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Concrete Proposals | Shuffling the Pack | Horiz-ON

Well recess is well and truly over and it’s been a week even Mr Topsy-Turvy would balk at… the kids are back in school just as the summer weather has hit; the schools are indeed back but some have immediately closed in case they collapse, and the Government is celebrating its success in rejoining an EU programme we left almost three years ago.

Welcome to the weekly roundup from Navigate Politics, bringing you all the top news, publications and movements from UK politics over the past seven days, ensuring you’re fully briefed on the top stories ahead of the weekend. If you know somebody who would find this briefing useful, please do forward it on so they can subscribe and get it direct to their inbox each Friday.

Driving the Week 🚨

Where cast-iron pledges have got the Government into hot territory in the past, this week it’s the turn of concrete proposals, with the Education Secretary, Schools Minister and Prime Minister all finding themselves in hot water over the revelations more than 100 school buildings are at risk of collapse, right as the new school term started. According to a list finally released by the Government this week, 19 schools delayed the start of term and almost 3,000 children have returned to covid-era remote learning. And in a turn of events we would usually include in our You’ve got to laugh section, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan was caught on camera at the end of an interview using language that would have left her in detention for a week asking “Does anyone ever say, you know what you’ve done a f***ing good job because everyone else has sat on their a***s and done nothing?” If the comms couldn’t get much worse, her Department’s use of a new red, white and blue graphic to tell people ‘Most Schools Unaffected’, didn’t quite go the way they were hoping… see more in the usual place at the bottom of this briefing.

In a much trailed, long awaited set of changes, Keir Starmer reshuffled his top team on Monday after scores of Labour MPs headed to London early on Monday to wait by their phones. After minor Government changes last week to replace Ben Wallace as Defence Secretary and subsequently backfill Grant Shapps’ position as Energy Secretary with Claire Coutinho, it was Labour’s turn to take the spotlight (only slightly thrown off by the sudden SNP reshuffle that took place the same day). Angela Rayner found herself officially appointed Shadow Deputy Prime Minister and in the new role of Shadow Levelling Up Minister – setting up Departmental Question showdowns with Michael Gove that the Richard Ayoade popcorn GIF was made for. Pat McFadden was promoted to Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Shabana Mahmood to Shadow Justice Sec; Peter Kyle to Shadow Science, Innovation and Tech Sec, Thangam Debbonaire to Shadow Culture Sec, Hilary Benn to Shadow Northern Ireland Sec, Liz Kendall to Shadow Leader of the House and Darren Jones to Shadow Chief Sec to the Treasury. If that list of names doesn’t quite give you the full picture – click here to download our latest Shadow Cabinet Organogram.

After almost three years out in the cold, the scientific community were roundly delighted this week when the Government announced they had agreed a deal for the UK’s associate membership of the EU’s Horizon Europe research collaboration programme. Under the new deal, UK researchers can apply for grants and bid to take part in projects under the programme with immediate effect; whilst the UK will not pay fees for the years it was not associated to the programme and will begin payments of almost €2.6bn per year from January 2024.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

The Online Safety Bill returns to the Commons on Tuesday for consideration of Lords amendments, after the Government backed down on plans to force companies such as WhatsApp and Signal to scan user messages as it turns out its not technically possible without breaking end-to-end encryption.

MPs will hold a General Debate on Ukraine on Monday in Government time, in the name of the Prime Minister, with an updated expected from his time at the G20 this weekend.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill has its last day’s debate in its report stage in the Lords on Wednesday (much to the delight of a knackered housing policy team at Navigate), at which Michael Gove’s recent announcement to amend nutrient neutrality rules will likely lead to some heated debate.

The Labour Party is due to publish the report from their National Policy Forum, which should form the basis for the next Labour Party manifesto (h/t Patrick Maguire).

The Welsh Parliament returns from its eight week summer recess.

London Fashion Week kicks off next Friday so expect to see announcements on sustainable shopping and frontbench comments on how many times they’ve worn the same suit/the cost of living (delete as appropriate).

Not next week but… Jeremy Hunt announced this week that he will deliver the Autumn Statement on Tuesday 22nd November.

The Week in Stats 📉

38 million – number of phone calls HMRC received last year.

7 – number of by-elections now likely to take place in 2023 after Chris Pincher resigned.

4 – members of Jeremy Corbyn’s post-2016 Shadow Cabinet who remain in Keir Starmer’s top team.

30°C – temperature the UK has hit four days so far this week (TBC 5 at time of writing) with September also seeing the hottest day so far this year.

15 million – number of flight plans processed over the past five years by NATS (the UK’s air traffic control service) who revealed last week’s incident was one they’d “never encountered before”.

3 – number of new MPs (Sarah Dyke, Keir Mather and Steve Tuckwell) sworn in this week.

65 – Age difference between the oldest MP (William Cash) and the new youngest (Keir Mather).

