The Queen’s Speech 2015 and what it means for us.

The first Queen’s Speech of the new Conservative government was delivered on 27 May 2015. The speech proposes a total of 25 Bills and 1 Draft Bill, which outline the legislative program for the government.

With all the political PR surrounding any Queen’s Speech, it is hard to work out what it means, not only for citizens, but how it will impact on local government, like Cornwall Council. The key announcements relevant to local government within the Queen’s Speech are summarised below. However, there is so much of it, it will take a while for it to be clear on what it means for you and I

Enterprise Bill

The main item of interest in this Bill is the government commitment to improve the business rates system ahead of the 2017 revaluation. In addition to aiming to removing regulation for Small Businesses, the Bill also covers:

  • A cap on the redundancy payments made to public sector workers to six figures for the highest earners.
  • Business Rates appeals reform, including modifying the Valuation Tribunal powers to consider rate payer appeals and allowing the Valuation Office Agency to share information with local government.

The latter proposal should give local authorities a more formal role in the valuation and appeals process.

Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill

The Bill is designed to achieve full employment. The aim is for two million more jobs and three million new apprenticeships to be created, with Ministers being required to report annually to Parliament on their progress in these areas.

The legislation will also implement a planned reduction on the welfare cap for non-working families – from £26,000 to £23,000, and a freeze on working-age benefits, tax credit and child benefit for two years. Pensioners are protected, as are benefits relating to the additional costs of disability. Statutory payments, such as Statutory Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay are exempt.

As part of the welfare reforms, young people will be required to “earn or learn”, with automatic entitlement to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds removed.

The Secretary of State is also to report annually on progress of the Troubled Families programme. In order that this duty is fulfilled, public bodies will be required to provide the necessary information. For more information on how Cornwall did on the first phase of Troubled Families click HERE.

Personal Allowance

There is a commitment to raise the personal allowance to £12,500 before 2020, with an additional guarantee that those working 30 hours per week at the national minimum wage will pay no income tax. My worry with this ‘announcement’ is it could be long-time before it is implemented.

National Insurance Contributions and Finance Bill

The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that:

  • There are no rises in income tax rates, VAT rates or National Insurance Contributions (NICs) rates for individuals, employees or employers before 2020.
  • There is no extension to the scope of VAT.
  • The National Insurance Contributions upper earnings limit is no higher than the income tax higher rate threshold.

Housing Bill

This Bill aims to help improve home ownership and housing supply through:

  • Extending the Right to Buy levels of discount to 1.3 million housing association tenants in England.
  • Requiring local authorities to dispose of high value vacant council houses (with the government’s intention being that the proceeds would help fund the right to buy extension discounts and the building of more affordable homes within authorities).
  • Making 200,000 starter homes available to the under 40s at a 20% discount.
  • To take forward the “Right to Build” scheme that will require local planning authorities to support custom and self-builders registered in their area in identifying suitable plots of land to build or commission their own home.
  • To introduce a statutory register for brownfield land (with the intention of getting Local Development Orders in place on 90% of suitable brownfield sites by 2020).
  • To simplify and speed up the neighbourhood planning system.

Energy Bill

Measures will be introduced to “increase energy security” and ensure there will be “affordable and reliable energy for businesses and families”.

In addition to forming an Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) (that will take over some of the existing powers from the Secretary of State), this Bill proposes that large onshore wind farms (over 50MW) will no longer require the consent of the Secretary of State. This would mean that the local planning authority would now have these powers.

Trade Unions Bill

In order to “protect essential public services against strikes”, the government proposes:

  • The introduction of a 50% voting threshold for union ballot turnouts.
  • For certain public services (health, education, fire, transport), an additional requirement that 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of industrial action.

Extremism Bill

In addition to granting additional powers to the Secretary of State (to ban extremist groups) and law enforcement (to stop individuals engaging in extremist behaviour), the Bill also provides a new power for law enforcement and local authorities to close down premises used to support extremism.

Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill

The Bill provides the legislative framework necessary to deliver the Greater Manchester deal and other future deals, both in large cities which choose to have elected mayors and in other places.

