Monthly Archives: March 2022

What does a _review_ of government policy on employer training mean_

What does a “review” of government policy on employer training mean?

Perspective by David Laws, GK Adviser

Last week the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, made a few waves in the education sector by announcing in his Spring Statement a “review” of government policy on employer training, including the Apprenticeship Levy. The announcement caught many by surprise, including apparently some of the Chancellor’s colleagues in the Education Department.

By the end of the week, some were suggesting that the “review” was not a formal “Review”, and might not result in much change in the Levy. So, what exactly is going on? Well, the Apprenticeship Levy seems to have strong backing in the government, and indeed across the political parties. Inevitably, there are often calls for tweaks, for more “flexibility” and for a variety of different reforms – not all of which are mutually compatible.

The Chancellor’s “review” could result in looking again at some of these practical issues, which also include the extent to which the existing Levy is being used to support new entrants into the labour market, as opposed to existing staff (some of whom may already have higher level, tax-payer supported, qualifications). But the Chancellor might have something new or “additional” in mind, to work alongside the Levy. In his recent “Mais Lecture” the Chancellor started to set out his vision of a post-pandemic economic strategy, including “investment in people”. Some have speculated that he may want to introduce some sort of discrete tax credit to incentivise training. This would presumably involve reformulating the existing tax relief for training which is available through the corporation tax system. The aim, in any case, seems to be to raise the amount of expenditure by employers on training, and improve its quality and focus. The review will look at whether current incentives are delivering the “right kinds of training”.

What should those interested in the Apprenticeship Levy make of all this? It seems if there is still a strong commitment to the principle of the Levy, and a desire in some parts of government not to rock the boat too much. This could suggest that the review will make small changes to the Levy, while perhaps restructuring other training reliefs.

But it would be unwise to take any review into this area for granted – not least one where the powerful Treasury appears to be in the driving seat. To the extent that the review does look at if “the current tax system is incentivising the right kinds of training”, the review could ask some fundamental questions, which could have both direct and indirect effects on the Levy. This could include looking at issues raised by the Augar Review, around the support for higher level apprenticeships.

Whether this “review” is one with a small “r” or capital “R”, all those interested in the Levy and the future of government policy on training support incentives should be using this as an opportunity to feed into government their views on how the system should evolve. The review is going to need to address some fundamental issues, and what impact this will have on future government policy on training cannot be taken for granted.

View on the Spring Statement - David Laws, GK Adviser

View on the Spring Statement – David Laws, GK Adviser

“Well, you might almost think that there is an election on the way! Or maybe that the Chancellor is seeking to position himself more favourably with Tory MPs in case there is a leadership election any time soon.

“This is the Chancellor, after all, who until recently had been jacking taxes up through the roof – higher NICs, frozen personal allowances, higher corporation tax. Today, he moved to cut petrol duties by 5p per litre, increase the amount people can earn before paying national insurance and – the big rabbit out of the hat – announced a 1p cut in the basic rate of income, for 2024.

“This package will cheer up Tory backbenchers, many voters and the Conservative supporting media. But it’s not obvious that the Chancellor has tackled the broad range of problems confronting the economy.

“Inflation is set to average 7.4% this year, which will squeeze living standards, not least for those too poor to benefit from the higher national insurance threshold. The package delivered very little for those on the lowest incomes – poverty is likely to increase notably. Perhaps the Chancellor has decided that those in poverty are not his target audience?

“Growth forecasts have been slashed almost in half for the current year, which will boost borrowing. Debt interest payments are surging higher because of rocketing inflation. The Chancellor is gambling on growth being strong enough to keep the deficit falling, but there are significant risks here.

“Meanwhile, many people will wonder what sense there is in increasing national insurance by 1.25% now, and then cutting income tax by 1% in two years time. This means lower taxes for pensioners and high taxes on workers – not perhaps much economic sense or fairness.

“Beneath these headline announcements are some interesting suggestions of policy changes to boost training and reform R and D tax credits. As ever with these statements, we now need to look closely at the small print.”

GK Insight - Spring Statement

GK Insight – Spring Statement

When Rishi Sunak rises to deliver today’s Spring Statement, it would be easy to forget that he has been ChanceIlor for barely two years. At the same time, it’s hard to recall any Chancellor who has had quite such a fierce baptism of fire. A plausible case could made for Hugh Dalton in 1945 (immediately after the Second World War) or Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1979 (following the so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’). But Sunak has had perhaps the hardest inheritance of all. Not only did he become Chancellor with precious little ministerial experience, but he took over in unusually difficult circumstances – after 10 Downing Street had made the position of his predecessor and friend, Sajid Javid, completely untenable. Then, almost immediately, Sunak was confronted by a Covid-inspired economic meltdown before, more recently, the gravest cost of living crisis since the 1970s.

