UK general election: top tips to get ready for the next government

By on 09/06/2024 | Updated on 07/06/2024
Picture of Number 10 Downing Street
Picture of Number 10 Downing Street. Credit: 10 Downing Street/ Flickr

The UK is set for a general election on 4 July. Announcing the vote on 22 May, prime minister Rishi Sunak declared “now is the moment for Britain to choose its future”.

Following the announcement, a Global Government Forum webinar discussed ‘how to get ready for the next government’, looking at the key topics that will be at the top of ministerial to-do lists, whoever wins the vote:  the economy and finances, public services and artificial intelligence (AI) – and what civil servants will be doing during the campaign to get ready for the next administration.

The overarching context shaping this is tight public finances, Richard Johnstone, who is Global Government Forum’s executive editor, said.

He highlighted that, according to the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility, Richard Hughes, the lack of information on departmental spending beyond 2025 means that government spending plans are ‘worse than fiction’ as they have not even been written down.

The overall assumption is that government revenue spending will be limited to a 1% increase in real terms in the following four years, so the election campaign is defined by the tight fiscal constraints that the next government will face.

“Both parties are very keen to be viewed as the one who can guide the country through these choppy waters, and that’s again, a prism through which a lot of pledges and promises through the campaign will be seen,” Johnstone said.

Key policy issues

Johnstone identifies key policy issues that could impact the election and beyond.

These are dominated by the public finances and taxation. The UK’s two major political parties – Labour and Conservatives – have both pledged not to increase the country’s main taxes, “meaning the next government primarily is going to be dependent on increasing revenue through economic growth and getting government to become more efficient, to get more bang for every buck of government spending”.

Other topics that will be high on the incoming government’s agenda include supporting public services such as the NHS, implementing plans around net zero, and understanding the impact of technological changes like artificial intelligence – both in government and in society more widely.

What civil servants are doing in government now

Kevin Cunnington, who is the former director general for the Government Digital Service, discussed what civil servants are doing in government right now – and how they will prepare for a potential new minister who could arrive after the general election.

He set out three distinct phases for civil servants: from now till the election, day one after the results come in on 5 July, and the parliament after the summer recess, when the work of the next government will begin in earnest from September.

Civil servants now operate under a set of restrictions from daily activities, unless essential. The work of government slows down, as ministers are focused on campaigning.

During this period, civil servants are actively reading manifestos and pledges from the different parties, figuring out how to implement different policies when the new government is to come into being. Therefore, it is important to recognise that the civil servants are busy now, planning for ministers, he said.

Day one with a new minister – and beyond

From day one of the election, the new minister will arrive at the office, and will then commence a range of meetings, to discuss priorities – and their policy inheritance – with the civil service. There will be meetings with special advisers, and work will be done in Number 10 Downing Street by the new prime minister to set out the overall government’s agenda, which will then cascade into the work of departments.

Parliament will go on a summer break in mid-July, and Cunnington said the political agenda in the early months of the new government will be dominated by Number 10’s announcements, rather than individual departments.

In addition to Johnstone’s reflections on the key issues an incoming government will be grappling with, Cunnington also identified a significant number of problems, “coming down the pipe” at any new ministers, such as paying compensation for both the infected blood scandal and Post Office Horizon IT scandal. Add in the UK’s committed support to Ukraine in its war against Russia, and all this adds up to around £40bn. “To give you a sense of it, is about 4% of the annual budget,” Cunnington concluded. “It is already limiting the headroom for the new chancellor as we go forward.”

Watch the full webinar for further discussion on:

  • How the next government can harness technological development, especially generative AI.
  • A rundown of the key issues the next government will face.
  • A full question and answer session, including the future of net zero, how a new government will deal with regulators, and possible procurement reforms.

The ‘UK general election: how to get ready for the next government‘ webinar was held on 4 June 2024.

About Nancy Johnson

Nancy Johnson is an international politics student at City University of London who is working with the Global Government Forum as an editorial and events intern. She has a keen interest in global politics and government, and has previously spent time as an intern at the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA), in political communications.

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