Category Archives: Due Diligence

The GK Post-Election Breakfast Event

GK Strategy Adviser Rebecca McMahon reviews the GK Post-Election Breakfast Event. 

The coming weeks and months will see the new Labour government pressing ahead with its agenda for government, and getting to grips with a number of difficult challenges facing the UK, from sluggish growth, to growing NHS waiting lists, to precarious local authority finances.

GK Strategy was delighted to host a panel discussion this week looking at how the government will tackle some of these issues, and how it will prioritise its time and resources to deliver on its ambitious policy pledges. GK was joined by  former Minister and Health Select Committee Chair, Steve Brine, and Head of Research at Labour Together, Christabel Cooper, who shared their insights into the government’s approach, and some of the inevitable obstacles it will face in the coming months.

Both panelists agreed that while the list of public policy challenges inherited by Starmer and his team is by no means a short one, Labour ministers will now be deciding on areas where urgent action is most needed.

Reforming the UK’s planning system was identified as one of the priority areas for Starmer’s new administration. Our two panelists noted that the new Government’s ambition in this area has already been illustrated by repealing the de facto ban on onshore wind, re-introducing mandatory housing targets, and pledging to update the National Planning Policy Framework via consultation by the end of the Party’s first month in power.

As a policy area with implications for multiple sectors – including housebuilding, the green economy and major infrastructure– planning reform to unlock private investment will be at the core of the new Labour Government’s agenda. As Chancellor of the Exchequer Rachel Reeves set out in her first speech following her appointment, its ultimate success will rely on “unlocking private investment that we so desperately need”.

Healthcare and the future of the NHS was another policy area which featured prominently. Steve Brine pointed out that under current spending plans, funding for the health service is projected to rise at a lower rate than during the austerity years. Meanwhile, the NHS Workforce Plan continues to be underfunded and the outcome of the Health Secretary’s talks with the junior doctors uncertain. He noted that while the Government will soon have to make difficult spending decisions, there would be an emphasis on creating an investor-friendly NHS to support Labour’s ambitions to “crowd in” private investment to improve efficiency and health outcomes.

There was a consensus that Labour’s perspective on the use of the private sector in supporting the delivery of public services is a pragmatic one. Labour’s ‘wide but shallow’ majority – achieving 64% of parliamentary seats on roughly 34% of the vote – means that the Party will need to reassure voters that it is making headway on its policy programme. Our panelists agreed that working with the private sector will be key to successfully demonstrating this.

Please do get in touch via if you are interested in attending future events or would like to set up a call to discuss the year ahead in politics.

Is the FCDO equipped to deal with global development and security challenges_

Is the FCDO equipped to deal with global development and security challenges?

GK consultants Lavinia Troiani and Sam Tankard evaluate the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s capabilities in the post-Covid era

Since the 2020 merger of the Department for International Development (DfID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) into the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), there have been questions about how this would allow the Government to deal effectively with both global development and foreign affairs challenges. With the FCDO repeatedly coming under fire for underperforming across many fronts of its vast remit, one can be led to believe that the new super-department may not be properly equipped to deal with the full range of development, diplomatic and security challenges.  

Leaving aside the fact that the merger happened in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which seems to have complicated some of the more practical elements of the unification, one could start looking at the fundamentally different aims of development policy and foreign policy. It could be said that development and foreign affairs are two sides of the same coin but are, in fact, two very different issues, and each requires a specific approach. Development policy is historically based on long-term decision-making and planning which, at its simplest, focuses on projects and initiatives designed to improve the lives of communities for generations to come. On the other hand, foreign policy traditionally is preoccupied with short-term crises, which need quick resolution, such as the recent and widely ridiculed Afghanistan evacuation which, incidentally, is arguably the clearest demonstration of the new department’s inability to successfully cover development and conventional foreign affairs issues at the same time.   

The competing aims are generating some tangible obstacles. The machinery of government change indicates this was very much an FCO takeover of DfID which had practical difficulties of two sets of departments struggling to work harmoniously. The resulting relative deprioritisation of development, in practice, has led to former DfID staff feeling demotivated, as they are having to cut development programmes to make way for foreign affairs initiatives. The department is subsequently haemorrhaging skilled development staff, and therefore compounding the FCDO’s inability (or unwillingness) to prioritise tangible development goals.  

The FCDO’s priorities can be seen in the recently published International Development Strategy. The Strategy revisits the UK’s approach to international development in light of a renewed geopolitical contest for influence and is threatening the principles of free markets, free speech, and shared technology. It focuses on aspects of investment, humanitarian assistance and green priorities. Compared to previous International Development strategies, this new strategy demonstrates a policy shift towards trade and economic relationships with developing countries as the Government looks to position the UK as outward-looking in a post-Brexit world. This consolidates the movement from the usual development projects that involve aspects such as improving health, increasing vaccines’ availability and providing clear water, whose objectives and aims are ‘on the ground’ and easily quantifiable, to a more influence and soft power-based approach, which is increasingly aligned to a conventional foreign affairs approach, rather than a development programme. 

Funding remains an issue for any department. Under its UN commitment, the UK should spend 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) on Overseas Development Assistance (ODA). However, due to economic pressures caused by the pandemic, the Government announced in 2021 that this value would drop to 0.5% of GNI. Whilst the Government did announce at the last Budget that by 2024-2025, the spending on ODA will go back to 0.7% of GNI, the looming risk of a recession may delay this further. 

Of course, the most imminent challenge that, for some, will ‘make or break’ the FCDO is the current conflict in Ukraine. Following the FCDO’s disastrous handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, attention will be on its response to Ukraine which not only has a tangible foreign policy element in protecting national security, but the more human element of the resultant refugee crisis. With the Home Office already facing criticism for its approach to Ukraine refugees, only time will tell how effective the far-from aligned FCDO will be in stepping up to the most significant foreign affairs and development challenge of the century so far.  

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