Category Archives: About us

Event – Parkinson’s UK

Ultonia Communications is sponsoring What Matters Most.

This is your chance to have a real influence at a fun, innovative event aimed at establishing what matters most to people with Parkinson’s and working together to improve those matters.

The event will take the form of four interactive workshops designed to answer four questions, emphasising on how people can work together to do so.

Those at the event will include Parkinson’s UK members, health professionals, businesspeople, community representatives and prominent politicians.

  • Venue: Girdwood Community Hub, Belfast
  • Time/Date: 12.30pm to 3pm, Wednesday 9 November 2016

A light lunch will be served; and tea/coffee will be available throughout.

Please join us!

Attendance is by invitation only but you can secure an invite simply by leaving a comment below, emailing info@ultonia.com or leaving a voicemail on 07956045764.

Central Political/Economic Forecast

This is our Central Forecast currently for Northern Ireland (and the UK/EU generally) after last week’s referendum. Clearly, there are hugely varying scenarios possible, including political and economic conditions spiralling out of control.

The UK will exit the EU (under Prime Minister Theresa May) in Spring 2019, agreeing an EEA deal minus Financial Services access in return for some additional controls of movement of labour (somewhere between “Norway Model” and “Swiss Model”). Significant variations of this scenario are possible, ranging from remaining within the EU with some additional border controls to a completely disorderly exit with no deal.

The UK (and Northern Ireland) will enter recession in Spring 2017 and the economy will contract during 2017, with recovery not beginning properly until 2019. It is possible the UK (but not Northern Ireland) will avoid technical recession; conversely a disorderly exit could cause an economic shock beyond that of the 2008 “Credit Crunch”.

The UK debt burden will hit 100% of GDP in 2017 and the deficit will remain almost as high in 2020 as it was in 2015. Although we do not expect the debt in itself to be more expensive to service (contrary to some forecasts), a combination of inflation plus the fact the deficit was due to have been closed by the end of the decade means there will be a marked reduction in funds available for public services and welfare provision (we estimate this reduction will be around 3% versus previous, pre-referendum forecasts). There is little variation of this forecast as it is determined by uncertainty around the UK’s future status, rather than the status itself.

UK public spending and welfare provision will be reduced by 8% versus previous pre-referendum forecasts which, combined with higher unemployment (thus welfare bills) will see spending on public services reduced by 14% versus pre-referendum expectations. This will lead to significant strain on Health and Care services in particular. As with the above, there is little variation on this forecast.

UK consumption will reduce 3% in 2017 and will not stabilised until late 2019. This will particularly hit the retail and hospitality sectors, and there will be disinvestment in city centres. The property sector will also be hit, with a knock-on effect on local government services. Again, there is little variation in this forecast.

EU funding will cease to be available for most cases, particularly Rural Development, from 2020. UK will retain access to EU funds for business R&D (except in financial services and agri-food) and for infrastructure. CAP and CFP will be withdrawn from 2019/20 and, outside England, will need to be replaced by devolved Executives.

There will be neither an immediate General Election or a second Scottish independence referendum, but this is an uncertain forecast. There remains the possibility of an early UK General Election to approve a negotiating strategy or exit deal; a Scottish referendum is highly unlikely this decade although we do expect polls consistently to indicate in-principle support for Scottish independence.

UK party political turmoil will continue through the next election, with potential for radical change up to a potential change in electoral system and the Barnett Formula. UKIP is currently likely to form the Opposition after the next General Election. Political debate will shift from internal social issues to immigration and economic development. Despite reductions in public spending, there will be downward pressure on taxation with Corporation Tax potentially being abolished altogether. It is this political uncertainty which feeds into instability in the real economy.

Northern Ireland will attain “Special Access” to the EU, including potentially a Shared Customs arrangement, as its citizens generally qualify for EU citizenship and it shares a land border with the EU. This will mean more EU support is available than elsewhere in the UK, but CAP and CFP will cease as elsewhere in the UK. There will be a surprising degree of political stability but significant strain on public services due to reductions in funding provision versus previous assumptions (these will be marginally less marked than elsewhere in the UK, but still significant). The voluntary/community sector will be particularly hit in Northern Ireland, as many EU or EU-related funding streams simply come to an end without prospect of replacement. There will be the need for significant reform and collaboration.

