While some of the age old traditions were maintained – including my personal favourite of one MP (this year Marcus Jones) being held hostage at Buckingham Palace – this year’s State Opening of Parliament lacked some of the pomp and ceremony we’re accustomed to.
The last Queen’s Speech, back in 2019, was supposed to herald a positive, forward-looking agenda that would make the most of the opportunities of Brexit, tackle issues of fire and building safety and the environment, and be tough on perpetrators of crimes. Just three months later we were in lockdown. With the vast changes to society caused by the pandemic – and the impacts that it has had on livelihoods, the health service, job, and human life – this Queen’s Speech is designed to get things back into gear. To achieve the grand vision of an ambitious Conservative Government led by a Prime Minister who likes to splash the cash and will want to do so to secure those political gains he has made in 2019 and in the elections this year.
There were 28 Bills in total, covering everything from levelling up and planning to voter ID and job creation. We can’t cover them all, but here are our top 5 takeaways for what this Queen’s Speech tells us about the next couple of years.
Recovery from the pandemic will dominate the rest of 2021:
There is no doubt that the pandemic has had a significant impact on the economy, and on jobs. The most recent figures show that there are still around 4 million people on furlough, and for some sectors there are sadly still redundancies to come. Helping people to reskill is therefore at the heart of the Queen’s Speech, with the Government bringing forward a ‘skills revolution’ which will include a “lifetime skills guarantee” that includes a flexible loan to provide the equivalent of up to four years’ study and can be used for full-time or part-time courses at any point in someone’s lifetime.
How businesses adapt to the changes on skills will be key to this success – and they are set to play a role here by working with local FE colleges and training providers to create a Skills Accelerator programme. Businesses regularly look for a degree-level qualification in applications, and very often transferrable skills are great on paper but employers would rather take the safer option of hiring someone with existing experience in that field. With the rise of hybrid working, and the likelihood of a labour market that now includes people looking to retrain and switch careers, there will be significant opportunities for businesses to hire innovatively and from across the country.
Planning reforms are key to levelling up:
The age old question of whether the planning system is actually to blame for the housing supply crisis will never truly die, but it’s fair to say most remain uncertain about whether the Government’s Planning for the Future White Paper last year is the solution. Expect there to be some ‘watering down’ of the proposals when the Planning Reform Bill enters the House of Commons later this year for what we understand is expected to be a 12-18 month journey through Parliament. It is likely that the pressures from the growing number of Tory councillors – many of whom will have taken more development-sceptic stances in their campaigns – and backbench MPs in areas with significant amounts of green belt will see further changes to proposals. Likewise, how the planning reforms respond to the exodus from London and cities caused by the pandemic, and the changing demands from people about what they want from their homes, will also need to be taken into account. Expect the debate on planning reform to rumble on for years to come.
A mixed bag for housing:
While the Queen’s Speech announced that there would be a new Building Safety Regulator to “the tragedies of the past are never repeated”, the question on who will pay for immediate safety works remains up in the air. Meanwhile, it’s a mixed bag on progress of previously announced measures to protect renters and leaseholders, with the Renters Reform Bill announced in 2019 being demoted to a White Paper this time around. There will, however, will be a Bill to outlaw ground rent for leasehold flat owners.
No one has a clue about what to do with adult social care:
In an alternative version of history where the pandemic never happened it’s entirely possible that Boris Johnson’s promise in his first speech as Prime Minister to tackle the social care funding crisis would have been met, or at least be underway. However, today’s Queen’s Speech included just nine words on the Government’s intention to reform social care, barely any more information about what the Government’s plan is on social care than the 2019 Queen’s Speech did.
With the pandemic (hopefully) drawing to a conclusion, and the bandwidth at the Department of Health and Social Care soon to expand, there will soon be no more excuses for why a fully-workable plan has not been introduced beyond the Treasury’s protestations. The solution for many, proposals set out for a cap on care costs by Sir Andrew Dilnot back in 2011, is already there and has previously already been put into law (Care Act 2014) but shelved by David Cameron. It’s a challenging matter, of course, but it’s one that will have serious ramifications on local government, poverty levels and health inequality if it is not tackled soon.
Little on the environment and climate change:
Alongside levelling up we know that the biggest priority of this Government’s agenda is environment and sustainability – especially with COP26 in November. Yet the Queen’s Speech was remarkably light on green measures beyond the Environment Bill, which is already part way through its parliamentary journey, and a few new animal welfare Bills. In fact there is more in there on elections than there is on tackling climate change. As our own polling this month shows, 58% of the public think that getting to net zero should be the Government’s priority, so the fact that there is little here to work to that is surprising. Her Majesty promised that “My government will invest in new green industries to create jobs while protecting the environment”, so expect further interventions this year through the forthcoming Net Zero Review and Strategy, as well as the Heating and Buildings Strategy.
If you would like to discuss this topic further then please do not hesitate to get in contact with David Button.