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Spring Budget Roundup

With almost every single major new policy appearing in the press before he had even stepped out of 11 Downing Street, Jeremy Hunt was left standing at the dispatch box with a rabbit-less hat on Wednesday lunchtime. That said, there was a good amount to unpack, as the Chancellor went on a last ditch spending spree ahead of this year’s election…

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.

Spring Budget Special 🚨

Jeremy Hunt delivered his last Spring Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer (unless the entire polling industry has have got it inexplicably and dramatically wrong), in which he sought to use the very limited fiscal headroom he had to introduce measures to help those still struggling with recent high inflation. Here’s a quick run-down of the key announcements in his speech:

  • Employee National Insurance will be cut from 10% to 8% from 6th April, with Self-Employed National Insurance also cut from 8% to 6%

  • The High Income Child Benefit Threshold will be increased from £50,000 to £60,000 from April 2024

  • The Non Dom tax system will be abolished and replaced with a new residency based system

  • Full expensing will be extended to apply to leased assets “as soon as it’s affordable”

  • The Recovery Loan Scheme (to become the Growth Guarantee Scheme) will be extended

  • The VAT threshold will be increased from £85,000 to £90,000 from 1st April

  • Public sector spending on day-to-day public services will continue to grow at 1% per year in real terms

  • A new “landmark public sector productivity plan” will be launched to “restart public service reform and change the Treasury’s approach to public spending”

  • A series of levelling up funding announcements were made including the expansion of the Long-Term Plan for Towns to 20 new places, and £242m for Barking Riverside and Canary Wharf, including to transform Canary Wharf into a new Life Sciences Hub

  • A number of tax credits in the creative industries will be increased and made permanent

  • Funding will be provided for Violence Reduction Units and to speed up police response times

  • £3.4bn will be spent on funding the NHS Productivity Plan, to fully digitise hospitals across England.

For a full summary of the Budget, the subsequent announcements, publications and consultations as well as all the immediate reaction from key think tanks, trade unions and businesses, download our full briefing below:

Navigate Politics Spring Budget 2024 Roundup
Download PDF • 232KB

For those of you wanting a quieter wind down to the Spring now that the Budget is out the way, well I’m afraid that MAY not be the case. “NAME THE DATE” was Shadow Paymaster General Jonathan Ashworth’s plea to the Prime Minister this week, during his media round, as he appeared on various news outlets on Tuesday, seemingly certain that the General Election will be in May, sending Westminster into even more of a frenzy over when Sunak will head to the polls. Just a day later, his speculations were echoed by Labour leader Keir Starmer who, after managing to include a joke about the Glasgow Wonka experience in his reply to the Budget, concluded by stating the Prime Minister should stop the dither and delay (I think we may have heard that line before Keir…) and confirm the 2nd May as the date of the next General Election. However, without wishing to evoke too much anxiety/excitement (delete as appropriate) that the rumours are growing for an earlier election, Sunak is still giving little away and a November election may still be more likely. That said, both the Chancellor and the PM failed to deny a May election when asked about it this week, the former insisting the decision was “above his paygrade”, whilst the PM assured the BBC’s Jeremy Vine that he “was not going to say anymore” on the topic of an election date. Speculation must therefore resume for two weeks until 26 March, when Parliament would have to be dissolved by for a Bank Holiday weekend election.

An unexpected news conference at 17:40 on a Friday was the gift the Prime Minister gave to us last week, moments after Team Navigate had logged off for the weekend. Following the election of George Galloway… MP and a “shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality”, Sunak’s speech on extremism focused on the “poison” spread by Islamist extremists and far right groups that is draining the UK of its “confidence and hope”. He indicated the democratic rights to freely criticise the Government and to protest, but asserted that it is unacceptable to “beam antisemitic tropes onto Big Ben” and to “justify the support of a proscribed terrorist group, like Hamas” announcing that the Government will implement a new robust framework for how it deals with the issue of extremism and reiterated that the police have the Government’s full backing, to police, rather than merely manage, extremist incidences.

Coming Up Next Week 📆

In the Commons – MPs will continue debating the Budget next week until Tuesday, and then all stages of the National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates)(No. 2) Bill will be considered on Wednesday. Estimates Day debates will take place on Thursday, to consider the spending of the Department of Education, specifically as it relates to special educational needs and disabilities provision, and the Home Office, which will focus on asylum and migration.

