Weekly political news round up – 21st April 2017

Overview

This week, the Prime Minister has unexpectedly announced her intention to hold an early general election, which has been approved by Parliament and will be held on 8th June. Figures across the health and education sectors have urged all political parties to consider health and education policy issues during their campaigning, despite the heavy focus on leaving the EU that is likely to materialise. In other news, analysis of the financial performance of Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) areas has been carried out by HSJ.

Prime Minister calls early General Election

The Prime Minister unexpectedly announced her intention to hold an early General Election this week, which will be held on Thursday 8th June. Theresa May said on Tuesday that the decision was the only way to “guarantee certainty and stability for the years ahead” and made particular reference to the negotiations to leave the EU. The following day, the House of Commons voted 522 votes to 13 MPs in favour of activating a clause in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 – which mandates that elections are held every five years – that allows elections to be brought forward if two thirds of MPs support such a move.

Parliament is now expected to be dissolved on Wednesday 3rd May, posing a tight deadline for passing any legislation before parliament rises for the pre-election purdah period (normally 28 days before election day). Any legislation which is not passed will be “carried over” if there is a continuation in Conservative government. Parliamentary Select Committee inquires will be paused during the pre-election purdah period, but can similarly be carried over.

For several smaller parties, the general election offers the opportunity to take advantage of the more polarised political landscape since the EU referendum. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron immediately endorsed May’s proposal, and will view a snap general election as an opportunity to target constituencies which voted to remain in the EU. The SNP abstained on the parliamentary vote on holding the election, with the party’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson stating that while the party believed in fixed-term parliaments, they would not stand in the way of an election.

While Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also supported the decision, and has begun his campaign with a focus on education, it is widely acknowledged that Labour is significantly divided and lacking in central organisation going into the election. Two polls published on Saturday suggested that the Conservatives hold an unprecedented 21-point lead over Labour – presenting an opportunity for May to deliver a decisive landslide before Brexit negotiations begin in earnest.

General election: sector reactions & manifesto speculation

Since the announcement, a range of stakeholders in the health and education sectors have sought to highlight the need to consider policy issues beyond Brexit during election campaigning. The Chief Executive of Children England, Kathy Evans, pushed this message, stating that “This general election has already been dubbed by some as Brexit Referendum II, but it will still be the election that decides a whole government agenda for the next five years.” The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has already sought to appeal to voters concerned about education, beginning his campaign by highlighting that in 2016 40,000 primary age children were taught in classes of 36 or more in England.

On health, GP leaders have urged all parties to “take seriously the workforce and workload crisis in general practice”, amid suggestions that the Government could abandon its pledge to recruit an additional 5,000 GPs by 2020 if re-elected. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the BMA’s General Practice Committee, urged GPs to “play our part through MPs and patients that we raise the profile of the NHS as a central issue.” The Chair of the BMA, Dr Mark Porter, also warned that “The NHS must not be pushed to the margins in the focus on Brexit.”

Financial performance of STPs mapped out

An article in HSJ has mapped out the financial performance of each sustainability and transformation partnership (STPs) on a number of different measures. These measures included overspending, meeting or underspending against financial control total targets in 2016/17; and the combined surplus or deficit position of all NHS organisations within STPs at the end of 2015/16. While NHS Improvement (NHSI) has not decided upon the method that will be used to determine overall financial performance for each footprint, the Chief Executive of NHSI, Jim Mackey, suggested that a combination of the two could be used for assessment.

Speaking in an interview with HSJ, Mackey highlighted that overspending does not necessarily equate to poor performance, and challenged providers to “confront some hard decisions in this rather than being locked into [current configurations].” The analysis has been conducted as STP areas have been warned that organisations which spend beyond their control totals will not be able to carry on operating deficits; with Simon Stevens saying last month that in some areas “this may mean explicitly scaling back spending on locally unaffordable services.”