Category Archives: Government

Will Sunak’s Latest Reset Work?

GK Associate Hugo Tuckett examines the Prime Minister’s recent speech at Policy Exchange and whether he can address the Conservative Party’s declining fortunes.

Rishi Sunak turns his attention to security in bid to tackle Labour’s poll lead.

Following a dismal set of local election results and the high-profile defection of Dover MP Natalie Elphicke to Labour, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has attempted to reset the political agenda. He used his latest relaunch at Policy Exchange, a Conservative-friendly think tank, to portray himself as the best leader to guide the country through what he described as the “dangerous and transformational” years ahead.

References were made throughout to ensuring the UK’s security in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. It was also telling that Sunak made a pitch to voters on the opportunities presented by artificial intelligence – an area where he will feel comfortable promoting his tech credentials against the Labour leader Keir Starmer, who is 17 years his senior.

It is not unusual for incumbent (and unpopular) governments to paint opposition parties as inexperienced and incapable at a time of potential national peril. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown famously argued “this is no time for a novice” in the wake of the 2008 financial crash amid David Cameron’s growing popularity. However, to go for this tactic right at the start of a general election campaign does suggest Sunak’s No.10 operation is running out of levers to pull to tackle Starmer’s seemingly unassailable lead in the polls.

Sunak’s pivot into security marks a clear distinction from his previous attempts to put the Conservatives on the path to election victory. At the 2023 Conservative Party Conference, he tried to paint himself as the change candidate and separate himself from the then 13 years of Conservative rule. Sunak was subsequently forced to adopt a continuity-focused strategy and defend the Conservatives’ record in office following David Cameron’s return as Foreign Secretary later that year.

The extent to which Sunak’s latest reset will work will depend on whether the electorate is still listening. The Conservative Party can highlight its commitment to raise defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030, a pledge yet to be matched by Labour, who have adopted the looser definition of meeting the 2.5% figure “as soon as resources allow.” However, with Labour so far ahead in the polls and three changes of tack in less than a year, it does raise the prospect that the Prime Minister is trying to engage an electorate which is simply no longer interested in what the Conservatives have to offer.

Disrupted Global Supply Chains: Is a Strategic Shift on the Horizon?

GK Adviser Felix Griffin looks at the forces disrupting global supply chains and explores how industries and governments are adapting to this ‘new normal.’

Beyond shortages and delays: the existential challenges facing global supply chains

The intricate network of global supply chains currently faces a confluence of unprecedented challenges. The initial shockwaves of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in meticulously planned production and transportation systems. While there were tentative signs of recovery in 2023, geopolitical developments, like the war in Ukraine and heightening tensions in the Middle East, have exacerbated disruptions, impacting the flow of critical resources. This is compounded by the growing impacts of climate change, which manifests in extreme weather events that disrupt production and transportation, highlighting the limitations of just-in-time manufacturing models. Inflationary pressures are squeezing margins for businesses and impacting consumer spending due to rising costs of raw materials and energy. Labour shortages in many industries add another layer of complexity, creating bottlenecks and hindering smooth operations.

The consequences of these pressures are far-reaching. Consumers face significant price hikes across various goods, driven in part by supply chain disruptions. Shortages of certain products are becoming commonplace, and even when available, delivery times have significantly increased. Businesses are caught in a precarious position, struggling to meet demand while grappling with rising costs and the potential for product scarcity.

The question remains: are these disruptions a temporary blip or a sign of a new normal? Experts suggest that we are entering a new era for global supply chains, one that necessitates a paradigm shift towards increased resilience. Businesses need to adapt and become more agile to navigate this increasingly complex landscape. Diversifying their supplier base and production locations can mitigate risk by reducing reliance on any single geographic region. Nearshoring, the practice of relocating production closer to consumer markets, can lessen dependence on long-distance transportation, which is vulnerable to disruptions and rising fuel costs. Technological advancements offer a compelling solution where they can be realised. Investments in automation and data analytics can enhance efficiency, transparency, and even enable real-time adjustments to production based on fluctuating demand.

Governments themselves play a crucial role in ensuring supply chain integrity. Strengthening import/export controls and fostering domestic production of critical goods can lessen reliance on potentially volatile regions. Fostering international cooperation on supply chain diversification and transparency is proving to mitigate risks and ensure access to essential resources during periods of heightened tension. Echoing the concerns of Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, this new era necessitates a reassessment of national security risks embedded within globalised supply chains. Dowden aptly pointed out, in a recent address at Chatham House, that while globalisation has brought economic benefits, it has also exposed vulnerabilities. The recent actions announced by the UK government, including a review of Outward Direct Investment (ODI) risks and an update to the National Security and Investment (NSI) Act, serve as a model for other nations. These steps acknowledge the potential for exploitation by hostile actors, as highlighted by Russia’s manipulation of gas prices and China’s use of economic coercion. By working collaboratively with the private sector, governments can play a crucial role in building a more resilient and secure global supply chain network for the future.

