Migration tightrope — Huawei hibernation — Carers’ crunch – POLITICO

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POLITICO PRO London Influence

By MATT HONEYCOMBE-FOSTER

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SNEAK PEEK

— The CBI treads a careful line on migration as post-Brexit tensions continue to simmer.

— Chinese tech giant Huawei is scaling back its lobbying work in Brussels, Paris and London as it pivots to its domestic market.

— Britain’s army of unpaid carers faces a bleak winter as costs soar and services struggle.

LOBBYING WESTMINSTER

CBI’S FINE LINE ON MIGRATION: The last time big business asked ministers to ease migration rules, it got accused of being “addicted” to cheap labor and pilloried by right-leaning pundits. But after a year of economic and political turmoil, the CBI wants government to think again. And it’s adamant that it wants neither a return to EU free movement of people — nor a cut-price way to do down British workers.

Background: It’s a tricky rope to walk for the Confederation of British Industry, which is no stranger to getting dragged into the Brexit wars and this week bagged both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer for its annual conference in Birmingham. The business group, which represents 190,000 firms, has been pitching a targeted relaxation of the U.K.’s immigration rules as one of several moves Sunak’s government can make as it desperately tries to soften a lengthy projected recession.

Number-crunching: It’s hardly a secret that the U.K. is gripped by labor shortages right now. The latest data from the Office for National Statistics puts the number of job vacancies at 1,225,000 — a whopping 54 percent rise on pre-COVID levels.

But but but: The CBI is at pains to point out that it’s not just calling for a free-for-all to sort this. Instead, it’s trying to push a more nuanced message that it hopes will land with a government still acutely aware immigration was a major hot-button issue in the run-up to Brexit.

So why now? The CBI’s chief U.K. Policy Director Matthew Fell tells Influence that the autumn statement made it pretty plain the country is “running out of firepower on both fiscal and monetary policy,” and warns that labor shortages right across the economy “are choking off growth and leaving demand unmet.” That, he says, means government should be “pulling all the levers and leaving no stone unturned in the search for growth.” It will, he argues, need to make “some choices that are difficult politically.”

Bigger picture: It’s not just migration, but also planning, regulation and trade where the CBI thinks there’s room for Sunak to be more bold.

And so: The CBI argues that migration rules should be eased only in sectors where the U.K. is unlikely to realistically be able to plug staffing and skills gaps soon, by adding more jobs to its Shortage Occupations List (SOL). New arrivals should be given fixed-term visas, the group says. “Nobody in business — including us here at the CBI — no one’s calling for unchecked immigration or a return to free movement of people,” Fell stresses.

Instead: The business group wants the Migration Advisory Committee — which advises government on the roles that should go on the SOL, to have more flexibility over how it responds in a tight labor market. Right now, Fell says, there are only “sporadic and infrequent updates” of the SOL, meaning “it’s always out with pace with where the economic need is.”

Starmer’s take: Labour Leader Starmer took his own tough message on migration to the Birmingham gathering of business chiefs, saying firms need to wean themselves off an “immigration dependency.” Fell argues that the opposition chief’s position is “entirely consistent” with the CBI’s own stance, stressing that firms are keen to both “step up investment in training and skilling” while also backing an immigration system that can “address near-term shortages in the economy.” He adds: “It’s not complete free movement. It is targeted and a sensible use of immigration, weighted towards the areas of the economy where it is most in need.”

Not the motive: Fell is also keen to push back on the charge big business is hooked on cheap hires, arguing that this ignores the real challenges entire sectors like hospitality are facing right now. “Ultimately, I just don’t think that is the motive at all,” Fell says of the cheap labor charge. “I think the motive is actually getting people full stop as opposed to looking to drive down wages.”

Emotions running high: The CBI policy chief sounds clear-eyed about the political challenge the group faces in calling for an easing of immigration rules post-Brexit. “It’s tricky,” he acknowledges. “Whenever you get into immigration, obviously, it’s a hugely emotive issue. And the trouble is actually, it’s often dealt with in binary terms: you know, is it good or bad?”

