Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce
What is the Queen’s Speech?
The Queen’s Speech is the focal point of the State Opening of Parliament and marks the start of the Parliamentary year. The Speech is delivered with great ceremony and remains a symbolic reminder of the unity of the Sovereign, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It is written by the Government and is traditionally an opportunity for new ministers to announce new legislation prioritised for parliamentary approval in the coming year.
How will the Queen’s Speech affect my business?
Some of the Government priorities announced in the Queen’s Speech will have direct implications for the business community, while others are less likely to have significant effects for businesses. The Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce have therefore identified the most relevant points as such:
Education and Skills
The government restated plans to introduce a new "flexible loan" system, often referred to as the lifelong skills guarantee, designed to promote wider participation in further education in England with a new Education Bill. This follows discussion of a lifelong loan entitlement in the Government’s further education White Paper, Skills for Jobs: Lifelong Learning for Opportunity and Growth, published in January.
The speech also announced that measures will be brought forward to ensure that children have the best start in life, prioritising their early years, and that Ministers will seek to address lost learning during the pandemic to ensure every child has a high quality education and is able to fulfil their potential.
Further, a Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will place new legal duties on students' unions and universities in England to ensure free speech on campuses.
The speech set out government plans to increase support for veterans.
This will include an Armed Forces Bill (carried over from the previous parliamentary session), putting the Armed Forces Covenant into law.
Following the announcement in the 2020 budget, her Majesty also reiterated further plans to “introduce a National Insurance holiday for employers of veterans in their first year of civilian employment.” This relief would exempt employers from paying employer NICs on the veteran’s salary, up to the ‘Upper Earnings Limit’. HMRC has confirmed the relief will be available from April 2021. For 2021/22 employers have been advised to pay the associated secondary Class 1 National Insurance Contributions (NICs) as normal, and then claim it back retrospectively. From April 2022 they will be able to apply the relief in real time through PAYE.
Despite previous commitments, the speech noticeably failed to announce a new Employment Bill which would seek to improve people’s rights at work.
The Speech referred to continued investment in green industry and associated jobs, with a focus on the UK being a global green leader on the journey to achieving the net zero greenhouse gas emissions target of 2050. Through hosting COP 26 and prioritising the Environment Bill the UK can accelerate action towards net zero locally, regionally and nationally.
COP 26 is an international conference where global leaders meet to agree on further actions to tackle climate change this November. The international spotlight will be directed to the UK for examples of climate action, so there is an opportunity for businesses to showcase their leadership. Further policy changes will likely come from COP 26 agreements. This may include changes to legislation and support, but will also increase stakeholder expectations on environmental performance.
The Environmental Bill will set a framework for long-term legally binding targets for the UK post-Brexit. These will cover air quality, water, biodiversity, resource efficiency and waste reduction. It should come into effect in October 2022. As a result, there are likely to be further national policy initiatives addressing these issues. This Bill at present will give local powers to tackle air pollution (i.e. recall of vehicles not meeting emissions standards), require a biodiversity net gain (10%) for new developments, increase responsibility on producers for the waste they create and include measures to stop importing products linked to deforestation. This means that businesses must start to adapt their operations to improve their environmental performance under the key areas covered in the Environmental Bill, to prevent reputational, financial and supply chain repercussions.
Infrastructure and Transport
A focus on investing and improving infrastructure and connectivity of bus and rail was highlighted. This would be achieved through the High-Speed Rail Bill (with a particular focus on Phase 2A of HS2) and builds on the Governments levelling up agenda. The movement of this Bill will help improve the flow of people between Birmingham and Manchester, strengthening economic ties between regions.
Digital infrastructure will be extended (through the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill), including increased 5G coverage and high gigabit broadband. This Bill stipulates new legal duties on telecom firms to increase UK network security, a Government ability to remove high risk vendors and increased monitoring of network security by Ofcom. This is backed up by serious financial penalties for firms who do not comply. Therefore, this movement helps tackle the increasing issue of cybersecurity and poor connectivity strength between locations, which have been highlighted by increased flexible and remote working as a result of the pandemic.
Research and innovation will see the fastest ever increase in public funding via the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill. In addition, an Advanced Research Agency will have the powers to take an innovative and flexible approach to funding cutting-edge science and technology. This includes ground-breaking discoveries, and freedom to invest at unprecedented speeds, taking a high-risk, high-reward approach to scientific research. This will help establish and concrete the UK as a global leader in innovation in light of recent successes in developing coronavirus vaccinations. As the UK recovers from the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit, increased innovation will come to the fore, especially if it is coupled with the UK’s green growth ambitions.
The speech referenced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2019-21, which will allow police new powers over protests and new, increased sentences for serious crimes. This bill has been carried over from the previous session of Parliament.
NHS and Social Care
The Queen’s Speech promised a continuation of the Coronavirus vaccine programme across the UK, and the provision of additional funding for NHS services. The speech additionally announced government plans to build on the success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme to lead the world in life sciences, pioneering new treatments against diseases like cancer and securing jobs and investment across the country.
Following a White Paper on Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all (published in February), the Speech also set out plans for a new Health and Care Bill to bolster NHS services. This legislation is intended to empower the NHS to innovate and embrace technology, and allow patients to receive more tailored and preventative care, closer to home. The new Bill is expected to deliver on proposals put forward for the NHS Long Term Plan, in which illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular disease are both top priorities.
