funding. Acknowledging the impact Covid-19 has had on a significant number of people’s mental health, overall spending on mental health will be in excess of £1.1bn.

The Budget’s tax choices recognise the impact the pandemic is having on people, households and businesses. For example, in recognition of the unique pressures created by the pandemic on household incomes, the settlement includes an additional £90m to compensate councils who choose to freeze their council tax at 2020-21 levels.

The Scottish Government also announced that the 100% non-domestic rates relief for Retail, Hospitality, Leisure and Aviation sectors will be extended for at least three months. Should the UK Government bring forward an extension to their equivalent RHL relief that generates consequential funding, the Scottish Government will match the extension period as part of a tailored package of business support measures.

The Budget also helps people and households by securing £3.5bn for social security and welfare payments, including £68m for the ‘game changing’ Scottish Child Payment, which once fully rolled out will help lift an estimated 30,000 children out of poverty.

Seeing the first signs of hope and optimism for a better future, with the approval and roll-out of vaccinations and looking ahead to the COP26 summit, being hosted in Glasgow in November 2021, the Budget sets out a five year green economic recovery plan. The Scottish Government plans to spend £2bn on low carbon investment across the next five years, starting with £165m in 2021-22 towards large scale green infrastructure projects.

Similarly, over the next Parliament, the Scottish Government will deliver a new £100m Green Jobs Fund. This will invest £50m through enterprise agencies to help businesses which provide sustainable and/or low carbon products and services to develop, grow and create jobs. A further £50m will support businesses and supply chains to take advantage of public and private investment in low carbon infrastructure, and the transition to a low carbon economy, boosting green employment. In 2021-22, £14m will be allocated from the Green Jobs Fund.

The Scottish Government will provide £2.7bn across the Education and Skills budget. To ensure that the workforce can take advantage of the new and emerging employment opportunities as part of a green economic recovery, the Scottish Government will be providing support for individuals to retrain and upskill. In particular, it has developed the Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan and is planning to establish a Green Jobs Workforce Academy.

While this is an ambitious Budget to both protect and renew Scotland, Forbes highlighted that it also comes with significant fiscal uncertainty. She said: ‘In the absence of a UK Budget, much of the information we need to plan with certainty is missing. We must persevere with a Budget based on a partial

Weekly Health Summary

COVID-19: Weekly Health Summary – 28 January

The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

Official statistics this week showed there have been 100,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: ‘I am sorry to have to tell you that today the number of deaths recorded from Covid in the UK has surpassed 100,000, and it is hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic.’

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, he said he takes full responsibility for all the actions that Government has taken during the pandemic and promised to learn the lessons of what has happened. Meanwhile, Labour Leader Kier Starmer called the number of deaths a ‘tragic milestone’ and accused the Government of being slow in its response to the pandemic, including on entering lockdown, distributing PPE, protecting care homes and securing borders.

NHS Providers said it is a ‘tragedy’ that there have been over 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 and paid tribute to the commitment of NHS and care staff. It added: ‘We won’t know the true impact of Covid-19 for a long time to come because of its long-term effects – but, as well as the high death rate, it’s particularly concerning that this virus has widened health inequalities and affected Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities disproportionately.’

The Health Foundation has argued ‘the scene for the current crisis was set long before the virus arrived’, and suggests that a lack of long-term planning and historic underinvestment in public services led to an inadequate social care system, staff shortages in the NHS, and low capacity in public health. The Foundation has called for a full inquiry on the pandemic, which assesses if health and economic inequalities in the UK have hindered its response.

On Monday, the Office for National Statistics released figures on coronavirus related deaths by occupation. It found that between March and December 2020 there were nearly 8,000 Covid-19 related deaths in England and Wales within the working age population (those aged 20 to 64 years). Nearly two-thirds of these deaths were among men, with men in elementary occupations or caring, leisure and other service occupations having the highest rates of death involving Covid-19. Men and women who worked in social care or nursing occupations had a significantly higher rates of death involving Covid-19.

NHS Confederation said the figures ‘demonstrate all too clearly the toll the pandemic has taken’ on frontline workers and said that there must be measures to protect workers who are more exposed to the virus. Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called for more detailed information on how Covid-19 is impacting health and care workers, including factoring in ethnicity. RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘The loss of life of health care workers is heart-breaking and is felt profoundly by every member of the nursing community…The fact the rate of death amongst nursing staff is significantly higher than the general population highlights the absolute need to properly investigate why this is happening and give them the protection they need.’

