The week in policy 20th - 24th September
This week has really been blowing hot and cold. The energy crisis has us dreading what could be a very frosty winter despite the government telling us to chill out; Boris yet again received the cold shoulder from President Biden regarding a Free Trade Agreement, and we’re feeling bitter about it; but the government seems to be warming to flexible working, and is consulting on the best ways forward; directors are boiling down what their company purpose is; Boris is getting heated on climate change, and he has finally given in to temporary visas for lorry drivers, having been roasted about it in the media for too long now.
The next vital necessity to be added to the list of shortages, joining staff and HGV drivers, is carbon dioxide. It’s an exhausting matter.
The shortage has come about due to rocketing gas prices, which has collapsed energy companies, and eaten into food supplies. Honestly, watt next?
The combination of last winter’s relentless cold weather depleting gas stores, demand surging with businesses rebuilding coming out of the pandemic, and potentially politically fuelled supply restrictions from Russia, has created what has been commonly referred to as the ‘perfect storm’. And it really isn’t lightning the mood.
Added to this is the fact that the UK is so reliant on gas that we can’t fall back on renewable energy to push us through. It just hasn’t been gusty enough to make use of our growing wind farms. That blows.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said that the lights will not be going out this winter as they did in the 1970s, but that said, wholesale gas prices are up 250% since January, and we’re fuming.
On Wednesday, Boris was invited to the White House for a meeting with the President.
On the agenda was trade, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and the climate crisis.
We have been persistently courting the US for a relationship that’s more than just friends, but Biden is certainly playing hard to get. Boris went in hoping to tie the knot around a free trade agreement, but came back having suffered further rejection.
There was suggestion that we could join the US-Canada-Mexico trade agreement instead, but the government still has their sights set on something more exclusive.
The bone of contention is, as usual, Northern Ireland. Given his ancestry, which is Ir-ish, Biden is taking a hard line on the problems with the Protocol. But so far it is a seemingly impossible conundrum.
It wasn’t all bad though. The two leaders agreed on ensuring things in Afghanistan do not spiral out of control, boasted that the US-UK-Australia security pact signals shared values of the world, and Boris got a new watch. A reminder that it’s time to get cracking on the Northern Ireland Protocol. At least they ticked a few boxes.
Homework from the government
Since the pandemic wreaked havoc on our entrenched routines, attitudes are rapidly changing about the future of working arrangements.
The government has launched a consultation on flexible working, and we welcome that.
63% of our members have already said they are adopting a hybrid working model into the future.
Having adjusted to the online office while suffering through lockdown after lockdown, there is no point denying that working from home can work.
Businesses must have the opportunity to work internally to determine the best way forward for their purposes.
The British Academy has produced a report concluding that directors of boards should be held accountable for determining and implementing the purposes of their companies.
The British Academy is the UK’s national academy for humanities and social sciences, and have in particular focused a lot of their research on the role of business in society.
Among many other things, the report states that the primary duty of directors should be to determine, implement and deliver their company purpose, that they should be accountable to their shareholders and stakeholders for fulfilment of their purposes, and that the government should partner with and procure from companies to promote their common purpose.
Our Director General Jon Geldart commented that businesses are increasingly taking a broader view of their purpose to encompass all stakeholders. Our research suggests that almost half of directors feel business should have a stated purpose to solve the problems of society. This report sets out the best way of doing that.
Yesterday, Boris delivered a speech to the UN, in which he urged the world to make further changes to take responsibility for the war on climate change.
The four most significant pressure points he mentioned were coal, cars, cash and trees.
He called on countries around the globe to allow only zero emission cars to be sold by 2040; to cut carbon emissions by 68% by 2030 compared to 1990; to pledge carbon neutrality by 2050; to end coal power by 2030 in developed countries and 2040 in developing countries, and to halt and reverse the loss of trees and biodiversity by 2030.
Boris also told humanity it was time to grow up, that we have the tools for the green industrial revolution, but that “time is desperately short”. He would know. He’s got a new watch.
Incessant nagging on the driver shortage has finally caused Boris to take action. He just needs a brake.
Losing patience at the constant bad press, he has agreed to relax immigration rules to allow more foreign drivers into the country in the hope that they will help to fill the 100,000 vacancies.
Despite this being a short-term solution, Thursday’s announcement that petrol stations could shut due to the driver shortage has brought MPs round to the idea of temporary visas.
The government has also warned drivers against panic buying petrol, which would only exacerbate the situation. That would be wheely bad.
Next week, Parliament is in recess due to it being conference season. First up is the Labour Party, which is convening in Brighton from 25th - 29th September. The party conferences are designed to enable interaction between party members, leaders, and the general public in order to promote party ideas and policies.
At the Labour Conference, Sir Keir Starmer will be looking to reinforce himself as a strong leader in light of his cautious reputation. Having published his 11,500 word essay titled The Road Ahead, he will be setting out his vision for the UK post-pandemic, and how he will achieve it.
In his essay, he notes how Britain has found itself at a crossroads after the pandemic, and that it is crying out for change. In response, he wants Labour to be Britain’s bricks and mortar. Starmer also emphasises the importance of fair work, stating that Labour will “fix insecurity and inequality of opportunity” that he claims has emerged under the Conservative Government.
Highlights in the schedule are as follows:
2.55pm – Deputy Leader’s report (Angela Rayner)
10.00am – Morning Plenary Session (Environment, Energy and Culture)
10.15am – Morning Plenary Sessions (International Economy, Business and Trade)
12.00pm – Shadow Chancellor’s speech (Rachel Reeves)
10.10am – Morning Plenary Session (Early Years, Educations and Skills; Health and Social Care)
11.55am – Leader’s speech (Sir Keir Starmer)