Policy Connect at the 2019 Conservative Party Conference

In Manchester the Conservative Party Conference’s banners were dominated by Brexit. Yet past the slogans and rhetoric, Policy Connect’s delegates encountered a varied policy agenda fixated on the party’s next election manifesto.

Home ownership was the big-ticket item at fringe events this year, with members and MPs conscious of the topic’s importance to the Conservative’s falling vote share amongst younger voters. Whilst some levied criticisms on inflationary pressure caused by the flagship ‘Help to Buy’ scheme, much more concern was directed at the limited supply of new homes. Most fringe events laid the blame on inefficient planning permission systems and speculative land purchasing, arguing these trends increased the financial and time cost of acquiring affordable land for rapid development.

Discussions around the regulatory environment for housing safety and quality were infrequent and often confined to smaller events such as a private roundtable attended by ourselves and Eddie Hughes MP, an Officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group. Despite this, we had the opportunity to discuss the ongoing carbon monoxide (CO) alarm review with the Housing and Planning Minister, Esther McVey MP. When asked to comment on the review’s progress, the Minister said the Government remains committed to improving CO safety, but she declined to say when the Government’s decision would be published.

Another heavyweight item on the fringe agenda was social care, a topic underscored by members’ desire to avoid the media storm created by the Conservative’s 2017 manifesto. The unfairness of the current system and its potential to wipe out individual savings and assets was a clear point of consensus. This was accompanied by more fractious debates on how to pay for expanded care (general taxation vs. insurance model) and whether local or national government should manage care finance.

The topic’s popularity highlights the strong political incentive for parties to outbid each other in their social care proposals, an incentive that will only grow as chronic health conditions rise because of our ageing population. A particularly interesting point was raised by Baroness Cavendish, who acknowledged the growing importance of prevention and early intervention in reducing demand for social care later in life. We expect the political importance of prevention will continue to grow throughout the 2020s as the effects of our ageing population materialise. Policy Connect looks forward to exploring social care in greater detail in our upcoming report ‘Carbon monoxide: Safeguarding carers, supporting communities’.

Beyond awkward camera moments involving disposable cups, sustainability was a reoccurring theme at conference, featuring an entire exhibitor section dedicated to environmental interests. During an event on plastic pollution, Policy Connect took the time to share our strategy for achieving Net Zero ‘Waste’ exports, which you can read here.

Finally, Policy Connect was thrilled to host our first Conservative Party Conference event, featuring a panel discussion and Q&A on the future of British manufacturing. We were lucky to be accompanied by an excellent panel featuring:

  • Nadhim Zahawi MP, Minister for Business and Industry
  • Ian Funnell, CEO, ABB
  • Juergen Maier, CEO, Siemens UK
  • Dick Elsy, CEO, High Value Manufacturing Catapult
  • Bobbie Davies, Public Affairs Manager, Tata Steel

Their discussion focused on increasing SME’s access to digital technology through schemes such as ‘Made Smarter’ and addressing cultural barriers that limit uptake of productivity-raising tech. This panel will feed into Policy Connect’s upcoming report on Local Industrial Strategies, which you can learn more about on our website.

If you’d like to read about Policy Connect’s presence at the Labour Party conference then please visit our website, and if you want to learn more about Policy Connect’s other areas of work then please oliver.buckley-mellor [at] policyconnect.org.uk (get in touch).

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