PLMR Insights: Labour Manifesto

Labour General Election Manifesto

Overall, this is a ‘Ming vase’ manifesto: commitment to change, but to be delivered with caution and without significant definition. However, the fact that its more radical pledges on GB Energy and an industrial strategy, for example, are not brand new does not diminish their ambition.  They are potentially transformative policies that will enable Labour to meet its bold targets across energy, education, housing, and health.

Keir Starmer launched Labour’s manifesto this morning at the Co-op headquarters in Manchester. As the Party rides high in the polls, the Labour leader took to the stage to set out his business-friendly agenda for government that promises to restore economic stability and growth.

Growing the economy is positioned front and centre of Labour’s plans and Starmer described the manifesto as a document for “wealth creation” upon which “everything else will be built”. To achieve this, he said that his government would be “pro-business” and “pro-worker”, committing to spread opportunity across cities and regions throughout the country. At the same time, he warned that he would not have a “magic wand” to offer unfunded policy, in a direct swipe at the “gestures and gimmicks” of this week’s Conservative Party policy commitments.

After months of its business charm offensive, Starmer’s message is part of his bid to convince voters that Labour has changed since the Corbyn years. Indeed, the manifesto marks a clear break from Labour’s long-held image of being a ‘tax and spend’ party – potentially alienating those on the party’s left – with Starmer committing instead to tackling structural problems around planning and housing to drive private investment.

In the document itself, pictures of Starmer feature prominently (33 times, to be precise) and the word ‘change’ dominates throughout, with the party hoping that its one-word slogan chimes with an electorate tired of “Tory chaos and underachievement”.

Structured around Labour’s five missions for government – the economy, education, health, energy and crime – the document itself does not contain any big policy announcements in a deliberate contrast to the Conservatives’ more policy-heavy offering. This is telling of a party yearning for power after fourteen years on the sidelines and nervous to avoid any opportunities for opponents to derail either its campaign or its 20-point poll lead.

Labour’s headline pledges include:

Cutting NHS waiting times with 40,000 more appointments each week, during evenings and weekends, paid for by cracking down on tax avoidance and non-dom loopholes.
Launching a new Border Security Command with hundreds of new specialist investigators and use counter-terror powers to smash criminal boat gangs.
Setting up GB Energy, a publicly-owned clean power company, paid for through a windfall tax on oil and gas giants.
Cracking down on antisocial behaviour, with more neighbourhood police paid for by ending wasteful contracts, new penalties for offenders and a network of youth hubs.
Recruiting 6,500 new teachers across key subjects, paid for by ending tax breaks for private schools.
Introducing free breakfast clubs in every primary school.

You can read the manifesto in full here and its full costings document here.

Insights on policy areas

Economy

Labour’s programme for government is underpinned by ‘sustained economic growth’ and led by its plan for a new industrial strategy and sector focused commitments, with a particular focus on R&D, financial services, advanced manufacturing and the creative industries.

To secure this growth, Labour has confirmed plans for a £7.3bn National Wealth Fund to support economic growth and the clean energy transformation. This fund will be split across supply chains, and funding gigacities, the steel industry, carbon capture and green hydrogen. Labour pledged to cap corporation tax at the current level of 25 per cent for the entire parliament, to replace the business rates system with a focus on levelling the playing field between the high street and online retailers, and to publish a new roadmap for business taxation.

On small business, a Labour Government would take action on late payments and support more exporting for small businesses. The Party also proposed reform of the British Business Bank and reform of procurement rules to improve access to government contracts for small businesses. Labour reiterated its plans to make work pay and deliver its ‘New Deal for Working People’ which includes banning exploitative zero hours contracts; ending fire and rehire; and introducing basic rights from day one to parental leave, sick pay, and protection from unfair dismissal. Labour would create a Single Enforcement Body to ensure employment rights are upheld and change the remit of the independent Low Pay Commission to take into account the cost of living. Labour will also remove pay bands to the national minimum wage so all workers are entitled to the same minimum wage.

On tax, Labour has ruled out raising income tax, national insurance or VAT for the full term of the next parliament, saying it wants to make sure that tax on “working people” is as “low as possible”. The Party also reiterated its existing tax proposals, including VAT on private school fees, changes to non-dom tax status and a crackdown on tax avoidance.

Technology, R&D and Innovation

On broadband and 5G, the manifesto commits to a ‘renewed push’ to achieve full gigabit and national 5G coverage by 2030. Labour highlights that their industrial strategy will support the development of the AI sector, whilst introducing binding regulations on the companies developing the most powerful AI models and banning the creation of sexually explicit deepfakes. They will also remove planning barriers to new data centres and commit to delivering a National Data Library to combine existing research programmes.

