Posts

Comments on the Government’s infrastructure spending plans

In his first budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak (who, let’s remember, has been in the job for less than a month) unveiled a series of exciting spending promises, designed to increase infrastructure spending to a level not seen for decades. Overall, the Chancellor’s plans involve investing a massive £640bn for capital spending on infrastructure by 2025 – a generational change in the level of spending on public infrastructure.

The announcements raise the stakes on the previous Chancellor’s promise to deliver an “infrastructure revolution”, which was a prominent feature of the Conservative Party’s election campaign last year. The Budget was full of bold spending promises, by a Government that seems hell-bent on doing things differently and “getting it done”. “Getting it done” was the Chancellor’s rallying call for his first Budget and the headline-grabbing spending plans certainly suggest that we have a Government that is serious about doing just that.

Under Theresa May, previous Chancellor Philip Hammond had planned to spend £600bn on public and private infrastructure over a 10-year period, so the latest plans not only involve spending more money overall, but also spending it more quickly than the previous Government had planned to.

While much of the important detail has yet to be confirmed, and the publication of the long-awaited national infrastructure strategy has been delayed, the Chancellor’s spending announcements are likely to be well received by business, especially those in the community of infrastructure developers and investors. After Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement last month that the controversial HS2 high-speed rail link will go ahead, the Budget is a further positive sign that this Government is prepared to make use of historically low interest rates to end the tendency of previous Governments to talk a lot about infrastructure investment, but to deliver very little.

The current Chancellor seems to be of the view that the very low interest rates that we have seen since the financial crisis will continue for some time, so has rejected assertions that his aggressive borrowing plans are irresponsible. His argument is that while overall Government borrowing may be higher than it has been in previous times, the cost of servicing the Government debt is actually lower.

While some in the industry will remain sceptical about how real, or new, some of the announcements are likely to be in practice, others will see the latest plans as being just what the industry has been waiting for.

As expected, many of the plans unveiled in the Budget are measures designed to rebalance opportunities in all parts of the UK and to lay the foundations for what the Chancellor has promised to be “a decade of growth for everybody”. The massive boost in infrastructure spending apparently includes:

  • £27 billion of strategic investment in roads and motorways;
  • £5 billion for new gigabit-capable broadband in the hardest to reach parts of the country;
  • £800 million for new carbon capture and storage clusters in the English regions and Scotland;
  • £500 million for the deployment of rapid charging hubs for electric vehicles; and
  • £12 billion of extra funding for building affordable homes.

Looking at these plans from a broader policy perspective, it is undoubtedly the case that infrastructure spending by Government serves many policy objectives (such as increasing prosperity, delivering visual regional investment, enabling other sectors), but for this Government right now, it can also be seen as supporting the investment case in global Britain and showing that Britain is thriving post-Brexit. The timing of this is obvious, but with pressure on infrastructure in the South East and a shortage of new mega projects that are already in development, it seems that the Government is keen to show the strength of UK engineering and innovation to the world, as well as to bulking up the engineering sector for activation by inward investors.

A question that has been raised by a number of industry-insiders is how the Government actually plans to deliver and fund the huge expansion in infrastructure spending that it has announced. The Chancellor made no mention of the potential use of private infrastructure finance models, so there is a concern among many that private sector investors may have a limited role in delivering the pipeline of new work.

Further concerns have been raised about the lack of specific measures designed to deliver on the Governments commitments to reduce carbon emissions and to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The UK was the first major economy to legislate for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by this date and has since launched a Net Zero Review to help determine how the UK can maximise economic growth opportunities as it transforms into a green economy. Perhaps understandably at this stage (when you consider the other critical issues that the Government has to deal with at the moment), there was almost nothing in the Budget to indicate how real that commitment is and how the Government intends to achieve it.

We’re looking forward to learning more about precisely how the Chancellor’s spending promises will be delivered, and what other projects the Government plans to prioritise, when the national infrastructure strategy is published later in the spring.

It remains to be seen as to whether the Chancellor, and the Government, will deliver on its promises to “get it done” and deliver an “infrastructure revolution”, but this Budget certainly shows ambition.

Hogan Lovells: at the intersection of Government and business

Our Infrastructure, Energy, Resources and Projects practice is one of the largest and most diverse in the world. Since 2014 our global practice of over 160 lawyers have advised on more than US$200 billion of closed infrastructure deals.