QUICK HITS

HUAWEI’S EUROPEAN HIBERNATION: Chinese telecoms giant Huawei is pushing out its pedigreed Western lobbyists, retrenching its European operations and putting its ambitions for global leadership on ice.

That’s the gist of a belting story on POLITICO’s front page this morning from Laurens Cerulus and Sarah Wheaton. The pair document how Huawei lost the geopolitical game against Washington — and is giving up on playing politics in Europe. They spoke to more than 20 current and former staff and strategic advisers to the company, many of whom requested not to be named.

What you need to know: They found that the company is folding its split European operations (currently divided into Western Europe on the one side, Central and Eastern Europe and the Nordics on the other) into a single European region with central command in Düsseldorf, Germany. It’s severely restricting the role that its chief lobbying offices in Europe will play, including in Brussels, Berlin, Paris and London.

The effect it had on its comms staff: You may have noticed an exodus of senior Western managers Huawei hired just a few years ago to counter the U.S. assault on its business. That includes comms hotshots from its Brussels, London, Warsaw and Paris operations.

Not so fast, though: Industry officials said it’s too early to write Huawei off in Europe. The firm still has considerable market presence and ongoing business dealings with the Chinese vendor. Read the full deep dive into how Washington, a pandemic and a war in Ukraine chased Huawei out of Europe here.

BRIGHT BLUE BLAST: Punchy stuff from Bright Blue boss Ryan Shorthouse this week, as the center-right think tank’s director announced he’s quitting and used a Guardian interview to machine-gun the Conservatives’ direction of travel on his way out.

The 37-year-old Shorthouse said the Tories had “failed my generation” by not tackling “punishing housing and childcare costs” while presiding over “stagnant wages.” While Shorthouse — who is heading for the private sector — trains plenty his of fire on the disastrous Liz Truss mini-budget, he doesn’t exactly leave many crumbs of comfort for Sunak either. “Rishi Sunak is a thoughtful and decent person, but he is short-sighted politically and seems to be a bad judge of character,” Shorthouse said of the new guy. But apart from that! Full interview here.

THAT ONWARD AND UPWARD JOKE AGAIN: Clutch of new hires at think tank Onward after director Will Tanner was poached by Rishi Sunak and comms boss Jack Kelly moved to become chief media officer at the Cabinet Office.

Ellie Varley becomes head of communications after a stint as senior comms adviser to Tory MP Dehenna Davison; Angus Lloyd-Skinner joins as deputy head of events and development after a spell heading up events for the Spectator; Francois Valentin is the new senior researcher for social fabric and future politics, joining after serving as chief of staff to French politician Benjamin Haddad; and Anna Dickinson is on board as senior research for the science superpower project, coming on board from Public Policy Projects.

SPEAKING OF WONKS: Guido crunched the numbers on the wonks who’ve been drafted in to Sunak’s government as SpAds. Policy Exchange tops the list with six alum making it into government, followed by the Center for Policy Studies and Onward. The Institute for Economic Affairs, Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Adam Smith Institute have all taken a tumble versus their representation in the Truss administration. Full numbers here.

TENEO BAGS NO. 10 BIZ VET: Big hire at agency Teneo, which brought in Boris Johnson’s former No. 10 business engagement lead Alex Hickman as a senior managing director. Hickman worked at No.10 for two and a half years, and co-founded the think tank Open Europe.

FULLBROOK’S PARLY PASS: Lobbyist Mark Fullbrook — who was, you may remember, briefly Liz Truss’ chief of staff — holds a parliamentary pass, meaning he has access to ministers, MPs and peers, the Guardian’s Henry Dyer revealed this week. The pass is sponsored by his wife, Lorraine Fullbrook, a former Tory MP who was elevated to the House of Lords in 2020. The spousal pass — which came to light through a freedom of information request — is one 359 currently issued. Industry body the PRCA has previously urged parliament to clamp down on the scores of lobbying-linked passes out there in the wild.

