The new Covid-19 vaccines: what we know so far

24 Nov

Just a month ago, it was hard to feel optimistic about the battle with Coronavirus. Many countries around the world were struggling to find a way out, and the UK’s main exit strategy – test and trace – was facing a myriad of operational challenges. You could be forgiven for thinking that we’d be stuck in lockdown forever.

But all that changed several weeks ago when Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they had created the first successful vaccine for protecting against the virus. Soon after, Moderna and Oxford University had breakthroughs too.

As ConservativeHome has written before, these are unprecedented scientific developments that deserve their own film one day. The Government also deserves huge credit for its belief in vaccines. Early on it secured 350 million doses from seven different vaccine candidates, in a gamble that seems – at this stage – to have paid off. Without further ado, we look at some of the details around the current ones, and when they can be expected to roll out.

Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Early analysis suggests the vaccine is 95 per cent effective in preventing Covid.
  • The Government has ordered 40 million doses, and expects to receive 10 million by the end of this year, which will protect five million people. The majority of doses are expected in the first half of 2021.
  • The Government is waiting for Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA; the independent regulator) to assess the vaccine. It could be approved as soon as this week, and the NHS has reportedly been told to prepare for mass vaccinations from December 1.
  • The vaccine has to be stored at minus 70 degrees celsius, and you need two doses of it. 
  • It costs £15 per dose.
Moderna
  • The Moderna vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective, and was tested in a trial that included many high risk and elderly people.
  • The Government has ordered five million doses, which means the NHS will be able to vaccinate 2.5 million people
  • If the vaccine is approved by regulators, then it could be delivered to the UK and Europe in spring 2021.
  • The vaccine can be stored for six months at -20C, the temperature of most freezers, and can stay for up to 30 days in a standard fridge. The dose is three times larger than Pfizer’s and you need two doses.
  • It costs £25 per dose.
Oxford University and AstraZeneca
  • Oxford University and AstraZeneca found in their study that when participants were given a half-sized dose and full-sized second dose, they were 90 per cent protected from Covid-19. 
  • The Government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine. There are currently four million doses ready to go, but the vaccine has to be approved, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.
  • Although the Oxford vaccine has a lower efficacy than Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna’s, it is much easier to store – as it can be left at fridge temperature – meaning it can be distributed throughout the world. 
  • It costs £3 per dose.
Some other details:
  • The first people to get the vaccines will be care home residents and staff, as well as people over 80. The Government then plans to offer the vaccine to everyone else based on age, from oldest to youngest, by spring 2021. It has not been decided whether people with underlying health conditions and from ethnic minority backgrounds will be prioritised.
  • The NHS is recruiting 30,000 volunteers to help administer the jabs.
What we don’t know so far:
  • Whether the vaccines prevent disease transmission (i.e. can someone who has had the vaccine pass Covid-19 onto others). Some suspect that the vaccines will be able to reduce the duration and level of infectiousness, but it remains to be seen how this impacts on community transmission.
  • How many times someone will need to have a vaccine (other than the initial dose). It is not known how long immunity lasts. Perhaps we will move to a model similar to flu jabs, whereby vulnerable groups get a new one each year.
  • Whether we will need everyone vaccinated. Much of this depends on how vaccines affect transmission. If they stop or significantly reduces Covid-19 infection, then not as many people should need vaccinations.
Lastly, here is a list of the vaccines the Government has ordered so far:
  1. BioNTech/Pfizer for 40 million doses
  2. Oxford/AstraZeneca for 100 million doses
  3. Moderna for five million doses
  4. GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur for 60 million doses
  5. Novavax for 60 million doses
  6. Janssen for 30 million doses
  7. Valneva for 60 million doses

John O’Connell: To ensure efficient government spending, we need a new Parliamentary Budget Committee

24 Nov

John O’Connell is the Chief Executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Although the Comprehensive Spending Review will only set out plans for one year, rather than three, it’s still an important moment for the Government. It was of course elected on a Conservative manifesto pledging to spend more money, so no one should be surprised by a big overall boost on Wednesday. All eyes will be on exactly what the Chancellor spends more money on, and where the benefits will accrue.

