Election insights. 20 policies to expect from the new Conservative Government
1. The Conservatives have pledged an extra £8billion a year for the NHS by 2020, and Cameron will begin to take the first steps to delivering a truly seven-day NHS. The £8bn figure comes from Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward View, in which he stated that £8bn is the funding gap between what the NHS currently receives and what it needs to implement a modernisation programme. As yet, it is unclear where the funding will come from, and what the money will go towards.
2. The budget and spending review will set out where the government will attempt to make £30 billion of spending cuts, and with his promise to maintain health spending, Cameron will have to make deeper cuts elsewhere. He has already pledged £12billion in welfare cuts, which are as yet unspecified. The Office of Budget Responsibility has described the profile of the £30bn planned cuts in this five-year parliament as a public spending “rollercoaster ride’. The OBR has said that the Conservative plans imply cuts of more than 5% implied in 2016-17 and in 2017-18 – twice the size of any year’s cuts over the last five years — to be followed by a pre-election increase in spending in 2019/20.
3. High on the list of the Conservatives’ priorities will be the implementation of plans to hold an in/out EU referendum. The 2017 date was set in anticipation of a minority or coalition government, but now that he has a majority, Cameron will likely want to get on with this as quickly as possible. There are plans to bring it forward to 2016, given that it is an issue that has plagued his party for so long and he will be eager to keep backbenchers happy. The Conservatives will draft a European referendum bill and will begin the process of renegotiation, including restricting access of EU migrants to welfare benefits for their first four years, and on elements of free movement. David Davis has called for the Prime Minister to demand the right to exercise a UK opt-out from all EU legislation, however this would amount to a complete re-write of the rules of the single market which is not currently on the PM’s agenda.
4. The Conservative manifesto stated that a Conservative government would “honour in full our commitments to Scotland to devolve extensive powers”, including the right to set its own levels of income tax. The Party will be likely to implement the proposals of the Smith Commission which called for the Scottish parliament to be given full power to set income tax rates and bands and about £3bn of welfare powers including the housing elements of universal credit. Nicola Sturgeon’s 56 MPs will no doubt be calling for devolution above and beyond the Smith Commission proposals, so Cameron will have to manage the situation carefully.
5. The Conservatives will quickly address the issue of English votes for English Laws, and will accompany the implementation of the Scotland Bill with new legislation giving English MPs a veto over matters that only affect England, including an England-only income tax to be introduced by next March’s budget, on which Scottish MPs will be barred from voting.
6. There will be legislation on devolution in England, using Manchester as the vanguard for English devolution with the model being replicated elsewhere if it is a success. James Wharton’s appointment as Minister of State at DCLG with responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse shows that the Conservatives are serious about creating better deals for English regions.
7. The Conservatives will introduce a housing bill to extend the right to buy scheme to 1.3 million housing association tenants in England. Cameron says this is about giving thousands more families the security of their own four walls. They have also pledged to build 200,000 new starter homes so we can expect this to be brought in quickly.
8. The Conservatives will introduce 3 benefits cap of £23,000, reduced from the current cap of £26,000 which was introduced by the Conservative-led coalition government in the last parliament. They will also introduce a new scheme which will see young people with no work experience being required to take part in training or work placements or have their benefits removed, and they will remove housing benefit from under-21s on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
9. Cameron has pledged that his government will draft a bill for jobs and apprenticeships, to continue the progress they have made since 2010. He has said the goal is two million more jobs, or full employment. There will also be legislation to provide three million more apprenticeships, which will be paid for by reducing the benefits cap to £23,000. They may also include a legal duty to tell parliament what progress has been made in providing these.
10. With their modest majority, the Conservatives are likely to seek to entrench their position in Government by pressing ahead with boundary changes to overcome what is seen as a bias in favour of Labour. However, the Sunday Times has reported that the Prime Minister is to scrap plans to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600.
11. The Conservatives will undertake a Strategic Defence and Security Review which will evaluate the entire cross-government defence and security system, with the aim of completion by the end of 2015. They will also seek to renew Trident with a like-for-like model, which will inevitably meet resistance from the newly enlarged SNP contingent in the Commons.
12. One of the first things the Conservatives will do will be to begin the process of scrapping the Human Rights Act and introducing a British Bill of Rights. This could have been a bone of contention within a coalition, especially with the Liberal Democrats, but now that the Conservatives have a majority it is likely that they will quickly seek to push through legislation to repeal the Human Rights Act, overseen by new Justice Secretary Michael Gove. We can expect an early bill to pave the way for the abolition of the Act, which will ultimately be replaced by a British Bill of Rights. Theresa May has also indicated that a majority Conservative government means that the data communications bill, also known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ which was blocked by the Liberal Democrats, is also now back on the cards.
13. Cameron has announced that the Conservative Government will implement new powers to tackle radicalisation through a counter-extremism bill. The bill is expected to include: banning orders for extremist organisations who use hate speech in public places, but whose activities fall short of proscription; new Extremism Disruption Orders to restrict people who seek to radicalise young people; powers to close premises where extremists seek to influence others; strengthening the powers of the Charity Commission to root out charities who misappropriate funds towards extremism and terrorism; and further immigration restrictions on extremists and more power for Ofcom to take action against channels which broadcast extremist content.
14. More devolution for Wales and Northern Ireland will also have to be addressed with the generous package being offered to Scotland already resulting in the other regions of the UK calling for more recognition.
15. A new bill to deliver better schools will be introduced, including legislation to force coasting as well as failing schools to accept new leadership, continuing on their academy school programme. There will also be a focus on ensuring young people leave education with the skills they need.
16. David Cameron has reaffirmed that the Queen’s Speech will include plans to take anyone working 30 hours a week on minimum wage out of income tax by linking the personal allowance to the national minimum wage. As part of their appeal to be seen as the party of working people, David Cameron has said that this will be the ‘centrepiece of the first Queen’s Speech of his new government’.
17. Business Secretary Sajid Javid has already reiterated the Party’s manifesto commitment that they will introduce tougher new rules on strike ballots. Under these plans, a strike affecting essential public services will need the backing of 40% of eligible union members and have a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots, and restrictions on using agency staff to replace striking workers will be lifted. Javid said these ‘essential’ changes to the law are to be announced in the Queen’s Speech.
18. The Conservatives will introduce legislation to promote enterprise and small businesses, and help Britain become the best place in Europe to do business by 2020. There will also be £10billion of further cuts in red tape, the trebling of start-up loans to 75,000 and the introduction of a Help to Grow scheme to provide finance to fast-growing small firms. This is another aspect of the Conservative’s plan to position themselves away from being the party of big business.
19. They will also legislate to double free childcare allowance for three and four-year-olds to 30 hours, worth £5,000 a year. This is in addition to plans to introduce tax-free childcare for every child, another clear attempt to send a message to working families saying “we are on your side”.
20. The Conservatives are also likely to introduce legislation guaranteeing no rise in income tax rates, VAT or national insurance before 2020, as well as increasing the inheritance tax threshold on family homes to £1m by 2017. In addition, Cameron has previously pledged that he would raise the tax-free allowance from £10,500 to £12,500 by 2020.