Speaking to the Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday, NHS England Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens highlighted the pressures on the NHS front line in light of the ongoing pandemic. There are just under 33,000 Covid-19 inpatients in hospitals within England over the last two weeks, this is a sharp acceleration from Christmas, where the total was around 18,000. The level of coronavirus rates differs across the country, with the Midlands reporting that 75% of its critical care wards are filled with Covid-19 patients.

The latest Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission of Coronavirus (REACT-1) survey, published today, shows that although infections in England have flattened, case levels remain very high. Professor Paul Elliott, director of the programme at Imperial College London, said: ‘We’re not seeing the sharp drop in infections that happened under the first lockdown and if infections aren’t brought down significantly, hospitals won’t be able to cope with the number of people that need critical care.’

The Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said the figures are a ‘stark reminder of the need to remain vigilant’.

Weekly Economy Summary

COVID-19: Weekly Economy Summary – 28 January

The Economy Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

Recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows that the UK unemployment rate, in the three months to November 2020, was estimated at 5%, 1.2 percentage points higher than a year earlier and 0.6 percentage points higher than the previous quarter. While youth unemployment has stopped rising, young people are bearing the brunt of the UK’s pandemic-induced economic crisis, with 18-24 year-olds accounting for almost half (46%) of the employment fall since the crisis began.

While the Government’s £2bn Kickstart jobs scheme was introduced to ameliorate the impact of the pandemic on young people, data from the Department for Work and Pensions showed that fewer than 2,000 young people have so far started new roles under the scheme. However, the programme, which launched in September, did create 120,000 temporary jobs to date. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that coronavirus restrictions were making it harder for more young people to get started but he expected the number to rise once restrictions are lifted. Anticipating a rise in numbers, the Government has made it simpler for smaller firms to benefit from joining the scheme by removing the limit requiring they create a minimum of 30 vacancies to apply directly. This means that any business will be able to directly access the Department for Work and Pensions scheme without the need of Kickstart gateways.

Despite unemployment rising, a recent British Chambers of Commerce and Totaljobs survey of business recruitment intentions revealed that there was a ‘modest’ increase in the number of businesses attempting to recruit during Q4 compared to the previous quarter, though the figures are still below pre-pandemic levels. Firms in the public, voluntary and construction sectors were most likely to recruit, with hotels and catering firms the least likely.

During this week’s Treasury oral questions, the Chancellor recognised the significant impact of Covid-19 and stressed that the Treasury will review all its economic measures supporting businesses and jobs at the upcoming Budget in March.

Ex-Prime Minster Gordon Brown called for emergency measures to support businesses in the Budget after new research from the LSE warned almost 1m UK companies – employing 2.5m people – were at risk of failure in the next three months. Using data published by the Office for National Statistics, LSE found that the UK’s micro businesses, with less than ten employees, were particularly at risk of going under. Brown commented: ‘Governments cannot afford to be behind the curve – especially in a crisis. They have to be at least two steps ahead’.

According to analysis of a Bank of England survey by the Labour Party, the Chancellor’s ‘out of touch’ plan for economic recovery is set to ‘unravel’ because only 3% of UK households plan to spend the savings built up during 2021. Citing comments on savings and spending made by Rishi Sunak last month, Labour says the Chancellor ‘is wrong to pin his hopes solely on a consumer boom to get Britain on the path to recovery’, and calls on the Government to take urgent action to build confidence in the economy ahead of a series of ‘cliff edges’ including the deadline for applications to the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme and withdrawal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift.

There has also been much talk this week about those who are still not covered by the Chancellors economic measures. According to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, over 1.5m self-employed workers who do not qualify for support through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme could be supported at modest cost to the Government. The report says ministers have ‘actively chosen to exclude these people’ from the scheme, and the think tank argues that the Government could help the 1.3m people who receive less than 50% of their income through self-employment and another 225,000 people who have profits more than £50,000. Extending SEISS grants to those with income between £50,000 and £100,000 would cost £1.3bn per quarter with a payment of £7,500 per person, while extending the scheme to people with less than 50% of their income from self-employment would cost between £500m and £800m per quarter.