While there will be a deluge of important data, it will be quite difficult for taxpayers to gauge whether the relationship between spending and outcomes is as efficient as it could be. In one sense, that seems like an unfair barb – after all, spending data is pretty transparent these days. But one thing is missing: government spending plans are not robustly scrutinised for economy and efficiency. That’s why the TaxPayers’ Alliance supports the creation of a new Parliamentary Budget Committee. Parliament could and should play a greater role in focusing government attention on efficient spending.

The detailed reports of the OBR allow taxpayers to assess the big picture. The Treasury Select Committee also does admirable work scrutinising public sector spending in terms of fiscal aggregates. So for example, it may flag up the dire long-term spending implications of continued low productivity growth in the NHS, but it does not scrutinise the causes, or compare performance with alternative healthcare models. It has neither the mandate nor the expertise to conduct such scrutiny. Departmental select committees are preoccupied. The fantastic Public Accounts Committee only looks at spending after it happens, not before.

Far better than stretching the remits and resources of these bodies, we should instead accept the central recommendations of the Leigh-Pugh report and implement a dedicated committee focused on scrutinising the economy, effectiveness and efficiency aspects of future spending plans. Australia and New Zealand already have similar models to examine and take lessons from.

There is always a difficulty in measuring the value of public service outputs provided free at the point of use. But much work has already been done both within Whitehall and outside (for example the Office for National Statistics’ work on public sector productivity). And the committee’s key purpose would be less about coming up with a definitive single measure of overall efficiency, than focussing departmental attention on improving efficiency as part of the routine planning and budgeting process – with a long-term view, in place whoever is in government.

Getting maximum value for every pound of taxpayers’ money is always important, in and of itself. But the imperative is perhaps even greater now. Even before Covid, the pressure on public spending was intensifying. An ageing population meant that spending forecasts were already gloomy. The 2017 Fiscal Sustainability Report from the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that spending on healthcare would be £88 billion higher, in real terms, by 2066. The same report found that annual spending on the state pension would be 6.9 per cent of GDP by 2070.

Add to that the Conservatives’ manifesto pledges, such as 50,000 more nurses, maintenance of the pension triple lock and 250,000 extra childcare places, which will not come cheap. Then, pile on the enormous sums of money spent in response to the pandemic – the latest OBR estimate is that spending decisions will amount to almost £180 billion. It’s not hard to conclude that we face a serious fiscal crunch.

There is also a dangerous narrative developing, at least in Westminster and media circles. The culture of Covid seems to dictate that enormous sums of money are actually just “rounding errors”.

Well, as for these rounding errors, it was recently reported that the Government may reduce foreign aid spending such that it is 0.5 per cent of national income, down from 0.7 per cent. In pounds and pence, that is a saving of £4 billion. It was called a rounding error by some – but £4 billion is close to the equivalent of a 1p increase or decrease in the basic rate of tax; it is more than a quarter of the police budget; it’s 10 per cent of the tax hikes that the Resolution Foundation seems to have convinced the Government we must have

In other words, it’s a lot of money. What’s more, the logic suggests that we approve every single pet project or scheme that gets enough retweets – what does it matter, they’re all rounding errors.

We know Rishi Sunak is going to spend more money, Covid or no Covid. But for the long-term health of the public finances, our system must ensure that we work to get value for every single pound before it is spent. A Parliamentary Budget Committee can help root out waste before it happens.

Chris Hossack: The costs of the lockdown have not been honestly presented. Not least that it is killing our high streets.

24 Nov

Cllr Chris Hossack is the Leader of Brentwood Borough Council.

2020 has seen the government introduce unprecedented protection measures at huge cost to the economy and Treasury. The Bank of England warning this will be the worst financial crisis for over 300 years; surely we will not recover for many years hence?

Controversial lockdown measures have largely been applied on the basis of geography as well as the shutting down of certain business sectors, notably in hospitality, that are deemed to be non-essential.

At a local economy level, it is evident that these blunt lockdown measures are benefitting the big supermarket brands and killing our independent traders i.e. traditional high streets. For instance, Tesco overall sales soared nearly seven per cent in the first half, with on-line purchases up a staggering 69 per cent.

