What is Levelling Up and what does it mean for the built environment?

What is Levelling Up and what does it mean for the built environment?

 

Ever since the slogan was coined at the 2019 General Election, there’s been lots of talk from the Government about ‘Levelling Up’ and ‘unleashing opportunity’ across the country. For the backstory on Levelling Up which I’ve covered in previous blogs, click here & here.  

But in recent months Levelling Up has become both more tangible and harder to reach than any other time since the last General Election: More tangible in the sense that there’s now policy movement behind the political narrative, by way of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill’s introduction to Parliament. But harder than ever to achieve given the backdrop of the economy and of the perilous state of the Government and No10’s relationship with their backbenchers. Following Monday’s vote of no confidence in the PM, Mr Johnson and his team will be even more focussed on what their next moves are to bring the Conservative Party back together, whilst also having to deal with an already scarring cost of living crisis affecting everyone’s household finances (watch this space for a potential reshuffle over the summer and announcements to help rebalance the economy!)

But aside from the current political woes befalling Mr Johnson, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will continue it’s path along the legislative journey. Following the release of the Levelling Up White Paper, many thought the Bill to follow would focus heavily on the Levelling Up missions, with a few pieces of planning reform on the side. What we got was a progression of the Levelling Up missions and a commitment that ministers will publish an annual report on progress made on each mission. Alongside this was devolution to local leaders to help achieve those missions, a new suite of powers for high streets to be regenerated and, vitally, lots on planning reform – with a particular focus on beauty, infrastructure and local democracy in development.

With a renewed focus on local democracy and planning in mind, and following the Second Reading of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, Cavendish Advocacy and BECG have compiled a report on Levelling Up, supported by polling conducted by YouGov of both MPs and of the public to find out what Levelling Up is to these two sets of people and what the Levelling Up agenda might mean for housing providers, for construction firms supporting those housing providers and for the built environment we live in across the UK.

Key findings from the report

Our report found 7 key findings:

  1. Almost all Labour MPs thought the Government wouldn’t be able to level up their area by the next general election, nor make significant inroads to doing so.
  2. Conservative MPs saw improving local infrastructure as a priority for successful
    Levelling Up.
  3. Conservative MPs saw regenerating high streets and city centres as a priority for successful Levelling Up.
  4. Only Conservative MPs surveyed saw reforming planning laws a priority for successful
    Levelling Up.
  5. Almost three quarters of the public feel that an increase of housing on brownfield sites would either make no difference at all or have a negative impact for their area.
  6. But over two thirds of MPs across the two main parties thought housing on brownfield sites would have a positive impact.
  7. Only just over a quarter of Conservative MPs thought the Government could successfully regenerate their area before the next election.

So what next for the industry?

Download our report here to find out what conclusions we draw from our key findings above and from our wider polling work on Levelling Up.

For any questions about Levelling Up, our polling report or how Cavendish Advocacy and BECG can support your organisation with strategic communications support focussed on the built environment contact Oli Hazell here or visit our dedicated page here.  

Dividing lines: The impact of the local elections on the future political outlook

Dividing lines: The impact of the local elections on the future political outlook

On 5th May, voters took to the polls across the United Kingdom. At stake was the control of local authorities across England, Wales and Scotland, with Northern Ireland’s Assembly, Stormont, up for grabs too.

In the end, the Conservatives lost approximately 500 seats, while Labour had some success, but the winners of the elections will have been the Lib Dems, the Greens, and the SNP in Scotland whom all had successful sets of election results.

The Conservatives suffered significant losses – particularly in London and in those traditional ‘Blue Wall’ areas where Labour and the Liberal Democrats made gains, whereas Labour – though successful in Wales – may have hoped to have seen greater progress in those traditional ‘Red Wall’ areas in the North.

Our analysis below breaks down what happened, emerging trends, and the likely impact of these results at a national level, and beyond.

If you’re interested in any particular election result in a local authority area, visit BECG’s local elections hub to find out more, or get in touch with your Cavendish team.