Weekly Health Summary

Covid-19: Weekly Health Summary – 21 January

The Health Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

The Government has reported the highest daily death toll since the coronavirus pandemic began this week, with daily figures from Wednesday showing that there were 1,820 deaths within 28 days of positive test. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called the figures ‘appalling’. He said: ‘I must warn people there will be tough weeks to come, but as the vaccine goes in and that programme accelerates, there will be, I think, a real difference by spring.’

Furthermore, Office for National Statistics published data on the number of deaths registered for the week ending 8 January, which showed a large increase in fatality from the previous week. Responding to the data, Nuffield Trust said the rise can be attributed to the rapid spread of Covid-19 throughout December. The Trust highlighted that with over a third of deaths registered attributed to Covid-19 and with Covid-19 accounting for over half of hospital deaths, there is a ‘real pressure’ on services.

Research from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) published this week shows that pressures placed on doctors by the pandemic are taking a significant toll, with more than one in four doctors reporting that they have sought mental health support during the pandemic. In a survey of its members the RCP found that the majority of doctors (64%) feel tired or exhausted, and many are worried (48%). The RCP argues that the second wave of coronavirus is ‘undoubtedly hitting the NHS far harder than the first’ with the rapid rise in cases is being felt by doctors across the NHS. Additionally, delays to treatment in other areas of medicine due to the prioritisation of COVID-19 patients are also being acutely felt.

Meanwhile, efforts to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine continue. On Tuesday, the Department for Health and Social Care confirmed that more than four million people received first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. This translates to more than half of those aged 80 and over and more than half of elderly care home residents. Speaking at the press conference on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We’re on track to deliver our plan to vaccinate the most vulnerable groups by the middle of February, the groups that account for 88% of COVID deaths.’

This comes as the Government confirmed it now has the capacity to roll out vaccines to people aged from 70 years and clinically extremely vulnerable people. Though vaccinating the over 80s and care home residents will remain the priority, vaccination sites that have enough supply and capacity for vaccinating further people are allowed to offer vaccinations to the next two cohorts.

Responding to the news, NHS Providers called the development a ‘major milestone in our fight against COVID-19’. However, with intense pressure on NHS services, it warns ‘the pandemic is far from over’. It said: ‘Rising admissions rates mean trust leaders are becoming increasingly concerned about ensuring there is enough capacity – in terms of beds and staff – to safeguard the quality of care for patients.’

Finally, amid increasing staff absences and infection rates in care homes, the Government announced that the social care sector will receive £269 million to boost staffing levels and testing. The new funding will protect and support the social care sector, including care homes and domiciliary care providers, by increasing workforce capacity and increasing testing. Vital infection prevention and control guidance on staff movement in care will also be reinforced. Minister for Care Helen Whatley said the Government is ‘continuing to listen to care providers to make sure they have the help they need, from free PPE to extra testing, along with all the work to vaccinate care home residents, staff and the wider social care workforce.’

Vic Rayner, Executive Director of the National Care Forum welcomed the news and called for the funding to be urgently dispatched. She said that it is positive that the Government has recognised the extreme staffing pressures currently faced by care providers, but suggested that social care funding must be kept under continuous review, so care organisations are ‘properly supported now and in the future’.

Weekly Economy Summary

Covid-19: Weekly Economy Summary – 21 January

The Economy Summary is part of our Weekly COVID-19 Bulletin, sent every Thursday. You can sign up to receive your copy here.

Recent ONS data showed that the UK economy shrank by 2.6% in November as lockdown restrictions reduced economic activity. The decline followed a six-month growth spell, undoing some of the recovery in the economy. It means GDP is 8.5% below its pre-Covid-19 level from February 2020.

The economy is generally doing better than the OBR expected back in November – largely due to data revisions but also because of a smaller lockdown effect in November. However, with even tighter restrictions coming into force at the start of 2021, a ‘double dip’ recession looks inevitable.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research argued that temporary and permanent adjustments post Brexit transition period are likely to also weigh on growth in the early part of the year, but the vaccine roll-out provides some encouragement for consumption and investment in the second half of 2021 and beyond.

Treasury minister Jesse Norman MP has suggested that tax rises may not be necessary if the economy bounces back strongly following an effective roll-out of the coronavirus vaccination programme. Speaking to the Treasury Select Committee, Norman said the economy could be sufficiently boosted by households and businesses unleashing pent up demand once restrictions are lifted.