We operate in all key markets, regularly representing financial institutions, project sponsors, investors, contractors, private equity funds, governments and parastatal bodies, international financial institutions, and export credit agencies on some of the world’s largest and most challenging infrastructure projects. The firm’s infrastructure practice is recognised in the market as one of the strongest globally.

In the new and ever-changing political environment, it’s vital to have a team with the right relationships with key politicians, policy-makers, parliamentarians, civil servants and regulators.

Working at the intersection of Law, Government and business, our Public Law and Policy team offers a bespoke policy and political approach to identifying emerging risks and opportunities, providing insight into relevant Government departments and helping you influence and shape legislation, policy and government decisions to drive your business objectives.

With close cooperation between these two teams, we offer a unique service.

Boris Johnson moves to mend relationship with UK business

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has moved to rebuild his relationship with the business community by hiring Sky executive Andrew Griffiths as part of his Number 10 team.

A source close to Griffiths said Johnson’s appointment of the Sky veteran – who most recently served as the broadcasting giant’s chief operating officer – was “a clear sign of intent” that the former mayor of London wants to build fresh links with the City and businesses across the UK.

Advisory Excellence understands that Griffiths, who joins the new government as Johnson’s top business adviser, first discussed the position with the incoming PM to weeks ago and felt that the new Tory leader “was the real deal.”

One source said Griffiths is “an operator, not a policy wonk” and he “will want to get things done.” Sources in Johnson’s camp have told Advisory Excellence that there will be a “beefing-up” of the Downing Street business team but it’s understood that Theresa May’s business adviser, Jimmy McLoughlin, will be staying on to assist with the transition.

Johnson ruptured his business-friendly reputation following the EU referendum when he was caught saying “f*** business” in reaction to corporate groups lobbying for a softer Brexit.

However, the relationship may already be thawing with most business groups giving a cautious welcome to the incoming resident of Number 10 yesterday.

TheCityUK congratulated Johnson on his convincing win but warned against a no-deal outcome with Brussels.“He becomes Prime Minister at a pivotal time in our country’s history.

He must now move swiftly to set out his plans for the road ahead. Ongoing Brexit uncertainty is depressing business activity, but the financial and related professional services industry remains very clear that a no-deal Brexit is still the worst of all outcomes,” it said..

The British Chamber of Commerce was also quick to send its regards, but again warned about the consequences of crashing out of the bloc. The message to Boris Johnson from business communities around the UK couldn’t be simpler: the time for campaigning is over — and we need you to get down to business.

Companies need to know, in concrete terms, what your government will do to avoid a messy, disorderly Brexit on 31 October – which would bring pain to communities across the UK and disruption to our trade around the world.

Business lobby group the CBI echoed other calls for a pro-business Brexit deal, but also on support for infrastructure projects to boost businesses across the country.

Johnson has previously voiced opposition two of the country’s most ambitious infrastructure projects: Heathrow airport expansion and the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project.

An HS2 Ltd Spokesperson said: “We look forward to working with the new Prime Minister to ensure that HS2 will transform the British economy and is value for money for the taxpayer”.

Meanwhile, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said the airport’s third runway, which Johnson opposed, will be “a critical part of any new prime minister’s agenda”.

“As we leave the EU we’re going to need to have the trading links that only Heathrow can bring and that is why we are cracking on with it.”

The pound dropped to $1.247, after the membership ballot result naming Johnson as leader was announced. As Michael Brown, senior analyst at Caxton FX explains, this was largely due to the fact that the likelihood of Johnson victory had already been priced in.

“With such an outcome having been largely expected, sterling’s immediate reaction has been muted as the news was already priced in,” he said. “However, focus will quickly switch to the next steps – namely, Cabinet appointments and the Brexit plan. The latter will be of more importance for markets, with sterling set to remain under pressure should Boris continue his ‘do or die’ Halloween Brexit stance.”

In the run-up to the announcement a number of businesses had been nervous about the prospect of a Johnson premiership, due to the former London mayor’s insistence that he would take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal by the 31 October.

No-deal vote boosts pound sterling

British Pound exchange rates remain under pressure with Brexit uncertainty continuing to loom large. However, against the US Dollar, Sterling found something of a reprieve yesterday after disappointing house building statistics were published across the Atlantic. With Theresa May now in her last week of office, concern over the potential for political chaos under her successor is likely to keep a lid on any upside for the Pound. The Australian Dollar also performed notably well overnight, gaining ground over Sterling (AUD/GBP) after Australian employment data suggested the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) may have done enough for now in terms of interest rate cuts.

