The General Election and the Queen’s Speech: what does it mean for biotech?

The definitive General Election result means that the UK biotech sector now has relative certainty on Brexit and the Government’s policy agenda, and more importantly its ability to deliver it. So, as we wrap things up for Christmas, we thought it would be a good time to look back at the General Election campaign, the outcome and what it means for our sector as we head into a new decade.

 

BIA’s General Election preparation and activities

 

Few were surprised by the announcement that there would be a General Election and we had been preparing for the event for a few months. In early Autumn, we attended all the main party conferences and met with ministers, shadow ministers, MPs and MEPs to discuss the sector’s priorities on a range of issues, including Brexit and fiscal R&D incentives. At the Conservative party Conference, we hosted a roundtable in collaboration with our partners ABPI and BIVDA to discuss innovation in the NHS with the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Health and Technology, Will Warr.

 

Throughout the campaign, we continued to build on our relationship with all parties to address the policy issues that affect our sector the most. To all parties we suggested ways in which they could, if they were to form the next Government, help to promote the success of the UK’s biotech sector for the benefit of patients, to create highly-skilled jobs and grow the economy.

 

During the campaign, we published our Biotech Manifesto. It set out the priorities of our sector and called on the next Government to commit to increasing public and private investment in R&D, maintain a world-class medicines regulation post-Brexit, and deliver rapid patient access to medicines.

 

To help our members cut through the election noise, we analysed all the main parties’ manifestos and explained what their policies would mean for biotech. While there is strong cross-party consensus on the importance of raising R&D investment, the manifestos presented widely different views on how to raise investment and the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

 

We also developed a map of the UK’s 650 parliamentary seats which details the number of life sciences companies and jobs in each constituency. We offered this seat-by-seat analysis as a useful tool for members who wished to reach out to their parliamentary candidates during the campaign. If you would like to have the stats for your constituency now that the MPs have been elected, please contact mturner@bioindustry.org.

 

The new government

 

While we are looking at essentially the same government going into the New Year, we have been promised a broader and potentially more radical overhaul in February. Speculation in the media suggests that plans are afoot to abolish several departments, merging their functions into other existing departments. For example, it is being suggested that the Department for Exiting the European Union could be shut down, with its functions falling to the Cabinet Office under Michael Gove MP as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Other departments reportedly in the firing line include the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for International Development and – most notably for the biotech sector – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

 

For now, the focus of the Government is ‘getting Brexit done’ with their new, solid majority. The Prime Minister undertook a mini-reshuffle on Monday, filling posts left vacant by exiting MPs. Nicky Morgan – who had stood down as an MP when the General Election was announced - has been elevated to the House of Lords to temporarily remain as Culture Secretary and Simon Hart has replaced Alun Cairns as Welsh Secretary. Otherwise there are no changes in Health (where Matt Hancock and Baroness Blackwood remain in post), BEIS (where Andrea Leadsom and Nadhim Zahawi remain in post) or HM Treasury (where Sajid Javid remains in post) – even the Special Advisers all appear to continuing in their previous roles.

 

Only once the Withdrawal Bill has been passed is it likely that we will see any sweeping changes or new faces in government.

 

The Queen’s Speech and future policy direction

 

The Conservative Manifesto is the blueprint for what we can expect over the life of this Parliament (see the BIA’s analysis here). Today we have had the first Queen’s Speech of this government, which indicates what we can expect in the first year or so. The first focus was as predicted on Brexit, with promises to ensure the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 January and to establish a free trade agreement with the EU. The Government focused heavily on the NHS, promising new funding, more nurses and doctors, change to hospital car park charges, a new social care settlement and the construction of new hospitals. In addition, there were promises to expand science infrastructure, increase research tax credits and to establish a national skills fund.

 

These are potentially very positive developments for the biotech sector and we look forward to seeing more detail on how these measures will be taken forward.

 

While Her Majesty did not specifically say anything about the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, which was in the previous Queen’s Speech in October, it is back and there are more details in the background information. This has the potential to be very positive and we welcome the Bill’s objective to “ensure that the NHS and patients have faster access to the best innovative medicines while supporting the growth of the UK life sciences sector to ensure we remain at the forefront of the global life sciences industry.” More detail is needed, and we will need to see what the Bill ends up looking like once it has been amended. This will be a key area of activity for us in 2020.

 

Not mentioned in the speech, but highlighted in the Conservative Party’s manifesto, is the notable plans to establish an Innovative Medicines Fund to replace the Cancer Drugs Fund. Hopefully, we will see more information on this in the New Year.

 

Also not mentioned in the speech, but trailed in the media this morning, are plans to establish an Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority and to create powers to bring criminal prosecutions against company directors who make misleading statements to financial markets. We will be keeping a watching brief for news on that one.

 

BIA’s engagement plan for the new government and parliament

 

Following the mini reshuffle, we are sending letters to all the key ministers for our sector, including Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, Chancellor Sajid Javid, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Health minister Nicola Blackwood. We have long-standing relationships with these ministers and meet with them regularly independently and through formal industry-government forums, including the Life Sciences Council in No10, the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) and EU Relationship Group (EURG). The EURG will meet in January in what is set to be an important meeting ahead of the Brexit deadline on 31 January.

 

After the promised overhaul of government departments in February 2020, we will be writing again to new ministers and any new relevant departments to seek meetings where we can discuss shared priorities and objectives.

 

In the New Year, we will also be using our map of each parliamentary constituency to identify and reach out to the new and returning MPs which represent large biotech constituencies. We will also relaunch the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Life Sciences, a cross-party group of MPs and Peers who are interested in our sector. And in May, we will hold our 20th annual Parliament Day, which will be a great opportunity for members to engage with the new Parliament, key civil servants and ministers. Both the APPG and Parliament Day are great ways for us to engage with parliamentarians and raise the profile of the sector on behalf of our members.

 

In addition to the APPG and Parliament Day, our work to build relationships with Parliamentarians continue throughout the year – through one-to-one meetings in Westminster, briefings for speakers in parliamentary debates, our presence at party conferences and by giving written and oral evidence to Select Committees and other parliamentary inquiries.

 

Let us know your thoughts

 

We look forward to working on behalf of our members in 2020 to ensure our sector’s voice is heard at every level within government and in parliament. The next few months promise to be interesting and we will be working with members to plot the way forward. Our Government Affairs Network will have an opportunity to discuss these issues and more when it meets again in the New Year. And we’d love to hear all your thoughts on what our focus should be so please do get in touch or come along to the Committee Summit in February when we will be discussing the Government’s agenda and our activity with all BIA members.

 

Until then, we hope you have a great festive break and a happy New Year.