The British Chambers of Commerce called for the Chancellor to provide urgent support for businesses across the UK that are facing a bleak future from the ‘debilitating squeeze’ of coronavirus restrictions. The BCC said that businesses cannot afford to wait until the Chancellor’s March budget, and proposes immediate measures to support cash flow including expanding business rates relief, prolonging VAT deferrals and offering an immediate, further round of upfront cash grant support, as well as maintaining the Job Retention Scheme at least until the end of July 2021.

Similarly, ahead of the Budget, the CBI also proposed extending the Job Retention Scheme to the end of June, lengthening repayment periods for existing VAT deferrals until June 2021 at the earliest, and extending the business rates holiday for at least another three months. It also calls for business rates reform to be ‘top of the list’ of action to be taken at the Budget.

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds has stepped up her calls on counterpart Rishi Sunak to amend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to give working parents the legal right to request paid flexible furlough. Currently, parents can ask to be furloughed for childcare reasons, but employers can reject the request. Labour said it wants the current request system to be turned into a legal and enforceable right to apply – with an expectation that employers would grant furlough, except in exceptional circumstances.

The Resolution Foundation joined opposition parties, anti-poverty campaigners and many Conservative MPs in urging the Government to extend the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit introduced during the first wave of the pandemic. They warned that not extending it would contribute towards the number of children in poverty increasing by 730,000 and would mean Boris Johnson would not be able to claim to be ‘levelling up’ the UK.

With one in three children projected to be living in relative poverty by the end of this Parliament, Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield also called on the Government to extend the £20 Universal Credit uplift in the short term, but said it’s a sticking plaster ‘made as a result of short-term political embarrassment’, and argued for an overhaul of the current system.

Conservative backbenchers representing 65 Northern seats, many of them ex-Labour ‘red wall’ constituencies, have joined calls for the Prime Minister to cancel a planned reduction in the benefit. Labour has called an opposition day debate on the issue in the House of Commons last Monday, but Johnson has ordered his own MPs to boycott the vote rather than risk a significant rebellion. A non-binding Labour motion calling for the universal credit top-up to be kept in place beyond 31 March passed by 278 votes to none after the  Commons debate. Six Tory MPs defied party orders to abstain and voted with Labour, adding to the pressure on the PM on the issue. The motion, which will not automatically lead to a change in policy, was put forward by Labour as a way to put additional pressure on the Government to continue the increase.

Green world

Baroness Bennett: The future of the world has to be Green

Green peer Baroness Natalie Bennett of Manor Castle writes about the challenges of getting the Government to agree to environmental standards and the kind of people therefore needed in opposition.

There are, it appears, two Government trade policies. One is a cutting-edge, environmentally revolutionary plan to be ‘world-leading in standards of environmental health, slashed carbon emissions, best-in-game workers’ rights and respectful of human rights. The other is ‘Singapore-upon-Thames’ Elizabethan ‘buccaneering’, polluting, rights-abusing goods flowing through wide-open freeports where the rules are abolished and neoliberal capitalism rules raw in tooth and claw.

It is a function of our first-past-the-post politics that profoundly incompatible coalitions, such as that between the Thatcherite ideologues of the South East and the fed-up impoverished, ignored ‘Red Wall’ seats, get into Government and produce such policy paradoxes.

The issue of making the UK a democracy is something I’m always working on, but in the meantime I’m also doing what I can on trade to push us in the direction of a policy that acknowledges that there is no exchange of goods and services on a dead planet, and ours is right at, or beyond, its physical limits.

One tactic is to try to get the Government to commit, as the House of Lords has collectively been trying to do for years through the Trade Bill, the Agriculture Bill, the Internal Market Bill and many others, to put ‘on the face of the Bill’, as we say, commitments to decent standards. Even the National Farmers’ Union has, however, been unable to get Tory MPs from the rural seats to stand with us in what we call the ‘Other Place’.

Second-best, but still worth trying, is to get verbal commitments, which is why this week I asked the Government if it planned to sign up to the New Zealand-led Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability (ACCTS), a still fairly modest but important initiative, operating within the World Trade Organisation framework, that aims to end fossil fuel subsidies (in the UK now at about £10 billion a year, far above what is being put into renewables), agree tariff-free trade in environmental goods and services, and agree a global eco-labelling scheme.