The much documented High Street demise has been a long time in the making, as supermarkets are effectively high streets under one roof, often incorporating florists, money exchanges, key cutting, clothing etc. Covid lockdowns have only exposed how this disproportionately affects independents, sending them further towards extinction. An independent stationer is entitled to feel aggrieved that their business is closed at the observance of unworkable attempts to close off greeting card isles in the superstores.

Consumers have traditionally held the key to the survival of the high street in the way they choose to purchase their goods, by putting local support above convenience. Under the lockdown approach, consumers cannot help their local businesses even if they want to.

Thousands upon thousands of businesses have closed this year, many will never re-open again. We simply have to think of another way unless we are prepared to accept the accelerated shift towards retail conglomeracy.

The statistical case for the lockdown is hugely one sided. The unreadable PowerPoint slides delivered by Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick (over estimations and miscategorisations aside) only ever make the case for further restrictions based on clinical data around projected infection and mortality rates. All at the end of the day, designed to manage the pressure on the NHS.

In order to make a more robust decision on a workable strategy, a multiple-criteria decision-making method must be used.

Mainstream statistics seldom include businesses closures, rates of depression and suicide, stats on delayed treatments for cancer patients, and the subsequent mortality rates in patients aside from Covid. Never mind the impact on the Treasury as jobs are lost,Tax and National Insurance income depletes, the DWP budget soars to help replace lost household income. As homeowners try to cling onto the paying the bills, rents and mortgage with what little income they have. No wonder council house waiting lists are also set to soar too. When do we ever see these graphs?

We understand the need to protect the NHS but I fear how the massive tilt from income to expenditure on the Treasury’s books is going to make this possible at all, as the economy as a whole is burned for the whole purpose of saving it. Where will the funding come from?

The blanket approach centred on regional and economic shutdown isn’t working. Hopefully England will come out of this current lockdown on December 2nd, then what? Yes we want some assemblance of normality to return for Christmas, but as we ease off the restraints and socialise more, the infection rate will once again rise. We should anticipate entering a third lockdown sometime in the New Year. Society and the economy simply cannot keep going through this yo-yo existence purely for the purpose of managing hospital patient throughput.

We hope to see a Covid 19 vaccination programme start in December but before the benefits are realised, transmission and infection will remain a problem for months to come.

What we do know is which segments of our society are most likely to be hospitalised as a result of the virus, namely the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Surely the focus of effort must be intensified towards shielding this sector of our community, whilst the majority can focus on getting our economy moving again, to fund the machinery of state that we all depend on?

The civil liberties case, worthy of an entirely separate article, is a huge consideration. For instance, the liberty of a healthy active 80 year old to be curtailed against their will would not be right. For those in their twilight years to be forced into isolation would be wrong. But to understand the risks and make the personal choice of whether to avail themselves of the protections available or not, is something all those in the vulnerable categories should be trusted to make for themselves.

Again, these hugely difficult moral questions are all predicated on the engrained refrain to ‘Protect the NHS’. So finally, let’s look at that. If the phenomena of the pandemic is to be a more regular occurrence, as is anticipated, then we absolutely need to plan for that as a society. The billions spent on furlough and business support grants, need now to be thought of in the context of investment for NHS planning and preparation, to increase infrastructure, capacity, staffing and training.

We simply cannot ever again sacrifice everything to protect the NHS; we must re-align the NHS if it is to have the capability to handle global pandemic scenarios in the future.

Chris Hossack: The costs of the lockdown have not been honestly presented. Not least that it is killing our high streets.

24 Nov

Cllr Chris Hossack is the Leader of Brentwood Borough Council.

2020 has seen the government introduce unprecedented protection measures at huge cost to the economy and Treasury. The Bank of England warning this will be the worst financial crisis for over 300 years; surely we will not recover for many years hence?

Controversial lockdown measures have largely been applied on the basis of geography as well as the shutting down of certain business sectors, notably in hospitality, that are deemed to be non-essential.

At a local economy level, it is evident that these blunt lockdown measures are benefitting the big supermarket brands and killing our independent traders i.e. traditional high streets. For instance, Tesco overall sales soared nearly seven per cent in the first half, with on-line purchases up a staggering 69 per cent.

The much documented High Street demise has been a long time in the making, as supermarkets are effectively high streets under one roof, often incorporating florists, money exchanges, key cutting, clothing etc. Covid lockdowns have only exposed how this disproportionately affects independents, sending them further towards extinction. An independent stationer is entitled to feel aggrieved that their business is closed at the observance of unworkable attempts to close off greeting card isles in the superstores.