Labour will scrap short funding cycles for key R&D institutions in favour of ten-year budgets. They also propose many small changes to keep the UK at the forefront of global innovation and commit to creating a Regulatory Innovation Office, bringing together existing functions across government.

Health

Labour’s health commitments are centred around frontline services, including a commitment to add 40,000 hospital appointments a week through additional evening and weekend capacity, introducing a Dental Rescue Plan, and investing in new MRI and CT scanners.

The Labour manifesto reiterates commitments on the NHS Innovation and Adoption Strategy to expedite approval of key technologies and to provide clearer routes into the NHS for innovative products.

The Labour Party will have to square these ambitions against the lowest planned investment for the NHS across all 3 major parties – their commitments on NHS investment being £1.785bn by 2028-29.

For businesses who are hoping to engage with the NHS, Wes Streeting’s continual support for the use of the private sector to help tackle the challenges with the NHS is a welcome one. Given Labour’s position in the polls, he should have the political capital to drive his change agenda, including resolving the strike action by Junior Doctors.

However, the wider challenges are not new, and the current Government has delivered significant policy initiatives aimed at digitising and modernising the NHS. The wider problems are historic, structural, and deep-rooted.

Streeting and his team have multiple short- and long-term challenges to tackle, and it is clear that they recognise them and take them seriously. The difficulty will come in implementing the long-term reform with the support of a semi-hostile, world-weary and tired NHS who have seen secretaries of state promise change with little return.

Social Care

The manifesto commits to “ensuring everyone lives an independent, prosperous life” – language aligned with Social Care Futures who have worked closely with the party over the past few years including in the creation of their 2023 commissioned report outlining a roadmap to a National Care Service.

To do this, they propose “deep reform” which, in the long-term, moves towards a National Care Service focused on managing and supporting an ageing population; integrating with the NHS; supporting working age disabled adults; and moving to a more preventative system.

To establish the foundations for a National Care Service, Labour’s manifesto promises to create a care service that will:

Be underpinned by national standards
Deliver consistency of care across the country
Locally deliver services with a principle of ‘home first’ to support people to live independently for as long as possible.

Standards across the sector are a big focus for the manifesto as Labour commits to raising the quality and sustainability of care and introducing more accountability measures for providers. There are no significant details on how this will be achieved.

The manifesto states that ‘professionalising the workforce’ will be part of efforts to move healthcare into local communities. This is light on detail but aligns with the manifesto’s plans for the wider UK workforce which will impact the care sector.

A Fair Pay Agreement would be introduced for Adult Social Care specifically – a sector collective agreement that sets fair pay, terms and conditions and training standards across the sector. Though there are no further details about what this might look like, Labour has pledged to consult widely on the design of such an agreement.

Those who have been following Labour’s plans for social care over the past 18 months will not be surprised by the manifesto – though perhaps disappointed that there is no commitment to increase public spending on the sector to shed light on how these measures will be implemented in practice.

Education

As part of its mission to “break down barriers to opportunity,” the Labour Party announced its commitment to transforming the education system to provide opportunities for all young people. While many policies in the manifesto have been previously announced, the Party outlined policies to improve education quality and support for early years, young people, schools and further and higher education.

For early years and children, Labour plans to improve numeracy skills and expand childcare by opening 3,000 new nurseries. The Party has pledged to strengthen children’s social care regulation, address poor oral hygiene and reduce child poverty through community collaboration.

Labour committed to supporting working families by reviewing the parental leave system, collaborating with local governments to better support children in care and improving data sharing across services to support children and their families.

For schools, the Party intends to recruit 6,500 new teachers, fund free breakfast clubs for primary school pupils and end the VAT exemption and business rates relief for private schools to generate funds for state schools. They plan to introduce a Teacher Training Entitlement, a School Support Staff Negotiating Body to address the recruitment crisis and an Excellence in Leadership Programme to improve teaching quality and consistency.

Young people are a focal point in Labour’s mission to break down barriers to opportunity, with pledges to create new Young Futures Hubs with support workers and careers advisers, address misogyny, protect young people from online harm and extend the voting age to 16.

Economic stability is a central theme in the manifesto, with a focus on skills and further education (FE) to enhance worker training and skills development. The Party pledged to establish Skills England to deliver Labour’s Industrial Strategy, devolve adult skills funding to Combined Authorities, reform the apprenticeship levy and transform FE colleges into Technical Excellence Colleges.

For Higher Education (HE), the Party committed to securing the future of HE amid financial challenges, developing a post-16 strategy to facilitate student mobility between institutions and strengthen regulation and working with universities to improve access, raise teaching standards and deliver benefits for students and the economy.