The UK’s long-term economic outlook is marginally poorer than it was pre-referendum, but with the potential advantage of regional re-balancing due to less dependence on the finance sector and the City of London. The most significant risk to the UK is its loss of reputation for political stability, and loss of faith in its institutions. The longer-term viability of the Union itself, however, remains in question, which could bring further economic shocks. This forecast cannot now be made with any precision, as there are too many variables.

The Eurozone will generally avoid recession but will be subject to a marked slowdown in the short term. There are also significant political risks, with notable elections in 2017 in the Netherlands, France and Germany and the increased focus on issues forced by populists across the continent. Recession, and the election into government of populists opposed to EU membership, remains a risk in almost every EU country currentlyalthough there is no prospect of any committing to an in/out referendum.

Sterling will stabilise at just under $1.30 and €1.20, but will be subject to occasional significant volatility. It remains possible that Sterling will stabilise significantly lower than that, particularly against the US dollar.

Guide to UK Referendum Night

The UK referendum on EU membership takes place on Thursday, 23 June. It affects all UK sovereign territory within the EU – thus the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the overseas territory of Gibraltar; but not the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey or territory outside Europe.

Votes are counted immediately after close of poll; initially they are verified (to ensure the right number come out of the box as were placed into it by voters), and then counted. They are declared in England, Scotland and Wales by local authority area (of which there are 380), in Northern Ireland by constituency (18), and in Gibraltar. However, it is only the overall (UK and Gibraltar) result which counts.

Academic work has been done (for example by APCO) to identify the parts of the UK which are most likely to be typical; i.e. where the result would be 50:50 if the overall poll were 50:50. Even this is difficult. Who knows really which areas these are? What if turnout is particularly higher in areas which favour one side or the other? What if “Eurosceptic sentiment” is unreliable as to actual voting intention? We can only guess, really.

The night will proceed roughly as follows, assuming local authorities have their timings right (in practice they may be a little optimistic):

2200 – POLLS CLOSE

There are no exit polls.

There will be a survey by YouGov similar to the Scottish independence referendum; it was a little more than one point out on that occasion. However, unless there is a surprise landslide, we will really know very little at this stage.

0030 – FIRST DECLARATIONS

Sunderland [E] should be the first local authority declaring, and it should probably be for Leave if Leave is to win (though there may be regional discrepancies).

Around this time we should also hear from the City of London [L], Wandsworth [L] and Foyle [I], which should be handily for Remain but are atypical and give little by way of real guidance.

0130 – EARLY DECLARATIONS

There should be early declarations from Gibraltar [G], a raft of Northern Irish constituencies, and perhaps some in the north east of England for Remain.

Some other north east English authorities should declare for Leave during this period. We may also have the first from the West Country (Swindon [E] which should be for Leave) and North West England (Oldham [E], also expected to be for Leave but may be close).

0230 – FASTER DECLARATIONS

Around now we should get the first declarations in Scotland, as well as others in urban Northern Ireland and London, for Remain. There may be others in the Home Counties and Wales too at this stage.

Some in more rural Northern Ireland and North West England may begin declaring for Leave.

One to watch is Salford [E], expected to be a “bellwether”.

0330 – MAIN DECLARATIONS

Now much of London and Scotland, as well as places like Oxford [E]and Cambridge [E], should have declared handily for Remain.

Urban and suburban England and Wales should also be declaring now for various sides.

Watch places like Oadby & Wigston [E], High Peak [E], Bridgend [W], Monmouthshire [W], Enfield [L] and Moray [S] which are bellwethers but should largely go Remain if it is to win; or Anglesey [W], Epsom & Ewell [E], Worcester [E], Bury [E] and St Helens [E], most of which Leave would need in order to expect victory.

Remain should be ahead at this stage if it is to win; being behind, unless it is by a sizeable margin, does not yet mean the end of the story for Leave.

0430 – FAST DECLARATIONS

Now English Councils more favourable to Leave should be declaring in proportionately greater numbers – Leave-leaning bellwethers include Lancaster [E], Portsmouth [E], Derbyshire Dales [E] and the biggest of all Birmingham [E].

Remain will find its lead being eaten into at this stage, but will hope to hold on in bellwethers such as Harrogate [E], the Vale of Glamorgan [W] and Lewes [E].

