Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce
What is the Queen’s Speech?
The Queen’s Speech marks the official State Opening of Parliament, where Her Majesty delivers a speech to begin the new session of Parliament and enable the Government to highlight its priorities for the coming months.
Many of the priorities announced in the Queen’s Speech – which was delivered by the Prince of Wales this year – will have a direct impact on the business community:
The Government reaffirmed their commitment to spreading opportunity across the United Kingdom and level up all corners of the country. The Government has promised to improve economic dynamism and innovation beyond the progress already made, which include a transport settlement for the West Midlands exceeding £1 billion, £46.3 million from the Towns Fund for two areas in the region, and almost £400 million from the Levelling Up Fund to improve local infrastructure across the Midlands.
A Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will be brought forward to ‘drive local growth, empower local leaders to regenerate their areas, and ensuring everyone can share’ in the country’s success. The Bill will lay the foundations for all of England to have the opportunity to benefit from a devolution deal by 2030; introduce a new approach to environmental assessment in our planning system; introduce a locally set, non-negotiable levy; simplify and standardise the process for local plans; set Levelling Up missions and produce an annual report on the delivery of these missions; and unlock new powers for local authorities to bring empty premises back into use.
Brexit and International Trade
An Electronic Trade Documents Bill will put electronic trade documents on the same legal footing as paper documents, removing the need for ‘wasteful paperwork and needless bureaucracy’. Businesses will be able to move from paper-based to digital-based transactions when buying and selling internationally, which will lower trade administration costs, increase traceability of documents, and increase efficiency for businesses.
Through the Brexit Freedoms Bill, the Government intends to ‘seize the opportunities of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union’. The Government has confirmed that ‘regulations on businesses will be repealed and reformed…[enabling] law inherited from the European Union to be more easily amended’.
The Government has committed to introducing legislation to enable the implementation of the United Kingdom’s first new Free Trade Agreements since leaving the European Union. This Bill will ensure that the United Kingdom can comply with the obligations in the Free Trade Agreements with both Australia and New Zealand when they come into force by making the necessary changes to the UK’s domestic procurement regulations.
People and Skills
The Government used the Queen’s Speech to reaffirm commitments to level up skills, with total Government investment in skills planned to reach £3.8 billion in England by 2024/5. A new Schools Bill intends to support schools to be part of strong trusts to improve school standards; ensure that funding is allocated to schools on a fair and consistent basis; strengthen the school attendance regime; and provide tools to improve safeguarding for children, including through ‘children not in school’ registers.
The Government’s investment in skills is expected to include the delivery of the previously announced Lifetime Skills Guarantee. The investment is intended to enable 11 million adults to gain an A Level or equivalent qualification for free, as well as introduce the Higher Education Bill’s Lifelong Loan Entitlement. The Lifelong Loan Entitlement will provide individuals with a flexible means of providing loan support equivalent to four years of post-18 study (£37,000 in today’s fees) for a wide range of post-18 study opportunities, including shorter and technical courses. In combination with apprenticeships, T-Levels and Higher Technical Qualifications, the Lifelong Loan Entitlement aims to make technical education more attractive and easier to obtain.
A Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will place new legal duties on English universities to ensure free speech on campuses.
The Government further used the Queen’s Speech to reaffirm their ambitions to encourage greater levels of private sector investment in employee training, both for apprentices and for employees more generally. The Government stated their intention to consider whether further intervention is needed to encourage employers to offer the high-quality employee training the UK needs. This will include examining whether the current tax system – including the operation of the Apprenticeship Levy – is doing enough to incentivise businesses to invest in the right kinds of training.
As the Kickstart Scheme comes to an end, the Government has pledged that young people will continue to be supported by the Department for Work and Pensions’ Youth Offer, which has been extended to 2025 and supports young job seekers on Universal Credit into work through its Youth Employment Programme, Youth Hubs, and Youth Employability coaches.
Transport, Infrastructure and Technology
The Transport Bill aims to provide the new ‘Great British Railways’ body with the powers it requires to overhaul the railway system. The body would be tasked with simplifying the railways in order to offer a more reliable service to passengers and playing an important part in decarbonising the transport network. As part of this process, contracting powers for passenger services would be transferred to the new body in a bid to improve reliability. The Transport Bill also referenced the need to ramp up the installation of more EV charge points throughout the country. Details were also released around the latest High Speed Two (HS2) Bill which provides the pre-requisite powers required to build and operate the next stage of the HS2 network between Crewe & Manchester.
The Procurement Bill expanded on plans to enshrine in law the core objectives of public procurement which focuses on maximising public benefit, treating suppliers without discrimination, and ultimately delivering value for money on all projects. The Government also reaffirmed its commitment to greater investment in infrastructure via the creation of the UK Infrastructure Bank, with the aim to invest £600 billion in public sector gross investment over the next five years.
The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill will improve cyber resilience and digital connectivity for citizens and businesses across the country, with a specific focus on improving the rollout of mobile and broadband networks in order to boost connectivity levels. As part of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, plans were drawn up to crack down on subscription traps whilst also strengthening protection for consumers. The Bill also gives the Competition and Markets Authority the power to decide for itself when consumer law has been broken.
The Energy Security Bill focussed on laying the groundwork for the introduction of new low-carbon technologies and growing the consumer market for electric heat pumps. In essence, the Bill aims to deliver the commitments made in the British Energy Security Strategy and the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, with the goal of building a more secure and home-grown energy system which is more affordable for the consumer, especially in light of recent inflationary shocks. New measures also include appointing Ofgem as the new regulator for heat networks and an extension of the energy price cap.
What is the Greater Birmingham Chambers position on the Queen’s Speech?
Although many of the measures have been trialled in previous set piece statements, the overall tone of the Speech was both ambitious and admirable. The Speech focused on growing the post-pandemic economy on core foundations such as sustainability, investment in infrastructure, technology and skills. Many businesses will be pleased with the ambition at the heart of the Speech; however, further questions will be raised around the practical ability to bring these radical ambitions to light – particularly in relation to the Levelling Up Agenda and maximising post-Brexit opportunities.
From a local perspective, the commitment to powering ahead with the next phase of HS2 and further devolution was welcomed: both elements will play an important part in strengthening the region’s post-pandemic recovery in the long term. In addition, measures related to re-skilling a changing workforce, a commitment to bolstering infrastructure spend, and reforming procurement laws were also welcomed. The key is to now speed up the delivery process to ensure businesses can grasp the opportunities on offer.
Nevertheless, as energy costs spiral and record levels of inflation continue to bite, the Speech did little to offset concerns around the ongoing impact of the cost-of-living crisis for businesses up and down the country. In line with the British Chambers of Commerce, we would urge the Government to act decisively and get a grip before these elements spiral out of control.
Reducing levels of VAT to stimulate consumer demand, re-introducing free lateral flow tests for businesses to alleviate labour market shortages, and reversing the recent rise in National Insurance contributions will help businesses manage the impact of rising energy prices and minimise cost pressures – especially as the energy price cap is due to go up in the coming months.
How can the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce help?
The Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce works hard to campaign on behalf of members and represent their views to stakeholders. As such, the Chamber will continue to gather reactions and views from members, and liaise with local and regional stakeholders to understand how the measures outlined in the Queen’s Speech will affect businesses in the Greater Birmingham business community.