Built Environment

Labour’s manifesto proposes ambitious measures to reform the built environment sector with the aim to spearhead economic growth. Central to this strategy is the creation of a National Wealth Fund, capitalised with £7.3 billion, to “support growth” and deliver private and public investment, including £1.8 billion for port upgrades, £1.5 billion for new gigafactories, £2.5 billion for the steel industry, £1 billion for carbon capture deployment, and £500 million for green hydrogen manufacturing.

Labour has also pledged to establish a National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority to set strategic priorities and oversee the delivery of projects. This will aim to streamline the planning system and enable the acceleration of road, railway, reservoir, and other significant infrastructure developments by ‘cutting red tape’ and updating the national planning policy.

With regard to housing, Labour’s “brownfield first” approach prioritises the redevelopment of previously used land, complemented by a strategic release of lower quality ‘grey belt’ land to facilitate a new generation of towns, urban extensions, and regeneration projects which are planned to meet housing demand. In order to preserve the green belt, the Party has pledged to implement ‘golden rules’ to ensure development also benefits communities and the natural environment.

The manifesto reveals Labour’s plans to deliver the ‘largest increase in social and affordable housing in a generation’. This includes strengthening planning obligations, enhancing the Affordable Homes Programme, and supporting councils and housing associations. They also plan to review right-to-buy policies and increase projections for newly built social housing.

Energy and sustainability

Focused on establishing credibility and creating a narrative around the party’s missions, there was nothing new announced on energy in the manifesto. The document instead reiterated existing key proposals – the Green Prosperity Plan, Great British Energy, National Wealth Fund, Warm Homes Plan, and British Jobs Bonus.

These policies were framed in the language of growth, stability, building British industry, and putting Labour back in the “service of working people”, with specific commitments made to raise the pensions of retired miners.

Announcing the manifesto, Starmer was clear that there were no surprises – because this was a programme for government. Legislation included in party manifestos is also afforded special privileges and, therefore, what is included is important. This is significant, given Labour’s desire to publish an Energy Independence Act – which would legislate for Great British Energy and a National Wealth Fund – in the first year of government. The Act is mentioned on page 51 of the manifesto.

As a result of a desire to keep the manifesto “bullet-proof”, key details were absent and – bar cornerstone policies – some previous policy suggestions were omitted. Instead, much was made of reassurance.

The manifesto reiterated the future role of gas in strategic supplies, confirmed that existing North Sea licences will not be revoked (though no new licences will be granted), and that the Party would work closely with workers to deliver the energy transition. There was extra detail on next steps for “loopholes” in the windfall tax, including extending the sunset clause in the Energy Profits Levy until the end of the next parliament, increasing the rate of the levy by 3%, and removing “unjustifiably generous” investment allowances. These revenues will fund Great British Energy.

Additional commitments were also made to “strengthen Ofgem” to ensure there is automatic customer compensation for failure and reduce standing charges.

Devolution

Labour has promised to “deepen our democracy” by devolving further powers to communities and encouraging respect and collaboration between the different governments across the UK. As part of this commitment, they have pledged to strengthen the Sewel Convention through a new memorandum of understanding outlining how the nations will work together for “the common good”.

Local Growth Plans will be developed in collaboration with major employers and educational institutions, aligning with its national industry strategy. To ensure financial stability for councils, Labour has pledged multi-year funding settlements and an overhaul of the local audit system.

Other promises include ensuring members of the devolved legislatures have the same free speech protections as Westminster MPs and establishing a new Council of the Nations and Regions to allow greater collaboration between the Prime Minister, the Heads of Devolved Government, and the Mayors of the Combined Authorities. Labour has also pledged to restore decision-making over the allocation of structural funds to the representatives of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with the planned investments in public services outlined in the manifesto translating to additional funding for the three devolved nations.

On Scotland, whilst explicitly ruling against another independence vote, Labour have promised a more collaborative approach for the future. They will support the Scottish Government in partnering with international bodies where “relative and appropriate” (such as with global health initiatives) but maintained that the UK Government would retain full responsibility over foreign policy. The Scotland Office will champion ‘Brand Scotland’ across the world through diplomatic and trade networks, promoting Scottish culture, products and services.

On Wales, Labour criticised the Conservative Government for failing to understand the Welsh people and work with the Welsh Government. They pledged to devolve more funding for public services and employment support and will consider devolution of youth justice. Similar to Scotland, the Wales Office will become an international advocate for Welsh culture, products, and services, and ensure the voice of Wales is properly heard in the UK Government.

On Northern Ireland, the Party has pledged to improve public services, generate economic growth, and deliver stability to the devolved government. Labour committed to implementing the Windsor Framework and said that they would be open to discussions on establishing a fiscal framework for Northern Ireland. Labour also voiced their support for the Good Friday Agreement, calling it “one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour Government”, whilst also pledging to repeal the Legacy Act and returning to the principles of the Stormont House Agreement.

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PLMR Group Media Snapshot: June 2024

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