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Spending Review November 2020: The consultation prospects

On 25th November, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stood before the House of Commons to present his November spending review. I am a little careful about doing this, given that the last time I tried this was on the 2020 Budget, an exercise that a month afterwards was rendered moot by the arrival of coronavirus. I’m going to give it another go, and this time, we shall all cross our fingers that 2020 has nothing left to throw at us. So what are the likely prospects for consultation as a result of the review?

There are three areas that are likely to have significant consultation elements to them. Firstly, the Government seems to have been taking inspiration from Margaret Thatcher. “You or I come by road or rail,” she famously said “but economists travel on infrastructure.” In the ‘Levelling up and the Union’ section, the Chancellor pledges, a new ‘Levelling Up’ fund, amounting to £4bn in England, with amounts for the devolved administrations calculated in ‘the usual way’. This fund promises the rejuvenation of communities in need, and significant boosts to connection via road, rail and broadband. The focus here seems very much set on shoring up the Union, with a particular focus on Scotland where the urge for independence is most strongly felt.

Determining the needs of these lost communities, and working out how these funds will be disbursed is likely to include significant consultation, both from central government trying to determine where money needs to go, and from local authorities, keen to make their pitch for funding, and demonstrate that they are listening to  their communities. In previous pronouncements on this, the Government has been keen to stress that projects such as this should be ‘community lead’, so we’re likely to see more engagement and consultation to prove this.

We also see in this section the return of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, a consultation on which has long been promised in Parliament. A few months back, I speculated that the consultation on this may well have been scrapped in favour of rolling it into the UK Internal Market Bill, and the mention of it in this Spending Review would seem to suggest that the Government is intending to proceed with it without consultation, even having specific numbers attached to it.

The Government is also touting the next phase of its infrastructure revolution, promising £100bn additional funds next year in order to give funding for existing projects such as hospital rebuilds, and more investment in research and clean energy. This will be supported by the new National Infrastructure Strategy, and the establishment of a National Infrastructure Bank. There is a key distinction between the ‘Levelling up’ and the infrastructure, primarily that the infrastructure element is intended as a far longer term agenda, and with Government promises of future policies on energy, English devolution, industrial strategy and connectivity, it seems likely that we could be in for a consultation bonanza as the Government continues to try and reform the economy.

Economic reform also finds a place in the third major area of the spending review: the Green Industrial Revolution. There have been many words written about the opportunity Covid-19 has provided to conduct something of an economic reset, and reorient the economy towards a more sustainable future. The review pledges funds to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure and ned power sources development. We’ve done a lot of work at the Institute into consulting and the climate (have you seen our green recovery engagement service?) and we are certain that the movement towards a better, more sustainable economy needs to be highly consultative. With the Government keen to prove its green credentials, and making ever more significant promises on climate issues (only this morning, Boris Johnson pledged a 68% reduction in emissions by 2030), they will need to reach out to find solutions to meet their commitments.

The future for consultations then seems bright, and we eagerly await the follow-up legislation to the review to determine the approach the government will be taking to consultation at all levels.

About the Author

Stephen serves as the Institute’s Legal and Parliamentary Officer. Before joining the Institute Stephen studied Law at Bangor University and pursued a Masters’ degree in Aviation and Space Law at McGill University in Montreal. After this, he returned to London and was called to the bar in 2016 at the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn, before deciding not to go into practice and move towards public policy work instead. Within the Institute, Stephen provides legal, political and policy analysis of UK and global current affairs of interest to consultors and consultees.

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