Wiltshire [E] is a big, mixed rural and urban area declaring about now too – if it is for Remain, it is almost certain to win.

0530 – CLARIFYING DECLARATIONS

Unless it is very close, we should have an idea now.

If it is very close, Leave would want to be winning bellwethers declaring now such as Tewkesbury [E], Cotswold [E] and Cheshire West & Chester [E].

Remain would be hanging on to a lead and hoping to increase it narrowly in bellwethers such as South Oxfordshire [E] and Amber Valley [E].

0630 – FINAL DECLARATIONS

By now, Remain would hope to have been declared the winner; Leave would hope to be ahead (the votes to come should still favour it, however). If neither of these is the case, it is very very close.

If clinging on, Remain would need to win bellwethers such as Rutland [E] and Windsor & Maidenhead [E]; unless there are marked regional discrepancies, places like Leicester [E] and Bristol [E] should add to any lead.

Leave still has good places to come but would need to close the gap narrowly in places like Harborough [E] and Cheshire East [E], while closing it considerably in places like Wealden [E] and and East Lindsey [E].

0730 – RESULT

About now, if all has gone to plan, we should have the full result. There are no recounts and just being one vote ahead across the UK and Gibraltar suffices for victory.

Let the ramifications begin…!

UK Devolved Governments

SCOTLAND

SNP minority government (63/129 seats)

Cabinet Secretaries:

  • First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP (SNP)
  • Education (& Deputy First Minister) John Swinney MSP (SNP)
  • Communities Angela Constance MSP (SNP)
  • Culture & External Affairs Fiona Hyslop MSP (SNP)
  • Economy Keith Brown MSP (SNP)
  • Environment Roseanna Cunningham MSP (SNP)
  • Finance & the Constitution Derek Mackay MSP (SNP)
  • Health & Sport Shona Robison MSP (SNP)
  • Justice Michael Matheson MSP (SNP)
  • Rural Economy & Connectivity Fergus Ewing MSP (SNP)

WALES

Lab/LD coalition government (30/60 seats)

Cabinet Secretaries:

  • First Minister Carwyn Jones (Lab)
  • Leader of the House Jane Hutt (Lab)
  • Communities & Children Carl Sargeant (Lab)
  • Economy & Infrastructure Ken Skates (Lab)
  • Education Kirsty Williams (LD)
  • Environment & Rural Affairs Leslie Griffiths (Lab)
  • Finance & Local Government Mark Drakeford (Lab)
  • Health, Wellbeing & Sport Vaughan Gething (Lab)
  • Lifelong Learning Alun Davies (Lab)
  • Skills & Science Julie James (Lab)
  • Social Services Rebecca Evans (Lab)

NORTHERN IRELAND

DUP/SF/Ind power-sharing executive (67/108 seats)

Ministers:

  • First Minister Arlene Foster (DUP)
  • Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (SF)
  • Agriculture & Environment Michelle McIlveen (DUP)
  • Communities Paul Givan (DUP)
  • Economy Simon Hamilton (DUP)
  • Education Peter Weir (DUP)
  • Finance Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (SF)
  • Health Michelle O’Neill (SF)
  • Infrastructure Chris Hazzard (SF)
  • Justice Claire Sugden (Ind)

Latest Offer: Analysis of new Stormont institutions

Stormont has 33 new MLAs and a cross-community opposition for the first time ever.

What does this mean for you, for your organisation, and for your campaign goals?

Breakfast, lunchtime and tea-time briefings with our Chair and one of Northern Ireland’s foremost political analysts, Ian James Parsley, are selling quickly!

Priced at just £195 and available to groups of any size, just contact us below, or via chairman<at>ultonia.com or 07956045764, to arrange.

Stormont Opposition

A full official opposition, under the terms of the Assembly and Executive Reform Act 2016, will now be formed in the Northern Ireland Assembly for the current five-year term.

It will be the first official cross-community opposition to a cross-community government in the history of Northern Ireland.

Executive

The seven Executive Departments except Justice will be allocated four to the DUP and three to Sinn Féin. There is already a DUP First Minister and Sinn Féin deputy First Minister in the renamed Executive Office. The Justice Ministry will be filled by cross-community vote, but terms have not been met for the Alliance Party to continue to fill it (the likeliest outcome is a DUP Minister, in return for some deal on policy or ministry with Sinn Féin).