Other Political News 📰

Childcare, social care, renewable energy, and entrepreneurship are all on the agenda of Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf as he released the first Programme for Government since he took office. Labelling it as “unapologetically anti-poverty, pro-growth… both fair and green, and focused on delivering high quality public services”, the Programme sets out aims in the three areas of Equality, Opportunity and Community, with almost £3bn to be prioritised on reducing poverty and protecting households in 2023-24. 14 new Bills are set to be introduced over the 2023-24 Parliamentary session, in addition to the 11 pieces of legislation already being considered in the Scottish Parliament.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is in New Delhi, India, ahead of the G20 Summit, which takes place over the weekend. Sunak, who is being accompanied by his wife Akshata Murthy, is the first Prime Minister of Indian heritage to visit the country, with No.10 saying that the ‘historic’ visit is a ‘powerful reminder of the living bridge between the two countries’. At the Summit, the PM will call on global leaders to criticise Russia for withdrawing from the Black Sea Grant Initiative, with the leaders to also discuss the rising cost-of-living ‘driven’ by Russia’s invasion. Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, are not expected to be in attendance.

The Wagner Group will next week be proscribed as a terrorist organisation, after the Home Secretary laid a draft order before Parliament. The Wagner Group, who were previously led by Yevgeny Prigozhin before his death in a recent plane crash, is a ‘Russian private military company which has acted as a proxy military force on behalf of the Russian state’. It has operated in a series of countries including Ukraine, Syria, Sudan and Mali, and once the order comes into force on 13 September it will be a criminal offence to ‘encourage support for, assist or use the logo’ of the Group.

Another series of clean energy projects have been awarded funding by the UK Government, after the fifth allocation round under the Contracts for Difference Scheme. The 95 projects will receive a share of £227m, while they are also set to deliver 3.7GW of clean homegrown energy, enough to power the equivalent of 2 million homes. The announcement has not been without controversy however, after it was confirmed that not a single offshore wind project was to receive funding.

Changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) are being proposed by the Government, as part of its aims to get more people into work. A consultation has been launched by the Department for Work and Pensions, with proposals including to update the WCA’s categories so they ‘better reflect the modern world of work’; and to update the categories associated with mobility and social interaction. If pursued, the changes would come into force in 2025.

Around the World 🌍

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy dismissed his Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, saying it was time for “new approaches". Rustem Umerov, who runs Ukraine's State Property Fund, has been nominated as his successor. It has been speculated that Reznikov might become Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK.

Ukraine also rejected the legitimacy of local elections being held in Russian-occupied areas, labelling them a ‘sham’. All of the candidates are either Russian or pro-Russian and include governors hand-picked by Moscow. As Foreign Secretary James Cleverly dryly put it, ‘you can't hold elections in someone else's country’.

Thailand formed a new 11-party coalition government, led by the Pheu Thai Party which came second in May’s general election. Srettha Thavisin, a billionaire real estate tycoon, has been appointed prime minister, although it is expected that most of the power will be wielded behind the scenes by former leader Thaksin Shinawatra and the military. The formation of the coalition marks the culmination of the sidelining of the Move Forward party, which won the election.

Nigeria’s Appeal Court rejected challenges to the result of May’s presidential election, meaning that President Tinubu will remain in power. His opponents launched the challenge following the chaotic election, alleging there had been vote rigging and voter suppression, but the court did not uphold the claims.

Abortion has been legalised in Mexico following a High Court ruling. Although Mexico decriminalised abortion in 2007, the ruling now opens the door for the federal healthcare system to provide the service. The announcement was welcomed by women’s rights groups but is likely to anger many religious voters in what is the second largest Catholic nation in Latin America.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has taken to sporting a fetching eyepatch after a jogging accident left him with grazes across his face. He stated it ‘looks worse than it is’ and was ‘excited to see the memes’.

In Parliament 🏛

The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill returned to the Commons for consideration of Lords amendments. The Government stripped the Bill of a number of amendments made in the Lords they argued are unnecessary and the Bill has returned to the Lords for further consideration.

Gavin Williamson MP delivered a short apology to the House of Commons after an independent panel concluded he had sent bullying messages to the then Chief Whip Wendy Morton after he wasn’t allocated tickets to the Queen’s funeral.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill continued its long and arduous journey through the Lords after recess; having held its second reading in the Chamber way back after Parliament first returned from the last Christmas recess. It continues its report stage next week.

The Energy Bill concluded its passage through the House of Commons with relative ease (having first started in the Lords over a year ago), after Conservative MPs pressured the Government into accepting proposals to remove the effective ban on new onshore wind farms.

The Safety of School Buildings was the subject of Labour’s opposition day debate on Wednesday, following revelations reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete has been used across the country’s education estate. Conservative MPs voted down Labour’s attempt to force the Government to release all papers regarding school buildings.

