This week in policy 13th - 17th September
Well, the government has been busy this week. Boris started by reshuffling his cabinet, gambling on his next hand winning him some more tricks. Now some of the jokers have gone, he’s got a full house, and we’re hoping they’re all well suited to their new roles.
Boris then proceeded to add fuel to the Chinese fire, by scheming with Australia and the USA, under a new alliance known as Aukus, to build nuclear submarines in the South China Sea, and very much annoying France in the process. Aukward.
Speaking of annoying France, the government’s new Brexit revelation is going to allow the UK to revert to imperial measurements. As we inch closer to fully implementing the new EU customs controls this winter, it is good to see that our rulers have a good measure of the priorities. But we're yet to fathom if this is the most effective way to rake in the pounds.
This week, the government also produced their Autumn and Winter plan for coronavirus. With a cold apparently already spreading through the population, providing the perfect red-herring, it is comforting to see some contingency planning taking place. Our only hesitation is that we know all too well what happens to the best-laid plans...
This week, it was announced that there would be a reshuffle in Boris’ cabinet and, on Wednesday, the new batting order was revealed.
Keeping their positions at the top of the list are Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel, as well as Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
However, there were some significant changes.
Dominic Raab was one of the relegations. Minister for Justice, or Minister brought to Justice? Deputy MP, or Deputy empty? You decide.
He was replaced by Liz Truss, apparently a more trusstworthy candidate, who handed the Trade Department baton to Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
Michael Gove was moved from the Cabinet Office to fully take charge of the ‘Levelling-Up’ agenda in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. There is confusion as to whether this really is a level up, or a level down, but let’s hope he stays level-headed about it.
Gavin Williamson was expelled for his disastrous education policy during the pandemic. His Boris Assessed Grade was a complete Eton Mess. A Harrow-ing performance all round.
But has the captain picked the right team? We’ll find out soon enough.
The job market – only slightly laboured
This week’s labour market figures have shown a continuing fall in unemployment from 4.7% - 4.6% in May – July.
With furlough ending this month, and the vaccine roll-out success helping the return to work, the next job for the government is addressing staff shortages.
Inflation rose to 3.2% from 2% in the month of August, the highest level since 2012.
Kitty Ussher says that this rise is partly to do with last year's 'Eat out to help out' and VAT discounts working their way through the data. However, there is also evidence of a staycation effect, with rising prices in the tourism and leisure sectors, as well as upward pressure on the price of food and fuel.
The Bank of England expects that this divergence from their 2% target to fade as the economy continues to adjust to the removal of restrictions. If that assumption looks misplaced in the months ahead, they will have plenty of tools at their disposal to bring expectations of future inflation back into line.
Autumn and Winter planning – nothing to be sneezed at
Despite the successful vaccination roll-out, the summer reopening, and the fact that things seem to be getting on the way back to normal, autumn and winter are fast approaching, and with cases still lurking, the government is making contingency plans.
Overall, the aim is to avoid another lockdown, and to ensure the NHS doesn’t become overwhelmed.
Plan A is essentially business as usual: building on the vaccine programme; testing and tracing; supporting the NHS; clear guidance and communications (this one may not quite be business as usual); and helping the global effort on the vaccine front.
If the government decides that the NHS has come under unsustainable pressure, it will initiate Plan B.
Under Plan B, the government will: communicate clearly and urgently to the public that the risk has increased (thank you for the courtesy...), introduce mandatory COVID certification, and legally mandate face coverings. We would also potentially return to working from home.
Judging by the past 18 months, we are fully expecting to be in Plan K by December.
Extensions and ex-tensions.
Lord Frost said he was prioritising the pandemic recovery over imposing paperwork on importers, giving them a short stay of execution, especially with staff shortages, the HGV shortage, and Christmas coming up.
However, while businesses may welcome the extensions in the short term, at some point the changes are going to come, and they need to be ready for that. Dragging out grace periods feels slightly like a purgatory-style scenario, where no-one is ready to take the plunge.
The one benefit is that both the EU and the UK have moved to a more pragmatic approach towards each other, a big step from the meaty tensions of this summer.
So far, next week is looking quieter than this week. But let’s not jinx it.
The new Cabinet will be finding their feet, and not just at the thought of the change back to imperial measures.
And just as furlongs will be phasing in, furlough will continue to phase out, before fully ending at the end of September.
It is also Tech Week next week, so a good opportunity to celebrate innovation, the digital age, and the reliability of Microsoft Teams...
Statistics:Tuesday 21st September
Parliamentary Activity:Monday 20th September