Conservatives Make up for a lack of detail by inviting business to help set policy
At yesterday's fringe events on energy and the industrial strategy there was a uniting theme. There is distinct lack of policy detail. When Ministers are asked to give their opening remarks it is more filibustering than the detail that industry is looking for. Whether this is Cabinet discipline or evidence of a policy vacuum is open to interpretation.
That is not to say there haven’t been some useful nuggets that can help inform public affairs strategies.
Northern Powerhouse & Industrial Strategy
- The Northern Powerhouse is not dead according to Chair of No.10 Policy Board, George Freeman, but it is not just about focusing on Manchester
- Improving skills will be a central pillar of the industrial strategy. Both at schools, university and vocational level.
- The Government will be taking a regional approach to the industrial strategy. The belief is that by looking to enhance existing regional strengths then sector expertise will come to the fore.
- This regional approach to industrial strategy means that it is now synonymous with devolution and there has been a noticeable re-igniting of the devolution agenda.
- The Government really want the industrial strategy to be led by industry. Greg Clark said we don't want submissions that are tailored to pander to perceived Government thinking.
- This industry led approach means the Government really are in listening mode. Never have the Conservatives come across as being so open to ideas.
- Focusing on existing sectoral strengths does give the impression that this Government are not 'free marketeers' and are even hinting at a willingness to intervene when necessary. Just don't accuse them of 'picking winners'.
- No.10 is looking to rewrite public sector vs. private sector narrative. They want to debunk the pervasive thinking that public is a byword for inefficiency or wasting money. In fact there are councils or hospital managers that are have proven to be extremely efficient. Expect public institutions that have track record of good fiscal management to be backed by Government in much the same way that a seed investor might.
- There continues to be opposition to energy costs on business and there has been consistent calls for the Carbon Price Floor to be scrapped. The calls are only going to get noisier in the lead up to Autumn Statement.
- Despite calls for scrapping environmental levies Ministers don't want to be drawn on the issue and they certainly are not willing to throw the decarbonisation part of the trilemma under the bus.
- The Government are resistant to calls for a new Energy Bill or further tinkering with energy policy. There is a definite sense that they want to depoliticise energy and move to the background.
But to just contradict myself in the very next sentence, rumours abound that Theresa May's speech will have an announcement to lower energy bills. Potentially along the lines of enacting all CMA suggested reforms. We will wait and see.
Political headline writers have got in the habit of labelling this Government as right wing. Diplomatically or when it comes to Brexit that may be true, but when it comes to domestic policy on infrastructure or industrial strategy there is pragmatic, centrist, open and dare I say even a statist approach. The "letting the market decide" approach seems to have waned with the Government realising they do have a role in either nurturing sectors or lowering risk.
By Doug McIlroy