Hormone Pregnancy Tests and Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva were the subjects of Thursday’s traditional backbench business debates in the Commons.

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill which will prevent new cases being brought from killings on both sides that occurred during The Troubles, nears Royal Assent, after a short ping pong sees it returned to the Lords again where it will be considered next week. The Bill, which isn’t supported by any of the political parties in Northern Ireland, could however still be open to legal challenge by victims groups for offering an amnesty for past crimes.

Finally, the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill, legislating for the Government’s £37,000 Lifelong Loan Entitlement from 2025, passed its report stage in the Lords, going on to its third and final reading next week.

Committee Corridor 📜

The Government has been slow to take action to recover losses to error and fraud in COVID grant schemes, the Public Accounts Committee concluded in its first of two reports out this week, with the Department for Business and Trade recovering only £20.9m of an estimated £1.1bn in fraud and error losses by May 2023.

Large gaps still remain in the Government’s understanding of its exposure to fraud and corruption, the Public Accounts Committee concludes in its second report of the week. The Committee warns that, for the most part, the Government’s current system of fraud measurement still does not tell us where the problems are, or which public bodies are most affected.

And finally… nominations opened on Wednesday for the role of Chair of the Business and Trade Committee after Darren Jones’ appointment to the heart of Keir Starmer’s top team as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Labour veteran Angela Eagle MP has already been nominated for the role, with reports Liam Byrne will also be throwing his hat into the ring.

Key Movements 🔁

Chris Pincher resigned as an MP after 'losing his appeal against a proposed Commons suspension for drunkenly groping two men.' A by-election in his Tamworth constituency should take place in the next couple of months.

Mark McAllister has been named as the Government’s preferred candidate to be the next Chair of Ofgem.

Kier Pritchard has been appointed as Deputy Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police.

Neerav Patel will become the UK’s Ambassador to Qatar in February 2024 and Martin Longden will become Ambassador to Libya next month.

Lady Justice Thirlwall will lead the statutory inquiry into the circumstances around the crimes committed by Lucy Letby.

Sir Nicholas Coleridge has been named as the new Chair of the Historic Royal Palaces.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology announced that seven experts had been recruited to the External Advisory Board of the Frontier AI Taskforce, including Turing Prize Laureate Yoshua Bengio and GCHQ Director Anne Keast-Butler.

Dr Paul Thompson was elected as the next Chair of the British Council.

Sir Richard Heaton has been appointed as the new Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Government Art Collection.

Amerdeep Somal is the Government’s preferred candidate to be the next Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Lord Janvrin has been appointed as Chair of the newly established Queen Elizabeth Memorial Committee

Helen Stephenson announced she would standing down as Chief Executive of the Charity Commission at the end of her term in July 2024.

This Week’s Polls 📊

2 in 5 Britons believe that the economic costs of climate change will be higher than the cost of measures to reduce it, according to Ipsos’ latest poll. However, the polling found that the cost of living is weighing too heavily on people’s minds, as 52% of Brits are “too worried” about cost pressures to think about their impact on climate change.

Sadiq Khan leads in the London Mayoral Election polls, but is only 1 point ahead of the Conservative candidate Susan Hall, according to Redfield and Wilton. Unsurprisingly, the ever-controversial expansion of ULEZ is said to be the reason behind the dramatic narrowing of polling.

The Lib Dems gained two points in Redfield and Wilton’s latest Westminster Voting Intention Poll, whilst the Labour Party and the Conservatives remained unchanged. Still a long way off however, the Lib Dems were only polled to gain 14% of the vote (there’s always next week)

Think-Tanking 💭

The IFS published a report on the pension triple lock, which warned it generates ‘considerable uncertainty for the future level of public spending on the state pension’ as it could cost between £5 billion and £45 billion a year by 2050, making it ‘much more difficult for the government to plan future finances’.

The Resolution Foundation published a report on the Work Capability Assessment, stating that recently-announced changes will make it ‘less likely that claimants with certain conditions will qualify’ for work capability elements of Universal Credit.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published ‘Cyber Capabilities and National Power Volume 2’, which assessed the national cyber power of Brazil, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Turkiye and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The first volume assessing 15 states was published in 2021.

The Institute for Government published a guest paper which defends the UK’s unwritten political constitution. It argued that while the idea of adopting a written constitution in the UK was ‘increasingly seeping into the public consciousness’, such a move would be a ‘significant mistake’.

RUSI published a study on ‘how the Maritime Reserves can bring extra fighting power at an affordable cost’, which argued that a ‘bolder vision is necessary’ to make full use of their potential.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

Full marks to the social media rebuttals team at Labour HQ for their quick and witty reaction to the Department for Education’s ill-advised infographic trying to paint a rosy picture about the number of schools unaffected by the aerated concrete scare. Labour’s response – a nod to the 1975 cult classic film Jaws – went down an absolute storm on X, receiving over three and a half million views in just three days.

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