Consumers have traditionally held the key to the survival of the high street in the way they choose to purchase their goods, by putting local support above convenience. Under the lockdown approach, consumers cannot help their local businesses even if they want to.

Thousands upon thousands of businesses have closed this year, many will never re-open again. We simply have to think of another way unless we are prepared to accept the accelerated shift towards retail conglomeracy.

The statistical case for the lockdown is hugely one sided. The unreadable PowerPoint slides delivered by Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick (over estimations and miscategorisations aside) only ever make the case for further restrictions based on clinical data around projected infection and mortality rates. All at the end of the day, designed to manage the pressure on the NHS.

In order to make a more robust decision on a workable strategy, a multiple-criteria decision-making method must be used.

Mainstream statistics seldom include businesses closures, rates of depression and suicide, stats on delayed treatments for cancer patients, and the subsequent mortality rates in patients aside from Covid. Never mind the impact on the Treasury as jobs are lost,Tax and National Insurance income depletes, the DWP budget soars to help replace lost household income. As homeowners try to cling onto the paying the bills, rents and mortgage with what little income they have. No wonder council house waiting lists are also set to soar too. When do we ever see these graphs?

We understand the need to protect the NHS but I fear how the massive tilt from income to expenditure on the Treasury’s books is going to make this possible at all, as the economy as a whole is burned for the whole purpose of saving it. Where will the funding come from?

The blanket approach centred on regional and economic shutdown isn’t working. Hopefully England will come out of this current lockdown on December 2nd, then what? Yes we want some assemblance of normality to return for Christmas, but as we ease off the restraints and socialise more, the infection rate will once again rise. We should anticipate entering a third lockdown sometime in the New Year. Society and the economy simply cannot keep going through this yo-yo existence purely for the purpose of managing hospital patient throughput.

We hope to see a Covid 19 vaccination programme start in December but before the benefits are realised, transmission and infection will remain a problem for months to come.

What we do know is which segments of our society are most likely to be hospitalised as a result of the virus, namely the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Surely the focus of effort must be intensified towards shielding this sector of our community, whilst the majority can focus on getting our economy moving again, to fund the machinery of state that we all depend on?

The civil liberties case, worthy of an entirely separate article, is a huge consideration. For instance, the liberty of a healthy active 80 year old to be curtailed against their will would not be right. For those in their twilight years to be forced into isolation would be wrong. But to understand the risks and make the personal choice of whether to avail themselves of the protections available or not, is something all those in the vulnerable categories should be trusted to make for themselves.

Again, these hugely difficult moral questions are all predicated on the engrained refrain to ‘Protect the NHS’. So finally, let’s look at that. If the phenomena of the pandemic is to be a more regular occurrence, as is anticipated, then we absolutely need to plan for that as a society. The billions spent on furlough and business support grants, need now to be thought of in the context of investment for NHS planning and preparation, to increase infrastructure, capacity, staffing and training.

We simply cannot ever again sacrifice everything to protect the NHS; we must re-align the NHS if it is to have the capability to handle global pandemic scenarios in the future.

The Prime Minister’s full text. ‘Scientific breakthroughs will ultimately make these restrictions obsolete’.

23 Nov

Mr Speaker, thank you very much and with your permission, I will make a statement on the Government’s Covid Winter Plan.

For the first time since this wretched virus took hold, we can see a route out of the pandemic.

The breakthroughs in treatment, in testing and vaccines mean that the scientific cavalry is now in sight and we know in our hearts that next year we will succeed.

By the Spring, these advances should reduce the need for the restrictions we have endured in 2020 and make the whole concept of a Covid lockdown redundant.

When that moment comes, it will have been made possible by the sacrifices of millions of people across the United Kingdom.

I am acutely conscious that no other peacetime Prime Minister has asked so much of the British people and just as our country has risen to every previous trial, so it has responded this time, and I am deeply grateful.

But the hard truth, Mr Speaker, is that we are not there yet.

First we must get through Winter without the virus spreading out of control and squandering our hard-won gains, at exactly the time when the burden on the NHS is always greatest.

