This December, energy companies may expect to see some movement from Government around price tariff caps which were rumoured prior to the Autumn Statement. Chancellor Philip Hammond also used his first major financial speech to confirm that retail energy would be one of the markets the Government would be reviewing.
Looking to the New Year, the Better Markets Bill is likely to be published, whilst the Government completes its consultations on a range of issues including smart energy, heat, coal generation, Contracts for Difference and the Capacity Market.
On environment policy, Defra is due to release its framework for the 25-year Environment Plan by the end of the year, in the first stage towards developing its new strategy.
November saw the Chancellor deliver his Autumn Statement, which had few specific measures designed to impact financial services as the Chancellor preferred to focus on infrastructure and productivity.
The Treasury Committee also held sessions examining the CMA’s Retail Banking Market Review, during which members criticised the report’s processes and remedies. Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney also took the decision to extend his tenure until June 2019. Dr Carney, who has faced intense pressure over the impact of Brexit, said he wanted to deliver a sense of consistency during the negotiation period.
December is likely to see the Criminal Finances Bill receive its Third Reading in the House of Commons. The Government has also fired the starting pistol for its much-anticipated consultation on corporate governance reform, aiming to tackle what the Prime Minister has called “corporate irresponsibility… and excessive corporate pay”.
Pharma and Health
Sustainability of the NHS took centre stage in November – underlined further by last week’s Autumn Statement which was bereft of any major health announcements. This came as a shock to many, particularly after the Health Committee had accused the Government earlier in the month of failing to deliver its promise of injecting £10bn of funding into the health service. The Committee, chaired by Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, claims that only £4.5bn has been spent – fuelling concerns about the future of the health service, particularly given signs of strain in the social care sector.
The National Audit Office had similar findings in its landmark review last week, stating that NHS trust deficits had increased by more than 33 per cent. The Government’s plans for cuts to the community pharmacy sector were also announced in November, setting off vehement opposition.
In the coming weeks, various local health regions will publish their Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs), amidst warnings from the King’s Fund that more money is needed, as well as demands for decentralisation in order to secure the success envisaged by NHS England. As winter closes in, the strain on A&E departments will also take centre stage, and pressure is likely to mount on Jeremy Hunt and the Treasury to deliver the cash envisaged in the Five Year Forward View, and perhaps more.
Meanwhile, in Life Sciences, the APBI has welcomed Chancellor Philip Hammond’s commitment to securing greater science and medical research funding. The Medical Supplies Bill, which brings the statutory scheme for unbranded medicines into line with the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme, has reached the Report Stage in the House of Commons, despite concerns from key members of the pharmaceutical industry.
Tech and Telecoms
While the Investigatory Powers Bill has finally completed its parliamentary journey, this controversial piece of legislation is far from done making waves. Its “Ping Pong” stages had been more drawn out than expected, with Crossbench peer Baroness Hollins’ amendments on press regulation dropped after a great deal of discussion and the promise of a consultation by the Government on the implementation of recommendations from the Leveson Review.
Meanwhile, a petition calling for the repeal of the Bill has received more than 110,000 signatures - meaning that it could at least be considered for debate in the Commons. Furthermore, Baroness Hollins has suggested that she will pursue her intentions for press reform through more appropriate legislation in the future, implying that she will not be giving up on the issue of newspaper hacking and victims’ court costs.
All eyes are now on the Digital Economy Bill. This prospective law has a broad scope, touching upon an array of issues including copyright infringement and digital governance; internet safety and illicit online trade, and has potentially wide-ranging consequences not only for the telecoms industry but also for broadcasting and the BBC’s relationship with Ofcom.
The Autumn Statement saw a number of funding announcements on transport including the allocation of £1.3 billion for road projects. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has already set out further details of the road investment announced in the Autumn Statement and is expected to provide further detail on rail spending before the end of the year.
It has been reported that the Transport Secretary will announce major changes to rail infrastructure that could see parts of Network Rail opened up to competition and train operating companies being handed responsibility for stretches of rail track. Elsewhere, the Government is also expected to make a ticketing announcement next month that could see train companies ordered to highlight the lowest price for any journey.
In the new year the Government will publish its draft National Policy Statement on airports and consult on proposals for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.
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