Despite delivering just three Budgets – which is three more, incidentally, than Javid – Sunak has already made a profound impression on British politics. Indeed, he was almost omni-present during the Covid crisis and introduced everything from the popular (but probably counter-productive) ‘Eat out to help out’ initiative to some highly successful but hugely expensive job retention schemes. Consequently, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IfS) has pointed out, Sunak (a self-proclaimed low tax Conservative) has felt it necessary to announce bigger tax increases in his two years at 11 Downing Street than Labour’s Gordon Brown managed in a full decade. To the annoyance of countless employers and many of Sunak’s own Conservative colleagues, they include some major (and pledge-breaking) increases in corporation tax – the first since Denis Healey’s traumatic spell at the Treasury in the 1970s.

The comparison with Healey is surely not one that Sunak would welcome. Healey’s period as Chancellor was plagued by many of the same problems – especially squeezed living standards, sluggish growth and persistent inflation (‘stagflation’) – that Sunak is now desperately seeking to tackle. Ultimately, Healey’s solutions proved ineffective, colleagues were alienated by some of his key decisions (especially breaching agreed manifesto policies) and the party’s leadership eluded him so, for Sunak, the precedent is hardly encouraging.

In one respect, however, the comparison with Healey is not only fair to Sunak but personally flattering. Just as Healey was never fazed by a challenge – whether during his wartime service, in government (as Chancellor and Defence Secretary) or in Opposition (as deputy Labour leader) – Sunak has consistently showed astonishing composure and resilience in the face of successive crises. Although his critics argue that he’s sometimes ‘behind the curve’ when responding to fast-deteriorating economic predicaments, it’s also noticeable that he’s happy to revisit earlier decisions and, if necessary, take steps that go completely against Treasury orthodoxies, his party’s previous stances and his own political instincts.

We may see, today, more of the same as the Chancellor considers whether his previous package on energy costs – announced only last month (although it seems much longer ago) – remains tenable when inflation and energy prices seem set to remain ‘higher for longer’ than anyone had expected. Expect ‘friendly fire’ from Conservatives who want fuel taxes to be sharply cut and the upcoming National Insurance increase to be deferred. Meanwhile, many criticisms from Labour frontbenchers are likely to be framed in personalised terms as they seek to blame the ‘cost of living crisis’ on the Chancellor and his decisions, as far as possible, rather than on worldwide events. It might not feel like it to Sunak but it’s a political compliment – reflecting the Opposition’s desire to remove some of the post-Covid sheen from someone they regard as the most likely successor to the Prime Minister (despite the Foreign Secretary’s rising standing) if the ‘partygate’ scandal, or any other, ultimately claims his scalp.

In some respects, we’re likely to see ‘more of the same’ from the Chancellor today in the form of the seriousness, courtesy and calmness that we’ve come to expect over the past two years, despite their constant crisis mode, which have ensured that – unlike Dalton, Howe or Healey – Rishi Sunak is still well-placed to make the move from Number 11 to Number 10. Is it a role that he wants? Only he will know for certain. But three things do seem different when compared with his Budget, back in October. First, since then, the Chancellor has successfully put some distance between himself and the Prime Minister – making it clear that he disagreed with No 10’s ‘partygate’ culture, as well as with some of his boss’s recent language. Secondly, the communications operation surrounding the Chancellor has become more restrained and less heavily ‘Rishi’-branded, which had become a source of irritation to some colleagues. Finally, and similarly, the Spring Statement has been preceded by a period of comparative silence from the Chancellor’s team, after its pre-Budget briefings were widely considered excessive. True, the Spring Statement is less significant than the annual Budget and events are moving so fast than any pre-briefing could soon unravel. But these are also signs of a seriousness of purpose that seems well-aligned with the increasingly difficult times in which we’re now living.

It’s clearly impossible to predict what the Spring Statement will actually say. There will, presumably, be fresh measures to help people (particularly lower earners) with their energy bills; changes to National Insurance (perhaps its threshold) might reduce the impact of the planned increase in NI rates themselves; and benefits could be index-linked differently, or more regularly, to reduce the huge gap between next month’s planned increase (3.1%) and real-world, real-time inflation.

One thing does seem certain, however. As the IfS has argued, “Sunak can smooth, delay and ameliorate the pain. But he can’t make it go away.” Quite simply, the pressure on living standards is greater than at any time for nearly 50 years. For the Chancellor, two years into his tenure, the crisis mode shows absolutely no sign of ending.

