A week has now passed since the Prime Minister closed out the Conservative Party Conference. Alongside Account Executive, Alastair Fisher, Account Manager, Billy Greening headed to Manchester for the first in-person Conference in two years and answered some questions on how things went …
How was the overall feel of Conference?
With the constant buzz in the hall, throughout exhibitors stands, fringe events and drinks receptions, you could have been forgiven for forgetting that the pandemic had ever happened.
Conference felt like a victory celebration for the 2019 election and why shouldn’t it be for the Conservative Party? The PM broke the deadlock and delay that had loomed over Westminster for three years.
When the Prime Minister took over, the possibility of a temporary Government and talk of a second referendum was real. For better or for worse, December 2019 broke that ‘logjam’ in Parliament.
Furthermore, after the last two years, who can blame the party faithful for wanting to meet up and have a good time? This is how long lasting political and business relationships are formed? ZOOM & MST are no substitutes.
What were your five key takeaways from the four days?
We made the effort to go to as many fringe events as possible and target areas of interests to us and the business. It was a fantastic way to expand our knowledge, reach out to clients and have the opportunity to network.
1 – The Fringe was outstanding
Away from the scaled down auditorium and main speeches, the fringe was brilliant and a hive of different ideas and opinions.
The private and third sectors have completely brought into the Governments’ net zero, decarbonisation and levelling up agenda. It was a privilege to be able to listen to industry leaders and politicians debate these key issues. Business is ready to play its part and is ready to step up and act on the agenda that Government has set.
2 – It’s time to get serious about net zero
COP26 is just around the corner and there is a fourth ‘green’ industrial revolution underway in this country.
Not only are the financial incentives vast but there has finally been cut through on the ‘greening’ (if you pardon the pun) agenda. The Government is serious about net zero 2050, the way we live our lives is changing and the pandemic has only accelerated that.
The current fuel and energy crisis has shown the importance of moving to sustainable energy sources and supply chains. The PM recognises this and is eying up a clean energy grid by 2035. Ultimately, for net zero to be a success it needs to be affordable and deliver jobs, inward investment and economic growth. The general public needs to see the benefits of their ‘buy-in’.
Let’s take Hydrogen, where there is a real chance, the UK could be the world leader, it is estimated this industry could be worth over £13bn to the UK plc by 2050. It’s not only heating our homes, but it’s also future public and private transportation. I even had the chance to get in the new Hydrogen car by INEOS, I can’t wait to ride in a Hydrogen bus.
We are already seeing in Tees Valley the first UK Hydrogen Transport Hub. This inward investment also brings re-skilling and jobs – hand in glove with the levelling up programme.
As part of this, nuclear is also going to play a vital role. Alastair was able to seize a nugget of information, as Minister for Energy & Climate Change, Greg Hands, confirmed, a further nuclear power station would be given the go ahead in this Parliament.
I attended an event titled net zero needs nuclear, the Government agrees and so do I. The scale of the challenge to reach net zero is vast and the case for nuclear is overwhelming. Nevertheless, for obvious, historical reasons the public have safety and environmental concerns, these can be overcome if the power is communicated effectively.
Why can’t we see small-scale reactors on the edge of towns like we do with electric generators?
Trudy Harrison (MP for Copeland and member of the APPG for Nuclear Energy) said:
“If we are realistic about getting to net zero by 2050, nuclear is not an option. According to many technology pathways for net zero, including one modelled by the Climate Change Committee, it is a necessity’.
One thing is sure, a win for nuclear is a loss for fracking.
There was little support on show from the Parliamentary Party for fracking at the fringe. Rother Valley MP Alex Stafford summarised the shift in Government priorities well in a recent essay for the Conservative Environment Network:
I am supporting the opening of a hydrogen electrolyser factory on the border of Rother Valley, and I am urging the Government to release a bold hydrogen strategy. We should not be focusing on yesterday’s fossil fuel-based technology, such as fracking. We must accelerate the decline in gas and end the fracking companies’ delusions once and for all by making our already cast-iron moratorium a permanent ban.
3 – The Government means business about levelling up
Levelling up is how the PM will largely be measured in communities of the former ‘red wall’.
