After the pledges – or lack thereof – made during the campaign, the new government’s plans will become clear soon enough. A budget is overdue anyway, having been scheduled by Javid and Johnson for November before the election was called, and a new Queen’s Speech will be held to set out the legislative agenda and Ministers’ priorities. After an election campaign that has frequently felt polarised between the two main parties, there have perhaps been more areas of consensus between the two big parties than might have been expected. Many of Labour’s short-term priorities for government have been shared – at least to some extent – by the Conservatives; even in many of the more contentious areas of Labour’s policy offer, there has been some agreement from the Conservatives that consumers, workers and taxpayers have been poorly served. This limited but important political consensus is a guide to what to expect from the new government over the coming months.
A higher minimum wage
One policy commands support across the political spectrum – a significant increase in the minimum wage. The parties have disagreed on the rate and timing of an increase, but it remains firmly on an upwards trajectory and it is difficult to see how this could be reversed. The natural question in this context is the extent to which there is still a role for bargaining over the rates. The Low Pay Commission, which ostensibly operates independently of government and contains representatives from employers, trade unions and academia, could see its role reduced as the issue of low pay becomes one where a government is happy to act according to its own political priorities. The appetite for broader labour market reform has also been a common theme, albeit with more distinct policy solutions; the new government will be likely in its first budget in a few weeks’ time to take some action on the areas covered by the Taylor Review of employment practices published last year.
Funding and reform in the public sector
Both parties committed to big spending increases in education and health over the course of the election campaign, and these will dominate the next year as a budget and a new Spending Review to set spending levels for government departments will both take place. The new government should also be expected to look in the short term at public procurement, especially in the NHS but also in the wider public sector. Where there has not been so much attention from either of the main parties has been on adult social care. Labour committed to free personal care at an estimated cost of £10 billion, while the Conservatives almost entirely avoided the question in their manifesto. There is little doubt that it will continue to be an issue that is increasingly politically sensitive given the pressure on care services arising from demographic factors and squeezes on local government funding – we can expect this to be a domestic issue that dominates the new parliament.