The results showed Labour gains in the South of England, and Conservative losses across key authorities – including flagship boroughs in London like Wandsworth and Westminster. The overall trend came as no great surprise – the Conservatives were careful to undertake an “expectation management campaign” over the weeks leading up to the election and were expecting losses in London and across the rest of England, Wales, and Scotland.

At the same time, Labour went into the election hoping to re-gain the confidence of voters in ‘Red Wall’ constituencies that were lost at a parliamentary level in the 2019 General Election as the Party rode high on a 5% lead against the Conservatives in the national polls. There was a strong Labour performance in Wales, the South and in London, but not quite the national performance they’d hoped for.

Below is a breakdown of the picture across each nation and the implications of this for the PM, and the wider business impact.

Northern Ireland

It was close to 48 hours after the polls closed before we found out the exact make-up of the next Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont. The Single Transferrable Vote electoral system meant numerous rounds of counting in each constituency across two days and an agonising wait for candidates in each of the 18 constituencies across Northern Ireland.

As predicted, Sinn Féin achieved the highest number of first preference votes, the surge of support for the Alliance Party continued as they more than doubled their number of seats, and the Democratic Unionist Party lost its position as the largest party dropping three seats.

All this points to a new emerging order in Northern Irish politics with a large unionist bloc dominated by the DUP, a large nationalist bloc dominated by Sinn Féin, and a large non-aligned bloc dominated by the growing Alliance Party.

Due to the unique set of circumstances and the nature of power sharing it will now be down to the parties to come to an agreement to form an Executive. Sinn Féin, with the largest number of Assembly seats at 27, is entitled to the position of First Minister in an Executive and the DUP, with 25 is entitled to the position of Deputy First Minister.

It remains to be seen if the DUP will agree to go into the Executive and share power with Sinn Féin while the issue of the NI protocol is not solved, it will all come down to which direction the UK Government decide to take over the coming days.

Upshot: Look out for the crucial discussions and fallout these elections will have on the future of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

England

In London, the ‘partygate’ scandals, and Boris Johnson’s drop in popularity, was felt far more than in the north of the country: totemic Wandsworth fell from the Tories grasp, as did Barnet and Westminster. A win for Labour in Barnet was always on the cards but Wandsworth (held since 1978) and certainly Westminster (held since 1964) seemed for many a step too far, but all three turned red.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats built their bases in Merton and Richmond-Upon-Thames too. Overall, the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) are viewed as being one of the main ‘winners’ of the local election after gaining 191 seats in England and this is helping fuel the party’s claim to a potentially successful General Election campaign. They gained eight seats in West Oxfordshire and pushed out the Conservatives to No Overall Control. They also took control of the new Somerset unitary authority, which had been expected to be taken by the Conservatives.

Looking north and the Lib Dems can point to more successes like Hull City Council, where the party took control from Labour following a decade of Labour ruling the authority.

Looking at the Greens, on the whole the party had a very successful local election, gaining over 80 seats in England, They won their first seat in Coventry as well as three more in the Wirral. In South Tyneside, they became the second largest party on the council. All their gains gave them cause for celebration and they declared the result “phenomenal”.

For Labour, their performance in the north was disappointing – they lost their leader in Oldham to the Conservatives. The Tories also solidified gains in previously key red areas like Hartlepool, which Labour also lost on a parliamentary level at the by-election last May too.

What’s more – in ‘Leave’ voting areas, Labour didn’t perform well. Labour didn’t make any ground in Harlow and Thurrock in Essex, and didn’t do well in Nuneaton and Stevenage either. It would seem Labour has not quite done enough to ensure success at a future General Election. Particularly in the wake of Durham Police’s announcement they would investigate Labour Leader Keir Starmer over ‘Beergate’, this fear might have more justification.

Upshot: The certainty of keeping, or winning, the keys to No.10 at the next General Election still remain unclear for both the Conservatives and Labour, in light of these local results. The Conservatives will now start to worry about the future of Tiverton & Honiton at the upcoming parliamentary by-election as the Lib Dems will look to continue their South West resurgence.