Building a more resilient and adaptable supply chain network is not without its challenges. It requires a strategic shift in perspective and potentially higher upfront investment. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial obstacles. By collaborating effectively, businesses and governments can foster a more robust system that ensures a smoother flow of goods, minimises disruptions, and ultimately benefits all stakeholders, from manufacturers and retailers to consumers across the globe.

Women and Health – Why women are such an important demographic for Labour

GK Adviser Noureen Ahmed reflects on the Government’s priorities in its Women’s Health Strategy and explores the challenges Labour can expect to face in the women’s and wider health space should the party form the next government.

At the start of 2024, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins outlined her top priorities for 2024 under the Women’s Health Strategy, which came into effect two years ago. The Strategy was welcomed by the sector, due to the Government demonstrating its commitment to improving care and treatment for women. Women are routinely under-represented, particularly when it comes to clinical trials; this hinders our understanding on how a number of health problems such as cancer, endometriosis, and other gynaecological conditions impact women from a wide range of backgrounds. As women make up around 51 per cent of the population, tackling these obstacles is vital to ensuring improved outcomes for women’s health.

Under the Government’s priorities for women’s health this year, there are several initiatives expected to be implemented. These include plans to expand women’s health hubs, bolster pre- and post-natal care as well as improve support for vulnerable women. The Government has also committed to more funding for research, which would look into how women are represented in medical research.

Nevertheless, given how close we are to the next General Election (likely in October or November of this year), questions have been raised on whether such policies will actually be enacted over the coming months.

The priorities for 2024 came as a result of a Government consultation which aimed to learn more about women’s health issues, and to better understand women’s experiences of the healthcare system. The call for evidence received over 100,000 responses and demonstrated a clear consensus that health services at present fail to meet women’s day to day needs. The Women’s Health Strategy has been deemed ambitious, given it aims to “radically improve the way in which the health and care system engages and listens to all women and girls.” For the Government, the Strategy is much needed and will form “the next step on the journey to reset the dial on women’s health.”

The Labour Party has stressed its ambition to prioritise women’s health should it come into power, as well as to ensure all women – regardless of their background – have access to better quality care. In addition to its pledge to invest in women’s health services, Labour also confirmed its plans to increase access to reproductive healthcare, address gender inequalities in healthcare settings, and ensure women’s health services are equipped with the vital staff and resources needed.

As the likelihood of a Labour Government increases in the run up to the next General Election, Labour faces the challenge of demonstrating how it will ‘revive’ the NHS, with the health service having been chronically stretched and underfunded over the past decade. At present, the NHS faces a raft of issues related to recruitment, staff pay, industrial action and waiting lists which remains stubbornly high – prompting more people to take out private medical insurance. Should Labour come into power, the party will be undertaking a huge task to alleviate the crisis but will be limited in terms of how much substantial progress can be made by financial constraints.

Women make up a significant proportion of the population and so, inevitably, their choices greatly influence election outcomes. For Labour in particular, women’s votes will be essential if it wants to secure an electoral majority. It is imperative that the party works to engage effectively with women and ensure their concerns and aspirations for women’s healthcare are listened to and used to develop and implement effective policy.

GK Strategy are experts in the health policy landscape. Get in touch with noureen@gkstrategy.com if you’d like to hear more from our consultants.

View from Westminster: Local Elections Expected to Increase Pressure on the Prime Minister

GK Associate Joshua Owolabi and GK Adviser Noureen Ahmed assess the mood in Westminster ahead of the local elections in May.

Conservative Party (dis)unity in focus ahead of the local elections

With local elections taking place on 2 May, all eyes are firmly on the Conservatives, as the party braces for defeat. Respected psephologists Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings, the Directors of the Local Government Chronicle’s Elections Centre, have predicted that the Party could potentially lose up to 500 seats, if it repeats its poor performance from the 2023 local elections. This would see half of the Tory councillors facing election lose their seats. Despite the optimism from Sunak’s allies that fellow Tory MPs will not agitate for yet another change in leadership, a heavy defeat could be perilous for the Prime Minister.

Speculation continues in Westminster about the implications of defeat for Sunak and his government. In recent months, press coverage has focused on whether a rebel group of MPs and former Tory advisers were plotting to use the election results to further undermine Sunak’s authority. There is already ammunition for the plotters to use, such as the rebellion in mid-April over the Second Reading of the Tobacco and Vaping Bill. The rebellion was orchestrated by the Tory right, and included potential successors, such as Kemi Badenoch. Although the Government won the vote, it was a reminder that party discipline is still lacking – an ominous sign ahead of the local elections.