You can see the debate here, or read the debate for yourself in Hansard. If you watch the video through once, you might be positively surprised. It is clear, as the Talk Radio host Julia Hartley-Brewer grumbled to me last year, that everyone is now talking Green.

But were you to sit down to analyse every sentence, check the meaning of each clearly very careful assemblage of works, you have to conclude that when it comes to the Government’s commitment to, or even interest in, ACCTS, as Politico’s morning trade newsletter put it: ‘close but no cigar’. It concluded: ‘Trade minister Lord Gerry Grimstone, who will also lead on the Government’s new Office for Investment, sidestepped.’

Which is where we come back to the politics. The Government won the last election with a strategy of mobilising the disaffected, uniting and energising the angry and the self-interested, with a populist, Trumpian, evidence-free repeating of simple slogans. It is clear which policy approach fits with that.

The politics seems unlikely to change any time soon. Which indicates that we need to build new coalitions in opposition, of the sensible, the evidence-driven, the practical people – who know that the future of the world has to be Green.

People who know that businesses that get ahead of the curve for the transformatory circular economy, one-planet living, model, will flourish. That communities built around strong local economies with food and good production for local consumption, promoting biodiversity and wildlife (just look at Paris), providing security for all (hello Universal Basic Income) will be attractive to the educated and capable in a world in which human resources are in increasingly short supply with plummeting birth rates.

Buccaneering belongs in the time of Queen Elizabeth (the First that is). As we’ve seen with its management of Covid-19, it’s New Zealand that’s the truly leading world nation, with a very different model of politics, society and trade. But it is equally clear this Government has no intention of following its lead.

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

Whitehall

2021 Will Be Good For Public Affairs

Dr Stuart Thomson, head of public affairs at law firm BDB Pitmans and winner of the Current Affairs category at the Online Influence Awards 2020, explains why public affairs is essential in 2021, and offers advice to maximise success.

The management of political risk became mainstream in 2020 as organisations saw the value of engagement. There is every indication that 2021 will be good for public affairs but only if we continue to deliver value.

The early months

As we have already seen, the early months of 2021 will be dominated by continued lockdown and the Covid vaccinations rollout. But once that is over, we can then expect the Government to engage in some serious policy development and communications activity. There will be the mother of all relaunches as it attempts to build on any goodwill created by the vaccine rollout and starts to put forward an agenda to try to win the next General Election.

There are a huge set of elections coming up in May, should Covid allow that timing. But even if the timescale slips slightly, the Government won’t want to delay them too long; there is every indication that these elections, across England, Scotland and Wales, will reflect the Government’s handling of Covid.  Anyone expecting a major Cabinet reshuffle would do well to look for one after these elections. If the Government doesn’t do well then this would be a good time for a ‘refresh’ of the team.

Red wall challenges

Many of the challenges that the Prime Minister faces will come from his own side. His MPs seem quite upset to the approach adopted to lockdown and the apparent reliance on the power of the ‘U turn’ to solve bad headlines.

The replacement of Dominic Cummings gave some hope that a new approach was on its way and that may still be the case. It appears though that Covid continues to stop all else in its tracks even a new approach to working with colleagues.

There is no doubt that the new red wall Conservative MPs will need to show that the Government has made progress by the time of the next election. Certainly, Brexit has been delivered in a way that most supporters find acceptable but that will not be enough.

Implications for public affairs

What should we in public affairs do to ensure that we continue to deliver value during the course of these and other events during 2021?

  • Be ahead of events – many of them we know about in advance, such as the elections but also the Budget, a more detailed Spending Review etc, but also consider the more unexpected as well. Do such events offer opportunities for engagement? What happens with their outcomes? Do you need to react?
  • Think policy – the Government’s need for a relaunch and the emphasis on pre-General Election delivery means that they will need to come up with a constant stream of ideas and make others, such as those promised for devolution, work. That needs constructive engagement and an emphasis on supplying solutions.
  • Think projects – particularly across the Red Wall, building things will be important. Something that means the local MP can cut a ribbon and the silver plaque outside commemorating the opening can have a Union flag as well. Can you help deliver such schemes or, at least, support them?
  • The environment – with the COP 26 conference coming up at the end of 2021, the Government will have a particular emphasis on climate change. Is there anything you can do to help deliver on the environmental challenge?

Even as Covid starts to fade as a top line issue, the Government’s political challenges remain. Good public affairs engagement is increasingly about political risk management and if 2020 taught us anything it is that dialogue with Government is essential. That will continue to be the case in 2021 and beyond.

