At the end of my first week as Head of Political Strategy for PHA I find myself heading to familiar territory – the 4th UK Changing Union Project Forum (UKCU) in Manchester. As a Bolton girl and a former Chief of Staff in the Welsh Assembly – an opportunity to head home and debate home-rule is a winning combination – for me at least!
I took responsibility for devolution in my former role as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Deputy Prime Minister and it continues to be an area of great interest to me. Both the process itself, changing public attitudes and perhaps more importantly, the implications for UK organisations, both in the private and public sector.
The Changing Union project exists to provide commentary, expertise and new thinking on the changing nature of territorial relationships across the UK. Within the context of on-going debate and discussion between the UK Government and Devolved Administrations, UKCU have held forums on federalism, the continued financing of a United Kingdom, and the social union. Or ‘welfare’ as most of us would call it.
Whilst much of the discussion in this area seems to be dominated by what is going on north of the border, it is (for a change) actually south (and east!) of the border that a story is gaining profile. England’s place within the UK.The focus on England in is no small part down to some polling conducted last year by the IPPR. The numbers suggest that English identity has become more politicised and that the more English you feel, the more likely you will be unhappy with the current governance structure of the UK and support an English dimension to it. It also showed that those same people are the most unhappy with the UK’s relationship with Europe.
Whilst I think it’s fair to say no political party has quite come to terms with how to handle this yet, all parties have dipped their toes into the water and tried. The UK Government – a coalition of the federalist Lib Dems and ‘Conservative and Unionists’ let us not forget – has a bulging in-tray of changing Union issues. The Scottish Independence Referendum, delivering greater fiscal autonomy for Wales (as recommended by their Silk Commission) and how to respond to the commission of Sir William McKay on how parliamentary procedure can reflect the (growing) difference in responsibilities English MP’s have to English constituents as against their Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland colleagues.
Constitutional issues are often seen as marginal, particularly at times of economic difficulty. However it’s these changing market forces that have seen the devolved administrations react differently, minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland and the plastic bag tax in Wales to give some examples.
The implications of our changing union for UK organisations has already been sizeable and whilst public attitudes continue to surprise that’ll only move in one direction. The challenge for UK industry that wants custom from the length and breadth of the UK is to keep up!
Whatever your objectives – to change legislation, balance debate, ensure decisions go the right way, develop the right relationships or achieve recognition for what you are doing - we can help you.