Jeremy Hunt - A Man for All Seasons?
Pamela Chesterman, Planning Partner at Irwin Mitchell comments on the Autumn Statement
Mr. Hunt demonstrated all the experience of his previous positions in this Autumn Statement; Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. He speaks of a robust package of financial support for the NHS and social care provision, infrastructure and energy, whilst still having one eye on the requirement to off-set the harm from Britain’s industrial past, by remaining true to commitments to battle climate change.
This Chancellor portrays an air of confidence of knowing how to perform the growth that his predecessors spoke so boldly about, without providing any of the detailed measures of how and when these measures might be brought through to fruition. The same boldness that spooked the markets and sent the UK into the current ‘recession’ spiral.
Mr. Hunt appreciates that the future relies on investment now, not just in today’s economy and infrastructure but also in the education of youth – bringing forward financial support for schools to teach skills for the future. The astute listener will not have missed how the commitment to investment of £20b into R&D and innovative digital tech and science might draw inference from the suggested improvements/extensions to education offered to protect the economy of the future. Better education in science and innovative tech could bring about the UK version of silicon valley as was mentioned as a comparative.
Sceptically, from a planning perspective, I heard an end to localism pledges of the past. Rather than allowing local people to influence decisions, this time power will be devolved to Mayors in newly combined authorities, like Greater Manchester Combined Authority, already identifying Suffolk, Cornwall and Norfolk as the next to see this devolution.
Sensibly Mr. Hunt did not forget about the climate commitments of the government and cited his and the government’s firm commitment to seek to fulfil its commitments previously pledged, with a view to reach net zero.
No mention of the UK’s poor track record on this to date, but emphasis given to the go-ahead for nuclear plant Sizewell C which has potential to provide 6m homes with power. No details of how quickly the UK might be able to transition across to nuclear, or the impact this might have on the fossil fuel industry – which one might consider appropriate and right, given the proposed Energy Profit Levy to be raised from 25% to 35%. They’ve had their day, we might say and now, it’s time for a cleaner, greener, more competitive energy market.
It’s clear that Mr. Hunt is a proud Brit and his statement was drenched in commendation for Britain’s ‘tough, inventive, resourceful’ he said and ‘resilient’. To some degree one might say we have little choice; the government statements are not optional. Britain must endure these changes.
Mr. Hunt puts a positive spin on this Autumn Statement, reaffirming earlier Prime Minister’s promises of growth and how it will benefit everyone. This statement did seem to be a little more considerate of the differences in demographics throughout the UK. Whilst asking those ‘with more, to pay more’, there was also provision for those vulnerable persons/families to potentially benefit more.
Although increasing Universal Credit there was still a push for further research to be factored in, to consider the barriers preventing some of these “economically active adults’ access better jobs and or better paying jobs. Another consultant will be tasked with this review, so more to come on the specifics of this proposal!
NHS and Social Care
Despite the economic landscape the Chancellor was keen to make-good on the party’s manifesto pledges to protect the NHS which includes investing more in social care, to free up beds in hospitals.
Financially he pledged to spend £1b this year and £1.7b next year on the NHS as well as supporting social care by delaying reforms.
What happens next:
- There’s to be a task force formed with its purpose to look at how the UK can reduce its energy consumption by 15% saving £28b.
- Various consultants have been tasked with advising the government on how investments might best generate the desired outcomes.
- Legislation is proposed to assist the digital market challenge monopolies and create a more competitive arena, including removing import tariffs on goods used in production.
The stark contrast from earlier Chancellors and indeed Prime Ministers is that Mr. Hunt was composed and seemed confident giving his statement – hopefully confident enough to instil stability into the market.