The Labour Party this week concluded its annual party conference in Liverpool. Some have claimed that the UK’s Official Opposition has been light on policy the last few years. It was noticeable, therefore, that this year there was a slew of policy-focussed announcements.
Throughout the conference, shadow ministers reiterated their commitment to public services: Starmer mentioned public services 11 times in his conference speech, calling them ‘the foundation of a successful economy’. Below, we outline five key public service policy takeaways from Labour’s 2022 conference.
With the conference slogan being ‘fairer, greener future’, Labour made clear its commitment to net zero and the zero-carbon transition. Starmer’s flagship announcement during his speech was the creation of a state-owned energy company, Great British Energy, to invest in and run green energy projects across the country. Backed by £8 billion from the Treasury, the new energy firm would aim to spur investment in renewable projects. Starmer additionally unveiled the party’s Green Prosperity Plan, designed to turn Britain into a ‘green growth superpower’ and reach 100% zero-carbon power by 2030.
Deputy Leader Angela Rayner opened the party conference by pledging to reform how the UK Government spends money on public contracts. She announced a five-point National Procurement Plan to improve transparency, make Social Value requirements mandatory in all public contracts, and ‘oversee the biggest wave of insourcing in a generation’. Rayner furthermore promised that Labour’s procurement policy would create jobs and skills, drive up standards, deliver for communities, and accelerate green growth and the net zero transition.
Following on from Health Secretary Thérèse Coffey’s pledge to ensure all patients would be able to see a GP within two weeks, at the Labour conference her opposite number Wes Streeting promised face-to-face GP appointments for all. Unveiling a 10-year plan for the NHS, Streeting announced plans to address the NHS workforce crisis by recruiting more doctors, doubling the number of medical training places, creating 10,000 nursing and midwifery placements, and recruiting 8,500 mental health workers. As part of a strategy to shift care from hospitals to the community and ensure fewer patients needed hospitalisation, Streeting also pledged to improve pay and conditions for care workers to provide better-quality care for old and disabled people in a first step towards building Labour’s much-touted National Care Service.
Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh focussed on private rail operators by pledging to renationalise Britain’s rail networks following the expiry of contracts. Promising to cast aside ‘tired dogma’, improve services and lower fares, Haigh said the move would ‘put power in the hands of the public’. Labour promised also to build the Elizabeth Line of the North, Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 in full and deliver effective public transport for the whole UK.
In her conference speech, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper revealed a policy plan for neighbourhood policing, announcing a £360 million programme to recruit 13,000 police officers and PCSOs into community teams. Under a Labour Government, she vowed, policing standards would also be reformed, with training, vetting and misconduct procedures to be overhauled. Cooper also promised action to tackle violence against women, by delivering specialist support services for rape survivors, installing domestic abuse experts in 999 control rooms, and placing rape investigation units in every police force.
Most of the policies announced above mark a significant departure from policy pursued by the UK Government. For example, one thing that is clear from Labour’s conference is that Labour continues to pursue nationalisation. This sentiment was expressed time and again – deputy leader Angela Rayner revealed plans to maximise insourcing of public procurement contracts.
However, the benefits of the private sector should not be underestimated – greater value for the taxpayer and more efficient public services. As independent research by Capital Economics for the Serco Institute has found, tendering all UK government services not currently subject to competition could save British taxpayers over £29 billion – and that even if the UK Government were to raise its level of spending on public procurement to a similar level to those around the higher level of the OECD average, such as the Netherlands, this could achieve savings in the amount of £5 to £15 billion. In an era of economic largesse, such numbers cannot be dismissed as insubstantial.
Alongside the report, independent polling shows that the majority of the UK public (67%; rising to 77% if you exclude people who said ‘Don’t Know’) believe the Government should work with organisations in the private sector to deliver public services, if it improves the quality of services and reduces costs. A majority of people across the political spectrum were found to hold this view, including 63% of Labour voters (rising to 69% excluding those who responded ‘Don’t Know’).
This is not to say public service providers can and cannot adapt to fit with new priorities. With Labour making Social Value, green growth, and value for money central to its procurement policy, private sector partners of any Labour Government will have to match these priorities in their operating practices.