The Week in Parliament- What should we expect in 2021?
Well, we’re back and it’s been a quiet start to the year hasn’t it? Can barely think of anything notable that’s happened. So instead of what’s going on right now, we’re going to take a quick speculative look at the year ahead, what we might expect and what things we should be keeping an eye out for.
With Brexit now definitively having happened, for almost everywhere in the UK, the Government has a somewhat free hand to make major policy changes to take advantage. No doubt many of these changes will require consultation, and indeed the Financial Times noted quite an interesting start to this process. It would seem that on Wednesday on a call with business leaders, the Prime Minister asked them to come up with ideas for regulatory change. Despite all the clamour about cutting red tape, it would seem the Government has little idea which red tape it should actually cut. We might generously characterise this as a ‘scoping exercise’ (it sounds somewhat better than saying they don’t have a clue what to do with all this juicy new freedom).
The curious start notwithstanding, we are likely to see a lot of Brexit related consultation as the Government attempts to sort out the many flailing threads that have been left by the break. Although we wouldn’t expect to see many published consultations on new trade deals (the Government has been quite clear in Parliament and beyond that they consider this to be a Governmental matter with little need to involve others), there are other economic matters where we should expect to see significant developments. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the promised consultation on subsidy control, a name that the Government seems to be pushing to replace ‘state aid’, for reasons unknown, but not entirely beyond speculation.
With the government still throwing around ‘levelling up’ as an idea, we are also likely to see more consultations on infrastructure as the Government determines which bits of the country most need levelling up, and how best to go about it. These infrastructure consultations will likely divide into two halves- ones that everyone will get behind such as on improved broadband access and digital infrastructure, and ones that will be significantly controversial, more traditional road-and-rail style projects.
Outside of Brexit and infrastructure, with the UK on course to host the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow in November, we may well see a renewed flood of climate related consultations. Boris Johnson has been keen to be seen to sake a lead on climate change matters, and has made commitments on temperature, and already run consultations on phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles in short time. An uptick in activity should be expected this year, however it may well come with a caveat. It is an unfortunate truth that consultations are sometimes used as a substitute for action, and although we should expect significant movement on climate change to demonstrate commitment, it’s probably also fair to say that we will see some consultations designed mostly to show that issues are being looked at.
In the devolved administrations too we are likely to see a lot of climate change related consultation. The Welsh Government have already had one of their consultations on banning single-use plastics torpedoed by the passage of the Internal Market Bill at the end of last year, but it seems unlikely they’ll let it go, so we might expect a reformulated version to appear in the not-too-distant future. Northern Ireland was the big environmental consultor in 2020, with significant consultations on a clean air strategy and marine protection zones already in the works. As the host nation, the Scottish Government are also likely to demonstrate renewed activity, particularly as the coronavirus pandemic eases.
It looks like it could be a very busy year for those in consultation and engagement, and not just at the top levels. Outside of Westminster, with the economy dealing with the twin knocks of coronavirus and Brexit, local authorities will be busy working out how they can do more with less, the NHS will be working on its recovery from the fine job it has been doing with the pandemic, and many of the other sectors we all deal with will be working to determine what their new normal is. So long story short? Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…