In the Lords – Peers will focus their attention on the Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill on Tuesday for its third reading. The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will begin its report stage on Monday and continue on Wednesday, while the Victims and Prisoners Bill will continue with its committee stage on Tuesday.

Committee Corridor – After four days of debate on his budget in the Commons, Jeremy Hunt will face questions from the Treasury Select Committee on Wednesday, while Business Secretary Kemi Badenock will be questioned on retained EU law in the European Scrutiny Committee. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Anti-Fraud Champion Simon Fell, Security Minister Tom Tugendhat, and Parliamentary Secretary Baroness Vere of Norbiton will meet with the Home Affairs Committee to discuss fraud.

The Week in Stats 📉

£60bn – The blackhole in the UK’s public finances according to Wall Street bank Citi who warned this week the OBR has over estimated Britain’s potential productivity.

37.1% – Tax as a share of GDP in 2028/29, according to the forecasts from the OBR – 4% higher than the pre-pandemic level.

£3.1bn – How much reform of the non-dom regime will bring in each year by 2028-29 according to the OBR.

93.2% - Forecast public sector net debt in 2027-28.

60 – Conservative MPs who have so far announced they won’t be standing at the next General Election.

96 – Total number of MPs who have so far announced they won’t be standing.

1/3 – Proportion of Conservative MPs in London who have already announced they won’t be standing at the next General Election.

5 – Number of Chancellors of the Exchequer to have never presented a full Budget…

…3 of which have served as Chancellors of the Exchequer in the last five years.

Other Political News 📰

One May Election was completely ruled out this week, as former Prime Minister Theresa May announced that, after over 26 years in Parliament, she would not be contesting the next General Election, whenever that may be. Revealing the news to her local constituency paper, The Maidenhead Advertiser, May said it was a “difficult decision” and one that she was taking because her work on other issues, including modern slavery and human trafficking, was “taking up increasing amounts of her time”. Being it International Women’s Day, it was perhaps apt that May revealed her decision today, as she was the UK’s second female Prime Minister, second female Home Secretary, and the first female Chair of the Conservative Party.

While the Government focused on the Budget, the Lords focused on defeating the Government’s Rwanda Bill, with 10 amendments passed. Peers voted, quite overwhelmingly, to: allow courts to challenge Rwanda's safety presumption with credible evidence; ensure the arrangements in the Rwanda Treaty have been “fully implemented” before flights take off; and to allow legal challenges in cases where an individual thought they had been wrongly labelled an adult. In other immigration news, the UK and France will lead a new customs partnership aimed at sharing information to disrupt shipments of small boat materials.

People in Birmingham face a 21% rise in Council Tax over the next two years, after the largest local authority in England voted 53-32 in favour of a package that also included a series of cuts to services. In an attempt to rectify the immediate budget shortfall of £87m and make £300m in savings, the Council has, amongst other things, voted to: scrap nearly all arts funding; sell 11 community centres; reduce fly-tipping enforcement; and introduce parking charges in three country parks. Labour leader of the Council John Cotton blamed the Government for causing wider financial issues, but acknowledged the cuts were ‘unprecedented in scale’ and apologised for the measures.

The taxpayer has covered £15,000 in damages owed by Science Secretary Michelle Donelan, after the award was made to an academic that Donelan had ‘falsely accused of supporting Hamas’. Donelan released a Statement on X and retracted her original comments, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats demanding she cover the damages and legal costs herself. A spokesperson for her Department explained that there was ‘established precedent’ of Ministers being provided with legal support for matters relating to their ‘conduct and responsibilities as a Minister’.

A new law will be introduced to make it easier for the public to secure funding for legal fights against powerful corporations, with this something that had been called for by those who have needed third-party litigation funding in the past, such as the sub-postmasters. The Government is also considering options for a wider review of the sector and how third-party litigation funding is carried out.

Around the World 🌍

It was a busy week in US politics, as Donald Trump stormed through Super Tuesday. The result was never really in doubt, with Trump winning 14 of the 15 states that held a primary competition (Nikki Haley edged past him in Vermont). In some states his victory was overwhelming, taking 83% in Alabama, 82% in Oklahoma and nearly 90% in Alaska. The result seemed to boost Trump’s confidence as he declared he would be willing to debate President Biden ‘anytime, anywhere, anyplace’.