Sunak’s opponents within the Conservative Party will be well aware of the historical significance of local elections. In 1979, 1997 and 2010 respectively, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron all secured general election victories following strong performances in the local elections that preceded them. As a general election is only a few months away, many would question how a change in leadership would be beneficial to the Party. However, if the Conservatives are routed by Keir Starmer’s Labour, then it presents disgruntled MPs with a choice – are their plans to prevent a general election defeat best served by pressuring the Prime Minister on policy and strategy in private, or are more drastic measures required?

Underfunded & Underprepared: Is Britain’s Defence Broken?

GK Adviser Felix Griffin dives into the challenges facing the MoD, from funding shortfalls to sluggish decision-making, and explores potential paths forward.

Incoherent strategy and a lack of funding is hampering progress

The UK’s Ministry of Defence finds itself grappling with a yawning funding gap, a rapidly evolving global landscape demanding a more responsive military, and an uncertain political landscape.

The biggest hurdle? Money – not just the lack of it but also how its spent.

Having fallen down the pecking order in the Chancellor’s recent budget, defence spending is set to receive no additional funding under the current government’s remaining tenure.

Meanwhile rising costs, particularly in nuclear deterrence and ambitious naval programmes, have created a staggering £16.9 billion hole in the MoD’s Equipment Plan – a shortfall which effectively handcuffs the MoD’s ability to modernise its equipment and carry out crucial projects necessary to maintain a robust defence posture.

There’s more to this than just money. Recent warnings highlight long-standing and systemic inventory failures in all three categories of inventory across the UK armed forces: Capital Spares, Raw Material and Consumables, and Guided Weapons, Missiles and Bombs. This raises a critical question: even with increased funding, would the UK be able to effectively equip its armed forces? The current evidence suggests not, presenting a deeper problem that needs addressing.

These issues point not only to a lack of innovation in procurement and strategic thinking, but also to sluggish decision-making processes that hinder the MoD’s ability to react swiftly to emerging threats.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps’s stark assessment of the current situation – a transition from a “post-war world into a pre-war world” – rings all too true. The war in Ukraine serves as a stark reminder of the impact of large-scale conflict in Europe, while regional instability in the Middle East and the ever-growing tensions in the Asia-Pacific all demand a more agile and capable military from the UK. These diverse threats, which are by no means an exhaustive list, require a comprehensive and adaptable defence strategy from the MoD; something which the most recent Integrated Review (2021) failed to deliver, even after it was refreshed in 2023.

With the possibility of a new Labour government becoming increasingly likely, the party’s stance on defence policy and spending adds another layer of uncertainty.

I attended a Policy Exchange event on 28 February, which saw Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, John Healey, articulate his party’s vision for national defence. While recognising outdated practices and the imperative to modernise, Labour’s defence plans appear largely underdeveloped, or at least under-communicated.

Despite outlining some interesting plans, including a new national armaments director and the enhancement of the Chief of Defence Staff’s role, Healey’s speech fell victim to his party’s commitment to fiscal prudence, lacking significant substance and ambition. Though highlighting the state of defence when Labour left in 2010, with comparatively higher levels of defence spending (2.5% of GDP), as well as better troop numbers and satisfaction (over 100,000 soldiers and 60% approval), Healey emphasised the need to streamline existing processes before making financial commitments, underscoring a cautious approach. Nevertheless, Labour’s emphasis on reform and strategic preparedness offers a glimpse into their aspirations for bolstering the nation’s security in an increasingly uncertain world.

GK Launches New Podcast on Trending Policy Issues

Education with Edward Timpson MP

In the inaugural episode of the GK Strategy Podcast, David Laws, GK Strategic Adviser, spoke with the former Children & Families Minister, Edward Timpson MP, about the future of special educational needs and disability policy.

The lively discussion covered everything from SEND policy to social services, with Mr Timpson offering insight into the reform to SEND services and the current policy environment across social care.

Mr Timpson spoke specifically on the 2014 Children and Families Act which he helped push through Parliament. He noted that the legislation “still stands up to scrutiny” 10 years after it was passed and serves as a blueprint for joining up and improving services across education, health and social care. However, he also described some of the challenges associated with the legislation’s implementation, which has led to many parents having vastly different experiences with the SEND system.

During the episode, Mr Laws and Mr Timpson brought to light the “tough” spending environment across the education sector, highlighting the need for increased funding from central government. However, they also touched on other issues that have impacted SEND provision, including the capacity within the workforce, the importance of educational psychologists, SEND ‘deserts’ and out of area provision, and the extent to which mainstream settings should take on more responsibility for SEND provision.

You can listen to the full episode on Spotify here.