It also announced that measures will be brought forward to support the health and wellbeing of the nation, including to tackle obesity and improve mental health.
Her Majesty’s speech said the government would bring forward measures to reform the operation of the social care system in England. However, notably absent was a commitment to introducing a specific bill to overhaul how the sector is funded.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity
Following the publication of a controversial report by the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities earlier this year, the speech said the government would be introducing measures to reduce racial and ethnic disparities across the UK.
Her Majesty additionally set out plans for a consultation on introducing a legal ban on so-called gay conversion therapy in England and Wales.
Following the White Paper Planning for the Future in August 2020, which proposed wide-ranging reform, arguing that the planning system in England was “outdated and ineffective” the Queen’s Speech announced a Planning Bill which is intends to introduce changes to the planning system in England, including plans around a new zoning system.
The speech also announced that a Building Safety Bill will set out a new system for regulating the safety of high-rise buildings and inspecting construction sites.
As expected, the speech additionally reiterated that a Bill in the forthcoming 2021-22 session will seek to end ground rents on new leasehold properties, and reaffirmed that the Government is committed to a Renters’ Reform Bill intended to enhance renters’ rights.
The Queen’s Speech referenced new legislation to overhaul the UK’s post-Brexit asylum system and discourage migrants from crossing the English Channel. Following several months of briefings, the Government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’ policy statement was published and announced in an oral statement to the House on 24 March 2021. The proposals in the policy statement are largely focused on Government concerns about the fairness and firmness of the asylum system, and the effectiveness of measures to deter illegal immigration and enforce removal decisions.
Voting, Fraud and Judicial Review
The speech referenced a Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill which, if passed, will remove the fixed five-year period between general elections and return the power to call early elections to the prime minister.
It also referenced a new Judicial Review Bill which will set out the Government's plans to change how its decisions can be challenged in the courts.
Her majesty’s speech further announced government plans to introduce an Electoral Integrity Bill to fulfil several manifesto commitments in relation to elections. It is expected the Bill will cover: overseas electors, intimidation of candidates and undue influence, voter ID, changes to absent voting arrangements and digital imprints for election campaign material.
Following a Law Commission report on Technical Issues in Charity Law, which included a draft Charities Bill, the Queen’s speech included government commitments to legislation which will support the voluntary sector by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and releasing additional funds for good causes.
Following the government’s green paper on reforming public procurement at the end of last year, the speech also announced plans to simplify procurement in the public sector.
Additionally, the Queen’s speech reaffirmed previous commitments for the United Kingdom to host the G7 Summit, and government aspirations to lead the global effort to secure a robust economic recovery from the pandemic. It also committed to deepen trade ties, specifically in the Gulf, Africa and the Indo-Pacific, and to continue to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering.
The speech also included maintained commitments to will upholding human rights and democracy across the world and taking forward global efforts to get 40 million girls across the world into school.
What is the GBCC position on the Queen’s Speech?
Whilst many of the headlines from today’s session have been trailed heavily for a number of months, the Queen’s Speech offered both reassurances around the Government’s intention to drive an economic recovery post Covid-19 but also a number of persistent questions on how this will actually be delivered. A fundamental pillar of realising the PM’s levelling up agenda rests upon connecting people to opportunities and it was pleasing to see the Government reaffirm it’s commitment to life long learning and retraining, pushing ahead with HS2, improving access to digital infrastructure along with greater investment in bus and rail networks.
The commitment to upskilling the workforce has never been more pressing given the scenario we find ourselves operating in, however, for the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to be truly effective, education providers will need greater capital funding in order to ensure the infrastructure is in place to deliver the scheme effectively.
As long term signatories of the Armed Forces Covenant, we were delighted to see it enshrined in law as we’ve witnessed first hand the important role the Armed Forces play in the region. The commitment to pressing ahead with the Environmental Bill was also welcome however, a number of questions remain over how businesses are expected to access the financial support they so desperately require in order to embark on their own net zero journey. We are also eager to understand what the long term changes to the public procurement system will entail – especially if they can help a greater number of SMEs access work on a more consistent basis.
The importance of eight new Freeports in driving regeneration has been much heralded yet there’s seems to have been scant reference around how the Government intends to support the wider aviation industry to get back on its feet – especially given the contribution that the likes of Birmingham Airport make to both jobs and GVA across the region as a whole. As we set out in our Keep Business Moving Report, businesses are still facing crippling cost pressures, large overheads, uncertainty over long term restrictions and unmanageable debts - it was disappointing to see a lack of reference to these elements in the Speech. Ultimately, it’s vital the Government tackles these issues as matter of urgency otherwise thousands of businesses face going to the wall over the next few months.
How can the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce help?
Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce works hard to campaign on behalf of members and represent their views to stakeholders. We will continue to champion the needs of business as we emerge from the Coronavirus pandemic.
For those businesses negatively impacted by the ongoing economic consequences of the pandemic, we would urge you to review the GBCC’s Coronavirus Update (here) and latest COVID-19 support Grid (here) for an overview of Government guidance and regulations, available support and best practice advice and guidance. This page also features the GBCC’s latest advocacy and lobby documents.
Businesses in Greater Birmingham should also ensure they take part in our Quarterly Business Report surveys so that we can continue to represent their views at local and national levels. For more information on our Quarterly Business Report click here.