The Pound has continued to climb against the Euro and US Dollar in Thursday’s trading session. MPs backed an amendment that could prevent Conservative Party frontrunner Boris Johnson from shutting down Parliament to pass a no-deal Brexit in October.

Moving into Friday morning’s trading, the Pound is in a relatively tight range, trending slightly lower against the US Dollar, Euro, and Australian Dollar. UK Public Finances data will be out later in the session, along with the University of Michigan US Consumer Sentiment stat.

Weak US Housing Data Offers Cable (GBP/USD) Some Temporary Respite

The Pound to US Dollar exchange rate (GBP/USD) found a little respite yesterday following the release of some significantly worse-than-expected US Building Permits data. Despite falling mortgage rates across the Atlantic, applications to build new houses fell for a second straight month to the lowest level in two years. Land and labour shortages are said to be behind the move, so this may prove sufficient deflect some concern away from the reading which has previously been seen as an indicator of recession. However, the news was sufficient to help drag Cable back from its test of two-year lows, at least for now.

UK Political Uncertainty Keeps Pound Exchange Rate in Check

Markets may have priced in Brexit uncertainty, but it seems as if the impending political chaos starting next week, once a new Conservative Party leader is announced and new Prime Minister appointed, may still need to be priced in. Parliament is, however, strengthening its resolve to ensure it cannot be suspended to allow a no-deal Brexit to be forced through. The House of Lords voted yesterday to provide further safeguards here and the bill will return to the House of Commons today for a second reading. The Pound to Euro exchange rate (GBP/EUR) remains close to six-week lows, but anything that points towards another general election being necessary in the Autumn has the scope to see further selling here.

Why Did it Move? Pound to Australian Dollar (GBP/AUD) Exchange Rate

The Pound to Australian Dollar exchange rate (GBP/AUD) fell last night despite a decidedly mixed employment report from Canberra. However, upward revisions to May’s data and solid growth in terms of full-time jobs appear to have been sufficient to convince markets that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) doesn’t need to jump in with another rate cut just yet. Having traded as high as 1.7760 yesterday, the cross now sits almost a cent lower at 1.7670.

Firm-PwC-1280x621

Potential impact of Brexit on the law firm market

With Brexit negotiations continuing in the United Kingdom (UK), there is little clarity as of yet on how businesses will be able to operate both in mainland Europe and cross border once the UK leaves the European Union (EU) in March 2019.

As a regulated profession, law firms potentially face greater uncertainty — the regulations directed by each individual bar association must be carefully considered in conjunction with any agreement reached between the UK and the EU.

What’s happening at present in law firms with UK offices?

Brexit remains high on law firms’ agendas, particularly with respect to the uncertainty surrounding firms being able to provide legal services as normal after March 2019. Conversations around restructuring have been brought to the forefront.

Many law firms, UK-headquartered firms in particular, are approaching their final accounting period of trading before the two year Article 50 process expires in March 2019. For some businesses, it is therefore impractical to wait to see how Brexit negotiations progress and how local countries’ bar associations respond. Any action is likely to take a period of time and require HMRC (and potentially other) clearance or clarification.

What should your law firms be doing?

Each business will need to consider its current legal structure, the tax and regulatory rules (including around management, control and profit sharing) in the locations in which it operates, and the profitability of the local offices.

Some firms will wish to restructure, and those most likely to consider restructuring may have:

  • EU operations held within a UK incorporated entity (i.e. an EU branch of UK LLP);
  • EU operations held within a non-UK incorporated entity (i.e. an EU branch of US LLP); and/or,
  • EU incorporated entities with UK solicitors having a level of management and control.

Despite Brexit primarily affecting UK businesses, it is important to note the impact that this may have on US-headquartered law firms. As a result of current regulations, US-headquartered law firms usually operate as a UK LLP, or a branch of the US LLP depending on the EU country in question. However, a by-product of Brexit could see the harmonization of regulation across EU territories so it is possible that neither of these structures will be permissible post-March 2019.

While not certain, to the extent that any grandfathering provisions are introduced there may be benefits in a firm being established in the appropriate country(ies) in the appropriate form before March 2019.