Scotland

While the headlines will show that the SNP were the clear winners, winning the most seats and notching up their eleventh national election win in a row, their 34.1% share of the vote shows they have still to find a way of converting their parliamentary support over to a local level. While the party will point to successes such as gaining a majority in Dundee, they were run close in Glasgow by Labour, with the Greens also polling well there. Notably, this is likely to see some sort of coalition in Scotland’s largest city, reflecting the agreement between the parties at a national level.

This election was a bit of a watershed moment for the Greens, who also put in a strong performance in Edinburgh, resulting in a doubling of seats to 35 across the country. For Labour, although they made modest gains, they made a surprising breakthrough in West Dunbartonshire, where they now have a majority.

More importantly, Labour’s gain of 20 seats took them into second place, ahead of the Conservatives. Coupled with the party’s revival in Glasgow, Labour will feel they have finally turned a corner and foundations to build on for the next UK General Election.

So where does all this leave the Conservatives? After a collapse in the party’s vote in Glasgow and losses across the country, pushing them into third place, the Conservatives are at a crossroads. While leader Douglas Ross has pointed to the cost-of-living crisis and ‘partygate’ as mitigating factors, he has to take some personal responsibility for his party’s poor showing. His flip-flop over calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation will have been perceived by some voters as a show of weakness, but perhaps his biggest challenge is trying to live up to the success of his predecessor Ruth Davidson. Her sprinkling of magic dust on the party is now starting to wane and Ross must come up with some radical solutions fast to shore up support, or the party may decide a change is in order to give them enough time to bed in a new leader ahead of the next General Election. As for the Lib Dems, it was a solid showing but, like Labour, they have a long way to go to turn votes into seats at Westminster and Holyrood.

Upshot: While the SNP continues their dominance, there are green shoots of recovery for Labour, while the Conservatives are now in a precarious position. Keep your eyes on Scotland as the SNP use their continued dominance of Holyrood and of local council seats to push again for a second independence referendum too.

Wales

The Welsh elections proved to be a huge disappointment for the Conservative Party, with the loss of control of Monmouthshire. They lost 82 seats overall in Wales and ended up being wiped out in some councils such as Torfaen. It would appear that national issues that are currently dominating domestic politics had a significant impact on the Welsh Conservatives’ loss.

Labour made some significant inroads. They regained Bridgend and Blaenau Gwent; councils which they lost control of five years ago. Blaenau Gwent, as the birthplace of the NHS, has particular symbolic value making the win all the more important for Labour. They have also made Cardiff something of a stronghold with their sizeable overall majority where they already hold all four constituencies in the Senedd and Westminster.

However, animosity towards Neath Labour MP Christina Rees led to Labour losing overall control of Neath Port Talbot for the first time since the mid-1990s. Local issues in Caerphilly regarding a waste plant also led to a substantial loss for Labour to Independents.

Arguably though, Plaid Cymru were the winners in Wales, increasing their control of councils mainly located in Welsh language heartlands, across the nation from one to four, including nine seats in Wrexham. However, their success was not felt in authorities it had previously held such as South Wales and they lost six seats overall.

Upshot: A torrid time for the Conservatives, but whilst Labour won 66 more seats, they only control one additional authority. Plaid’s election was a mixed bag but one they’ll be buoyant about as they increased their control of local authorities to four.

The forecast for Boris

Losing Barnet, Westminster and Wandsworth in London is unavoidably painful for the Conservatives, and for the PM. Losing ground in the ‘Blue Wall’ in the southern shires to the Lib Dems was not great either, but the ‘Red Wall’ appeared to hold up. That will be the optimistic takeaway by the Conservatives in Westminster.

Whilst it was always unlikely, we also didn’t see a possible swathe of letters sent in to the 1922 Committee to trigger a leadership contest. However, in the south, Tobias Ellwood MP called on his colleagues to take this time to assess whether Mr Johnson is still fit to be leader. In the north, Aaron Bell MP – who has submitted a letter to the ’22 already – also called for the PM’s leadership to be addressed. But there continues to be myriad of other items on MPs’ minds as well as they ponder sending in a letter.