Remember kids: The only appropriate use of one of these passes is to buy Influence a hot chocolate in PCH and leak state secrets.

ON THE BALL LOBBYING: England’s World Cup opener was not just a chance for Gareth Southgate to show off his squad’s talents. Westminster lobbyists were quick to use the Qatari kick-off as an excuse to charm policymakers. The Football Association put up a big screen in the Attlee Room in the Lords and got plenty of MPs and hacks, including former Deputy PM Damian Green, along. Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey was spotted at Coca Cola’s Two Chairmen pub screening.

And: It wasn’t just business wooing policymakers, either. The Mirror reports that Labour’s Keir Starmer hosted bosses from firms including arms giant BAE Systems in his Commons office suite on Monday night, alongside MPs who watched Wales’ World Cup match in the corner.

SLICE OF WARBURTON: Rap on the knuckles for suspended Tory MP David Warburton after he failed to declare a loan given to him by Russian-born Roman Joukovski.

The details: An investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found that Warburton was loaned £150,000 through an intermediary company, Castlebrook Associates Limited and that, during the time the loan was active, the MP “assisted Mr Joukovski in his dealings with” the Financial Conduct Authority.

But but but: While the commissioner concluded that the loan should have been registered and declared when writing to the FCA, she was satisfied the money had “not influenced Mr Warburton’s words or actions as a member” and that his letter “did not amount to paid advocacy.” Warburton has accepted the watchdog’s position and apologized for a breach of the code. He’s also agreed to log the loan on the register of MPs interests. Full verdict here.

THE HEADLINES WRITE THEMSELVES: Owen Paterson, who once called for Britain to leave the European Court of Human Rights to be abolished, is taking British authorities to … the European Court of Human Rights after a probe found he breached parliament’s lobbying rules. More here.

CAMPAIGN CORNER

THE CARING CRUNCH: Debate in Westminster may be raging over the state of the NHS and the strains on the social care system, but across the country an army of unpaid carers is quietly looking after loved ones who need help with illness, disability and aging.

Campaigning charity Carers UK estimates that 6.5 million people in the U.K. provide unpaid care for family members and friends — but it’s now warning that these people face a bleak winter as public services struggle and the cost of living soars. And it’s trying to persuade the Treasury that acting to better support carers is an investment, not just a money sink.

Services straining: Emily Holzhausen, director of policy and public affairs at Carers UK, tells Influence that a functioning social care system “is absolutely vital for people to juggle work and care — and for people to have breaks.” Yet waiting lists keep on climbing, and there’s no end in sight for the long-running funding dilemma that’s vexed successive governments.

Treatment delays: Meanwhile, rising health service waiting times aren’t just hitting people in need of care — it’s also taking its toll on carers themselves. Carers UK’s latest research shows that some 34 percent of carers have been waiting over a year for treatment, which Holzhausen says “is putting enormous pressure on their health and wellbeing and ability to care” at the same time.

Cost of living crisis: On top of all this, mounting inflation is eating into the limited financial help which is available for already hard-pressed carers. While the charity welcomed Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement decision to increase key benefits in line with inflation from April, it’s not convinced that the Carer’s Allowance — a payment currently set at £69.70 a week for people who give at least 35 hours a week of care to someone already in receipt of benefits — goes anything like far enough. Carers UK had been hoping for a £500 one-off payment to help recipients through the come winter, as well as changes to the payment to better support people working part-time.

Why that’s needed: The charity’s research shows that two in five of those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance are already in debt as a result of their caring obligations. “It’s really challenging,” says Holzhausen, “because is quite often a private matter and it can be very invisible. So when we have challenges in public services, we often don’t see the increased amount of care that families start taking on. But that can have a really big impact on their health and wellbeing, their ability to juggle work and stay in work, and on their relationships — as well as obviously on their finances.” Holzhausen says the charity is already hearing from carers “who are cutting back on meals” and on the heating “they desperately need to keep well” as energy bills climb, raising the prospect that more and more will find it harder to keep on top of all their commitments.