To discuss the Spring Statement and what it means for you please contact

Is abandoning Net-Zero the cost for energy independence_

Is abandoning Net-Zero the cost for energy independence?

Negotiators at the end of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021 felt a fragile sense that real progress had been achieved as the final deal between 197 countries contained an agreement to draw down fossil fuel subsidies. Despite a fierce argument over whether coal should be phased down or phased out, the direction of travel was clear, said COP26 President Alok Sharma, who hailed that “the end of coal is in sight.”

Four months on, the global energy picture has shifted significantly; and not completely in the direction sought by Sharma and other COP negotiators. The monumental shift by western allies away from their previous Russia-reliant policies and towards new energy strategies puts their individual Net-Zero policies at risk.

The questions now are whether such a shift can happen rapidly enough to allow the world to meet its tenuous climate goals — and if the economic instability of the Ukraine war will prove to be a long-term setback, rather than an incentive towards a green transition.

As things stand, the US and the UK have both announced bans on Russian oil imports, while the EU has published a plan for more gradual independence from Russian fuels – cutting its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds by the end of this year. Responding, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak warned that Western countries risk oil prices of $300-plus per barrel if they follow through on cutting off Russian supplies.

The UK Government is poised to announce its new energy supply strategy, which would make the UK more independent in its energy supply, in the ‘coming days’. The strategy will be a real watershed moment – determining whether the conflict has lent a new sense of urgency to the task of transitioning away from coal, oil and gas or, alternatively if fossil fuels are here to stay, as long as they’re not sourced from Russia. There have, for example, been calls for renewed North Sea exploration and exploitation, as well as a U-turn on fracking. Additionally, UK Prime Minister Johnson is currently lobbying United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to increase oil production and attempt to secure major investment in green energy.

Johnson has already announced that the new strategy ‘maximises [the use of] renewables’. However, figures from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy shown that the UK’s reliance on Russian gas has doubled in the past four years. Although this only represents 4% of the UK’s total energy supply, it is still a step in the wrong direction.

At this stage, it seems reasonable to assume that the UK will increase energy production from a variety of sources, including gas and oil, but to start a new era of energy policy, the Government could look to pull the levers at its disposal that would set in motion full-scale system transformation. Each of these can help to secure the UK’s future energy security, shield consumers from the worst energy price volatility as a result of foreign influences, whilst further strengthening the UK’s low carbon credentials. Some of these have already been pulled, including the ramping up of renewable energy through schemes like annual contracts for difference, but there are real opportunities to go further.

Gas heating of homes remains one of the UK’s biggest sources of emissions, with 85% of residential buildings connected to the gas grid. Although costly, any Government decision to improve domestic energy efficiency and untangle ties to the European gas markets intrinsically linked to Russia would result in tangible benefits for both the UK and hard-pressed consumers over the longer term and help to offset the seemingly unavoidable rise in fossil fuel production. A rapid scale up of other sources that makes use of the UK’s existing renewable credentials – such as the gradually increased deployment of hydrogen – or a delay to the planned closure of several nuclear power stations would also considerably reduce the pressure on the system.

In the immediate term, there are increasing suggestions that the UK Treasury – led by Chancellor Rishi Sunak – will have to produce COVID-scale market interventions to, first, save the UK from an energy crisis and, second, markedly soften the associated ‘cost of living crisis’ for British voters.

More broadly, the energy-related challenges facing the British Government are more serious than at any time since the oil crisis of the early 1970s or the year-long miners’ strike of the mid-1980s. Reducing emissions already represented a huge task, but now the Government needs to increase, simultaneously, the UK’s energy independence. The challenge will be enormous – but the opportunities for renewable energy providers could be equally huge. The ‘dash for gas’ is certainly over; a sprint for additional solar, nuclear and wind-power (including, significantly, onshore) seems certain to begin.

To discuss this issue further, please email our consultant Dani Schmidt-Fischer  and Milo Boyd on and

GK Insight - UK Financial Services Outlook

GK Insight – UK Financial Services Outlook

Trade and Cooperation Agreement: impact and implications 

In December 2020, the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU) signed a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), delineating the new trade rules between the bloc and the UK after Britain’s decision to exit (‘Brexit’) the EU.