Firstly, this was a local election, not a General Election. Many voters will feel they could protest and signal that the Government needs to change direction to earn their support in 2024 without changing the Government.

There’s also the potential reset the bills outlined in the Queen’s Speech could be for the party nationally, the ongoing situation in Ukraine, the fact that Parliament was prorogued so backbench Tories were separated in their constituencies rather than in the tearooms of Westminster, and the small matter of two parliamentary byelections coming up in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton.

However, many expect the position of the Conservative backbenches to be crystallised over the summer, especially following the two byelections which are in key areas the Conservatives will need to hold to win the next general election.

So, Boris will hold on again, for now. But, as ever, continue to watch this space. A week is a long time in politics.

What do the local election results mean for you?

What is clear from these local elections results, with Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens picking up seats, as the Conservatives lost them, is that businesses and organisations need to be prepared for any eventuality come the next general election.

Labour has made ground on the Conservatives, but would be unlikely to be able to take the keys to No.10 on their own; a coalition of some sort looks a genuine possibility if these results were replicated nationally.

As such, businesses and organisations need to understand the views and policy directions of the incumbent Conservatives, the advancing Labour Party, and also the smaller Liberal Democrats, Greens and DUP, who may hold the balance of power and the keys to No.10 in a coalition scenario.

This is a crucial time to de-risk your business or organisation to a potentially seismic shift in political attitude and direction in Westminster in 2024 – these local elections have shot the starting gun, make sure you’re not left behind.

If you’re interested in any particular election result in a local authority area, visit BECG’s local elections hub to find out more, or get in touch with Oliver Hazell.

More than a slogan – Levelling Up: Part 2

More than a slogan – Levelling Up: Part 2

The White Paper’s initial fallout

So now we know what Levelling Up actually is. Or do we? The enormous White Paper spans over 300 pages and my colleague Kevin Whitmore gave his take on the White Paper here. He noted concerns that the levelling up agenda had possibly been introduced two years too late. The benefits of levelling up on the ground needed to be seen by voters, especially those in the Red Wall, in time for a successful 2024 election campaign by the Conservatives.

Mr Gove’s lines of “repairing the social fabric of our broken heartlands” as well as “ending historic injustice and calling time on the postcode lottery” in setting out his department’s long-awaited White Paper were heavily criticised by Labour’s new Shadow Levelling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy. Nandy went straight on the attack with three piercing words, “is this it?” in response to the DLUHC Secretary’s statement. One of the main criticisms from the Labour frontbench was the lack of new money the White Paper brought with it to help achieve the Government’s 12 ‘missions’ by 2030, pointing out that the document only contained “recycled pots of money”. But it is always the duty of the official opposition to point out missed opportunities in government policy and scrutinise proposed legislation.

So what of the influential Red Wall Conservative MPs reaction to the government’s plans? It seems to have been broadly positive. Scott Benton, the MP for Blackpool South, made an appearance on GB news to tell the story of “real money coming into places like Blackpool for the first time in decades from a Tory government”.

Another Red Wall 2019-er, Paul Howell, MP for Sedgefield, noted the challenge ahead and tried to manage constituent expectations by noting “This will not be an easy task, and it won’t happen overnight, but our 12 new national levelling up missions will drive real change in towns and cities across the UK, so that where you live will no longer determine how far you can go.” Whilst Miriam Cates MP for Penistone & Stocksbridge penned an article about the benefits that levelling up will deliver to her constituents, helping to connect local residents in her constituency to “new jobs and opportunities” through improving local transport connections.

But the Chair of the Northern Research Group, Jake Berry MP noted “I don’t want the government to wait for legislation and debate in the House of Commons to get on with levelling up…Never forget, George Osborne didn’t need a levelling up white paper to create mayors for Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, and Teeside.”

Down south, North Devon’s Selaine Saxby MP sought clarity from the DLUHC Secretary “that he understood the disparities of opportunity even within our own county”. Not uncommon from southern-based MPs who feel that levelling up in the North and the Midlands would leave them at the back of the queue for important funding for their communities.

