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The Political Year Ahead

Henry Thompson, the new Head of Public Affairs at the IFoA, takes a look back at some of 2019's highlights for policy and public affairs, and gives a glimpse of some projects to look forward to in 2020. 

Reflecting on my first week in post as the IFoA’s new Head of Public Affairs, there seem to be many parallels between my role and the UK’s new status as a former member of the EU: a fresh start, plenty of opportunities and challenges, lots to do. Sound familiar?

The turn of a new year usually provides the opportune moment to ruminate on the year just gone, but I intend to exercise my author’s prerogative and the fact that we are only a month into the year to reflect on the political rollercoaster that was 2019 and give my thoughts on what to look out for in 2020.

It’s an understatement to suggest that 2019 was one of the more eventful years in modern political history, with plenty of unprecedented moments punctuating a Brexit process that was consumed by delay, confusion, disagreement, anger, log-jam, complexity, and, eventually, apathy.

To re-cap (just in case you’d forgotten), 2019 saw one Conservative leadership contest, two Prime Ministers, four meaningful votes and a December general election. Regular ministerial resignations – typically a subject of intense media interest – became the accepted norm. No batted eyelids. Theresa May – remember her?

But if you thought politics in 2020 might be a little quieter, don’t hold your breath. I’d also suggest you keep hold of your ticket because the 2020 rollercoaster is about to start and it is already proving to be a busy one.

The UK’s future relationship with the EU is clearly going to dominate Westminster and Whitehall over the next 11 months. Whilst Brexit might be “done” in name only, there are a whole multitude of legislative and regulatory challenges for the Government to consider as it embarks on negotiating a series of new trade deals.

Naturally, the IFoA will be stepping up its policy, communications and advocacy activity in relation to Brexit over the coming weeks and months to ensure the profession is kept suitably abreast of developments as and when they happen.

Away from Brexit, we are slowly seeing a return to normality in Parliament, with the Government’s rediscovered bandwidth allowing it to refocus on some of the bigger ticket items that simply got lost in the Brexit malaise. Expect movement on pensions, climate change and infrastructure policy, and hopefully, some steps towards finding a sustainable solution to social care funding.

As ever, the Westminster rumour mill continues to turn. Next week we are expecting the Prime Minister to shuffle his Cabinet pack, a forerunner to the much-speculated shake-up of Whitehall that could see some departments merged or abolished at the flick of a pen.   

It’s also worth noting that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats will be electing new leaders in April and July respectively, with important local and mayoral elections sandwiched in between in May that will provide the first electoral test for the Prime Minister.

Already since the turn of the year, the IFoA has been out and about speaking to key policy and decision-makers on the issues that matter to our members. Last month, my policy colleague Faye Alessandrello and I joined members of the Resource and Environment Board to speak to the highly-influential Treasury Select Committee about its inquiry on the decarbonisation of the UK economy. We’ve also been engaging with DWP officials on the recently re-introduced Pension Schemes Bill and the implementation of collective defined contribution (CDC) schemes in the UK. We have and will continue to brief members of both Houses as the Bill makes its way through the various stages to ensure the IFoA voice is heard on important proposals like CDC, the pensions dashboard and new TPR powers.

A new Parliament also brings both the opportunity and challenge of getting to know the new faces on the green (and red) benches, as well as the new personalities on the recently re-elected select committees; an avenue for engagement that is likely to be all the more important given the current parliamentary arithmetic.

As part of our wider programme of engagement, we are hosting a parliamentary drop-in session at the end of March to brief MPs and Lords on the IFoA’s policy priorities for the year. Later in the autumn, we’ll be at the party conferences again for the third year running to ensure our messages are heard across the political spectrum. Keep an eye out for our other major campaigns, including The Great Risk Transfer and Inclusive Insurance which are sure to attract the attention of parliamentarians and wider stakeholders alike. 

Finally, as ever, we’re keen to hear your thoughts about the IFoA’s Policy and Public Affairs work. We intend to continue using this newsletter, as well as the many other channels available to us, as way of showcasing the impact that the profession is having in policy and regulatory circles, and to demonstrate how actuarial thinking is helping to solve some of the biggest public policy challenges in society. The ‘2019 in numbers’ speak for themselves but if you have any thoughts of your own, please do get in touch, otherwise I look forward to reporting back on our progress in the next edition of this newsletter.