While for other aspects of trade (such as goods) the Agreement and its implications are clear, the TCA does not contain specific rules around financial services between the UK and the EU. Instead, the TCA contains some more general requirements:

  • neither the EU nor the UK should limit either the number of the other’s firms that can operate in its market or the number of people they can employ
  • the other’s firms should be treated equally to other national or foreign suppliers and should have the ability to access any state-operated payment systems
  • both entities will ensure that international financial services standards (such as those from the G20, the Financial Stability Board and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision) are implemented and applied.

Furthermore, the general rules around financial services have a so-called ‘prudential carve-out’, which allows each entity to adopt prudential rules – for example, to protect investors or ensure the integrity and stability of their financial systems. Another key aspect of the TCA is that both the UK and the EU have the ability to revoke equivalence decisions around financial services without consulting each other.

While this is potentially a positive aspect for the UK, as it permits regulatory divergence on financial services, it also represents a form of risk as the EU is not obliged to give British investors the same rights that they enjoyed when the UK was a member state.

Overall, the rules on financial services in the TCA provide for freer EU/UK access in financial services than would have applied under a ‘no deal’ scenario. However, access still falls far short of what businesses had previously enjoyed across the European single market.

Joint Declaration and Memorandum of Understanding

As the TCA does not set out specific rules around the regulatory aspects of financial services, the UK and the EU also signed a Joint Declaration, on 24th December 2020. Under the Declaration, the two entities agreed to work towards the establishment of structured regulatory cooperation on financial services. This would allow for exchanges of views and analysis relating to regulatory initiatives and other issues of shared interest. Such cooperation would also facilitate more transparency and easier dialogue over (for example) adopting, suspending, and withdrawing equivalence decisions – as well as enhanced coordination with international bodies.

The Joint Declaration also committed the UK and the EU to work towards agreeing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by the end of March 2021 to establish a firmer framework for cooperation, including equivalence determinations. The UK Government confirmed at the end of March 2021 that the MoU had, in its view, been agreed in principle and needed only to be formally signed.

Among its other provisions, the MoU aims to establish what was called a ‘Joint UK-EU Financial Regulatory Forum’ to serve as a platform for dialogue on financial services issues. The MoU also focuses on non-legally binding cooperation but does not address the politically contentious issue of single market access for UK financial services. Reports have highlighted that the MoU has yet to be signed or, therefore, put into force.

This has potentially negative consequences for the UK financial services market, as it is simply reliant on equivalence decisions made by the EU. While the UK has published its own equivalence assessment, the EU has yet to make equivalence decisions for the UK (except for two temporary decisions granted at the end of the transition period – one of which expired at the end of June 2021). This means that UK firms’ access to EU markets depends on the rules which each member state applies to third country businesses.

As substantial equivalence decisions from the EU seem unlikely, the UK Government has indicated that it will change the UK’s financial services regulatory regime in the hope of delivering a so-called ‘Brexit dividend’.

Impact on financial services

It will obviously take time to determine the full impact of the Brexit deal on the UK’s financial services sector. Nonetheless, there have been some early indications of the effects of both Brexit and the TCA’s implementation.

In particular, there has been a shift of certain trading operations and staff from the UK to the EU/European Economic Area, with London losing out to cities such as Frankfurt and Amsterdam. This has been most notable in the cases of share trading, euro-denominated derivatives and asset management, although the scale of the lost business and employment is lower than some experts had predicted.

Britain has also lost its ‘passporting’ permissions which has, for instance, necessitated the restructuring of many UK firms’ European businesses. When the UK was part of the EU, firms could export products and services to each member state without the need for a specific licence as a result of the financial ‘passport’ system. Now, due to the absence of equivalence decisions by the EU, UK firms have had to either cease conducting regulated business in the EU, open authorised European subsidiaries or restructure their European businesses to ensure they remain outside of the relevant member state’s regulatory perimeter.

Indeed, the Financial Times (FT) reported that 2021’s first trading day saw €6 billion of EU share trading shift from London to EU marketplaces such as Madrid, Frankfurt and Paris. While share trading is not the most lucrative business within the financial services sector, the FT noted that the shift would still mean lower tax receipts for the UK Government. In addition, the newspaper subsequently reported, in February 2021, that Amsterdam had become Europe’s largest share trading centre after a range of EU-based financial institutions had moved away from trading in London due to the failed equivalence decisions. According to the think-tank New Financial, about 7,500 jobs have moved from the UK to the EU since the 2016 Brexit referendum, while banks and asset managers have transferred more than $1 trillion in assets – about a tenth of the total value. Finally, City A.M. reported in June 2021 that, according to data from EY (Ernst & Young), two in five financial services firms have moved or plan to move some UK operations and/or staff to EU member states. However, many employees would reportedly rather quit their jobs than be relocated. The financial services sector will also be affected by the TCA’s mobility provisions, which allow firms to send employees to deliver services in the EU, subject to conditions, with the exact rules varying between each member state.

