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October in Westminster: What's on the horizon

30 September 2016

Energy

True to its word, the Government gave its final decision on the controversial Hinkley Point C nuclear power project this month, ending months of delays. This concluded with the signing of contracts this week, in which the deal was finalised.

The Labour Party Conference dominated headlines, as Shadow Energy Secretary Barry Gardiner announced Labour’s pledge to ban fracking if elected in the next General Election. The announcement was slammed by the GMB, which called for the UK to produce its own gas.

October will kick off with the Conservative Party Conference, during which Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to make some bold policy announcements, including proposals for an energy market that works better for consumers in what is deemed in some quarters to be an impending attack on the Big Six.

Also in October, the Energy and Climate Change Committee will be dissolved, merging its remit with that of the newly formed Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.

Ms May has also promised to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement by the end of the year. 

Education

It was clear from this week’s Labour Party Conference that the two topics dominating the thoughts of those in the higher education sector were Brexit and university sponsored schools.

Still reeling from the referendum result, many in the Labour Party felt that academic staff and students from the EU were being abandoned whilst their status was yet to be confirmed in the long term. During his fringe appearances, Shadow Higher Education Minister Gordon Marsden stressed that there were practical, academic and moral reasons to protect them.

Though initially overshadowed by the debate around grammar schools, it did not escape the attention of those present that the Prime Minister’s education proposals would mean that under future access agreements, universities must either set up a new free school or sponsor a state school. No doubt the Conservative conference will give Universities Minister Jo Johnson plenty of opportunity to argue the virtues of this plan.

Elsewhere, plans to rate universities on the quality of teaching they offer have been confirmed with the details of how the second trial year of the Teaching Excellence Framework will operate. Documents published on Thursday gave more detailed information on the assessments of Year 2 - which will be carried out early next year, with ratings of gold, silver and bronze announced in May 2017. 

Financial Services

October’s developments are likely to be dominated by the Conservative Party Conference at the beginning of the month.

The focus will very much be on debating the next steps regarding Brexit, and specifically, what the future of financial services will look like. Key fringe events are likely to be Brexit and its impact on financial services hosted by Open Europe and Managing the impact of Brexit: ensuring banks and financial markets can continue to meet the needs of customers and businesses hosted by ConservativeHome and the British Bankers’ Association. Speeches by the Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers are likely to be closely watched for indicators of the Government’s plans for Brexit.

Beyond the conference, the Savings (Government Contributions) Bill, which makes provisions for government bonuses in respect of additions to savings accounts, will have its Second Reading debate on Monday 17 October.

Furthermore, the Treasury Committee may hold sessions this month to examine the CMA Retail banking market review, the finds of which were published in August.

Pharma and Health

The Conservative Party will be getting together for its annual conference in Birmingham this weekend and plenty of question marks remain on the Government’s Brexit strategy, with the health and pharma sector at the forefront of concerns. The status of EU nationals working in the health service took centre stage in Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott’s speech to the Labour Party Conference this week.

One will expect the issue to snowball into Tory conference speeches and fringes. Jeremy Hunt’s address to the conference will be watched closely, particularly in response to junior doctors losing their court case against the Government on the legitimacy of the new working contract. The sustainability of the health service will also play a prominent part in fringe events, particularly with the upcoming Autumn Statement (23rd November) renewing calls for further health investment.

In public health, fringe events focussing on obesity will without doubt cast judgement on the allegedly policy-light Childhood Obesity Strategy, whilst life sciences focused events will debate Brexit implications for the industry, as well as the widely anticipated Accelerated Access Review.

Tech and Telecoms

As September moves into October, Conference season approaches its climax with the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham. The sector will be keeping a close eye on any comments which could give a clue to the new Conservative administration’s vision for the tech sector in a post-Brexit world, particularly how committed Theresa May’s Government is to maintaining access to the Digital Single Market as well as much-needed European labour and investment.

Mid-October will also see the start of the Committee Stage of the Digital Economy Bill. Line-by-line scrutiny of the legislation will provide the main opportunity for stakeholders to influence the crucial minutiae, making an ability to follow the intricacies of the debate all the more important.

Finally, a momentous month for the sector will also see the Government’s Draft BBC Charter debated in both Houses, providing the last real chance for stakeholders to influence the process until the expiry of the new Charter in 2027.

Transport

It looks as though the Government will finally make a decision on airport expansion in the South East in October. There have been press reports that the Cabinet Airports Sub-Committee will meet on 11 or 18 October to make a decision.

The Government is expected to make a decision this autumn on Phase 2 of High Speed Two, from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester. It is unclear what impact Simon Kirby’s decision to resign as Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd will have on any decision.

The ongoing dispute between Southern Rail and the RMT union shows no signs of being resolved with the RMT announcing 14 days of strike action over the next three months. In related news Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is lobbying the Government to give Transport for London control of London’s suburban rail lines.

Elsewhere, the Bus Services Bill will be considered by the House of Lords at Report Stage. The Government is likely to face a number of defeats on some clauses of the Bill, such as provisions to ban local authorities setting up municipal bus companies.

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