Opposition

The Ulster Unionists will nominate the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, have first question at Executive Office question time, and their leader will be referred to in common parlance (though not in fact officially) as “Leader of the Opposition”.

The SDLP will nominate Deputy Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, have second question at Executive Office question time, and its leader will no doubt be seen as “deputy Leader of the Opposition”.

Research funds will be made available, but largely at the bequest of the Executive, so these may not be significant.

Non-qualifying parties

The Alliance Party fell one seat short of qualifying for the official opposition but would have been deprived of most of its benefits anyway, given that two larger parties are already in it. It will have no official status beyond that of an Assembly group.

The Greens and People before Profit have limited rights as groups also (their speaking rights are in that order, in line with overall first preference vote).

Practice

The practical outcome of this is still to be determined.

The Ulster Unionists’ early response to the SDLP’s opting out of the Executive was to welcome it warmly, implicitly offering cooperation. The SDLP seems somewhat cooler about such a prospect, suggesting each party will operate wholly independently.

It is noteworthy that every constituency in Northern Ireland is represented by either an Ulster Unionist or SDLP MLA (and some have both, of course). However their combined strength, no matter how calculated, is still only equal to Sinn Féin alone and considerably less than the DUP alone.

Add in the Alliance Party and the “opposition coalition” would become bigger than Sinn Féin, and also than DUP on first preference vote share (though not on seats). However, a formal arrangement of this kind is surely unlikely.

Majority

For all this, the DUP and Sinn Féin still have 53% of the first preference vote and 61% of the seats between them. Throw in that the DUP can raise a Petition of Concern on their own and Sinn Féin only need the Greens or People before Profit for one, and they can in effect put through anything acting jointly or block anything acting (almost) alone. This was the case during the last Assembly term, so the main change of having an opposition is that this majority (and gridlock mechanism) will become more visible to the public.

The political challenge is for the Executive parties not to come to look too cosy but to prove they can deliver in cooperation with each other. The challenge for the opposition will be to demonstrate they are a serious alternative. Both of those are significant challenges.

Obstacles

The first obstacle, which will become notably obvious towards the end of this calendar year, will be what is commonly termed “austerity”, i.e. the real-terms reduction in public spending available for day-to-day services while delivering “mitigation” from welfare reform from devolved funds.

A second obvious obstacle will be corporation tax reduction. It seems almost impossible that Sinn Féin will be able to stand over this politically. Watch for it to be played off against welfare mitigation politically, but this is not going to work financially.

There is also the potential for a new relationship with the European Union.

Further difficulties over the next three election-less years will include Health Reform, reductions in basic funding for street maintenance and similar services, and public sector redundancy and pensions. There is scant evidence the new Executive is prepared for any of these.

This is all before the unforeseeable events that can always shake a system which is still somewhat flimsy. Interesting, but also challenging, times ahead.

Why has “Remain” taken referendum lead?

The odds, which are often more accurate than the polls because they show the “wisdom of the crowds”, had been shifting slowly but clearly towards the “Remain” side in the UK’s forthcoming referendum on EU membership even before three polls yesterday showed a marked shift in that same direction.

Why would this be?

In fact, our suggestion would be that the shift has happened almost entirely in England, and it has happened in such a way that in fact the referendum result in each of the four countries of the UK could end up much more similar across all four than many had assumed. (The commonly stated assumption has been that Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales would vote heavily “Remain” while England may vote marginally “Leave” – though in fact all the evidence has been that Wales will vote much more in line with England than with Scotland.)

Very little attention has been paid to the reason for the shift, but our suggestion is that it has happened mainly among Conservative voters and has to do with their increasingly being persuaded of the case that the UK will have more global influence of it remains part of the EU (this view was already widely accepted among the population according to previous surveys and polls, but it had not previously had much effect on voting intention).

There is another possible reason. A peculiarity of referendums in the UK, perhaps a result of its electoral system and naturally quite personality-focused political coverage, is that politicians rather than ideas remain central to each case. It is quite possible that some prominent “Leave” campaigners are actually making the campaign toxic. Our analysis does not particularly show this, but reliable commentators are beginning to suggest it.

Yesterday was probably the most interesting day of the campaign, resulting even in a marked rise in Sterling in the currency markets. But it is not over yet – there will be other interesting days to come!

