The new year has begun in much the same timbre as the last one ended: economic crisis, energy crisis, war in Ukraine and strikes across the country. In their first speeches of 2023 last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Labour leader Keir Starmer made big-picture pledges on the economy, the crumbling NHS and immigration. But there is more work to be done and much of it will be done in parliament, as politicians legislate through the year. With parliament back today (9 January), Spotlight asked MPs, policymakers and experts which parliamentary bills – or other major policy initiatives – they are keeping their eye on in 2023.
Ben Houchen, Mayor of Tees Valley
As we await the Levelling-up Bill in 2023, there are several things I am keen to see that would enable us to make even more progress in creating good-quality local jobs across the Tees Valley. I would like to see the government allow for real fiscal responsibility by starting to devolve tax from Whitehall. Further devolution could, for example, see all additional business rates above a baseline re-awarded to elected mayoral regions. In creating what in effect are far-reaching special economic zones, local officials will be allowed to direct cash to the areas of need in a more targeted and efficient manner. We know that, even with the best will in the world, it is impossible for money to be spent effectively from London.
I would also like to see a commitment to a furthering and deepening of English devolution. We have seen across the country how the devolution of powers to regional mayors has delivered tangible change to our nation, and this relationship needs to be looked at again and expanded if we are genuinely serious about improving the lives of local people. Moreover, where English devolution deals are already in place, we must go further and commit to deepening the powers of mayors around post-16 education. This is vital in allowing us to skill local people and enable them to take good-quality jobs in their local communities without feeling like they need to “move away” to build a life, a career and a family – which has seen a brain drain from areas across the country that need levelling up.
Sarah Longlands, chief executive of Centre for Local Economic Strategies, the national organisation for local economies
There was a strong focus on the “sticking plaster politics” of Westminster in Keir Starmer’s new year speech on 5 January. And he’s right: look beyond Westminster and, despite the chaos, the foundations of a better economy are being built as we head into 2023. In Scotland, the early months of the new year will bring a consultation on a new Community Wealth Building Bill – legislation that will help to rewire the economies of place to maximise the flow of wealth, public and private, into local communities.
In Wales, the Social Partnership and Public Procurement Bill is likely to become law in 2023 as it passes its way through the Senedd. It will put in place legislation for the development of a framework that ensures public expenditure is used to enhance the well-being of people in Wales by maximising the economic and social value of public procurement to create jobs, business innovation and ownership.
Dan Jarvis MP, former mayor of South Yorkshire
This year, I’m looking forward to progressing my private members’ bill, the Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill, which will finally bring maternity discrimination on to the agenda. It’s been more than six years since the government commissioned a survey that found a shocking three in four women experienced maternity discrimination at work, and some 54,000 women a year are pushed out of their jobs for being pregnant.
Despite repeated promises to bring forward legislation to tackle the wide-scale discrimination that expectant mothers face at work, no action has been taken until now. Families have been battered by a pandemic and now face the worst cost-of-living crisis on record. Rising childcare costs and a scarcity of affordable housing mean starting a family has never been more expensive. What new parents need at the very least is better job security. No one should be penalised for starting a family, and while the bill is not a silver bullet, it is a long-overdue positive step towards providing expectant and new parents redundancy protections at work.
Pat Cullen, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing
We urgently need to see the government publish and deliver its long-promised NHS workforce plan – which finally got the green light by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement. The plan must be fully funded, identify independently verifiable workforce requirements, and provide investment in both the NHS and social care workforce, including fair pay for nursing staff.
One of the root causes of the turmoil in the NHS is the worsening workforce crisis, with nurses leaving in their droves because of a decade of real-terms pay cuts. Many cannot afford to be a nurse anymore. Ministers must solve this crisis, which is putting our healthcare system at breaking point, with A&E departments in a dangerous state, social care backlogs, primary care suffering, and staff truly broken. Without fair pay – and a properly funded workforce strategy to ensure we can recruit and retain enough nursing staff – nurses cannot provide the care they want to and that patients desperately need.
Lee Schofield, senior site manager at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and author of Wild Fell
One of the promised perks of leaving the EU was freedom from the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU system of farm support widely accepted as having been disastrous for nature. In England, the government has been designing the system to replace it for what feels like a very long time. The centrepieces are the environmental land management schemes (Elms), devised by Michael Gove in 2018 based on a principle of “public payments for public goods”. Schemes with this eminently sensible ethos at their heart should see farmers rewarded for managing their land to benefit wildlife, lock up carbon, improve air and water quality, and reduce flood risk, rather than just on acreage. If properly designed and run, these schemes could be nothing short of transformational for England’s beleaguered countryside. This should be the year when we see whether they will live up to their promise, or whether we have been sold another set of warm words.
Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)
Three pieces of legislation are firmly in the BCC’s sights as we look at 2023. First will be the new Energy Bill Relief Scheme regulations, setting out support for UK businesses when the current scheme ends in March. We’re hoping to see help with energy costs extended for a further 12 months.
The next bill we are keeping a close eye on is the Retained EU Law Bill. We are pushing for the deadline on this legislation to be put back to the end of 2026. Any proposals to amend or repeal thousands of pieces of EU legislation must not be rushed or it could unwittingly create new barriers for firms. Finally, we are keen to see the Electronic Trade Documents Bill become law. It has the potential to revolutionise our archaic paper-based trading systems and open up new opportunities for UK exporters.
Ciaran Martin, former CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre and professor of practice in the management of public organisations, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University
Cybersecurity is as much an economic and social challenge as it is a technical one. This is why a policy review underway in Australia following two severe data breaches at the end of last year is potentially significant and exciting.
Towards the end of 2022, the country’s luck on cybersecurity finally ran out with these two breaches. One in particular, on Medibank, the country’s leading medical insurer, scared the country because of the loss of millions of sensitive medical records. In response, the Labor government promised wholesale changes. The terms of the “whole of nation” approach are broad and ambitious. Recent years have seen a narrowing of cybersecurity focus towards critical infrastructure protection and operational capabilities: this process, if it lives up to its ambition, could go beyond that and tackle some of the major problems that underpin why, after all these years of awareness-raising and capability-building, so many organisations don’t have the basic protections in place.
Ciaran Martin is an (unpaid) adviser to the mentioned Australian policy review.
Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire
With families in west Yorkshire choosing between heating and eating, and our NHS and public transport on the brink of collapse, we need an urgent plan to fix Britain. The immediate priority of any government must be to save our economy, protect our households and rescue our public services. This will require urgent reform, greater investment and fairer taxation. We cannot keep lurching from crisis to crisis. The government should move away from sticking-plaster solutions and towards sustainable plans for the future.
As our bus network continues to recover from Covid, we need a long-term settlement that guarantees its growth, not panicked extensions of short-term funding made on deadline day. Here in west Yorkshire, we want to see a genuine commitment to the prosperity and people of our region. This means getting round the table with local leaders, putting us first in line for the next “trailblazer” devolution deal, and working with us to finally bring a reliable, affordable and integrated mass transit system to west Yorkshire. This includes securing long-term funding for buses when the bus recovery grant likely ends in the spring. The Levelling-up Bill, following from the 12 national missions of last year’s white paper, may be going through parliament, but here we are focused on delivering the pledges I made to the public when I was elected.
Ed Davey MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats
The Conservatives’ failure to grasp the need for a dramatic acceleration on energy efficiency and renewables is beyond negligent. The case for a fresh start is stronger than ever: from saving millions of people huge amounts on energy bills to saving some businesses from bankruptcy; from increasing Britain’s security for our energy supplies to restoring UK global leadership on climate change.
Despite such a rationale, to describe the Conservatives’ efforts on energy and climate change as incoherent, slow and unambitious would be a gross understatement. The Tory chaos on home insulation is their biggest failure. From the current silence in the Energy Bill before parliament on energy efficiency to the promise of extra money – but not until 2025 – it’s as if fuel poverty didn’t exist, let alone was rising dramatically thanks to the government’s laissez-faire approach.
The Conservatives’ incoherence on renewables strategy – whether on the shifting sands of their ban on onshore wind or restrictions on solar farms – is an investor’s nightmare. Coupled with an unforgivable tilt to extra fossil fuel production with the decision for a new coalmine, the Conservatives have squandered any UK benefit from Glasgow’s Cop in 2021.
Jamie Driscoll, Mayor of North of Tyne
I’d like to see a fair pay settlement for working people, a sprint of investment in renewable energy, and a compassionate asylum system that processes requests quickly. But I’m not holding my breath.
We could make progress in English devolution. Levelling up is a discredited slogan, devolution deals don’t reverse austerity – council funding is through the floor. But deals are happening. Our new north-east devolution deal is worth £4.3bn, with £1bn in the first three years. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill makes more provisions for devolution, but to hit the levelling-up missions more devolved power is needed to lever in investment. Not everything needs public money. Land-value capture powers would turbocharge regional transport investment. When we build a metro line, the surrounding land value shoots up. It’s pure windfall for land owners. With legal powers to put a charge on the land, we can capture the windfall when it’s eventually sold. We could borrow against that asset and build tomorrow’s infrastructure today. Without transport investment, left-behind towns, villages and suburbs stay left behind.
This article was originally published on 9 January 2023.