Vuelio political reports

Vuelio launches Political Reports

Vuelio has launched Political Reports, a new tool for public affairs and communications practitioners to analyse the increasingly complex political landscape by delivering stakeholder insight across a range of channels, from Twitter to Parliament itself.

Political Reports was developed in 2020 to meet the changing political landscape and needs of Vuelio’s clients. Here, the head of political services and a senior product manager walk us through the innovation journey and explain why these reports will be a gamechanger for public affairs and communications in 2021.

Kelly Scott, head of political services
Political discourse has been unquestionably growing as the rise of social channels and the digitisation of Parliament and Government have offered groups, organisations and individuals an opportunity to engage and inform policymakers without the barriers that previously hindered access.

This is widely considered to be a positive because the more policymaking is informed with evidence and data from a broad range of stakeholders, the more it should meet the needs of the public.

However, the by-product of an open and digitalised structure is that it is increasingly time intensive to track issues of interest, not just because there is a bursting legislative agenda, but also because key political actors debate issues across channels, from the floor of Parliament to the Twittersphere. Following the conversation and knowing where to engage, myth bust and campaign is no longer a simple and economical task for communicators.

In 2020, this challenge hit a tipping point for Vuelio’s Political Services clients. With a new Government agenda following the General Election, Brexit and the pace of policy change caused by the pandemic, staying on the front foot and ensuring the issues, organisations or people you represent are recognised was becoming an overwhelming and at times impossible task.

Vuelio Political Reports

Through structured discussion, we identified the problem was that the workflow for analysing the whole environment was highly manual. Communicators use their own specialised expertise to identify the right stakeholders to engage with, check the temperature of the landscape or analyse momentum. The heavy lifting they had to do to get to this point was extensive, as was the time spent on interpretation to share with internal decisionmakers.

We shared this problem and key data on the external political environment in which our clients operate with the Vuelio product team, challenging them to develop a technology-based innovation that could improve the current workflow. It needed to be easy to use, not restrictive in how it could be applied to the complex political environment, and it had to acknowledge the fast-paced and unpredictable nature of politics and the different objectives our clients have when looking at issues or specific political stakeholders.

Chris Axe, senior product manager
When assessing the market of available tools for analysing political activity it was clear there was a real lack of options when it came to easily visualising the key trends and patterns in this information. Given the ever-increasing digitisation of political content and the number of sources available, it is vital that any political analysis tool has these capabilities to meet the evolving needs of the sector.

Given our position as a leader in the world of PR analytics, we were well placed to construct the best ways to surface this information. By working directly with our clients in the political sector and assessing the ways that they used our political monitoring functions, we established the most important data elements that we would need to focus on.

Additionally, it was clear from feedback that we needed to make it as easy as possible to dynamically change the sets of data under interrogation for maximum flexibility. We shared an initial set of visualisation tools with our clients for feedback and enhancement prior to launch.

We’re now pleased to make this solution available to all of our political services clients, both new and existing. It includes a selection of charts that allow you to see the published activity and contributions of individual stakeholders or institutions in near real time. We allow you to export this data in multiple formats, segment it with a variety of filters and choose whether you want to drill into the detail or look at high level trends.

We will continue to develop our offering and work alongside the sector to solve new challenges as the external environment evolves.

Do you need Political Reports? Save hours of time, expand your stakeholder map and track the issues that matter to you – book a demo.

COP26 Stanley Johnson

The Road to Glasgow: Stanley Johnson on COP26

Stanley Johnson writes that the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement is positive when it comes to protecting the environment, and the UK should take elements from it, such as carbon tax and carbon pricing, to COP26 and push for a global net zero carbon goal.

EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) – which has the status of an international treaty binding both sides – has a lot of good things to say about the environment.

For example, the TCA clearly establishes the principle of ‘non-regression’.

Article 7.2.2 states:

‘A Party shall not weaken or reduce, in a manner affecting trade or investment between the Parties, its environmental levels of protection or its climate level of protection below the levels that are in place at the end of the transition period, including by failing to effectively enforce its environmental law or climate level of protection.’

Given the key role that the UK is playing as the host and Chair (with Minister Alok Sharma) of the forthcoming meeting of the UN’s Climate Change Convention due to be held in Glasgow in November this year (COP 26), it is good to see the specific reference in Article 7 to the ‘climate level of protection.

