Just when we thought things couldn’t get any stranger…
Friday’s heavily trailed fiscal event contained few surprises for anyone following the news. But it was no less mind-bending for that.
Here was a ‘small-state’ government setting out its most statist programme for borrowing and spending yet. Their supporters would ridicule Labour opponents for suggesting an intervention this big.
At the same time, they unveiled the largest tax cutting programme in 50 years – bigger than Nigel Lawson’s 1988 budget that many still speak about.
The £60bn measures to fix energy prices for homes and businesses had to happen, it’s true.
Other details in the government’s Growth Plan – tax cuts making up £45bn of a £234bn debt financing requirement – sharpen one’s focus on the cost. That’s if you can stop your eyes watering at the size of the numbers.
Meanwhile, markets watched askance as the pound fell to $1.08 against the dollar.
Many commentators pointed to the regressive nature of the tax cuts, which unquestionably favour wealthy people. Others have made this point already, and I’ll touch on it later in this post.
Having followed many statements on growth and helped to promote them when working for a government body, I’m struck by the ‘throw everything at it’ spirit of this one. The pace of change it sets is extraordinary.
The Resolution Foundation’s Torsten Bell explained how unusual this approach is yesterday.
As always, there is much to debate, and people will pour over the detail. Having read the plan, here are five points I thought would interest those striving for better businesses and places.
Events of the past week provided an opportunity for collective reflection, whatever your views on the monarchy.
I felt unexpectedly emotional and uncertain about the Queen’s passing. There is some personal context. I turned 47 on Sunday and have come through a tough couple of years. The last thing we needed was more uncertainty. But despite the madness happening around us, I start the week feeling optimistic about the future.
I’ve been saddened and moved, without approaching anything near full on ‘mourning’. It was strange stepping away from blanket media coverage and online discourse about a ‘nation in grief’ to see people having coffees, travelling to meetings and getting on with their lives.
Good comms, bad comms
I’ve supported clients’ communications whilst looking on in bemusement as some brands showed ‘respect’ in weird ways that caused a stink. On Twitter, @GrieveWatch provided some light relief by sharing the dafter examples of ‘respect’.
Many comms people (once again) provided sound advice during the mourning period. They helped organisations strike the right balance between respecting those affected by the Queen’s death whilst recognising that many will not be. They advised against anything too promotional and put events and campaigns on hold. And, yes, if they had been in the room at the time, they would have said that kicking paying customers off site for a day isn’t ‘respectful’.
As the Queen’s funeral approached, the gap between what I’m seeing and the media narrative has narrowed. After years of backbiting and division, here we are feeling and speaking as one, right? Or, at least, we’re giving people space to express their views without trashing them for it.
I take heart from how so many people joined this conversation. They used words like ‘dignified’, ‘duty’ and ‘constant’ repeatedly. Many saying this did not know the Queen. This highlights the strength of a narrative supported by an enduring truth.
It also points to something we seem to have lost. And it all stands in stark contrast to how we see today’s political and business leaders.
I’ve been fortunate to see devolution take shape in cities across England over the last 20 years.
That experience leads me to believe that local people, not Westminster, should have the tools to lead this change. Although Marvin Rees last year received a mandate to serve as mayor until 2024, Bristol has further to go before seeing the full benefits of devolution.
Context matters here. Although I’ve clocked hundreds of posts across Twitter and news feeds, this isn’t easy to see amidst claim and counterclaim.
I don’t have a vote in the referendum, but I am interested in its outcome as someone who works here and employs people living in the city. My thoughts come from that perspective, as someone who’s worked with the council and the offices of both elected mayors since 2010.
My recent blog-writing efforts reflect my tired plod towards the end the year. I’ve been busier than ever in 2021 and have not written and published a full blog on this website for a couple of months. I’ve started a few, but not finished them all. Others were overtaken by events. But those I have written have performed better than they did last year.
It’s a fitting metaphor for a stop-start year: grinding, but ultimately good.
From the perspective of a communicator and director of a small business based outside London, the statement felt like a pitch from a man in control of the narrative. This is a prized asset for government set pieces. And it’s why officials trail key measures – around Net Zero, infrastructure, transport and skills – so heavily in advance.
These measures coalesce under a plan for growth, building on the Prime Minister’s claims that the country must move towards a model of higher wages and productivity. With growth anticipated to reach 6.5% next year, there is cause for optimism from this most spendthrift and statist of small-state Conservative chancellors.
Even if there were few surprises, there remains plenty to make sense of. How many of the commitments are new money? How can we access the funding? Do we know yet what ‘levelling up’ looks like? The third question is a touch optimistic, I know. People will make up their own minds on that one.
For those interested in place-making and development, here are some of the snippets of interest we took from the announcement.