Our Winter Plan is designed to carry us safely to Spring.

In recent weeks, families and businesses in England have, once again, steadfastly observed nationwide restrictions and they have managed to slow the growth of new cases and ease the worst pressures on our NHS.

I can therefore confirm that national restrictions in England will end on 2nd December, and they will not be renewed.

From next Wednesday people will be able to leave their home for any purpose, and meet others in outdoor public spaces, subject to the Rule of Six.

Collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume, and shops, personal care, gyms and the wider leisure sector can reopen.

But without sensible precautions, we would risk the virus escalating into a Winter or New Year surge.

The incidence of the disease is, alas, still widespread in many areas, so we are not going to replace national measures with a free for all, the status quo ante Covid.

We are going to go back instead to a regional tiered approach, applying the toughest measures where Covid is most prevalent.

And while the previous local tiers did cut the R number, they were not quite enough to reduce it below 1, so the scientific advice, I am afraid, is that as we come out is that our tiers need to be made tougher.

In particular, in tier 1 people should work from home wherever possible.

In tier 2, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal.

In tier 3, indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation will have to close, along with all forms of hospitality, except for delivery and takeaways.

And I am very sorry obviously for the unavoidable hardship that this will cause to business owners who have already endured so much disruption this year.

Mr Speaker, unlike the previous arrangements, tiers will now be a uniform set of rules.

That’s to say we won’t have negotiations on additional measures with each region, it’s a uniform set of rules.

We have learnt from experience that there are some things we can do differently.

So from the 10pm closing time for hospitality we’re going to change that to so that it is last orders at 10 with closing at 11.

In tiers 1 and 2, spectator sports and business events will be free to resume inside and outside – with capacity limits and social distancing – providing more consistency with indoor performances in theatres and concert halls.

We will also strengthen the enforcement ability of Local Authorities, including specially trained officers and new powers to close down premises that pose a risk to public health.

Later this week we will announce which areas will fall into which tier, I hope on Thursday, based on analysis of cases in all age groups, especially the over 60s, also looking at the rate by which cases are rising or falling, the percentage of those tested in a local population who have Covid, and the current and projected pressures on the NHS.

I am sorry to say we expect that more regions will fall – at least temporarily – into higher levels than before, but by using these tougher tiers and by using rapid turnaround tests on an ever greater scale to drive R below 1 and keep it there, it should be possible for areas to move down the tiering scale to lower levels of restrictions.

By maintaining the pressure on the virus, we can also enable people to see more of their family and friends over Christmas.

Mr Speaker, I can’t say that Christmas will be normal this year, but in a period of adversity, time spent with loved ones is even more precious for people of all faiths and none.

We all want some kind of Christmas, we need it, we certainly feel we deserve it.

But what we don’t want is to throw caution to the winds and allow the virus to flare up again, forcing us all back into lockdown in January.

So to allow families to come together, while minimising the risk, we are working with the Devolved Administrations on a special, time-limited Christmas dispensation, embracing the whole of the United Kingdom, and reflecting the ties of kinship across our islands.

But this virus is obviously not going to grant us a Christmas truce, it doesn’t know it’s Christmas, Mr Speaker, and families will need to make a careful judgement about the risk of visiting elderly relatives.

We will be publishing guidance for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable on how to manage the risks in each tier, as well as over Christmas.

As we work to suppress the virus with these local tiers, two scientific breakthroughs will ultimately make these restrictions obsolete.

As soon as a vaccine is approved, we will dispense it as quickly as possible.

But given that this cannot be done immediately, we will simultaneously use rapid turnaround testing, the lateral flow testing that gives results within 30 minutes, to identify those without symptoms so they can isolate and avoid transmission.

We are beginning to deploy these tests in our NHS and in care homes in England, so people will once again be able to hug and hold hands with loved ones, instead of waving at them through a window.

By the end of the year, this will allow every care home resident to have two visitors, who can be tested twice a week.

Care workers looking after people in their own homes will be offered weekly tests from today.

And from next month, weekly tests will also be available to staff in prisons, food manufacturing, and those delivering and administering Covid vaccines.

We are also using testing as the House knows to help schools and universities stay open, and testing will enable students to know they can go home safely for Christmas and indeed back from home to university.

