Category Archives: Government

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.

Council Tax Reform

Reflections on the Future of Council Tax

GK Associate Hugo Tuckett assesses the likelihood of council tax reform amid rising concern about local authority financial resilience.

Is council tax reform on the horizon?

Amid rising bankruptcies in recent years, and growing concern about the sustainability of council finances, funding mechanisms for local authorities – and particularly council tax – are attracting growing political scrutiny.

In December 2023, the Local Government Association reported that almost one in five council leaders and chief executives it surveyed think it is very or fairly likely that they will need to issue a Section 114 notice this year or next due to a lack of funding. A Section 114 notice is issued by a council’s finance officer if they believe the council’s expenditure will exceed the resources it has available. Eleven Section 114 notices have been issued since 2018, with only five issued in the 30 years prior.

Given that council tax receipts now make up over half of local authority spending power (56.9% in 2023-24 compared to 49.1% in 2015-16), ensuring the council tax regime is operating effectively is critical to the long-term sustainability of local authority finances.

The Levelling Up Committee recently made a series of recommendations to the Government on council tax reform. In its report, the Committee reiterated its previous conclusions about the “unfairness and outdatedness of the council tax regime”.

The Government has since said it has no plans to conduct a revaluation of council tax bands (the Committee’s key recommendation) as, amongst other factors, “it would particularly risk those on a lower income, including pensioners, who have seen their homes appreciate in value”.

Here is the focal point of political discourse. A Conservative Government, aware that (according to recent YouGov polling) the Party is now the most popular only among the over-70s, will be aggrieved to conduct a revaluation of property bands which would hit the pockets of its core voter base. A Labour government on the other hand, with traditionally greater allegiances to younger, non-home owning voters and those on lower incomes could take a fresh look at this issue. One option likely to be under consideration is the introduction of new, higher bands of council tax.

Given the Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has ruled out numerous tax rises ahead of the upcoming General Election, council tax reform represents one revenue-raising lever still available to her. While the details of any potential reform are still unknown, it is a near certainty that the council tax regime will only grow in political salience in the years ahead.

SEND and AP Improvement Plan

The SEND and AP Improvement Plan – A Year Without Progress

GK Advisers Noureen Ahmed and Felix Griffin evaluate the implementation of the SEND and AP Improvement Plan.

The Government and the Opposition face questions on their SEND policy plans

Nearly a year has elapsed since the Government unveiled its SEND and AP Improvement Plan, which reiterated its commitment to ensuring every child and young person with SEND receives the high-quality support they need. What exactly has changed since publication? The answer – not much…yet.

The plan outlined several key policies, including the long-overdue standardisation and digitalisation of Education, Health, and Care Plans (EHCPs), the implementation of new national SEND standards, and the introduction of a revised funding approach for alternative provision.

Although these policies were warmly welcomed by the sector, they’re not expected to come into effect on a national scale until 2025 at the earliest. This delay has raised concerns about the precariousness of the SEND landscape, prompting calls for a quicker implementation timeline.

A recent report from the Guardian, citing Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, revealed instances where children and young people in certain local authorities waited over two years to receive an EHCP. Moreover, insufficient funding for SEND services has put local authorities in a difficult position, exacerbating the existing strain on resources.

Questions have also been raised about what a Labour government might look like for the sector. At present, the Party has said very little on SEND but noted that interlinking services and improving data use” would help identify a child’s needs much earlier.

The Government has stressed its ambition to reform the SEND landscape. However, given the escalating crisis, doubts continue to grow as to whether the plan will suffice in addressing and alleviating the issues facing the sector.

GK Point of View- Spring Budget 2024

Spring Budget 2024_GK Strategy

The GK team react to the Chancellor’s Spring Budget, with GK Strategic Advisers offering their insight into what this means for the Conservative Party in the run up to the General Election, what the budget means for individuals, as well as the announcement’s wider impact on key British industries.

To read our briefing please use the link above or click here.