Last week was more eventful for the Prime Minister and the Government than originally planned. The PM had intended to go into recess with a flourish, lifting Covid restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ followed up with a long-awaited announcement on funding for long term social care and the publication of a command paper on the Norther Ireland protocol. Both intended to mark his second anniversary as PM with a sense ‘getting things done’.
Instead, the PM found himself self-isolating at Chequers after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for Covid along with over half a million workers pinged by the test and trace system because of continuing high rates of infection. The numbers self-isolating meant many were unable to take full advantage of the loosening of restrictions and pictures began to circulate on social media of bare shelves in supermarkets. A lack of clarity mid-week about who were essential workers and who would be exempt saw the Conservative poll lead take a dip and it and so it will have been with a sigh of relief that No10 has reached the summer break.
That said its worth looking at the Government’s to do list for the Autumn. It doesn’t represent a fresh set of challenges as such but rather a continued set of problems which will need to be dealt with to get the economy back on track and which we can expect to frame the conference season in September.
The pandemic hasn’t gone away and despite the vaccine programme being predicted to have vaccinated all adults by September the Govt has not ruled out the need for further restrictions. A programme is also in place to deliver booster jobs, provide advice to the public and to retain test and trace and isolation measures. Learning to live with and adapt to the pandemic looks set to be with us for some time. The NHS has had a tough summer and gearing up for the perennial winter crisis while dealing with the backlog of treatments for cancers and other conditions will put pressure on the system.
The March budget set out the total amount of money the government plans to spend on departments and public services such as the NHS, schools, and local government until 2025, excluding those depts where an agreement has already been reached NHS, Education, Defence. The spending review which is now underway will exacerbate tensions between No10 and No11 on spending versus cost cutting measures. Knotty political and economic issues including social care, public sector pay, and triple lock pension guarantees will play out here.
Europe and trade deals
The EU said it will not renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol, despite the publication of the Command paper by Lord Frost last week, and the Government says conditions have been reached which will allow it to trigger Article 16, which could, potentially, scrap the whole Trade and Cooperation Agreement and put us back into No Deal territory. The whole furore about cold meats being imported into Northern Ireland will rear its head again in September as the transition extension ends. Any threat to the trading arrangements with the EU makes achieving trade deals with other countries more of an imperative while, at the same time, slightly weakening our hand. Expect the focus to be on our application to join the Trans Pacific Partnership and reach agreement with ASEAN countries and the Middle East.
COP 26 takes place in Glasgow in November and the Government see this as an opportunity to establish Global Britain as the leading economy dealing with climate change. Net Zero targets have been enshrined in law to reduce carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 but the Govt has faced some criticism from the Climate Change Committee for delays. We can expect forensic attention being paid across all areas in time for COP and especially where targets are looming fast such as the ban on gas boilers in new homes by 2025.
Levelling Up and Build Back Better were two of the slogans credited with the Conservatives electoral success in 2019. However, as the threat from COVID recedes questions are beginning to be asked about how these are to be delivered. For voters in Labour’s former heartlands, in the midlands and the north, improved public services, industrial investment and job creation were definitely on the ballot paper and political problems may arise for the PM if measurable actions aren’t in place as we move to the mid-point in the electoral cycle. This is potentially a toxic concoction when combined with the fear expressed in constituencies in the south east, such as Chesham and Amersham, that levelling up for some may mean levelling down for others.