Arch-rebel Steve Baker MP went even further, openly criticising the plans put forward “The Government’s #LevellingUp press release implies the proposals are as socialist as I feared. We should be using our 80-seat majority to implement conservative policies, not policies that wouldn’t look out of place in Labour’s manifesto.”

A successful ‘reset’ or a missed opportunity?

The White Paper represented an opportunity to allow the PM to reset his domestic agenda away from the sleaze and scandal of No10 of late and bring focus on delivering on all those ‘lent’ votes from voters across the Red Wall. But it seems the Levelling Up White Paper wasn’t entirely the successful reset that the Prime Minister wanted. It didn’t have the superb reception that was hoped from Conservative MPs and there didn’t appear to be the usual set of media graphics from Conservative Campaign HQ doing the rounds on Conservative MP’s Facebook accounts either. It hasn’t particularly outshone the ‘partygate’/Met Police investigations, and the international concerns around Russian troops on the border of Ukraine hasn’t allowed the Government to concentrate its time on moving forward with the White Paper.

What is also clear is that the opportunity to really drive a lasting, long-term, positive message through the Levelling Up agenda, structured by the White Paper and a timeline of clear achievements both on the ground and on the policy side, isn’t something that’s happened. Instead, the White Paper appeared to give the PM a brief respite from other issues that aren’t as positive for No10 and certainly won’t help the Conservatives win the next election.

Looking ahead

The Levelling Up White Paper did, however, have some interesting items around the Government’s trajectory on devolution, on the 2030 ‘missions’ and on unleashing opportunity. However, one key item that is mentioned throughout the White Paper which hasn’t been spoken about enough is the installation of new ‘Levelling Up Directors’. The White Paper notes that “Levelling Up Directors will act as a single point of contact for local leaders and a first port of call for new and innovative local policy proposals. They will be based in the areas they have responsibility for, while recognising the different institutional landscapes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Levelling Up Directors will bring together government policy and delivery, aligning decisions and funding to support local and national strategic objectives.”

No detail is given about when these Directors will be put in place, who they should be, what past experiences (academic and lived) they should have, what role they will have when set against Andy Burnham or Andy Street. It seems like there could be a lot of interesting fallout and impact of these unelected, but highly influential Levelling Up Directors, especially when set against the push towards County Deals and a new English devolution framework that the White Paper also sets out.

These new Levelling Up Directors appear to be potential lynchpins to the success of levelling up in each region – ones to watch as we move further into 2022. Expect some to perform well and some to fall short, so as we move away from a postcode lottery, we seem to be travelling towards a ‘Levelling Up Director’ lottery.

Join our webinar:

What does Levelling Up mean for decision-making on new development and infrastructure?

In our upcoming webinar, expert panellists will be discussing the potential implications, and inviting questions from attendees. 

Our panel speakers include:

  • Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands
  • Lord Bob Kerslake, Former Head of the Civil Service
  • Jan Bessell, Board Chair of the National Infrastructure Planning Association
  • Steve Norris (Chair), Advisor to BECG
More than a slogan – Levelling Up: Part 2

More than a slogan – Levelling Up: Part 1

 

The slogan

Levelling up entered our lives through the Conservative’s 2019 General Election campaign. The slogan was a cornerstone of Boris’s successful campaign which won an overwhelming majority just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Levelling up encapsulated what voters outside London had been wanting from a government for a long time. They wanted to see their high streets regenerated and thriving again, they wanted to see jobs on offer that were rewarding and paid enough so as not to require relocation to London and they wanted to see better public transport links from their towns and villages to urban centres. The Conservatives then directed levelling up at voters in the Midlands and the North where life has been particularly tough, opportunity in short supply and poverty disproportionately visible. The tactic worked. The ‘red wall’ was punctured, and the new Prime Minister realised from the outset that those voters in key seats like Bassetlaw, Bishop Auckland and Heywood and Middleton had only “lent” him their votes.

