With thousands of council seats up for election in 230 of England’s 317 councils, GK’s Managing Director Scott Dodsworth takes a look at the results thus far and assesses what they mean for the UK’s two biggest parties. Find Scott’s analysis here: Local Elections: what we know so far
Category Archives: Government
What would Labour do? Issue No.1
In the first of GK’s series on the Labour Party, our expert team takes a look at Labour’s policy development and the party’s thinking on key themes including tax, debt, public spending, the economy, immigration, and the cost of living, among others. Find GK’s first issue here: What would Labour do?
GK Point of View – New Downing Street
As the new Prime Minster, Liz Truss, returns to London from Scotland this afternoon, her closest advisers have already moved into No. 10 marking the end of the leadership campaign and the start of her administration.
Despite some Johnson advisers having offered to stay on under Truss, the team has been almost entirely cleared out. Demonstrating the extent to which this marks a clean start from the poor reputation and disorganisation that beset the previous political operation.
Politically experienced and close to Truss, they will quickly get used to the rabbit warren behind the world’s most famous front door. Chief among them Mark Fulbrook who was brought in to head up the leadership campaign when things got serious will be a senior respected Chief of Staff and will ensure the operation is focussed on and geared up for the next General Election. Trusted and long-standing adviser, Ruth Porter, who has been at Truss’ side throughout the campaign, will reinforce the professionalism in the top team, known for gripping issues and ensuring delivery.
The Prime Minister brings with her to No.10 the closest members of her team from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Senior staffers will take up key roles, including Jamie Hope (Director of Policy) and Adam Jones (Political Director of Communications) working alongside Simon McGee (Director of Communications).
Other key figures in the new No.10 include Jason Stein who is understood to have responsibility for PMQs prep, John Bew remains the foreign affairs adviser, an important link into the new team of Special Advisers that will support the new Foreign Secretary over the road at King Charles Street. It remains to be seen how long Simon Case lasts, James Bowler who worked with Truss at the Department for International Trade is a leading contender for the senior civil servant role.
Whatever the pending announcements around energy, the economy and cost of living, this is a capable team who have only two short years before a General Election. They hit the ground running. Only time will tell how far the (expensive) tank of gas will take them.
For further details on the new team in Downing Street or developments at Westminster, please email Scott Dodsworth, GK Strategy email@example.com.
GK Point of View – Digital Strategy announced during London Tech Week
GK Associate, Nicole Wyatt, analyses the biggest talking points from the recently published Digital Strategy.
The British Government published its new 2022 Digital Strategy to commence London Tech Week on 13th June.
As its name suggests, London Tech Week ran across five days in the UK’s capital and brought together over 20,000 governmental and corporate leaders from around the world including a hologram-version of Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Besides the Digital Strategy, other policy announcements included the UK’s digital trade agreement with Singapore (which is already coming into force), a health data strategy, and the ’Future of compute’ review.
The mere fact that London has its own tech-focused week, including thousands of fringe events, illustrates how the city (and the UK more widely) is at the centre of the broader tech ecosystem. Indeed, the UK’s tech sector raised £27.4 billion in private capital in 2021 – more than any other European country – and Boris Johnson’s government is putting a particularly strong emphasis on digital and tech policy. This is evidenced by the fact that, for example, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) is handling a larger number of legislative bills than any other government department.
Digital policy is also a way for the UK Government to diverge from the European Union’s regulatory framework, particularly as far as data is concerned. Just after London Tech Week, in fact, Ministers published their response to the consultation ‘Data: a new direction’, which seeks to reinvigorate the UK’s data regime to promote more competition and innovation than was possible under EU rules, especially with its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – which critics regarded as excessively complex.
The Digital Strategy, itself, is an update on its 2017 predecessor. It suggests that its proposed approach to supporting and strengthening the UK’s digital economy could grow its tech sector by an additional £41.5 billion by 2025 and create a further 678,000 jobs, while making the UK a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI), semiconductor design and quantum computing.
The Strategy sets out the Government’s vision for harnessing digital transformation and building a more inclusive, competitive and innovative digital economy. It focuses on six key areas:
- Digital foundations: developing the UK’s digital infrastructure and strengthening regulations around data, competition and security, to support the Government’s pro-innovation agenda.
- Ideas and intellectual property: supporting the UK’s innovation ecosystem to foster growing R&D initiatives among universities and in private sector businesses.
- Digital skills and talent: increasing the supply of digitally and tech-enabled workers throughout the supply chain to promote greater economic prosperity, through (among other initiatives) strengthening the digital education pipeline and attracting the best global talent.
- Financing digital growth: encouraging UK capital with incentives such as tax reliefs for start-ups and businesses, which will improve the tech ecosystem to ensure that Britain remains one of the best places to start and run a digital technology business.
- Spreading prosperity and levelling up: exploring how everyone from every industry can benefit from digital innovation in the UK, while also supporting the net zero agenda.
- Enhancing the UK’s place in the world: influencing tech policy beyond the UK’s borders to be a trailblazer in this space, as well as collaborating through strong international partnerships.
Included in the Strategy is an annex of all of the Government’s new and ongoing initiatives to support, in practice, its strategic aims. Some of the new initiatives announced include:
- Establishment of a joint UK/US Prize Challenge to accelerate the development of Privacy-Enhancing Technologies (PETs).
