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Weekly Roundup 24th September 2021

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

Labour Conference

  • Labour Conference starts tomorrow – the first of the major party conferences to meet in person since 2019. Ahead of the conference, we’ve pulled together a handy reminder of who’s who in Keir Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet. Click here to download a copy from our website.

Driving the week

  • US President Joe Biden put the brakes on a hoped-for UK-US trade deal this week when he appeared to play down the chances of a deal any time soon, during Boris Johnson’s trip to the US. Government ministers are reportedly considering whether the UK could join the existing 2020 trade deal between the US, Mexico and Canada.

  • Boris Johnson continued the build up to COP26 at a UN climate roundtable meeting in New York by calling on developed nations to “rid the world of coal-fired power and internal combustion engines… stop deforestation, and for developed nations to find that $100 billion” to help developing nations reduce their carbon emissions. In a later speech to the UN General Assembly he argued it was “time for humanity to grow up” and “listen to the warnings of the scientists”.

  • The amber list, and PCR tests for international travel, will be scrapped from 4th October for fully vaccinated passengers arriving from non-red list countries, according to a new rules announced by the Transport Secretary (annoyingly just after our Weekly Roundup went out last Friday…). Cheaper lateral flow tests will now be required instead.

  • Further smaller energy companies are expected to exit the market over the winter, as they struggle to deal with higher energy costs due to the spike in global wholesale gas prices. The Government has refused to increase the energy price cap or bail out failing companies and has instead stated that Ofgem will work to ensure customers affected are moved to different suppliers

  • The Government urged people not to panic buy petrol and diesel after BP and Esso reported supply problems for a small number of its forecourts due to a shortage of HGV drivers.

  • Keir Starmer published a 27 page essay setting out his vision for future Labour policy ahead of Labour conference this weekend, setting out 10 principles for a ‘fairer, more secure and prosperous Britain, built on Labour values’. The essay received mixed reactions from commentators, but has been largely overshadowed in the media by reports on the Labour Leader’s attempt to amend his party’s leadership election rules at next week’s conference.

Other Government news

  • £1.3bn of furlough cash has been returned to HMRC by UK businesses according to the Treasury’s latest stats, with £300m returned since July 2021.

  • HM Treasury launched the UK’s first ever Green Gilt raising £10bn, with a minimum £15bn to be raised for green government projects such as zero-emissions buses, offshore wind, and schemes to decarbonise homes and buildings in this financial year.

  • Public sector net borrowing hit the second highest ever August levels this year according to the latest ONS stats, standing at £20.5bn last month.

  • The Government has agreed to pay for the operating costs of a CO2 production company based in Stockton-on-Tees, for three weeks to enable it to restart production. Production of the gas, vital to the food and drink industry in the UK, had been halted due to the surge in gas prices, and the deal gives three weeks of certainty whilst a medium-term solution is found.

  • A new National Artificial Intelligence Research and Innovation Programme has been announced as part of the first National AI Strategy published this week. The strategy pledges a white paper on the governance and regulation of AI and support for businesses to capitalise on the tech.

  • Events businesses can now apply to an £800m covid insurance scheme, as launched by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Wednesday. The one-year UK Live Events Reinsurance Scheme is designed to give companies confidence to plan gigs and conferences through to summer 2022.

  • Defence Secretary Ben Wallace cut the first steel for the UK’s new Type 31 frigates in a ceremony at Rosyth dockyard on Thursday. Five of the new frigates are expected to enter service with the Royal Navy in 2030.

In Parliament

  • The Business Secretary delivered a statement on gas prices, stressing that the UK has more than sufficient supply to meet demand and the Government do not expect supply emergencies to occur this winter, but stated that they expect to see some smaller energy companies “exit the market” this year due to rising prices. Kwasi Kwarteng also returned to the House to respond to an urgent question later in the week from Shadow BEIS Secretary Ed Miliband.

  • The Transport Secretary delivered a statement on relaxed rules for international travel including news that fully vaccinated Britons will be able to travel into the US from early November. The statement followed last Friday’s announcement, detailed above.

  • The Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill passed all its stages in the Commons on Monday. The Bill removes the triple lock on pensions, to avoid the Government needing to uprate pensions by average earnings for one year, after an 8.3% increase was caused by covid-related distortions over the past year.

  • The Defence Secretary apologised for a serious data breach by an MOD official which saw contact details of all 245 remaining applicants to the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy shared via email.

  • The Home Secretary addressed the Commons on the 2018 Salisbury poisoning announcing that the Crown Prosecution Services has authorised charges against a third member of the Russian GRU for the attack over three years ago.

  • MPs voted against a motion by Labour criticising the Government for the negative effect of its policies on working people. The Opposition Day Debate motion criticised the end to the Universal Credit uplift and the rise in National Insurance Contributions as a way of funding social care.