But there is another way of using these rapid tests, and that is to follow the example of Liverpool, where in the last two and a half weeks over 200,000 people have taken part in community testing, contributing to a very substantial fall in infections.

So together with NHS Test and Trace and our fantastic Armed Forces, we will now launch a major community testing programme, offering all local authorities in tier 3 areas in England a six week surge of testing.

The system is untried and there are of course many unknowns, but if it works, we should be able to offer those who test negative the prospect of fewer restrictions, for example, meeting up in certain places with others who have also tested negative.

And those towns and regions which engage in community testing will have a much greater chance of easing the rules, the tiering, that they currently endure.

Mr Speaker, we will also use daily testing to ease another restriction that has impinged on many lives.

We will seek to end automatic isolation for close contacts of those found positive.

Beginning in Liverpool later this week, contacts who are tested every day for a week will only need to isolate if they themselves test positive.

If successful, this approach will be extended across the health system next month, and to the whole of England from January.

And, of course, we are working with the Devolved Administrations to ensure that Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland also benefit as they should and will from these advances in rapid testing.

But clearly the most hopeful advance of all is how vaccines are now edging ever closer to liberating us from the virus, demonstrating emphatically that this is not a pandemic without end.

We can take heart from today’s news, which has the makings of a wonderful British scientific achievement.

The vaccine developed with astonishing speed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is now one of three capable of delivering a period of immunity.

We don’t yet know when any will be ready and licensed, but we have ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, and over 350 million in total, more than enough for everyone in the UK, the Crown Dependencies and the Overseas Territories.

And the NHS is preparing a nationwide immunisation programme, ready next month, the like of which we have never witnessed.

Mr Speaker, 2020 has been in many ways a tragic year when so many have lost loved ones and faced financial ruin.

This will be still a hard Winter, Christmas cannot be normal, and there is a long road to Spring.

But we have turned a corner: and the escape route is in sight.

We must hold out against the virus until testing and vaccines come to our rescue and reduce the need for restrictions.

Everyone can help speed up the arrival of that moment by continuing to follow the rules, getting tested and self-isolating when instructed, remembering hands, face and space, and pulling together for one final push to the Spring, when we have every reason to hope and believe that the achievements of our scientists will finally lift the shadow of the virus.

Mr Speaker, I commend this Statement to the House.

Richard Holden: This week’s spending review must show voters in Red Wall seats like mine that they were right to trust us

23 Nov

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

“I will repay your trust” was the message loud and clear to the people of North East England on December 14 when the Prime Minister came to Sedgefield.

The result of the general election was first landslide Conservative victory that I can remember. The atmosphere was jubilant and newly elected MPs like me from County Durham and Teesside, alongside our local supporters, cheered him to the rafters. Coming to the North East, to the seat of the former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to ram that message home mattered, and showed to everyone how much Boris Johnson meant those words.

There’s a lot of guff written about our Prime Minister, but there are a few things I know from having spent time with him on the leadership campaign. He barely lets other people draft a quote for him, never mind a speech. He meant what he said on those days following the election. And crucially, he also helped define the landscape for the next general election with them.

The twin punches of ‘getting Brexit done’ and the promise to ‘level up’ the country had cut through. Our task was aided by a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes that appeared to the people as desperately divided – amongst other things. With Corbyn, it wasn’t a question of trust that he’d carry out his promises: they believed him. And that scared the bejesus out of a large portion of the electorate.

Living up to that trust started at a pace with the legislation to leave the EU passed within a month, and then we left the EU on January 31st. The big Greenwich speech laid out the path forward on the international stage in early February –  in a speech incandescent with positivity about Britain re-launching herself out into the world.

Events then interceded. The global Coronavirus pandemic has knocked every nation in the world for six. The March budget focused on support during Covid-19, and leant heavily into the key general election promises on our NHS: more nurses, new hospitals, GP appointments.

Since then, the virus and and the response to it has been dominant. Massive support for jobs and businesses has been forthcoming – and welcomed. Rules have been written, changed and re-written, as we’ve learnt more about the virus. Vaccines, thank God, now look to be on their way with roll-out, hopefully, beginning to the most vulnerable in a matter of weeks.

