QUEEN’S SPEECH 2014 OVERVIEW The Queen’s Speech, the Coalition’s last stand according to Dennis Skinner, at just over 10 minutes was longer than expected and much longer than the famously brief 2009 Queen’s Speech [6.45mins], Gordon Brown’s last as Prime Minister, which David Cameron called the “most divisive, short-termist, shamelessly self-serving” Speech in living memory. However, this time around, the nature of Coalition Government prevented Cameron from creating similar legislative bear traps for the Opposition today. The coalition partners undertook an ambitious programme of reform in 2010, but have almost reached the limit of palatable policies that they can sell to MPs and members. The Conservative backbenches were desperate for a Bill today guaranteeing a referendum on EU membership in 2017, but this was dropped in the face of Liberal Democrat opposition, largely replaced with policies that draw on broad, inoffensive
themes, epitomised by the Heroism Bill, to protect have-a-go heroes from suffering under health and safety legislation. There is likely to be only some 4 months of sitting days in the 10 months life of the next Parliament, and the accusations of a “zombie parliament” have been well rehearsed. But the parties will be far from zombie-like outside the chamber. Both governing parties, unable to legislate for ‘differentiation’ as Gordon Brown did, are instead saving their best and most headline-grabbing policies for the autumn party conferences and the campaign trail.
POLITICAL REACTION David Cameron
THE HEADLINES PRIVATE PENSIONS BILL
“This Queen’s Speech is unashamedly pro-work, pro-business and pro-aspiration” Margaret Hodge MP
Chair of the Public Accounts Committee
“Government rhetoric on housing has not been translated into homes on the ground and new measures look like drop in ocean” John Allan
National Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses
“The Small Business Bill, announced today in the Queen’s Speech, reflects the growing recognition of the role small businesses have to play in driving forward the economy” Toby Perkins MP @tobyperkinsmp
Certainly some Tory cheering when Dennis Skinner quipped: “Coalition’s last stand”, Lib Dems just looked nauseous. Fraser Nelson
Editor, The Spectator
“Delighted that there is so little in today’s Queen’s Speech. The less parliament does, the better-off the rest of us are.”
The introduction of Dutch-style collective pensions has support from all three major parties – but could cause controversy with the industry. Combined with the changes announced in the Budget, some in the sector may be left feeling under siege.
SMALL BUSINESS, ENTERPRISE AND EMPLOYMENT BILL There is something for everyone in this wide-ranging bill: cuts to red tape are tempered by commitments to crack down on abuse of the minimum wage and zero hour contracts.
INFRASTRUCTURE BILL Possibly the most controversial legislation included, with mooted changes to trespass laws to boost fracking likely to cause trouble in Conservative heartlands.
THE ABSENCE OF AN EU REFERENDUM BILL The absence of an EU referendum Bill means that the Conservatives commitment to holding a referendum in 2017 is now uncertain. This could be a cause for backbench dissent, though clearly it was felt the Bill would be too divisive within the coalition.
Edelman | Southside | 105 Victoria Street | SW1E 6QT London | www.edelman.co.uk | 0203 047 2254 | @edelmanUK | 1
QUEEN’S SPEECH 2014 SECTOR PERSPECTIVES BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL SERVICES
TECHNOLOGY AND MEDIA
Despite far reaching changes for high street lenders and pension providers, there were few surprises today for those in the financial services. Confirmation that the Government’s far-reaching Small Business Bill seems likely to include measures that will compel banks to pass on customers who are turned down for credit to alternative lenders will disappoint many in the banking sector. And yet, with the Treasury anxious that a lack of credit may choke off the recovery and stunt growth among small businesses, further action to stimulate lending was inevitable. David Robertson
Following on from the wide-ranging changes to pensions announced in this year’s Budget, today has seen further radical change. Plans to legalise collective pension schemes, which contributed to a dip in Standard Life shares when trailed earlier this week, have seen the Coalition Government once again ignore industry concerns in favour of a measure that it expects to play well with the electorate. The Government’s willingness to press ahead with controversial but populist measures in the run up to a General Election is nothing new, but many in the financial services will be left wondering how long it will take for the sector to regain the political clout it boasted prior to the financial crisis.
INFRASTRUCTURE AND PROPERTY
While Labour have accused the Coalition of leading a ‘Zombie Parliament’ with little legislation left, this is to forget that the Conservatives actually want to legislate less. This plays out in built environment policy for 2014/5, with ‘Getting Government Out Of The Way’ a recurring theme.
Within the new Infrastructure Bill (the Coalition’s third major bill with ‘infrastructure’ in the title), the Government is ‘getting out of the way’ by easing planning restrictions on projects large and small. It is ‘getting out of the way’ by making the Highways Agency a government-owned company and it is ‘getting out of the way’ by allowing firms to frack beneath your house.
Light on policy compared against the frantic early days of the Coalition Government, this Queen’s Speech was notable for those in the technology and media sectors for what it did not include. Once again the Government’s long anticipated Communications Bill failed to materialise, although steps to reduce bureaucracy and red tape for smaller businesses will have been welcomed by the UK’s burgeoning Tech Startups.
The decision not to include a Communications Bill among those announced today will have disappointed many but surprised few. First trailed as far back as 2011, the Communications Bill was initially delayed by preparations for the Olympic Games and subsequently by the response to the controversy surrounding press regulation. Although not expected to be as sweeping as first envisioned, there was an expectation that today’s announcements would include steps to tackle the outdated and cumbersome legislation that continues to frustrate many technology and media companies. While the Coalition’s eagerness to embrace an “evolutionary” rather than “revolutionary” approach to supporting both the technology and media sectors will be welcomed by many, there remains a need for greater regulatory clarity if the unprecedented growth of these industries is to be maintained. The challenge of providing this would now appear to have been added to the daunting in-tray facing whoever emerges victorious from next May.
FOOD, DRINK AND RETAIL
The final Queen’s Speech of this Parliament was not expected to include significant new announcements and the Retail and Food and Drink industries will broadly support the Government’s approach to delivering a stable, relatively modest, legislative programme for the year ahead. Particularly warmly received will be a commitment to helping people with their childcare costs and to regularly report on progress in reducing regulation on business.
Keen to counter claims that it has fixed the demand side of housing but neglected supply, the Coalition is easing carbon emissions rules for smaller builders (a part of the sector whose credit crunch collapse is still hampering recovery).
Just as important as what’s included in the Queen’s Speech is what isn’t. The Government appears to have resisted political pressure to create new regulatory burdens in a number of different areas. The reforms to zero hour contracts and minimum wage enforcement will largely be considered proportionate and fair. The Modern Slavery Bill and provisions to encourage prompt payment of suppliers are both focused on working with business to make progress, rather than creating new, unfair regulatory burdens.
Two other property moves are designed to streamline the market: transferring more public land to the Homes and Communities Agency (to be sold for development) and transferring administration of local land charges to the Land Registry. The latter will make it easier to get information on a property with all data in one place, making homebuying easier. But, importantly, it also makes the Land Registry an even juicier prospect for any future buyer.
All in all, the Queen’s Speech will be considered with positive interest by the industry if not excitement. With the General Election on the horizon, the Retail and Food and Drink industries will be hoping that all three of the major political parties will be more ambitious in their support for one of the UK’s flagship industries. This includes making real progress on issues like Business Rates while simultaneously lowering the cost of employment and promoting investment in the market.
Edelman | Southside | 105 Victoria Street | SW1E 6QT London | www.edelman.co.uk | 0203 047 2254 | @edelmanUK | 2