110: Predictions for 2023
Our predictions for 2022 look rather quaint and parochial with the benefit of hindsight. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and the consequent spike in global energy prices, led to the collapse of a number of UK energy suppliers and contributed to a cost of living crisis.
That sense of crisis was, in turn, fuelled – ahem – by the near constant churn at the top of UK politics. Boris Johnson’s premiership came to an abrupt end amid Covid Partygate allegations, when Tory party colleagues decided they’d had enough of defending the indefensible; we saw the brief, but disastrous, tenure of Truss, which highlighted how dependent a national government’s fortunes are on the reaction of the international markets; and now our third PM in a year, Rishi Sunak, faces a smorgasbord of difficulties: non-existent economic growth, a labour shortage, an ongoing immigration crisis, industrial action on multiple fronts, ‘an NHS on its knees’, and a huge deficit in the polls.
On top of all of that, 2023 saw the reign of HM Queen Elizabeth II come to an end, and England losing in the World Cup quarterfinals (again).
None of which we predicted. So who would dare make predictions for 2023? Notwithstanding that, here are five.
- There won’t be a UK General Election (until 2024). The next election is scheduled to be held no later than January 2025, after the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 repealed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Rishi needs some time to try to make up ground on Labour, so don’t expect a General Election before Spring 2024. In 2023, expect the Government to seek to make progress on a number of flagship Government Bills which stalled during the Tory-party wrangling that dominated 2022: the Bill of Rights Bill, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, the Procurement Bill, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. These have either been stuck in Parliamentary quicksand, or are in danger of sinking without a trace. Is it a coincidence that they fall squarely into the ‘benefits of Brexit’ category?
- ‘Targeted measures’: The government has already announced significant cuts to departmental budgets (other than health and education) of 20% or more, although many are delayed until after 2024. That will have a significant impact on government funding for major projects in the medium term, whether defence procurement, transport projects like road improvements and rail upgrades, upgrades to government IT, and maintenance of public buildings. However, despite the government having less money to spend, it will still want to be seen to be acting, particularly in ‘levelling up’ in order to deliver economic growth (and those ‘benefits of Brexit’). So expect to see much talk of ‘targeted measures’ – with a number of existing funding streams being cut, but replaced with a smaller pot, which the relevant body can then bid for. And more talk of regeneration zones, special planning areas of various kinds (and therefore nimbyism), and Rishi’s personal favourite, freeports.
- The cost of living crisis bites hard: The UK has been stuck in a low-growth slump since the 2008 financial crisis. The years of austerity policies and various ‘bonfires of red-tape‘ seem to have failed to jump-start the economy, while funding for public services, notably local government, social care and benefits, has declined, removing social safety nets and increasing the strain on frontline services like the police and the NHS. Much of the UK was insulated from the worst during a period of worldwide low interest rates and available (migrant) labour, but, now that has come to an end, a lack of growth, continuing low wages, increased non-tariff barriers to trade with our biggest market (4% off GDP according to the OBR), a shortage of labour, increased fuel and energy bills (worse once the Government assistance ends in April), and the aftermath of the pandemic, will only deepen the current crisis, and more industrial action is anticipated as people really feel the pinch. Some commentators have already claimed the UK is once again the ‘sick man of Europe‘.
- Skeletons emerge from cupboards: The government’s best efforts to get on the front foot could also be undermined by past events. There will likely be more fallout from the government’s handling of Covid – from the recently-begun Covid inquiry, or further revelations about the awarding of PPE contracts – and we may have similar arising from its handling of the energy crisis and failed energy suppliers. Another significant problem for the government is simply that it has been in office since 2010, and so it is increasingly difficult to lay blame for systemic problems – on economic performance, healthcare, educational attainment, asylum and immigration, productivity, inequality – at anyone else’s door. And if Rishi doesn’t seem to be cutting the poll deficit, the skeleton of Boris may yet reappear…
- There may yet be a silver lining: The energy crisis seems, finally, to have focused minds on moving the UK towards greater energy self-sufficiency and a lower reliance on fossil fuels (new coal mines notwithstanding …). That may result in greater strides being made in the development of, and commitment to, greener energies – solar, wind, nuclear (particularly given the recent breakthrough in nuclear fusion) – and, crucially, improved energy efficiency, particularly in terms of insulating the UK’s homes, public buildings and businesses.
Perhaps, however, the biggest story won’t be any of the above, and 2023 will instead surprise us by bringing a swift and just end to the Ukraine conflict, a reset of energy prices, and an economic upturn. But let’s not hold our breath!
In the meantime, our very best wishes for the festive season and the new year.
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