It should be noted that it is possible that a firm may wish to restructure twice: the first time to satisfy the applicable regulations during an interim period to ensure continuity of operations, and once again after a final agreement has been ratified to give a more permanent solution. As we approach the March 2019 deadline there is likely to be an increasing need to have plans in place to manage the uncertainty and satisfy stakeholders.

Potential tax consequences of restructuring?

PwC UK has noted that firms currently considering restructuring their EU operations may consider transferring their EU book of business into a separate EU legal entity. This could involve a demerger of a business within a UK LLP, which poses a number of UK tax considerations, including:

  • whether there has been a cessation of trade in the UK LLP;
  • for UK income tax purposes, whether this could trigger the closing year and opening year rules of taxation to apply to the equity partners (basis period adjustments). Quantification of overlap profits would be required to understand the funding requirements;
  • a UK capital gains tax event could arise on the equity partners upon transfer of partnership assets to a new legal entity;
  • there may be non-UK income tax consequences, for example if an EU office has to move to an accruals basis of accounting; and/or
  • overseas capital gains tax events may also crystallise on the equity partners.

It is clear that restructuring, if necessary, could result in both “dry” tax charges and an acceleration of tax, which may provide challenges around funding for both the firm and the individual partners.

BX new PHOTO

When is the real Brexit deadline?

Less than 180 days to go and the pressure is on. Talks between the UK and the EU are at deadlock, with the intractable Irish border problem the biggest stumbling block. But here’s the catch: they must also set aside time for the deal to be reviewed and ratified by both sides.

In the United Kingdom, parliament must vote through the withdrawal agreement into law, while on the European side, it must receive the support from member states and the European parliament.

We all know that the clock is ticking. But political process on both sides means the real deadline is not 29 March itself. So just how much time is there?

On the EU’s side, Danuta Huebner, who chairs the European Parliament’s Brexit committee, has suggested that approval could be granted as late as the 11 March 2019. Meanwhile, the fact that the EU commission has continually updated EU capitals and institutions throughout the negotiations means that they would be unlikely to reject the agreement – even if it were presented to them as late as March.

But there are several reasons why delaying the vote until March would be politically problematic. First, although national parliaments in the EU will not be voting on the withdrawal agreement, some heads of governments may still be still required, in line with their own parliamentary traditions, to discuss the deal before and after the vote takes place. The Danish parliament’s European committee, for example, has a strong tradition of organising hearings ahead of EU votes and, in some cases, has even managed to influence the government’s position.

Second, the EU is conscious that the longer it discusses the terms of the UK’s exit, the less time it will have to discuss the future trade and security relationship. The way negotiations are organised means that discussions about the future can only take place once a withdrawal agreement has been reached. Many predict these discussions to be far more complex and question whether a future deal can be reached during the transition period which, providing it goes ahead, will end in December 2020.

Third, businesses on both sides are demanding greater clarity on the UK’s position after March 2019. For them, the longer the talks last, the less time they have to draw up new plans.

For all these reasons, the EU has provisionally set the date of 17 November to vote on the withdrawal agreement. But it is also in the UK’s interest to reach a deal by the end of the year.

For starters, there is actually a UK legal requirement that the government reach an agreement with the EU by 21 January 2019. In the absence of an exit deal, the UK parliament could put pressure on the government to change course – it is not clear how the prime minister would survive such a vote.

But even if the UK and the EU did reach an agreement by January 2019, there is no guarantee that the UK parliament would support it. Worse still, if it did reject the deal, it is hard to see how both sides could negotiate and ratify new exit terms by March 2019. Faced with such a dilemma, is it time to be thinking about extending talks beyond March 2019?

Legally speaking, this could be possible. According to Article 50, talks can be extended beyond the two-year negotiating framework, although this would require the approval of all 27 member states as well as the UK. But politically, this might prove complicated.

First, it is unclear how long talks would be extended for. The EU parliament elections are planned for May 2019, so a Brexit vote would need to take place either before the elections or after a new parliament is in place. The elections will also lead to the appointment of a new commission in the autumn, possibly even a new president. The EU may be reluctant to vote before the end of the year.

Second, it is unclear what would happen to the transition period. Currently, the transition is due to end at the end of 2020, at the same time as the current EU budget. During this time, the UK would continue to be part of the single market and customs union – although it would have no formal say or vote over new EU legislation. As a consequence, the UK may be asked to contribute to the new EU budget if it wanted to continue accessing the single market and customs union beyond 2020. It is hard to see how UK politicians would accept this.

