As the new British Parliamentary Cabinet seeks to set out how our nation will go over this year and beyond as we leave the European Union it would appear that the context into which they need to focus is also going through its own level of turmoil. Our nearest and arguably most important EU neighbour is now facing a major change as a result of the Sinn Fein success in last weeks election and whilst they go through the same sort of settling down and working out how to run their nation, our Government will potentially be faced with a much tougher set of responses from them. Then the German changes will also have a significant bearing on their nation and perhaps more importantly from our point of view, how the European Union will respond to Michel Barnier’s responses to whoever is now carrying out our negotiations. The loss of Sajid Javid from the Cabinet may not be a concern to many people, but one of the detailed elements that was in the news was how before Christmas, Johnson had banned all of his Ministers from attending the Davos World Economic Forum, but then reversed this a few days before it began for Javid as his critical Minister who attended and no doubt held important discussions with leaders of several nations who we should now be engaging with. That this experience has now been lost from our nations Governmental understanding is surely one more deeply challenging issue as we face 319 days until the departure takes place. The external changes may extend and give us a gain in due course, but for the moment the ones listed look like a major challenge for us getting a clear way forwards as the current United Kingdom.
Along with this big picture there are many much more detailed challenges facing us as a nation. One for those of us who travel by road based transport around Sussex emerged a few days ago when Henry Smith the Crawley MP asked the Government what the planned completion date is for the M23 construction works. The response was that “all stretches of Smart Motorway that are currently being worked on will not be opened until we have the outcome of the stocktake.” I must be honest that I have worked in a number of settings where stocktaking has been a crucial part of the business. However I was rather surprised to read that the Government has chosen to carry out a stocktake of our nations motorways before it can decide whether to complete the construction works that are raising concerns for a great many people in our area as well as the nation as a whole. Perhaps Henry Smith could ask for a bit more clarity than the answer he received. On the other hand if he understood what this meant perhaps he could inform us.
Another important question arose from Gillian Keegan the Chichester MP that followed a statement by the Prime Ministers on 15th January. The question was when will the education Minister make an announcement on changes to the apprenticeship levy? This is a vital issue for small and micro businesses who want to improve the training available to their staff or their prospective employees. Given that most Sussex companies fall into this category, it has a great deal of relevance for many of us. The original intention was for the levy to be made available to SME’s in May 2017 a month after larger companies had begun to fund the levy for themselves as well as the wider sector. The response to Gillian’s question was almost hilarious if it wasn’t such a serious matter. It came from Michelle Donelan who stated “We continue to engage with employers on the working of the apprenticeship levy. We are committed to improving the apprenticeship programme to ensure it continues to deliver the skilled workforce that employers need. We will set out further detail on this in due course.” Now of course it could be that they are engaging with employers somewhere else, or just with the larger employers rather than most of them that are based in Sussex. There is certainly no meaningful engagement between the Government and our businesses, although to be fair there are regular calls from companies carrying out research who claim to be doing so on behalf of the Government. However that is certainly not what most people would describe as engagement.
Perhaps the due course for the apprenticeship levy that is nearly 3 years late and the stocktaking for the Motorways will take place now that Boris has refurbished his Cabinet, or perhaps they will never take place now he has lost his previous colleagues following the change to the Cabinet and their Special Advisors that led to Javids departure?