11 January 2017

With European elections, Trump and Brexit, the year ahead will continue to present new and unpredictable challenges for the Government. But there is a lot that Theresa May’s team can prepare for already, says Dr Hannah White.

January is a month of resolutions. Many look at the new year as a chance to start with a clean slate and a list of priorities.

The Prime Minister may not have the luxury of starting from scratch, as pressures on public services and delivering Brexit cannot be reset on 1 January. But she should consider what it is she wants her government to achieve in the year ahead.

Here are the six things the Government must do in 2017:

1. Provide clarity over Brexit

  • We have argued that the Government needs to be clearer with Whitehall departments about what information they need to provide before Article 50 is triggered, by when, and what license they have to re-prioritise limited resources to achieve this.
  • It also needs to ensure that all departments are carrying out essential future planning for ‘day one’ after Brexit to avoid a cliff-edge, including what legislation will need to be carried over, what new policies or bodies will be needed, and how to realise the opportunities of Brexit.
  • Ahead of the start of Article 50 negotiations, the Government must decide how negotiations will be managed and engage with parliamentarians

2. Grip the big domestic issues and public spending

  • 2016 wasn't short on big, new domestic priorities – social mobility, a modern industrial strategy and pledges to invest in infrastructure – but 2017 requires action: detail about what these priorities mean and how the Government plans to make them happen.   
  • Government needs to take action to build its capacity to do long-term planning – especially in the centre. We expect to see strategies with clear goals published, tsars or special units appointed and more policy detail on exactly who or where is being targeted, how and the evidence for this approach.
  • 2017 needs to be the year when ministers confront pressing problems in public spending and develop long-term solutions to match funding to ambition and reform, starting with health and social care and prisons. Staggering from crisis to crisis and applying sticking plasters is not enough. 

3. Set a course for better tax policymaking

  • 2016 saw an important move to improve tax policymaking with the announcement of a move to a single annual fiscal event from 2018.
  • The next two Budgets in 2017 must chart a clear course for tax policy to meet the challenges of post-Brexit Britain, giving certainty to business and investors, and preparing the ground to tackle long-term revenue challenges by opening up public discussion of options. Our report out on Monday will give details on making tax policy better. 

4. Prepare for the rise of city mayors

  • In the run up to elections for the new tranche of mayors in city-regions across the country from May 2017, the Government needs to make a public case for how these powerful new figures could change the prospects for their cities and improve local services, as we’ve seen in London.

5. Publish a digital strategy

  • We have entered 2017 without the new digital strategy the Government promised last year. The digital revolution faces big challenges, which is why we have called on the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to throw their support behind a new strategy.
  • Departments need to make tough spending cuts, at the same time as managing Brexit. They will only be able to maintain public services if they get more efficient – and making the best use of digital technology is vital for this. 

6. Save the Union

  • We have argued that the Brexit process poses a threat to the Union of the UK. To manage this threat, the Government must involve the devolved governments and parliaments at each stage of the Brexit process.
  • It must respond to the Scottish Government’s proposals for a ‘differential’ deal in which Scotland would remain in the Single Market even if the rest of the country leaves, and prepare for the possibility that the Scottish Parliament may vote against Brexit and in favour of holding a second independence referendum.
  • And the Government must work closely with Dublin to preserve the open Irish border and protect the power-sharing arrangements in Belfast, particularly in the light of recent developments.

Of course this list is not exhaustive. But it’s a good starting point. And more than that, these are areas of work that the IfG will be exploring in the year ahead.

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