UK Elections 2016

The UK goes to the polls on 5 May for a set of elections which are closest to ‘mid-term elections’ in scale, even though (with the exception of London) they now always fall just one year after the General Election.

London

London elects its Mayor, via a top-two instant run-off system, and its 25-member Assembly by Mixed Member Proportional Representation (14 from single-member constituencies and 11 via “top-up” to make the outcome roughly proportional by party) for a four-year term.

In scale, these are the most significant elections taking place on the day – London’s population alone now exceeds Scotland’s and Wales’ combined.

However, it will have little influence on various Leaders’ political future because London is now so politically exceptional – it was the only part of the UK to show a clear swing to Labour last year and is of course home to its new Leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Sadiq Khan is expected to regain the Mayorality for Labour, by 10-20 points. Labour already began to make gains in the Assembly last time out, and may expect to add one or two more.

Scotland

Scotland elects its 129-member Parliament by Mixed Member Proportional Representation (73 by single-member constituency and 56 by regional top-up in line with regional party strength) for a five-year term. The Parliament elects a First Minister, who appoints a Cabinet.

Scotland is politically exceptional, having come within half a million votes of outright independence in 2014. Nevertheless, it was Labour’s losses in Scotland which delivered such a crushing overall defeat in last year’s UK General Election, so it would hope to gain some ground to show at least a hint of revival.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) enjoyed a stunning victory in 2011, securing an almost incredible absolute majority of nine. It is expected to retain this, and perhaps even increase it slightly.

Labour will likely be disappointed. There is even the potential, with the rise of the Greens on the regional party vote and a Conservative recovery, for Labour to end up third behind the Conservatives.

Wales

Wales elects its 60-member Assembly by Mixed Member Proportional Representation (40 by single-member constituency and 20 by regional top-up in line with regional party strength) for a five-year term. The Assembly elects a First Minister, who appoints a Cabinet.

It also elects its Police Commissioners.

Wales is a significant test for Labour, who declined here at the last UK General Election last year.

UKIP is the big imponderable, having outpolled Plaid in Wales in the UK General Election last year despite winning no seats. It, Plaid and the Conservatives are all polling roughly evenly, with Plaid probably just favourites to emerge second.

Labour, meanwhile, is struggling to maintain the 30 seats which enable it to form a single-party government. It is likely that it will have to form a coalition with Plaid, regardless of who finishes second, to stay in office.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland elects its 108-member Assembly by Single Transferable Vote (from 18 six-member constituencies). The largest party appoints the First Minister and the largest party in the largest other designation (pro-British “Unionist”, pro-Irish “Nationalist” or “Other”) appoints the deputy First Minister, who is equal in stature. Parties are then offered seats in its Executive (Cabinet) in line with party strengths in the Assembly, but are no longer effectively obliged to accept them.

Although four parties form the current Executive, in effect the largest party in each main designation is dominant – meaning the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The complex electoral system means it is impossible to predict the outcome for sure. However, the Ulster Unionists and Alliance seem set to pick up some seats on the margins at the expense of the DUP and SDLP.

UK-wide, this will make little difference.

England

English voters will elect their Police Commissioners and many will also elect their local Councils.

This is a significant test for Labour after its surprise UK General Election defeat. Further losses seem possible, which would render any sort of comeback before the next UK General Election very difficult.

It is possible these will be the last elections David Cameron faces as Conservative Leader. Some gains, from what was already a strong position for an incumbent government, would ease the pressure a little.

COURSE: Social Media

Social Media – An Introduction

An introduction to how to use social media – including managing accounts, setting up blogs, and linking them to your email and other online work.

Sign up here: http://knock.qub.ac.uk/ecommerce/oltransactions/product_info.php?cPath=116&products_id=183524

FREE: Training on Electoral System

Aimed primarily at journalists and commentators, but also of use to campaigners, we are offer free advice on the Electoral System in Ireland and Northern Ireland as used in Dáil and Stormont elections as well as European and Local Council elections across the Island.

Particularly in Northern Ireland, analysis of likely electoral outcomes, even during the count itself, is harmed by misunderstandings about how the Single Transferable Vote system actually works.

Just drop us a note below, a tweet to @UltoniaComms or an email to info-at-ultonia.com to set up a free bespoke briefing!