- Creation of a Digital Skills Council, to replace the Digital Skills Partnership Board, as a form of liaison between government and industry on how to address digital skills shortages.
- Review into the ‘Future of compute’ – seeking to create recommendations for improving the country’s computing capacity over the next decade.
- A revised version of the UK digital identity trust framework, with a related consultation seeking views on the Government’s proposed approach.
Notably, artificial intelligence (AI) as well as other rapidly growing fields such as blockchain and quantum computing, were included but with only limited details. As many other governments are concluding, this is currently a highly unregulated space and many hotly debated discussions are taking place about if, where and how legislate. The UK is seeking to lead the way but exactly how it will do so will be revealed in an eagerly anticipated AI White Paper.
Overall, this Digital Strategy seems to be largely a recap of what the UK Government is already doing, and striving to do, across various departments in order to shift digital policy to be more pro-innovation and pro-competition. Announced at London Tech Week, the motives behind the new Strategy, just five years after the previous version was published, demonstrate the UK Government’s desire to showcase the nation as a leader in digitalisation.
GK Point of View – As Boris Johnson continues to cling on, can the Shadow Cabinet provide a convincing alternative?
GK Intern, Jed Shashu, reflects on the Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting’s response at an Institute for Government event – on how to tackle the challenges facing the Health and Social Care sector.
At a time when Boris Johnson’s premiership is characterised by failing public trust and rising inflation, the Conservatives may well struggle to rebuild their brand in time for the next General Election. Recent opinion polls show greater support for the Labour party, and coupled with the upcoming by-elections and the results of the investigation by the Committee of Privileges, this could lead to Boris Johnson’s leadership becoming untenable. The Labour Party as the next ruling party is a serious possibility, therefore the shadow cabinet’s policy recommendations, proposals, and scrutiny of the current government’s actions gain increasing importance.
However, Labour are still struggling to reveal their key policies. One example is the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Wes Streeting who was recently speaking at an Institute for Government event. Although highly regarded in the role, Streeting did not offer clear policy proposals for the NHS or a pre-legislative proposal for the Health and Social Care sector. Streeting instead presented vague recommendations which offered a glimpse of Labour’s health policy and proposed solutions to tackle the current issues within the Health and Social Care sector, evolving around the mantra of both undisclosed reforms and resources which are needed to produce results.
One glimpse of a Labour policy to relieve pressure on the NHS came in the form of a previously announced National Care Service to provide free personal care for older people. Streeting said that this policy, which was first announced in September 2019, could be delivered within the first term of a Labour government. Additionally, he also argued his case for an effective workforce planning strategy, to tackle workforce shortages by investing in training for junior doctors to take on more frontline roles, increasing wages of the lowest paid in the sector, and greater investment in social care staff. However, while promoting these appealing policy proposals, he fell short of laying out any form of costs or targets that Labour would incur if in government.
These recommendations, if thought out, could certainly help tackle the biggest challenges facing the NHS and adult social care sector. Training junior doctors to have the skills take on more frontline roles could help ease the strain on our health service, while helping to clear the NHS backlog and the NHS staff shortages of 110,000. Increasing wages of the lowest paid in the sector can help those struggling to deal with the rise of the cost of living. The creation of a National Care Service and investing in social care staff could, if implemented correctly, help the structural issues within social care. Structural issues that have been worsened by the £4.6 billion cut to social care budgets and the impact of the pandemic. Recent estimates suggest 1.2 million older people’s needs are going unmet, this would mean the older generation who are not receiving adequate care can receive the support they need.
Discussing the necessary funds, Streeting attacked a recent statement by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who said that the NHS does not require more funding. The Shadow Health Secretary argued the government’s underfunding of the country’s health and social care sector needs to be resolved by greater investment from the Treasury to address the underlying problems the pandemic uncovered and a structural reform of the NHS. Streeting indicated he will continue to stress to Her Majesty’s Treasury that investment in Health and Social Care is vital not only for public health but can boost the UK’s economy in the long term. However, throughout the event, he maintained a certain vagueness when speaking about the necessary funds and structural reforms, missing a clear chance to take advantage of the Conservative government’s tarnished image.
Streeting said that one solution comes in the form of the life sciences sector, which he said is “critical” in aiding the NHS perform at its best. He argued that this can be achieved by investing more in the sector; as this can lead to new medicines, treatments, and technology, which in return would ensure more patients receive effective pre-emptive treatments – this is necessary to help tackle the country’s greatest health issues including cancer, obesity, and ageing.
On the future of health, Streeting said it was critical to learn the lessons from the pandemic and build up resilience to minimise the effects of a new pandemic. He believes scaling up of vaccination rollouts, the implementation of “germ games” and an annual report presented to parliament as part of regular pandemic planning are key lessons to adapt and minimise the effects of future pandemics.
The Institute for Government event did not offer clear policy proposals, and Labour will have to solidify a policy base on which it will run in the next General Election. Labour’s lack of potential proposals could be the opposition party awaiting another Conservative blunder to deliver a coup de grace, but the public will undoubtedly expect more from any ministers of a potential cabinet.
What the event did highlight was Wes Streeting’s effective communication skills, quickness, and boldness that as Labour leader, the party could win back the decisive ‘Red Wall’ constituencies. Streeting may have distanced himself from replacing Keir Starmer, but his vision for the Health and Social Care sector shows qualities that are necessary not only for a future Secretary of State but a potential Prime Minister.
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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