Invest to save: As well as calling for more targeted financial help for the people it supports, Carers UK has been urging the government to make “sustainable long-term investment” in the social care system. Holzhausen warns that if more places aren’t made available, carers may have to pare back their employment hours in order to keep up with their commitments to the family and friends who need them. “We should be seeing it really as an economic investment,” she says of social care.

“It’s not right that somebody has to give up work to care, and faces poverty because they’re looking after their mum with dementia,” she adds, “or because their partner has a stroke, or because they have a disabled child and the care is so complex that it falls through all the time and it’s impossible for them to work. You know, we need to look at this differently to make sure that families are supported.”

ON THE MOVE

Agency Lansons unveiled a smattering of new advisers, including columnist and former Tony Blair speechwriter Philip Collins; Sarah Bates, chair of the John Lewis Partnership Pensions Trust and co-founder of the Diversity Project; Shereen Daniels, author and managing director of HR rewired; and David Wheldon, former CMO of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Hanbury Strategy associate director Jamie Williams is making the leap to Labour as Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed‘s adviser. He’ll be focusing on comms and media.

Felicity Handley joined Hanbury as an associate director, after a spell as public affairs manager at BRE.

Katarina Stawska-Hughes joined Sovereign Strategy as a senior account manager. She was previously business relations and endorsements manager at Labour, and has worked for UK Trade and Investment.

Dods long-serving political engagement manager Alexandra Hancock is off to become public affairs manager at UK Sport.

Consultancy Lexington named Sally Donovan-Smith as its new head of healthcare brand and medical communication. Donovan-Smith has worked for a host of pharma firms including Sanofi and Novartis, and latterly led corporate comms at health data firm Lumanity.

Global Counsel bagged UK Finance’s David Song as an associate director for financial services; as well as Rud Pedersen’s Constantine Arvanitis as senior associate on the same beat.

Sophie Adelman is the new director of speechwriting and research at the London Stock Exchange Group. She was most recently head of strategic comms at the Cabinet Office.

Max Sugarman is the new chief executive of trade group Intelligent Transport Systems after a spell as head of policy and public affairs at the Catapult Network. Sugarman’s also co-chair of PR body the CIPR’s public affairs group.

Peter Smeed is the new lead for public affairs and policy engagement at Digital Catapult, moving from science and tech
agency April Six.

Speaking of the CIPR: Check out the latest names making up the body’s public affairs group, including DeHavilland’s David Boot and Conservatives in Comms chief Adam Honeysett-Watts.

Royal College of Nursing comms director Nicole Valentinuzzi moved to become assistant director of external relations for Mayor of London Sadiq Khan at City Hall.

FGS Global‘s Sachin Gulrajani joined the Food and Drink Federation as a senior public affairs executive.

Dominick Moxon-Tritsch is the new VP for public policy in Europe at groceries start-up Getir. He’s previously worked for Bolt, Hermes and Addison Lee.

Amen Tesfay is joining games industry lobby UKIE as policy and public affairs officer. It follows a stint with Hanbury.

Bright Blue’s Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield moved on to become senior policy adviser for Impetus.

Mea culpa (a weekly feature): A recent Influence gave the wrong job title to Bright Blue’s Max Anderson. He’s actually been promoted to comms manager at the think tank, but in our defense we are totally rubbish at journalism and always tired.

Jobs jobs jobs: TikTok‘s after a child safety public policy lead … Energy firm SSE is hiring for a public affairs and policy managerAmnesty International is hunting for a global head of news and media … Public affairs and campaigns manager gig going at Centrepoint … Water watchdog Ofwat‘s recruiting for a head of external affairs … Two comms jobs going at the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Thanks: To Kate Day for taking roughly 10,000 words out of this, including the extended essay on everyone who has ever wronged Influence.

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