Nick Faith is the Director of Westminster Policy Institute, a political risk and media consultancy.
The appointment of Camilla Cavendish as the Head of the No 10 policy operation was a masterstroke. A deep thinker and a fantastic writer, she will arrive in Downing Street with a number of big ticket items on her to do list.
While much has been written about the upcoming EU referendum, the rise of Scottish nationalism and the major savings that will need to be delivered during this parliament, some more fundamental questions will also need to be addressed.
To truly present a coherent response to the question about Britain’s place in the world and what country we want to live in, the government will have to first think more strategically at a set of challenges, the vast majority of which went unanswered during the election campaign. I have outlined just three of these challenges below:
- How should the UK react to globalisation and the challenges that freedom of movement and capital brings to the prosperity of people across the country?
- What can policymakers do to adjust to the rapidly changing nature of technology and the challenges that new innovation and ideas bring to the composition of the workforce?
- What options are available to political parties when it comes to handling the challenge of an ageing population and the increasing demands the elderly will put on the health and social care system?
These questions will require some deep thinking. The speed of globalisation and the rise of new technologies that has occurred in the last 20 years has created a system where economic growth is now largely being driven by our big cities.
London generates over a fifth of the UK’s entire GDP. There are now over eight million people living in the Capital. It is a huge success and driver of growth. It has benefitted from a highly educated workforce clustering around new sectors of excellence, for example tech start-ups in East London. It has also benefitted from immigration – both low skilled and high skilled.
Yet the surge in people coming to London combined with the lack of housing supply have created a perfect storm, driving many people out of the city. This has benefited some commuter towns outside the M25. But it has also created a feeling of disaffection and disenfranchisement among some people who don’t feel they have a stake in modern Britain.
The attraction of London as one of the leading financial and cultural heart city in the world has in itself created winners and losers. Globalisation and the changing nature of Britain’s workforce is at the heart of the immigration, skills and welfare debates.
The same is true when we look at the future of healthcare in this country. We have an ageing population who will be even more reliant on hard pressed GPs, local hospitals and residential care. Simply throwing money at the NHS is not enough. £5bn, £8bn, £12bn – it doesn’t really matter. The fundamental challenger for policymakers is how to prevent people from using these services in the first place.
Technology and the use of data will form a major part of the solution. In the not too distant future the number of people purchasing wearable technologies is set to boom as the cost of these devices comes down. New innovation and inventions can play a vital role in the health and social care debate.
A device that tells you your calorie/sugar intake could potentially nudge people into eating healthier foods – giving everyone an Apple Watch, for example, might be an alternative to slapping a tax on sugar. But the use of personal data and who can access such information throws up major challenges for policymakers.
Could an insurance company you’re your individual data to raise your life insurance premium? Could a potential employer turn you down for a job if they are able to see that you have suffered from mental health problems in the past? Some people may understandably be a little suspicious of the rise of Big Data and new technology, even if it has the ability to transform public services to improve outcomes for the consumer.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that he will not look to stand again in 2020. If he wants to leave a legacy then he will rely on a team that is able to put their minds to some of these unanswered strategic questions. Ultimately you cannot truly present a choice about Britain’s place in the world and the kind of society we all want to live in by not facing up to these questions. It’s now up to people like Camilla Cavendish to not consign these challenges to the ‘too difficult’ box.