But the Prime Minister’s commitment to repay the trust of the electorate has continued alongside the Covid-19 response. In September, the Government made on one of the biggest announcements around levelling-up to date – the expansion of education and training for post-18.

It was the Prime Minister who made the announcement, not the Education Secretary. When Downing Street take an announcement, it’s something that the Prime Minister personally both cares about and gets the importance of. For levelling up skills and wages, this is a big one. Interestingly and importantly too, the big recent announcements regarding both defence, and the environment and future industries, have included heavy focus on them delivering good jobs in the UK as part of the package.

This week, the Spending Review is a crucial next step on that programme of building trust by delivering. It will cover only a year, rather than the three years that were planned, but it’s vital that, for those long-term promises: on education, policing and infrastructure, as much clarity is given as possible to departments as possible in terms of long-term funding.

Having worked inside ‘domestic delivery’ departments myself in my previous life as a SpAd, if these are going to help deliver, this is very difficult to do overnight, so anything that gives them the ability to plan will really help.

No-one is in any doubt that things will not be as straightforward as they would have been without the pandemic, but Rishi Sunak has sensibly already laid the groundwork for the necessity to level with people: decisions cost money.

He’s also made it clear that the Green Book – that’s to say, how the Government works out the various worth of major projects – needs review: something critical to ‘levelling up.’ On both these points, reality is necessary for trust too – openness on the challenges we face will put our successes, when they come, in the right context. And, post-Coronavirus, is a difficult context.

As strategists look towards the next election, we need to remember that the twin sledgehammers in voters’ minds of Corbyn and Brexit will have fallen away by 2024.

But Keir Starmer will have an issue on trust on both which lasts longer than the individual issues themselves. He sat in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, worked to make him Prime Minister and, even when Sir Keir had won his party’s leadership poll, he thanked Corbyn for what he’d done as leader.

On Brexit, we all know that it was Starmer who pushed and wrote the policy of a second referendum. It is clear what he wants to do is to hold the Labour Party together at all costs – trying to play both sides on Corbyn with public praise, then denunciation, and then secret half-way house deals fool no-one. As Starmer continues to struggle to tack both ways simultaneously, on both Brexit and Corbyn, he may well come unstuck. But that’s a matter for him, and we can only control our own actions.

Against the context of Starmer and trust, the spending review gives us a golden opportunity to remind the electorate that they can trust us, just as it did in December last year. Yes, we need the realism about the situation that Britain faces and the impact of Coronavirus has had. But we do need to show that we’ll stick to our levelling-up agenda too.

At the last general election, the final three or four days of knocking on doors in North West Durham were surreal. I didn’t need to convince people anymore – they just wanted to know that their vote would matter, that other people were thinking like them, and they knew that it would a close-run thing.

Next time, they’ll already know that it’s going to be close in seats like mine. What they need is the assurance that their trust was well placed in the Prime Minister, in the Conservative Party and in each individual MP last time. Whatever else it does, this spending review must do that.

Nick King: Johnson’s Reset. The Government needs business if it’s to build back better.

22 Nov

Nick King is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies

Much has been written in the last week, on this site and beyond, about what a Government ‘reset’ might look like, following Dom Cummings and Lee Cain’s departure from Number 10. Broadly. those perspectives have focused on what might be termed ‘the three Ps’ of positioning, people and policy.

In terms of positioning it has been argued that Number 10 needs to take a less confrontational approach – whether that is towards the media, public institutions or, indeed, Conservative backbenchers.

On people, the part played by the indomitable Carrie Symonds and the increasing importance of Allegra Stratton has been acknowledged, but the search continues for the right Chief of Staff to promote and protect Boris Johnson’s own interests.

The issue of policy is perhaps the least clear cut, with competing views espoused as to whether or not the Government can be the party of Workington as well as the party of Notting Hill. My own view is it can and it must.

But there is a final P which needs to be thrown into the mix – not as a fourth horseman, but as a corollary of the three Ps – and that is the private sector.

The fact is that British business is at a low ebb right now, in terms of performance, confidence and its relationship with Government. Covid-19 is the most obvious explanatory factor for those first two issues – forcing millions of businesses up and down the country to close will take the wind out of their sails however generous the set of support packages provided. But introducing those measures only serves to make the job of working constructively with British business all the more important for government. On this task, it has been found wanting.