The disappointing results caused Nikki Haley to finally drop out of the race, effectively confirming Trump as the Republican nominee. Although it had been widely accepted she could not win, she had vowed to continue to Super Tuesday, but the results only reinforced how futile continuing the campaign was. She mainly found success among younger, urban and higher educated Republicans, some of whom may opt for Biden or a third-party candidate over Trump in November.

Trump also had a rare victory in the courts when the Supreme Court struck down Colorado’s ruling that barred him from running in the election. Colorado judges had ruled he could not stand due to an anti-insurrection clause in the constitution, but the Supreme Court declared this was a federal power that only Congress could enforce. Trump hailed it a “big win”.

President Biden delivered the State of the Union address, in which he went on the attack against his “predecessor”, labelling his handling of the pandemic “unforgivable”, accusing him of "bowing down" to Russia, and said he had tried to “bury the truth” of the 6 January insurrection. He also announced America would open a temporary port in Gaza to deliver aid and was working on a ceasefire plan; and discussed the state of the economy and immigration.

France became the first country in the world to make abortion an explicit right in the constitution after both houses of parliament voted in favour. It is the 25th amendment to France’s modern constitution and the first since 2008.

Hardliners won a majority in Iran’s parliamentary elections, although turnout was a record low 41%. Most moderate and reformist figures had been disqualified from standing and the Reform Front coalition of parties boycotted the vote, labelling it ‘meaningless’. One of those barred from standing was former moderate president Hassan Rouhani, while another reformist former president, Mohammad Khatami, stated he had joined the boycott.

Peru's Prime Minister Alberto Otarola resigned amid a corruption scandal in which he is accused of giving lucrative contracts to a woman he had apparently declared his love for. According to Peruvian law, all 18 members of Peru's cabinet must now also resign, although the president can reselect them again if they wish.

Highlights from Parliament 🏛

The Commons was in full Budget mode this week with Wednesday and Thursday turned over to the usual “This was a great Budget [insert government weekly lines to take]” versus “This was a dreadful Budget [insert opposition weekly lines to take]” rhetoric. Before the usual two days of pointless back-and-forth, Monday and Tuesday saw debates on farming and the second reading of the Automated Vehicles Bill.

The Lords had an arguably more productive week with two days of debate on the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. The Government faced a series of defeats as peers passed new amendments to the Bill including to tighten the wording around the definition of whether Rwanda is deemed a “safe country” and give the courts a right to rebut the Government’s presumption that Rwanda is a “safe country”. The Foreign Secretary sat through six and half hours of debate on the UK’s foreign policy on Tuesday, in which he took a swipe at his former Deputy Prime Minister in the Coalition Government, by appearing to suggest Nick Clegg had not fully supported his position to maintain 0.7% of GNI spend on international development. Finally the Lords held debates on higher education, local regeneration of former industrial area, and International Women’s Day.

Committee Corridor 📜

Non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases should be banned – so concludes the Treasury Committee’s latest report on Sexism in the City, published this week to mark International Women’s Day. The committee made key recommendations aimed at tackling sexism and misogyny in financial services, including requiring salary bands to be included on job adverts, a ban on prospective employers asking for salary history, and a ban on the use of NDAs in sexual harassment cases.

A long-term strategy to tackle women's health and physiology-related issues in sport is needed, according to the Women and Equalities Committee’s report out this week. The Committee argued that the high number of ACL injuries among women and girls has reflected ‘a lack of understanding and attention given to female health and physiology-related needs.’ It provided a series of recommendations, which include establishing a task force with priorities to focus on achieving equal representation in sports research and actions to increase female-specific sportswear.

A ’properly resourced’ independent intermediary should take the lead on delivering the Horizon scandal compensation scheme, urged the Business and Trade Committee in its report on the Post Office and Horizon scandal. The report called for the removal of the Post Office from the scheme, citing victims ‘lack of confidence’ in it and its ‘chaotic leadership’.

The Government should get firmer control of defence procurement, the Public Accounts Committee has concluded in its report on the MoD Equipment Plan 2023-2033. The report criticises the Government’s management of funding to deliver the military capabilities it wants, warning that the real deficit could be £12bn higher than the £16.9bn deficit that is estimated if all parts of the Armed Forces included ‘the full costs of all the capabilities that the Government expects them to deliver.’