Also important, in my view, is the way the TCA breaks new ground by imposing obligations on both sides as far as carbon taxes and carbon pricing is concerned.

Article 7.3 on ‘Carbon pricing’ provides that –

  1. ‘Each Party shall have in place an effective system of carbon pricing as of 1 January 2021.
  2. Each system shall cover greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation, heat generation, industry and aviation.
  3. The effectiveness of the Parties’ respective carbon pricing systems shall uphold the level of protection provided for by Article 7.2 [Non-regression from levels of protection]
  4. By way of derogation from paragraph 2, aviation shall be included within two years at the latest, if not included already. The scope of the Union system of carbon pricing shall cover departing flights from the European Economic Area to the United Kingdom.
  5. Each Party shall maintain their system of carbon pricing insofar as it is an effective tool for each Party in the fight against climate change and shall in any event uphold the level of protection provided for by Article 7.2 [Non-regression from levels of protection].’

The TCA’s clear endorsement of carbon pricing as a tool in the fight against climate change – and the clear obligation that parties to the TCA have accepted to have in place ‘effective system of carbon pricing as of 1 January 2021’ is of enormous significance.

I believe it would make sense for the UK, as host and chair of COP 26 to seek wide support for a draft Conference Resolution incorporating – and hopefully improving – on the scope and thrust of the language about carbon pricing now agreed between the EU and the UK in the TCA.

I would hope, for example, that former US Secretary of State John Kerry, a long-time advocate of carbon pricing and newly nominated by incoming President Jo Biden as the leader of the US delegation to COP 26, might be involved in any such discussions at an early date.

Another key participant in any drafting group would be China, whose President Xi Jinping announced only last September that China would aim to hit peak greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and aim for carbon neutrality (net zero) by 2060.

COP 26 should not only endorse carbon pricing and carbon taxes as one of the key elements in national emission reduction programmes (building on agreed TCA language); it should also seek to build a new consensus on a global net zero carbon goal by a specified date, without of course in any sense resiling from the global goals already set out in the Paris Agreement of December 2015, viz. keep global temperature increase to below +2C, and if possible as low as +1.5C.

Consensus on any future date (say 2050) for global net zero carbon could be achieved, if necessary, by making it clear that countries, following the basic ‘bottom-up’ principles of the December 2015 Paris Agreement, would of course continue to have their own timetable and targets as far as their national emission reduction programmes are concerned even if their currently envisaged dates for reaching national net zero is later in time than that specified in the global goal.

The psychological and political impact of agreeing for the first time a global net zero goal would surely be enormous and well worth the effort involved in terms of the diplomatic legwork necessary in exceptionally difficult Covid-impacted times.

Agreeing such a global net zero consensus at COP 26 would in any case be meaningful even without the political and psychological impact of such an achievement. For the hope must be that rapid technological progress in some areas (Europe, Japan, and the United States, for example) will indeed compensate or more than compensate for slower progress by other countries, which for one reason or another, will be moving on a slower trajectory towards net zero.

Stanley Johnson is a former Conservative MEP and environmental campaigner, as well as an author. His novels include The Virus, while his next, The Warming, will be published next month by Black Spring Press. 

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

Jamie Stone MP: Government must ‘come to its senses’ and support small business owners and freelancers

The Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, Jamie Stone MP, writes about why he set up the Gaps in Support All-Party Parliamentary Group early on in the pandemic and how it continues to campaign for the millions of people across the UK who do not have access to the Government’s coronavirus financial support schemes.

It is now coming up to 10 months since millions across the UK were excluded from the Government coronavirus financial support schemes. Some have received not even a penny since March 2020. From new parents, to directors of small limited companies, from people who had just started a new job, to people who have been unfairly refused furlough from their employers. From freelancers, to PAYE workers. The list goes on.

To just slip through the fingers of the Government’s helping hand during a global health crisis has had catastrophic consequences for individuals and families across our nation.

I set up the Gaps in Support APPG after a constituent came to me, showing me that the financial support schemes were not a one-size-fits-all solution. Far from it. The decision to create an All-Party Parliamentary Group was based in the name, really. I knew that if anything was to be done about this, we needed cross-party collaboration.