But those voters wanted to see results. Boris needed to deliver.

The reality

Over two years on from that overpowering election victory, the time to deliver on levelling up is long overdue. Another election is on the horizon and whilst COVID-19 clearly needed the bandwidth during 2020 and 2021, this year is a different story. When Boris and his team were able to get their heads above the tidal wave of SAGE data and advice from Chris Whitty and Jonathan Van Tam, they’ve been ticking off 2019 election pledges from their manifesto like a government ‘to do’ list. But levelling up appears to have been left until last.

The puzzle pieces have been put in place. First, influential and newly elected Conservative backbenchers joined together to set up a levelling up taskforce. Then came an official Levelling Up Taskforce, with former Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane at its head and a new Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with experienced reformer Michael Gove in charge, supported by key MPs including Neil O’Brien and Danny Kruger.

We’ve also had visionary speeches from Mr Johnson on increasing growth, productivity, and prosperity and ‘pillars’ for levelling up including restoring civic pride, supporting local businesses and regenerating urban hubs, building the foundation of the reality to come.

The Independent also saw a leaked version of the anticipated White Paper on levelling up just before the Christmas break. It, again, included visionary narrative, on removing layers of local government, replacing them with a single tier system. There were “missions” for the government to complete on crime, living standards and health – 13 in total, and all with a deadline of 2030. Spending reviews would be used as review mechanisms and metrics for performance on each mission were set out.

But 2021 closed with yet another delay to this long-awaited White Paper. Now No 10 is mired in scandal and a cost of living crisis is in full swing, the need to move levelling up from a vision to a reality is becoming more significant by the day.

What’s next?

We had expected the turn of the year to herald this White Paper, with Boris and Gove using the start of the year to outline their vision on how this government will start the wheels of the levelling up agenda turning in earnest. What we got instead was a Secretary of State determined to make headway on the building safety agenda before any levelling up plan was announced and a set of parties at No 10 brought back into the media spotlight. These items have further delayed the White Paper.

But now, with No 10’s desire to get the media and political agenda back on track, back on the government ‘to do’ list of a manifesto, and the need for Boris to get voters thinking about him as a leader and not other words beginning with ‘l’, the levelling up White Paper is imminent.

But the White Paper is only a means to an end, not the end in itself. If voters in key constituencies don’t see levelling up happening before their eyes in their communities, the Conservatives will struggle to hold that large majority potentially losing dozens of ‘Red Wall’ seats. With the opposition becoming all the more credible as ‘partygate’ has unfolded, levelling up is key to who will hold the keys for No 10 come May 2024.

Join our webinar:

What does Levelling Up mean for decision-making on new development and infrastructure?

In our upcoming webinar, expert panellists will be discussing the potential implications, and inviting questions from attendees. 

Our panel speakers include:

  • Andy Street, Mayor of West Midlands
  • Lord Bob Kerslake, Former Head of the Civil Service
  • Jan Bessell, Board Chair of the National Infrastructure Planning Association
  • Steve Norris (Chair), Advisor to BECG
The Autumn Budget: Supporting recovery through a winter of discontent

The Autumn Budget: Supporting recovery through a winter of discontent

 

The Chancellor is set to deliver his autumn budget this week. Accompanying the budget will be a multi-year spending review. However, a lot has changed since Sunak’s last budget back in the Spring, especially on the COVID-19 front. The virus, whilst on the increase as winter draws near, is now endemic in society and no longer seen by many as a pandemic and much of the support the government put in place due to the impact of COVID-19 has been pulled back.

This budget will be about looking forward, about the country’s recovery, and about putting in place more building blocks onto the levelling up plan. There’s also the Net Zero target and Cop26 around the corner as well.

However, there’s a few points to look out for on Wednesday which we will be keeping a close eye on.

1) Insulating from a winter of discontent

Everyone is under no illusion that tough times are ahead. Whilst the Conservative Party Conference just a few weeks ago may have been buoyant and positive about the future, there’s an energy crisis in play, inflation set to rise and the £20 uplift in Universal Credit has been withdrawn.

