Working to make government more effective

Explainer

What will Keir Starmer’s first few weeks as prime minister look like?

What will happen in the first few weeks after the general election?

Starmer cabinet
Over the weekend of 6–7 July, Keir Starmer appointed ministers and held his first cabinet meeting.

The 2024 general election was held on 4 July, with the results returning the Labour party as the winner overnight, followed by Keir Starmer entering No.10 as the new prime minister the next morning. Over the weekend of 6–7 July, the government was formed and cabinet ministers appointed. The events of the first few days are covered in our explainer looking at the first 72 hours for a new prime minister.  

After the initial rush there are also important events and key decisions to be made in the first few weeks as well as other issues that are waiting for Keir Starmer’s  government in its ‘in tray’.

What are the urgent things the government will need to do?

Get MPs sworn in to parliament: from 9 July

A new parliament will be summoned to meet on 9 July. The first business will be to elect a Commons Speaker and complete the swearing in of MPs and peers. MPs take the oath in order of seniority: the Speaker goes first, followed by the MP with the longest continuous service, the prime minister, members of the cabinet and shadow cabinet, any MPs who are privy counsellors, and then other MPs based on when they were first elected. 

This takes place before the state opening of parliament, and usually takes two to three days. Most MPs take the oath during this period, although some time is set aside in subsequent sitting days for any remaining MPs to be sworn in. MPs cannot participate in substantive business in the chamber, including debates or votes, until they have been sworn in. 

Open the new parliament with a King’s Speech: 17 July

The King’s Speech is part of the state opening of parliament and marks the formal beginning of each new parliamentary session. It is scheduled to take place on 17 July, 13 days after the election. No substantive parliamentary business can usually occur until after the speech is delivered.

The speech is an opportunity for the new government to set out its priorities and programme for the session. It is debated and voted on in the days following; in recent years this has tended to take place over six sitting days. This event is a constitutionally important moment, as it is a test of a government’s ability to command the confidence of the Commons. 

Setting a date for summer recess: TBC

Before the election was called, summer recess was scheduled to start on 23 July. However this is less than six days from the King’s Speech and so would not leave enough time for the usual six sitting days taken to debate and vote on it, so it is likely that new recess dates will be set. This decision rests with the new government, and will be determined in part by what Keir Starmer wants to get done before recess and whether it need MPs in attendance for this. For example Rachel Reeves has announced that she will present new Treasury analysis on the state of the spending inheritance to parliament before recess.

MPs who have been working hard on the campaign trail are likely to want clarity on this soon after the election. Business questions in the house are expected to resume on 18 July: if  a decision has been made this would be an appropriate time for the leader of the house to announce any revised recess dates. 

The last time the UK saw a July general election was in 1945. On this occasion, the state opening of parliament was on 15 August, and summer recess was moved to 24 August.

Attend key international summits: 9–18 July

The US will host a NATO summit in Washington DC between 9–11 July. These summits provide an opportunity for leaders of NATO countries to discuss issues and strategic direction. As with the 2023 summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, the UK prime minister, foreign and defence secretaries are expected to attend.

These dates coincide with the election of the Speaker and MPs’ swearing in. However, the prime minister and ministers do not need to be in the chamber to elect the Speaker, and can conduct ministerial business before being sworn in. 

On 18 July the European Political Community (EPC) summit, which brings together leaders from across Europe, will be held in the UK at Blenheim Palace. It will be hosted by the prime minister.

What decisions are waiting in the government’s ‘in tray’?

Public appointments 

Public appointments are frozen during the election campaign, which means none will have been made by the government since 25 May. As the timing of this election was a surprise for many there will likely be a backlog of appointments that will require approval. The new Labour government may also want to make its own appointments early in the parliament. 

Inquiries and compensation payments

Public inquiries are independent investigations held on a statutory basis – that is, not public bodies – so are not bound by pre-election period regulations. It was up to each inquiry chair to decide what was appropriate to do during the campaign. For example, the Covid Inquiry Module 1 report on how prepared the UK was for the pandemic was due to be published before summer, but was put on hold. 

A decision waiting for the next government is how to set up the compensations system for victims of the infected blood scandal. The Victims and Prisoners Bill, passed during wash-up at the end of the last parliament, included a commitment for this to be in place within three months, so will need to be acted on in the coming weeks.

Public sector pay decisions 

Public sector pay is decided by the government (or subnational governments in the case of devolved public services, like the NHS). This is decided after a lengthy process involving independent pay review bodies which inform the government’s final decision. Pay review bodies were asked to submit their reports and recommendations to the government by May but neither these, nor the government’s response, has yet been published. 

That means the new government is facing a decision on public sector pay imminently. It will need to determine its response and agree how any pay settlements are being funded if it exceeds what has been budgeted for before publicly responding. This may have spending implications for departments, as increases in public sector pay will typically have to be met from existing budgets. 

The pay review bodies’ recommendations are usually accepted by the government. However, there have been times when the government has over-ridden their recommendations – for example, imposing public sector pay caps or freezes.

The new government is also continuing to face pressure from ongoing public sector pay strikes, including by junior doctors.

Setting a date for a budget

There has to be a budget each fiscal year – the last was in March 2024, although the next government may wish to quickly announce changes to tax and spending at a fiscal event – as was the case in 2010 and 2015. 

The government must provide the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) with 10 weeks’ notice if it wants it to include a complete economic and fiscal forecast alongside the budget. There is nothing precluding a chancellor from announcing a budget with no OBR forecast – as Liz Truss did in September 2022. However, the Chancellor Rachel Reeves announced in her first speech on 8 July that there would be a budget this year, accompanied by an OBR forecast and that she would announce the date for the budget before recess. Given the 10 week lead in, the earliest a fiscal event could be held would be 13 September. 

Related content

05 FEB 2024 Podcast

Preparing for Power podcast series

This six-part series takes you behind the scenes to find out how our politicians, their advisers and officials get ready for being in government.