When voting takes place depends largely on how quickly the UK and the EU reach an agreement. If they fail to reach a deal by 21 January 2019, or if the UK parliament rejects it, then frankly, all bets are off.

NT PHOTO

Brexit negotiators have agreed on a deal

The United Kingdom and European Union negotiating teams have agreed on a Brexit withdrawal deal which Prime Minister Theresa May will present to her Cabinet on Wednesday.

The UK government confirmed reports that May’s most senior ministers would read the details of the draft agreement on Tuesday evening before a special Cabinet meeting at 2PM on Wednesday.

An agreement between the UK and EU over how to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland as a result of Brexit was reached during intensive negotiations held on Monday and Tuesday, sources told Advisory Excellence.

Brexit talks had for weeks been at an impasse over the question of how a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic could be avoided no matter the outcome of negotiations.

UK and EU negotiators agreed that there would be a UK-wide “backstop” if they fail to negotiate a trade deal that negates the need for border checks on the island of Ireland before the end of the two-year Brexit transition period.

The backstop will take the shape of a UK-wide customs union with the EU, with Northern Ireland sticking to some of the European single market. This would guarantee no border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

However, the backstop is set not to come with a fixed end date, as demanded by pro-Brexit MPs, but with a “review clause” for deciding when it can come to an end.

Brexiteers are concerned that this arrangement will leave the UK trapped in a customs union with the EU for years to come, unable to sign new free-trade deals. The UK would also have to continue following numerous EU rules in areas like the environment, employee protections and state aid.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Conservative MPs, said the deal amounted to a “failure to deliver on Brexit” and would make a “vassal state” of Britain. His Conservative colleague Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, described the draft deal as “unacceptable,” adding, “For the first time in a thousand years, this place, this Parliament will not have a say over the laws that govern this country.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would “look at the details” of the deal, “but from what we know of the shambolic handling of these negotiations, this is unlikely to be a good deal for the country.”

He added: “Labour has been clear from the beginning that we need a deal to support jobs and the economy — and that guarantees standards and protections. If this deal doesn’t meet our six tests and work for the whole country, then we will vote against it.”

The breakthrough in negotiations means EU leaders might be able to ratify the deal at a summit in Brussels later this month. EU ambassadors are set to meet on Wednesday to discuss the next steps in the Brexit process.

What’s next?

Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab reportedly belongs to a handful of Cabinet Brexiteers who are prepared to resign from the government if the Brexit withdrawal agreement doesn’t meet their demands.

Advisory Excellence reported last month that the Cabinet members Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt, and Esther McVey were all prepared to resign if May accepted a backstop with no fixed end date.

Leadsom said on Sunday that MPs would not accept a backstop which the UK cannot leave without the EU’s permission. She told the BBC: “I don’t think something that trapped the UK in any arrangement against our will would be sellable to members of Parliament.”

Downing Street understand that ministers could quit their positions over the details of the deal.

However, the prime minister has pressed on despite the high-profile resignations of former ministers like Johnson and David Davis and would be likely to do so again.

The European Research Group of pro-Leave Conservative MPs met following the news. A Tory MP who attended told Advisory Excellence the group was “absolutely shell-shocked” because none of May’s “promises” to it had been kept.

Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Leadsom, and Mordaunt “all campaigned with us for Brexit and need to stop this from ever reaching the Commons,” the MP said.

The biggest challenge facing May will come in the House of Commons’ vote on the deal.

Most Labour MPs are set to vote against it, as well as Conservative MPs from the pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings of the party, and possibly the 10 MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party which props up May’s government.

The DUP’s Nigel Dodds said the party “couldn’t possibly vote for” the deal. Pro-Brexit Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith said May’s days are numbered as prime minister if she goes ahead with it.

Owen Smith, a champion of the anti-Brexit group Best for Britain, said the deal would leave “the British people worse off, and our country weaker as a whole” and urged May to put it to another referendum.

He added: “It’s not enough for May to secure support for her deal from Cabinet, or even from Parliament. This deal will dictate the course for our country for generations to come, and it must be put to the people for their approval or rejection.”

The leaders of the four main opposition parties, including Corbyn and The Liberal Democrats’ Vince Cable, have jointly written to May demanding a “truly meaningful vote” on the deal.