Work still needs to be done to improve the performance of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, according to a new report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The report acknowledges that there have been improvements in staffing levels and in reducing the Covid backlog since its last report in 2022; but found evidence of inadequate case working, ‘including in particular poor experiences for disabled and elderly people.’

Key Movements 🔁

Former PM Theresa May announced that she will stand down as an MP at the next general election, joining 59 other Conservative MPs including former London Minister Paul Scully who also confirmed he will be standing down.

Charles Banner KC has been appointed to lead a Government review into planning and the delivery of national infrastructure projects.

Richard Cornish has been appointed as the Director General and Chief Operating Officer of the Government Legal Department.

Faith Geary has been appointed as the interim Chief Executive Officer for the Parole Board.

Lieutenant General Sir Ben Bathurst has been appointed as the new Governor of Gibraltar.

Sir Stephen Hillier has been reappointed as Chair of the Civil Aviation Authority for another four year term.

Nick Bitel has been reappointed as Non-Executive Chair of DVSA, with Helen Aston appointed as a Non-Executive Director.

Dr Nicola Byrne has been reappointed to the role of National Data Guardian for three more years.

Labour’s Brenda Dacres has been elected as the Mayor of Lewisham, becoming the first black woman to win a directly-elected mayoral role in the borough.

This Week’s Polls 📊

Just 33% of 2019 Tory voters think Rishi Sunak was right to suspend Lee Anderson from the party, according to polling from YouGov this week. In total 43% of Britons think he was right to do so. Separate YouGov research published this week however also shows that Britons are almost three times as likely to have a negative view of Lee Anderson as a positive one.

28% of people have described their household’s financial situation as strong, as opposed to 35% who have described it as weak and a further 35% who have said it is neither, Deltapoll research this week has revealed. In a more stark response, just 12% responded that the UK’s present economic situation is strong, compared to 68% who have argued it is weak.

42% of people supported the measures announced in this week’s Budget, compared to 22% who opposed them, according to a snap poll by Savanta immediately following the Budget; however the same research found that 42% of respondents trust the Labour Party more on the economy, as opposed to just 31% who trust the Conservative Party more.

Almost double the number of Brits would prefer Joe Biden to remain as US President over Donald Trump, so concludes further research published by Savanta this week. In a head-to-head, just 24% of Britons would prefer the current US President to continue, compared to just 24% who would prefer to see Donald Trump return to the White House. 30% don’t know who they’d like the leader of the free world to be next year…

Think-Tanking 💭

The IPPR published a report on the role of employability in tackling poverty in Scotland, noting that simply ensuring everyone already in work is paid the living wage would lift around 70,000 people out of poverty.

The Social Market Foundation published a briefing titled ‘what the NHS can and cannot learn from the Singaporean health system’ which focuses specifically on primary care, and argues that the Singaporean-style polyclinics and telemedicine could help drive efficiency in the UK.

Demos published a policy paper on its Good Credit Index 2023 which proposes a series of solutions to achieve a fair, affordable and inclusive UK credit market.

The Foreign Policy Centre published a report highlighting several concerns about the role of UK PR and communication agencies when representing clients from kleptocratic jurisdictions, with risks to both industry and society.

The IISS published a report on Europe and the Indo-Pacific outlining how these regions are responding to challenges in critical infrastructure, AI, innovation protection and cyber disinformation. It also highlights the importance of broadening the perspective beyond bilateral tensions to foster global digital cooperation.

You’ve Got to Laugh 😂

Former London Minister Paul Scully didn’t hold back this week, as he offered the Government some advice on winning the next general election after announcing that he will be standing down. Despite last week’s backlash over his comments about “no-go” areas in parts of Tower Hamlets, there was no stopping Scully as he appeared on Sky News to warn Sunak against an “ideological shove to the right.” Turning to Twitter, he argued the Conservative Party has ‘lost its way and needs to get a clear focus’, concluding that the party ‘can work with bell curve or become the bell-ends’. Stay tuned for some more MP mic drop moments in the run-up to the election…

And finally, a new anchor’s worst nightmare and oft-repeated Freudian slip happened to ITV’s Nina Hossain on Thursday lunchtime when discussing Jeremy Hunt’s Budget speech with a reporter. She of course follows in the footsteps of the great Jim Naughtie who made the same mistake on the Today programme back in 2010, although without of course his now legendary supressed fit of laughter.


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