The traction this movement gained was astonishing. The APPG garnered the most attendees at its first meeting in all of Parliamentary history. It quickly became clear to me that everyone, regardless of party or constituency, was in this fight together.

Of course, since that groundbreaking first meeting things have got much more challenging. For months upon months now, hundreds of thousands of people have been campaigning and my colleagues and I have been tirelessly raising this issue in Parliament whenever we can. Everyone is exhausted.

I admit, this has not been the most cheery start to a blog published in what is usually a time filled with hope for the new year. But I also recognise that for many, this will not be a very hopeful time. For others, it is too late. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that.

Despite the ongoing mishandling of the crisis by the Government and the consequent utter shambles unfolding further with every passing day, I would like to remind you that the Treasury sees us and they want to help us. As many of you know, the Gaps in Support APPG, along with many of the excluded groups, had a meeting with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury not too long ago. We all came away feeling encouraged, positive and finally like we were being heard.

Hold on to that feeling. Harness it and put it into action when we meet again soon, at the beginning of a new year.

This Government will realise that it cannot afford to lose the millions of small business owners and freelancers. These people will be vital in rebuilding the economy once it has been destroyed by this crisis. If the Government does not quickly come to its senses, it will be shooting itself (and everyone else) in the foot.

We need to work with the Government to rescue these people. With another meeting expected soon, I have no doubt that this will be a productive relationship.

Though the Government has been the hand that has fed many this year, they will certainly need a hand from you in finding a solution. I urge you, lend it!

Jamie Stone is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Defence and Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. He is the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

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

Daisy Cooper pubs

Daisy Cooper MP: Pubs need Government action now to avoid mass closures

Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper writes about the plight of the pub trade in the UK and calls for action to prevent thousands of pubs from closing for good as a result of the pandemic and the response to it.

Our pubs were already facing crisis point before the pandemic struck. Rising business rates were crippling businesses across the country but were especially damaging in my constituency of St Albans. Like in so many towns and cities across the country, pubs here are the bedrock of the local community. The War of the Roses started on the doorstep of The Boot, and Britain’s oldest pub Ye Olde Fighting Cocks saw off the Black Death. But both of these historic pubs and many more are warning that they may not survive the Covid pandemic without further support. 

Since the first lockdown, I’ve been calling for urgent and – crucially – adequate support for hospitality businesses and pubs. Don’t get me wrong, the furlough scheme protected jobs for a while, but that’s only a small part of the massive problem pubs face. If we are to stop a total collapse of the sector, we need some key support measures to be put in place without further delay.

The grants offered to pubs don’t cover their basic fixed costs in most cases. The average grant offer is for just £1,334 a month – this doesn’t even touch the sides for rent let alone utility bills. Once you factor in the huge stock liabilities from short notice closures (aka – pouring beer down the drain), and the contributions that landlords have to make to the furlough schemes for National Insurance and pension schemes, you begin to get an idea of the scale of the financial challenge.

All that aside, these landlords still need to be able to survive themselves, and often feed their families too. We’ve all heard about the three million ‘Excluded’ – those who can’t get access to the self-employment grants because they might be a limited company director, or just newly self-employed. Pub landlords are affected by this too. That means not only have they not got enough cash to pay the bills – some simply can’t afford to live either.

What we need is a grant scheme that is commensurate to the fixed costs of the businesses. One that includes compensation for wasted stock – such as short dated food, and barrels of beer, and then looks to make sure there is enough for these landlords to live on.

I’ve written to the Business Secretary three times since September, specifically asking for:

  • Realistic grant schemes
  • Reduction in VAT for all hospitality sales to 5%
  • A fair beer duty system that allows a profit margin for pub operators
  • Extended furlough for the duration of any restrictions
  • Business rates holidays to be extended beyond the current deadline of April next year to let pubs plan for a recovery without this added burden

I haven’t had a single reply, so last Friday I took this directly to the Prime Minister. The Save St Albans Pubs group in my constituency has written too, to the Chancellor. I’ve tabled countless written questions to press for action. I’ve highlighted their plight in the Commons, even raising an Urgent Question to the Government on the support needed following the dubiously imposed 10pm ‘curfew’.

When will Government start to listen? Without action, tens of thousands of these pubs could go to the wall, leaving a gaping hole in communities and high streets all around the UK.

Daisy Cooper is the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, education spokesperson and the MP for St Albans.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are all better off for having devolution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

APDAWG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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