Installing Michael Gove as the new Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and appointing Neil O’Brien, as Minister in the rebranded department could be a masterstroke.
O’Brien’s white paper on levelling up is hotly anticipated throughout the industry, it will have vast consequences for infrastructure, economic development, energy and construction.
Michael Gove and Neil O’Brien have also been joined by former Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane. This is a serious team, that will not be afraid to be bold.
Levelling up will mean spreading equality of opportunity throughout the UK. Remember the ‘Just About Managings’? This is for them. Jonathan Guillis MP (Stoke North) said at the fringe, ‘levelling up is silicon Stoke’. I love that expression; it perfectly demonstrates the re-skilling and investment in people that the levelling up agenda was created for.
Levelling up will mean more opportunities and more prominent profiles for local leaders like Andy Street, and Ben Houchen. This means more devolution.
Ben Houchen is a prime example and is why he is already being tipped by some colleagues for the top job one day. Levelling up will come with more financial, economic and political devolution.
Local people and decision makers know what is best for their areas. I would expect mayors and local government reform to feature within the white paper.
4- The role the State will play as an ‘accelerator’ in the recovery is unprecedented
Taxes are going to increase. I think everyone knew that at the height of the pandemic and it’s clear now. The recovery must be paid for.
Baron Hague of Richmond (that’s William Hague) said the other day on the radio that ‘the only rule the Conservative Party has, is that it has no rules’.
That couldn’t have been more clearly demonstrated than calls from the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng for the PM to sign off millions of pounds of bail outs to protect energy factories and heavy industry.
The Government is now more interventionist than ever could have been imagined. Conservative Ministers are saying firms must cap dividends and bonuses in returns for state bail outs. This is uncharted territory.
The Conservative Party has adapted time and again to stay in power, a move like this will be very popular amongst its new won supporters in the midlands and the north.
The fiscal, liberal conservatism of David Cameron & George Osborne has vanished.
5- I can’t wait for the Budget, Spending Review and COP26
Conference sets us up perfectly for the new political year. The budget and spending review will be very interesting and provide the direction for the recovery and our industry.
COP26 has the potential to be generational defining and the ‘environmental Potsdam Conference’, how exciting that Copper will be there.
It feels like the UK is at a fork in the road. No.10 / No.11 talk about being a booster and facilitator for the recovery, well this is there chance to show it and I am excited to see what the Chancellor will say.
The Budget will act as an accelerator to private enterprise. The state will play an increased role through the public sending taps, but businesses will be expected to play its part too.
Copper will be doing a series on the budget and looking forward, its impacts and consequences for our clients.
The mood at Conference was one of ‘post war optimism’ that a better world is possible. I live in hope that October 27th as budget day lives up to expectation.
Any standout events? Or other things to add?
I haven’t mentioned the chance I had to meet Grant Shapps (Secretary of State for Transport) and listen to him and Chris Heaton-Harris MP (Minister for Rail) as they discussed the new Great British Rail. This is exciting!
It’s about bringing the railways under the umbrella and security of the state, with the rocket boosters and innovation of the private sector. The current system is too complicated and doesn’t deliver for passengers. I’m really enthused by the new ‘capital for rail’ competition announced by the Secretary of State during Conference.
The discussions on undoing the ‘Beeching cuts’ were also fascinating, and we are already seeing this in action. After 50 years, it was announced yesterday, services will be running from Exeter to Okehampton once again from next month.
It’s a great time to be a rail enthusiast!
I tried to draft a short-list for our favourite events, but even that was a struggle. At every fringe I learnt something!
Finally …What does Build Back Beaver mean?
It might be a funny question, but it has a serious point, no other politician could say what the PM does.
As for ‘Build Back Beaver’, it’s learning the lessons of the pandemic and ensuring that as we move forward, we don’t make the same mistakes of the past. New projects must show how they deliver jobs as well as net zero and decarbonisation credentials.
It means investing in those areas ‘left behind’ in the 1980’s boom of globalisation and fluid international capital, but crucially, it means renewing our world ‘greener’.
The Beaver is a symbol for rewilding, for treasuring our environment and ensuring that we leave this planet in a better state than how we found it. It’s levelling up, with a clean, environmental conscience to economic growth and prosperity.