  • The Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse delivered a statement on measures taken against Insulate Britain, announcing an injunction against the group to prevent them from returning to protest on the M25.

  • The Compensation (London Capital & Finance plc and Fraud Compensation Fund) Bill passed its third reading. The Bill enables the Treasury to pay compensation to customers of London Capital & Finance which collapsed with £237m of investor money in 2019.

  • The Subsidy Control Bill passed its second reading without amendment. The Bill provides the framework for a new, UK-wide subsidy control regime, enabling public authorities, including devolved administrations and local authorities, to deliver subsidies to meet local needs.

  • The new Skills Minister Alex Burghart MP responded to an urgent question on the impact of coronavirus on school attendance and support for pupils to catch up, highlighting that the pandemic caused 33 million missed school days last autumn.

  • Backbench Business debates took place to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week and on human rights in Kashmir, with the first debate prompting some moving speeches from MPs personally effected.

Committee Corridor

  • There are serious weakness in the Government’s national security structures according to a report published by the Joint National Security Strategy Committee, which argues the weaknesses have been exemplified by both the COVID-19 pandemic and events in Afghanistan.

  • The Government should publish a plan to maximise the benefits of Foreign Direct Investment across the UK according to a report published by the International Trade Committee, so FDI does not continue to overwhelmingly benefit London and the South East.

  • The Government must commit to a new cross-departmental strategy to tackle child poverty according to a report published by the Work and Pensions Committee who criticised a lack of clear leadership and focus on the issue in Whitehall.

  • There is ‘no clear end in sight’ to HS2 costs or delays according to a report published by the Public Accounts Committee, who criticise the lack of transparency from the Department for Transport and argue the project has ‘many difficulties ahead’.

  • The Cabinet Office is failing to monitor or enforce the code of public appointments to quangos according to another Public Accounts Committee report, which argues is risking the accountability of the public appointments process.

  • UK Export Finance has been successful, but needs to reach further sectors according to a report by the International Trade Committee, which also recommends the Government amend UKEF’s mandate to better take into account environmental, social and human rights considerations when making decisions about which projects to support.

  • Pandemics have an enduring impact on the criminal justice system according to a report published by the Justice Committee which highlights the impact COVID-19 has had on the criminal justice system and courts, calling for the Ministry of Justice to have a more central role in the development of all new criminal offences so it is better prepared in future.

  • The Government should create a new Secretary of State for Equalities and Levelling Up according to a new report by the Women and Equalities Committee which calls for a dedicated roll-holder instead of it being held by another Cabinet Minister as currently happens.

Key movements

  • Former Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane has been appointed the Head of the Government’s Levelling Up Taskforce and a Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office, on secondment from the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce for six months.

  • A number of backbench Tory MPs have sprung on to the pre-ministerial ladder as Parliamentary Private Secretaries to cabinet ministers. The Guido Fawkes website was the first to pull together the full list.

  • Special Advisers spent the week jostling for new positions following last week’s reshuffle. A number moved with their previous bosses to their new departments, whilst others were poached by the new appointees to the Cabinet. The Guido Fawkes team once again has the best list online.

  • University lecturer Dr Jo Saxton has been appointed England’s independent qualifications regulator at Ofqual

  • UK Research and Innovation have gained five new non-executive directors to its board.

  • Director of Ripple Energy Dr David Club has been appointed the Chair Designate of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, subject to a pre-appointment hearing by the Senedd’s Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee.

Around the UK

  • Scotland’s international travel testing regime will be aligned with the UK Government. Pre-departure tests for fully vaccinated travellers will be removed, travellers from non-red list countries who have been fully vaccinated in a vaccine-recognised country will no longer need to provide evidence of a negative test result on their entry to Scotland, and Scotland will also align with the UK post-arrival testing regime.

New consultations

  • Employees will be able to request flexible working from day one under Government proposals out for consultation, intended to modernise working practices in Britain. The consultation examines a range of flexible working methods such as job-sharing, flexitime, compressed, annualised and staggered hours, as well as phased retirement – not just working from home.

Think-Tanking

  • The Institute for Government published a report on what the Government means by the phrase ‘levelling up’

  • The Henry Jackson Society published a report on the Kremlin’s use of Russia’s four official religions to bolster its influence among target audiences abroad.

  • The Centre for European Reform has published a briefing on what the end of free EU roaming will mean for the UK mobile market.

  • The Institute of Economic Affairs published a report on the need for a British innovation principle.

  • The Fabian Society published Keir Starmer’s 14,000 word essay on his vision for Britain (see above).

  • The Adam Smith Institute published a report setting out a path forward on homebuilding.

You’ve got to laugh

  • Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel was pictured shouting in pain whilst covered in parrots (yes readers, it’s been a long week but you did read that correctly…) during a visit to a bird park in her constituency, as she prepares to stand down on Sunday.

Have a lovely weekend!