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COVID likely to increase interest in select committee inquiries

While Parliament was sent into an early recess at the beginning of this month due to COVID-19, the activity of the House of Commons select committees – the cross-party groups of MPs that scrutinise policy and the work of government departments – is one of the areas in which, when recess ends, the work of Parliament is set to continue apace. An inquiry launched by the Health and Social Care Committee on social care funding and workforce issues is likely to garner significant interest in the current climate, and an Education Committee inquiry on adult skills and lifelong learning may prompt some interesting conclusions given this year’s review of the apprenticeship levy and ongoing issues in the development of T-levels. Select committee inquiries are one of the parts of parliamentary business that are most easily adapted to incorporate modern technology, so as the rest of the Commons’ work continues to slow down as a consequence of COVID-19, select committees may emerge more energised and commanding more attention than usual.

Will business rate relief affect nurseries’ financial situation?

After initially being excluded from the temporary business rates relief offered as part of the Government’s COVID-19 support for businesses, nurseries are now benefitting from this and other forms of financial support from Whitehall and local authorities. While receipt of business rate relief is a welcome development for the sector – and something for which it has long campaigned even prior to the current crisis – there are inevitably other pressures facing providers. A report by the Sutton Trust published this week warned that some would be at risk of permanent closure as a consequence of significant lost income during the crisis, even where staff have been furloughed and local authorities are still able to provide funding for entitlements to 15 or 30 hours of free childcare. It may be that existing trends in the market that have arisen from financial constraints on smaller providers are reinforced by the current crisis, even now that the concession on business rates has finally been made.

Starmer wins Labour leadership

Sir Keir Starmer won a comprehensive, if unsurprising, victory on Saturday in labour’s leadership election. The new leader immediately changed the tone in the party’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, stating that he wanted to work closely with the Government. While suggestions of Starmer joining a national government are far-fetched, his tone suggests that he is ready to engage more constructively than some in Downing Street felt his predecessor would. In the longer term, Starmer has shown his intention to move Labour away from the Jeremy Corbyn era in his shadow cabinet appointments. The appointment of Ed Miliband as Shadow Business Secretary is symbolic not only of Starmer’s intention to move back towards a pre-Corbyn approach to strategy, but of his own Miliband-esque policy preferences. Some have suggested that his appointments make up a top team that is more ‘Milibandite’ than those appointed by Miliband himself; how this materialises in policy terms remains to be seen.

Jamie Cater, the brains behind a lot of GK’s thinking, leads our policy work across the entire business, supporting our strategic communications work and providing strategic advice to investors during M&A activity.