A ‘Back to the future’ Autumn Statement

Rarely has a Chancellor delivered a financial statement to the Commons with such a singular audience in mind. Today’s Autumn Statement was squarely aimed at reassuring and winning over the markets. Ultimately, of course, that was the reason Jeremy Hunt was appointed Chancellor in the first place.

But that focus on the markets, and alongside it the industries that drive the economic growth of the UK, provides businesses with an important opportunity – to leverage influence and help steer policy making over the next two years.

Read on as the Brands2Life Public Affairs team considers what the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement means for business engagement with government.

Britain as the next Silicon Valley?

This Autumn Statement struck something of a ‘back to the future’ note, with a focus on tackling 1970s-type inflation and industrial strife and exploring 1980s-style deregulation, but with a laser focus on innovation, science and technology.

“We have a national genius for innovation,” the Chancellor declared, citing Britain as “the land of Newton, Darwin, Fleming, Faraday, Franklin, Gilbert and Berners Lee.”

“But we need to be better at turning world class innovation into world class companies… I want to combine our technology and science brilliance with our formidable financial services to turn Britain into the world’s next Silicon Valley.”

Measures announced included reforms to R&D tax reliefs, £1.6 billion in funding for the UK’s nine innovation catapults, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, being tasked to lead work to consider how the UK can better regulate emerging technologies.

But what does this mean for business?

Engage early and consistently

There is a significant opportunity for technology and science companies, and indeed those in related sectors, to influence the development of the Government’s science and innovation ambitions. As the Government looks to supercharge UK economic growth in the years ahead, innovation and technology will be central to these aims, and it will rely on cooperation with and the support of businesses.

Companies will need to take often complex ideas and technical details, and articulate them to government in a tone of collaboration. Business communications will need to bring these innovations to life for ministers, officials, parliamentarians and broader stakeholders. And crucially, you will need to demonstrate how your particular recommendations ladder up to broader government ambitions such as skills, net zero and levelling up.

Equally, constructively challenging government proposals and regulation, with evidence-based arguments, is perfectly valid. But this needs articulating as part of a suite of politically and economically-grounded policy solutions, with real, ‘on the ground’ examples of positive and negative business impacts –the more practical the better.

The challenge for Labour

The need to engage is also about the Labour Party. With an election no more than two years away, it is crucial that businesses build relationships across the political divide.

Today’s Autumn Statement presents an interesting challenge for the Opposition.

On one hand, the rug has been pulled from under their policy platform: personal taxes raised, largely for the wealthiest, and the energy windfall tax extended, just as they demanded.

And yet on the other hand, the Prime Minister’s and Chancellor’s efforts to reassure the markets and steady the economy, could mean that should Labour win the election in 2024/25, they will be inheriting a much healthier economic position, with the opportunities that offers them to invest in public services.

They also have a clear point of political leverage to exploit. While the Chancellor’s announcements were largely focused on supporting the most vulnerable, they did little for the group famously dubbed the ‘Just About Managings’ by Theresa May – the squeezed middle, who don’t feel wealthy, but will still not benefit from many measures aimed at the poorest.

This group will now endure at least two years of financial pain – high mortgages, inflation and public services not benefiting from significant additional support.

The JAMs may well end up deciding the result of the next election. And when we reflect back on this Autumn Statement, we may well think that it was the moment that they were lost to the Conservatives.

If you’d like to have an informal chat about how today’s announcement may impact your business, or what opportunities there are to share your ideas, expertise and insights with government, please get in touch via [email protected].