Whether you are a fan of Boris Johnson or not – and I find it very difficult to find someone who is merely indifferent to the UK Prime Minister – there is no denying that his time in office has seen him perform an escapology act that even Houdini himself would have been proud of.
In early September, when he expelled 21 Conservative MPs who rebelled against him, he had a working majority of -43. On top of that, he had no Brexit withdrawal agreement of his own and, with a parliament that was united against a ‘No Deal’ Brexit but couldn’t agree on anything else besides, his prospects looked bleak. There was a real possibility that Mr Johnson could supplant George Canning as the shortest-serving PM in British history, a feat that still earns a statue in Parliament Square.
Well, look at him now. After having successfully renegotiated Theresa May’s deal with the European Union and fought an effective, and disciplined, General Election campaign in December, he sits comfortably in Number 10 with a majority of 80. The key line of the Conservative’s campaign was to Get Brexit Done and, having secured the UK’s exit on 31 January, Mr Johnson can now proceed with the job of governing with his majority and get stuff done [see what I did there?]. This isn’t a piece of cake, as early decisions on the issues of Huawei and HS2 have demonstrated (the trick is to take difficult/potentially unpopular decisions as early into a new parliament as you can, as far as possible away from the next election!).
With a majority government in place, there is the possibility that things go back to relative pre-2016 normal, almost boring (that is, no knife-edge votes or dramatic resignations), and that we are in for a period of relative stability. Below I’m going to set out a few areas in which things are different from the past few years, and how these changes will impact on the CIPD’s public policy work.
We’re expecting a reshuffle
The Prime Minister’s team have confirmed that he is due to make changes to his Cabinet (and possibly to whole departments) within the first couple of weeks of February, in a bid to try and move on from Brexit. While speculation is rife about who is for the chop and who is poised for promotion, it would be beneficial if those ministers appointed were given sufficient time in the job to master their brief, build meaningful relationships with stakeholders (that is, us!) and see through any projects they begin. One recent Institute for Government report found that in recent years secretaries of state have typically two years in the job, just a few months longer than football managers (average: 18 months). For comparison, FTSE 100 chiefs get on average just over five years. The key departments we’ll be keeping our eyes on are the Departments of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Work & Pensions (DWP), Education (DfE) and the Government Equalities Office (GEO).
Spoiler: despite the Prime Minister’s insistence, Brexit isn’t really done. Yes, we’ve formally left the EU and are in the transition period until the end of 2020, but we have the small matter of our future relationship with the EU to negotiate (in 11 months!), plus trade deals with other countries. For a taste of what is to come in this next stage, I’d suggest watching this video by the brilliant Sam Coates of Sky News.
That said, the Brexit process involving votes in Parliament is over and done with and that means that Parliament should be able to get back to its job of scrutinising the Government’s legislative agenda and debating the important issues facing the UK. There’s no doubt that Brexit was the dominant issues in the last Parliament which drew focus and energy from a whole host of other areas (the best metaphor I heard described Brexit as the giant foot in Monty Python squashing everything else) but we hope to now engage with politicians and government on the issues we set out in our Manifesto for Work 2020 and our Viewpoint page.
One Brexit-related agenda that we will continue to engage on, however, is the new post-Brexit immigration system for when freedom of movement ends. For updates on this work, and if you have any other queries or concerns around Brexit and what it means for you as a people professional, check out our Brexit hub.
The Queen’s Speech: What was in it for us?
Just before Christmas the Queen’s Speech set out the government’s legislative agenda for the next Parliamentary session, consisting of over 30 bills with no less than seven being about Brexit. One of the features of the inertia of government over the past couple of years was the absence of primary legislation going through the House of Commons, which provides the main vehicle for making substantive changes to law. With a majority, this is no longer the case and legislation can be introduced and will now sail through and onto the statute book.
The most substantive announcement in the Queen’s Speech, from our point of view, was the Employment Bill, which brings together a lot of the CIPD’s policy work over the past few years. It encompasses elements coming from the Good work plan (following Matthew Taylor’s Review) while making changes on issues such as enforcement of employment rights; security for atypical workers; protections for pregnant women and new mothers; and introduces new leave entitlements for carers, including neonatal care. It is also going to consider changes to the rules around flexible working, which is in no small part influenced by the Government’s Flexible Working Task Force, which we co-chaired. We have already met with the BEIS team managing this bill and will continue share our expertise with ministers and policy makers as it progresses. My colleague, Claire McCartney, has also penned an article looking at the Bill in more detail.
Another announcement that stood out to us was the plan to create a £3bn National Skills Fund. Additionally, the Prime Minister also announced changes to the Apprenticeship Levy to be set out in due course. This is something we have called for since the introduction of the levy in 2016 and look forward to hearing further details.
Within a hung parliament, Select Committees – made up of cross-party membership reflecting the balance of seats in the House of Commons – arguably have more authority in holding their respective government department to account and making recommendations, to which the Government must respond. With a Conservative majority, the party will hold more Committee chairs and hold most seats on each committee, suggesting that the government may get a bit of an easier ride than might previously have been the case. That said, they do run inquiries into important subjects and can succeed in putting issues under the spotlight that lead to government action. The CIPD regularly submit written submissions to these inquiries and our policy advisers are often called to provide evidence in person before committees, and we’ll continue to do so.
The Labour Party
A quick word on the Labour Party, whose leadership contest is proving to be a very long, drawn-out recruitment process running until 4 April (for help with your own recruitment practices, see our factsheet!). Once the new leader is in place, they will also reshuffle their shadow ministerial team. Chances are that the primary focus of the new leadership within the first few months will be poring over its disappointing election result, but we will be engaging with the opposition, just as we do with those in government, to share our research and expertise to influence public policy issues in order to champion better work and working lives.
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