Four principles structuring the Chancellor’s speech. Chancellor Rishi Sunak gave his first speech to the Conservative Party Conference this week (video here), structured around four overarching principles: a “pragmatic” approach to economic policy, a commitment to fiscal responsibility, a focus on jobs as a poverty alleviation strategy, and an “unshakable optimism” about the economic opportunities provided by technological progress.
Fiscal responsibility. Sunak argued that “there can be no prosperous future unless it is built on the foundation of strong public finances”, counterposing Labour’s proposals as fiscally irresponsible.
Plan for Jobs. With the furlough scheme having ended on 30 September, the Chancellor said the Government would be judged on how many good jobs it creates. He pledged more than £500 million in new funding to extend the Kickstart Scheme for young people until March 2022, as well as to support workers leaving the furlough scheme and unemployed over-50s back into work. A £3,000 incentive to businesses to take on apprentices has also been extended until February 2022. Sunak promised to create 2,000 “elite ArtificiaI Intelligence scholarships” for disadvantaged young people and to double the number of Turing AI World-Leading Research Fellows “to ensure that the most exciting industries and opportunities are open to all parts of our society’.
Job creation and UC. Sunak defended his much-criticised refusal to keep the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit (UC), arguing that dependency on benefits was the wrong approach to reducing poverty. He emphasised instead the government’s commitment to providing jobs.
The “transition to a new economy”. The Chancellor argued that beyond the measures it has taken (such as issuing temporary visas for HGV drivers) it is not the government’s responsibility to sort out labour shortages; this should be left to the market. Boris Johnson and other ministers have been arguing that today’s labour shortages are the growing pains of an economy which is transitioning, after Brexit, to a high-wage, high-productivity state no longer reliant on immigrant labour.
Rising energy costs and the cost of living crisis. As rising gas prices lead to higher energy bills, Joe Tetlow, Green Alliance’s Senior Political Adviser, explains why accelerating the rollout of cheap renewables and reducing demand for energy through better insulation can reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Defining ‘levelling up’. Speaking at the Conservative Party conference Michael Gove set out four aspects to “levelling up”: strengthening local leadership, raising living standards, improving public services and enhancing people’s pride in place. But his speech was widely criticised for lacking in clarity.
Alternative funding options for local authorities. The Green Finance Institute announced the first 5 councils signing up to the Local Climate Bonds campaign. Community Municipal Investments are a way for local authorities to raise green finance using crowdfunding-related methods.
West Yorkshire Mayor calls for greater devolution. Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, wrote to the Chancellor calling for the upcoming Spending Review to include greater devolution of funding and powers so local governments can help achieve national priorities more effectively, for example through delivering employment and skills training and helping to address climate change.
Pandora papers and offshore tax havens. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists leaked the Pandora Papers, “the largest trove of leaked offshore data in history” mapping the exponential growth of offshore tax havens and the true ownership of shell companies. The data reveals how a variety of politicians and wealthy people hide their wealth and avoid tax by using offshore companies. Tax Justice Network’s Alex Cobham collated the global media response.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy. This week the Government released its long-awaited National AI Strategy, a ten-year plan to make the UK a “global AI superpower”. The Institute for the Future of Work’s Anna Thomas welcomed the document, but warned that the Government “must swiftly develop proposals for an overarching, principles-led regime to promote accountability [of AI] in the public interest… The AI Strategy should go hand in hand with an Accountability for Algorithms Act to address the risks and harms of algorithmic systems for work, workers and the workplace.” She discussed this further with Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd on their ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ podcast on the Rise of Robo-Bosses.