UK domestic policy-making – financial services

In July 2021, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP) used his set-piece Mansion House speech to outline his vision for the sector. It included commitments to implement at least parts of two Government-commissioned reviews: first, Lord Hill’s review of the UK’s companies listing regime and, second, the Kalifa financial technology (fintech) review.

The British Government hopes that reforming financial services regulation will help firms trial technological innovations and scale up new products – helping the UK carve out a ‘first mover’ advantage by quickly developing new regulatory regimes that encourage firms to launch advanced products and innovate more quickly than other countries. It also hopes that such reforms could drive the financial sector to help deliver the UK’s net zero environmental ambitions.

The Treasury duly opened two consultations on the ‘Financial Services Future Regulatory Framework Review’, to gather views on the proposals for reforming some aspects of the financial sector’s reguation. Such reforms offer the opportunity to ensure that the UK maintains a coherent, agile, and international approach.

The first consultation was a proposal to define a clear allocation of responsibilities between Parliament, the Treasury and the financial sector. Other proposals included Government and Parliament to be responsible for setting the policy framework for the financial sector. The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) should be responsible for designing and implementing the relevant regulatory standards. The PRA and FCA should also be subjected to transparency requirements around activity – specific policy framework legislation.

In November 2020, Parliament’s all-party Treasury Committee also launched an inquiry into the future of UK financial services in order to examine how regulations should be set by Parliament and the Government once EU-based rules had ceased to govern the sector. As part of its inquiry, the Committee responded to the Treasury’s consultation with a series of recommendations. On the one hand, for example, the Committee agreed with the Treasury that the EU financial services rules that were on-shored – in short, the process of amending the legislation and regulatory framework, so that they can work in a UK-only context, while the UK was leaving the EU – should be moved into the regulators’ rule books. In contrast, the Committee does not believe there is compelling evidence to allow Ministers the absolute right to see regulators’ policy proposals before they are published for consultation. Regulators must be free, in the Committee’s view, to choose what they share with the Treasury. The Committee also believes there may be a role for the Government to use ‘activity-based’ principles to instruct regulators’ approach to specific business sectors, but it recommended that the Government should be sparing in their use. In addition, the Committee believes that there should be a targeted approach to effectively scrutinise regulatory proposals. Under the future Financial Services Regulatory Framework, the Committee suggested that proposals made by the FCA or the PRA should be put out into consultation. This means that industry stakeholders would have an opportunity to put forward their views before the proposal is integrated within the regulation.

As a response to the Treasury Committee and as a subsequent proposal on the Financial Services Future Regulatory Framework Review, the Treasury expanded on the previous consultation. This recently closed, on 9th February 2022. The Government intends to provide for a greater focus on the financial services sector’s growth and competitiveness by introducing new statutory secondary objectives for both the PRA and the FCA. More specifically, Ministers are hoping to amend the existing regulatory principles – especially those introduced as a result of EU regulation – to ensure faster but sustainable growth. The Treasury is also looking to create a new regulatory framework using primary legislation, moving the EU-derived rules into UK regulators’ rulebooks and, finally, allowing regulators to make changes to the regulatory framework as they feel appropriate.

Lastly, the House of Lords’ European Affairs Committee launched, in February 2022, another inquiry into UK-EU relationships in financial services. It will examine: Brexit’s impact, so far, on the UK’s financial services sector; the impact of the absence of a functioning framework for UK/EU regulatory cooperation; the future of cross-border financial services in the absence of equivalence; and the impact of regulatory divergence and agreements with third countries on UK/EU financial services trade.


It is clearly still an uncertain period for financial services. The failure to sign the MoU by March 2021, as planned, and the EU’s unwillingness to make an equivalence decision have encouraged the UK Government to push harder for a divergent regulatory framework for financial services.

Its decision to create a different regulatory framework from the EU may have both benefits and costs for the UK. In terms of benefits, its financial services sector enjoys a comparative strength that allows the UK to possibly diverge and expand its reach in non-EU countries. On the other hand, regulatory differences can trigger disputes, especially around the rules implemented by the TCA.

What is certain is that the UK Government seems willing to move towards a divergent financial services regulatory framework. It will take some time to see how various consultations, inquiries and future legislative proposals will affect this sector, and their true impacts might become apparent only in the longer term.

Piece by Lavinia Troiani. To discuss the outlook for financial services, please email