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The policy platform that will shape Labour's manifesto

Words by:
May 16, 2023

Last week, details of the Labour policy handbook that serves as the initial blueprint for the party’s next manifesto was circulated, ahead of the next meeting of Labour’s National Policy Forum (NPF).

The full summary of policy positions was revealed online by LabourList.

The policies included will be subject to scrutiny and debate by members involved in the NPF, with amendments able to be filed until June. The National Policy Forum will meet in July to discuss its contents ahead of the Labour Party Conference in October, where voting will take place on the programme presented. Following this, once the official timeline for the next General Election has been called, Labour will hold a Clause V meeting to decide which policies make it to the manifesto.

Further detail of this process can be seen in WA’s Guide to Engaging with the Labour Party:

Following months of accusations levied against Keir Starmer that his leadership lacks ideological rigour – and whilst it remains far from a completed manifesto – the leaked documents give us an idea of what the policy direction for the UK could look like under his stewardship. Labour have signalled that their next manifesto will ‘under-promise and over-deliver’.

As such, with vital discussions and developments in the policy-making process still to take place in the coming months, NEC members will be fighting for space on what Labour will choose to fight the next election on.

Businesses should follow the next few months of the policy development process closely in anticipation for party conference – a key milestone in the policy-making process, with the shadow cabinet told to present a credible alternative plan for government at the gathering.

Reaction from those involved at the ground level of Labour policy towards the leaked document has been generally positive, but there are still disagreements in the direction of some critical areas.

Below WA’s sector specialists have set out what the initial policy handbook means for each key policy area:

Energy

Energy is set to take a leading role in Labour’s offering at the next General Election, with the Policy Forum recommending ambitious targets on energy infrastructure, building to the ultimate goal of delivering clean electricity by 2030.

Specific targets include doubling onshore wind capacity, quadrupling offshore, and tripling that of solar. Given these technologies currently have around 14GW of installed capacity each, hitting these targets would involve commissioning over 20GW of wind and solar every year from 2024 to 2030, no mean feat, given the current speed of planning and Grid approvals.

In addition to renewables, there is strong support for nuclear and hydrogen, and a recognition that the likes of floating offshore wind, CCS and marine energy will require Government assistance in their developments.

As for the other side, it’s clear the forum doesn’t want to see any expansion in the use of fossil fuels, pushing for no more oil and gas licenses, maintaining the ban on fracking, and avoiding using coal, and no mention of biomass.

There is no clear message on decarbonising tougher sectors, such as energy-intensive industries or aviation, meaning there is still opportunity to influence in these areas.

Financial Services

The party has shown significant commitment to partnering with the financial services sector and protecting the UK’s reputation as a global financial leader. Central to this is its headline economic ambition to secure the highest growth in the G7, delivered through the Green Prosperity Plan and driven by inward investment aligned to the Paris-agreement targets.

They have also outlined plans to introduce long-term policies relating to consumer protection in emerging markets, including in the buy-now-pay-later sector which has been a bedrock issue for the party whilst in Opposition. Businesses should anticipate a review of regulatory barriers and potential risks.

Health & Life Sciences

Nothing in the proposals will come as a surprise for those following Labour’s core offering during the Starmer and Streeting administration. Detail is light and centred primarily around the issues that currently drive the debate in health: tackling the workforce crisis and cutting waiting lists.

Notably absent from the proposals is a focus on reducing health inequalities, despite both the Conservatives and numerous think tanks sympathetic to Labour correctly identifying it as one of the health challenges holding back growth across areas of the country. Critically for Labour, these inequalities are often most prevalent in areas they will need to win at the next General Election. Streeting is expected to set out Labour’s position on this in due course.

A strict focus on addressing only the major systemic health challenges is typical for a party in opposition, but Labour will at some point need to set out its plan to address the knottier challenges that require targeted action: cancer; obesity; the ageing population; and cardiovascular disease to name a few. This next phase of the manifesto development will look to examine these areas in more detail, and businesses should be alert and on-hand to offer potential solutions in these spaces.

Addressing these critical challenges will not be quick, and Labour’s success in delivering against its objectives will be measured in years, not months. As the manifesto develops, Labour must look to balance its top-level agenda for reform against ‘oven-ready’ wins early into their potential Governance to ensure they are seen to be progressing against their own objectives in the minds of an electorate increasingly losing faith in the health service.

Transport

As anticipated, Labour’s flagship transport policy is the renationalisation of rail. Labour intend to bring the railways back into public ownership as contracts with existing operators expire. The scale of ambition for rail does not stop there, with the document setting out intentions to deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail and High Speed 2 in full. This will be underpinned by a long-term strategy for rail that’s consistent with Labour’s fiscal panning and gives communities more of a say on their local rail services.

With GB Railways still in formative stages ahead of a potential Transport Bill in the King’s Speech and no guarantee of it completing its parliamentary stages before a general elations, there remains significant uncertainty and a range of potential outcomes for the rail sector. For commercial interests in the sector now is the time to carefully set out a vision for how they’d align with Labour’s agenda and rebuild trust in the network.

Devolved governments and local authorities can also expect more responsibility over what Labour calls “the broken bus system”. Communities will be granted powers to franchise local bus services, lifting the ban on municipal bus ownership. With franchising still in its infancy in the northern metro areas, the next few years will be essential to assess how local control is working and define a model that will work in rural, semi-rural and other non-metro areas.

In addition to public transport, Labour are also seeking to turbocharge the just transition to more affordable EVs by helping households to manage the higher upfront cost of vehicles. To ensure EV infrastructure is able to keep up pace, Labour are planning a programme of electrification, including accelerating the rollout of charging points in left behind areas. A package of incentives may well be needed to help address an emerging challenge around access inequality.

Childcare, Education & Skills

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson is determined to ensure that education is at the heart of Labour’s programme for Government, as it was when the party last came to power in 1997.

Labour recognise that one of the most significant challenges facing the country today is the need to rebuild the economy and ensure that workers have the right skills required to support the jobs of the future. This cuts across different departments and policy areas, but remains a core ambition of the Shadow Education Team, who want to deliver a “landmark shift in skills provision”.

Where Labour differ from the Government in this regard, they have linked future skills needs closely to their ambitions for the green agenda, they want to devolve adult education and skills budgets to metro mayors and combined authorities, and they want to give businesses more flexibility to use skills funding to meet specific employer needs.

Another key priority of Labour’s is to reform childcare, right from the end of parental leave to the end of primary school. These plans are still light on detail – perhaps because of the need to work around the announcements made by the Government in March’s Budget, and perhaps because of the funding implications required to meet their ambitions for a so-called ‘childcare revolution’.

Looking ahead, Keir Starmer is set to launch his opportunities mission ahead of the summer recess in July – we look forward to seeing the detail then.

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