What the Conservative victory means for the public sector

  • The Conservatives have won their biggest majority since 1987, giving Boris Johnson a mandate to deliver Brexit and his party’s manifesto commitments
  • But what will the 2019 general election result mean for the UK’s public and voluntary sectors?
  • We examine some of the Conservatives’ key manifesto pledges and look at what could happen next

While most pre-election polls had predicted a majority for the Conservatives, the emphatic nature of their General Election victory surprised many.

With 365 Conservative MPs and a majority of 80, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in a strong position to deliver on his pre-election commitments, including the delivery of Brexit.

What does the election result mean for the public sector?

The first consequence is that Britain’s swift departure from the European Union is now a near-certainty. Mr Johnson is expected to push for a pre-Christmas vote on his Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) to ensure Brexit happens on 31 January 2020. However, it is still not clear what form Brexit will take, even if the WAB passes.

Mr Johnson insists Britain will be able to agree a trade deal with the EU before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

However, many commentators believe this deadline will be extremely challenging, given the complexity of negotiations. There remains a possibility, therefore, that Britain will leave without a deal, which could affect issues ranging from the supply of certain medicines to the availability of some fresh foods.

As we have previously highlighted in our article, 5 ways the public sector can prepare for Brexit, it is vital that organisations take a dynamic approach to risk assessment, and regularly reassess their approach, to account for fresh political developments.

How will the election result affect local government?

The Conservative manifesto described local government as “the bedrock of our democracy” and promised further devolution of powers to English local authorities – plans which will be outlined in an English Devolution White Paper next year.

Mr Johnson has also pledged to bring an end to a decade of austerity by increasing public spending. However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says the funding allocated to local government in the Conservative manifesto “would not be sufficient to meet rising costs and demands over the next parliament even if council tax were increased by 4% a year.”

The Conservative plans include £2bn to fix potholes and a further £29bn for roads. There is also an extra £1bn a year for social care, which Richard Murray, chief executive of health and care thinktank, the King’s Fund, warns is “not enough to meet rising demand for care while maintaining the current quality and accessibility of services.”

Education commitments in the Conservative manifesto

The Conservatives have pledged an additional £7.1bn for schools in England by 2022-23, and to increase the starting salary for teachers to £30,000.

A key difference between the Conservative and Labour education proposals relates to the school inspection system. While Labour wanted to abolish Ofsted and replace it with a new inspections body, the Conservatives proposed to keep Ofsted, but increase the length of inspections, and pilot ‘no-notice’ visits.

The Conservatives’ proposals for universities are also less dramatic than those of Labour, who had pledged to abolish tuition fees and reinstate maintenance grants.

The Conservatives have promised to carefully consider the findings of the independent Augar Review into the future of post-18 education, and also plan to introduce a two-year post-study work visa for international graduates. Unlike Labour, the Conservatives have no plans to remove the charitable status of independent schools.

Key Conservative housing pledges

The Conservative manifesto was less ambitious than those of Labour and the Liberal Democrats in terms of promising new social housing. However, the Conservatives have committed to tackling some of the UK’s key housing challenges, for example by introducing a stamp duty surcharge on overseas buyers to fund more help for rough sleepers.

There are also plans to publish a Social Housing White Paper in the next parliament, and renew the national affordable housing programme.

Election implications for the charitable sector

Charities were barely mentioned in the main parties’ election manifestos, much to the dismay of some third sector commentators, who warned that regardless of the outcome, “charities will have no clear champion in Number 10.”

What many charities will be waiting to find out, is to what extent the Conservatives’ promise to end austerity holds true, and in particular, what their future plans are for local government funding. We have previously highlighted how cuts to local authority budgets have increased the pressure on charities to step in and deliver services.

What happens next?

For the public and voluntary sectors, there are some key dates looming on the horizon (see boxout). Organisations may have a better idea of what to expect under Boris Johnson’s new majority government when the next Budget takes place. This is likely to be in March, although the date has not yet been confirmed. In the meantime, Zurich will continue to work with the relevant parliamentary stakeholders.