Indeed, at Conference, Sunak appeared the level-headed but hard-nosed accountant that said, “Whilst I know tax rises are unpopular – some will even say un-Conservative – I’ll tell you what is un-Conservative: unfunded pledges, reckless borrowing and soaring debt…Anyone who tells you that you can borrow more today and tomorrow will simply sort itself out just doesn’t care about the future.”

So, what’s coming down the track to help the public in this looming winter of discontent? There’s going to be the rise in minimum wage to £9.50 an hour for those aged 23 older. There’s the possible extension or uplift being trialled by some of the Warm Home Discount. Then there’s the possible cut in VAT to energy bills of households across the country being reported in the FT recently. To keep local businesses afloat, business rates has been one point that’s dominated budget speculation and Sunak is possibly going to announce the results of the review of business rates; he had been due to set out the findings from this review in March!

Whilst nothing will be confirmed until Wednesday afternoon, it is certain that the Chancellor is going to have to tread carefully on this tightrope of a budget. He’s got tough financial and political choices to make between insulating the public finances from further impact and helping to protect those households walking into higher bills with less money each month to pay them.

2) No10 vs No11

We all know that the PM is keen on a big project or two – bendy buses and garden bridges anyone? Mr Johnson is also going to be keen to show that the country is well on its way on the recovery path from COVID-19. What does this better than a nice, shiny, new project to announce? Investment in transport links across the north perhaps? Well, it’s not going smoothly so far unfortunately, the Integrated Rail Plan is expected to be announced alongside Wednesday’s budget and spending review. However, reports are the Plan is now back with the PM’s Policy Team as what he saw from the Treasury and DfT wasn’t what he wanted. A Whitehall official is reported to have said, “Boris came back from holiday and was not happy with what the Treasury and Department for Transport had come up with, which is an NPR  [Northern Powerhouse Rail] network on a shoestring, when this is his flagship Red Wall policy.”

A PM keen on investment, spending and projects with a fiscally-prudent Chancellor sounds like the two should balance out, but this mix can lead to flashpoints. The budget and spending review will give us a glimpse at who’s winning this argument at the moment.

3) Doubling down on levelling up

The start of the month saw the Conservatives talking about levelling up and building back better more than ever at Party Conference. However, what levelling up sorely needs is a concrete and deliverable plan, backed up by funding, that government departments can understand and help to achieve. But so far we’ve seen funds such as the Community Renewal Fund stutter their way along, with funding still to be dished out to successful projects. This fund was meant to be a precursor to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, a replacement for the EU Structural Fund.

We’re also waiting for Neil O’Brien’s Levelling Up White Paper. Whether this will be announced alongside the budget and spending review or delayed further we’ll only know in two days’ time. However, if this government is serious in delivering a plan to back up the slogan and the pillars of levelling up, we’ll need to see some funding streams announced or pushed forward at this budget. Expect announcements on the Community Renewal Fund and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

4) Net Zero, but at what cost?

Cop26 is just around the corner, and we’ve just had the government’s Net Zero Strategy of how they want to decarbonise the country and the Treasury’s Net Zero Review of the costs of transition to zero carbon. The £5,000 grants to convert gas boilers in homes to heat pumps is a start. But with heat pumps coming in anywhere from £6,000 – £18,000, this grant could easily become Green Homes Grant 2.0. In addition, the aforementioned cost of living crisis could see people keep their money in their pocket, especially as the 2035 ‘ban’ on gas boilers is now simply an ‘ambition’. Not to mention that Conservative backbenchers have already made their feelings plainly known when Net Zero targets look like they’re about to hit the pockets of the electorate.

It will be interesting to see how much the government’s ‘green’ agenda hits the headlines of the budget or whether the Strategy and the Review are seen by the government as them greasing the wheels sufficiently to help the private sector do the heavy lifting on the transition to Net Zero. Don’t expect much more from the Chancellor on this point.

For further information and insight on the Autumn Budget, or to discuss any specific Autumn Budget items, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Oli Hazell.