Across industries, sectors and different parts of the country, there has been consternation and confusion as different restrictions have been introduced, without any (published) economic analysis of the potential impacts or of the evidence base upon which these decisions have been made.

As we approach December 3rd, businesses remain in the dark about whether or not they might be able to reopen, despite the long lead times needed for various parts of the hospitality sector in particular (a sector whose import will perhaps never be as keenly felt as it will be in December 2020).

That businesses don’t feel like the Government supports them is hardly new news, however. Successive polls commissioned by my think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, has shown that a clear majority of small businesses don’t think that the Government is on their side. Indeed, the Government’s own survey data shows that only a quarter of businesses think government understands business well enough to regulate it. But in the context of a national economic shutdown, this is simply not good enough.

This is not to say there aren’t people around Government who understand business, or who are keen to support it. Rishi Sunak, Alok Sharma, their political teams and Departments are obviously on businesses’ side, as is Ed Lister and Alex Hickman’s business relations team in Number 10. But the disregard of other influential figures towards business has meant that much of the private sector has failed to get a proper hearing throughout 2020.

The anticipated ‘reset’ is an opportunity for the Johnson administration to put that right. Which duly brings us back to our three Ps.

On positioning, the Government needs to be unapologetically pro-business, free enterprise and open markets. The Conservative Party must defend the role of enterprise and the private sector and be resolutely on the side of the millions of small business owners up and down the country. This is important ground both ideologically and politically – and ground which the Conservative Party is in danger of ceding if it isn’t more full-voiced in its support for business.

In terms of people, Andrew Griffith and Neil O’Brien’s recent appointments are welcome, and will help emphasise the role of business, but change is needed in Number 10 itself. A Chief of Staff with extensive private sector experience would be welcome but, failing that, an understanding and sympathetic attitude towards enterprise should be regarded as a sine qua non. Just as important is for Number 10 to have a strong and expert voice for business sitting within its policy unit. That there has not been a business policy function sitting within the policy unit since David Cameron was Prime Minister is extraordinary – the existing business relations team needs to be strengthened and given a proper policy role.

Which brings us onto the final P of policy, which is the most important of ‘the three Ps’. Positioning and people are all well and good, but fine words doth butter no parsnips, as they say – so Johnson needs to ensure his Government is putting business front and centre as he looks to build back better.

Post-pandemic, securing growth is the only game in town. Without that there is no hope of new jobs, greater opportunities or improved living standards – whether in Workington or Notting Hill. And none of this can be achieved without unleashing the awesome and dynamic power of the private sector.

An important starting point would be to curtail the steadily increasing regulatory burden on business. Each measure, taken on its own merits, seems important and its impact trivial to business. But the corrosive, drip-drip effect takes its toll and as growth flatlines and productivity stagnates, politicians stand with their hands on their hips, double teapoting, wondering why.

Take the recent HFSS (foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt) consultation for example – likely to cost British industry hundreds of millions of pounds. No doubt full of noble intent, but hardly what the economic doctor might order as we look to recover post-pandemic.

More worrying still are the suggestions that we will increase both the rates and the scope of business and enterprise taxes in 2022. This is no way to stimulate and incentivise the businesses who are our only way out of the economic morass in which we find ourselves. Rather than clipping its wings, the Government should provide the wind to help business soar.

Speaking of wind power, the vital role of the private sector was clear in the Prime Minister’s 10 point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. But the truth is that few of his priorities can be achieved without the business community. Levelling up? It requires business investment and private sector jobs in the North and the Midlands. Net zero? Industry needs to transition and innovate our way towards it. Protect the Union? Champion our British businesses and demonstrate our reliance on the free flow of goods and access to important markets both north and south of the border. Global Britain? Remain open to inward investors and get more companies exporting.

Pfizer, BioNTech and other companies have all too ably demonstrated just why we need the private sector recently – it’s the key to solving so many of our problems. Which is why Boris Johnson needs to put it front and centre through his reset exercise.

A reformed Number Ten must get on the front foot with business relations and business policy. It needs to articulate a clear vision of our post-Brexit future, rooted in entrepreneurship, investing in success, focused on innovation, with a skilled workforce, trading with the world and built off the back of our brilliant SMEs. That’s a reset worth waiting for.