The provisions in the Bill would be generic (to be applied by order to specified combined authorities and their areas) and would enable:

  • An elected mayor for the combined authority’s area who would exercise specified functions and chair the authority.
  • The mayor to undertake the functions of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for the area.
  • Remove the current statutory limitation on its functions (currently these are limited to those on economic development, regeneration, and transport).
  • Enable local authority governance to be streamlined as agreed by councils.

Buses Bill

This Bill would provide the option for combined authority areas with directly elected mayors to be responsible for the running of their local bus services.

Policing Criminal Justice Bill

In addition to a number of Police related reforms, the Bill will also, subject to public consultation, look to improve protection for children, either through amending current duties, introducing a criminal offence of ‘wilful neglect’ or introducing a mandatory reporting scheme.

Psychoactive Substance Bill

The Bill will prohibit and disrupt the production, distribution, sale and supply of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in the UK. The new legislative powers of the Bill include the provision for civil sanctions – prohibition notices and prohibition orders– to enable the police and local authorities to adopt a proportionate response to the supply of NPS in appropriate cases.

Education and Adoption Bill

The education parts of this Bill will:

  • Give Regional Schools Commissioners powers to bring in leadership support from other excellent schools and heads and speed up the process of turning schools into academies.
  • Remove barriers to schools, with inadequate Ofsted judgements becoming academies.
  • Create a new “coasting” definition for schools, having “shown a prolonged period of mediocre performance and insufficient pupil progress”, eligible for academisation.

The parts of the Bill relevant to Adoption will allow the Secretary of State to direct one or more named local authorities to make arrangements for any or all of their adoption functions to be carried out on their behalf by one of the local authorities named or by another agency. The government has explained this to mean that the Secretary of State can direct a number of local authorities to have certain adoption functions carried out on their behalf in order to create regional adoption agencies.

The functions that could be transferred relate to recruitment, assessment and approval of prospective adopters; decisions about which prospective adopters a child should be matched with; and the provision of adoption support services.

Childcare Bill

This Bill proposes to increase free childcare for three and four-year olds from the existing 15 hours per week (over 38 weeks) to 30 hours.

Local authorities will also have a new requirement to publish information about the provision of childcare in their area, and other services or facilities which might be of benefit to parents or prospective parents, or children or young persons in their area.

Public Service Ombudsman Bill (Draft)

This Bill creates an overarching Public Service Ombudsman organisation, which would include the functions of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Local Government Ombudsman and, potentially, the Housing Ombudsman. The new Ombudsman will be an independent body and directly accountable to Parliament.

The policy development and future legislation of this draft Bill are subject to the responses from the current consultation on the proposal to create a single Public Service Ombudsman (launched 25th March 2015 / closes on 16th June).

European Referendum Bill

The British people will be given their first chance since 1975 to decide on Britain’s membership of the EU under the terms of the European Referendum Bill. This will pave the way for an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership that will have to be held by the end of 2017. Such a change, especially if the UK decides to leave, will have profound social, political and economic effects on the UK public sector. For meI really welcome this Bill. It is a long-time coming and it is right the people of the UK have a say on this. The EU has changed almost beyond recognition from 1975, so it is right we have a say.

The complete list of Bills is provided below:

  • EU Referendum Bill
  • Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill
  • Enterprise Bill
  • National Insurance Contributions and Finance Bill
  • Childcare Bill
  • Housing Bill
  • Energy Bill
  • Immigration Bill
  • Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill
  • HS2 Bill
  • Scotland Bill
  • Wales Bill
  • Northern Ireland Bill
  • Psychoactive Substance Bill
  • Extremism Bill
  • Investigatory Powers Bill
  • Policing and Criminal Justice Bill
  • Trade Unions Bill
  • Education and Adoption Bill
  • Armed Forces Bill
  • Bank of England Bill
  • Charities (Protection and Social Investment Bill)
  • Votes for Life Bill
  • European Union (Finance) Bill
  • Buses Bill
  • Public Service Ombudsman Bill

The next big event will be the Emergency Budget on 8th July. The political reasoning for the second budget is fairly clear as there is pressure for the Government to explain how it will achieve the £12bn in welfare savings (to date around only £2bn of the welfare savings has been announced) and a further £5bn in tax avoidance. Whilst the chancellor has given a broad outline of his plans for the budget, he has not yet provided any further details – although some of the proposals within the Queen’s Speech give an indication of the likely direction.

This is the real worrying part of the speech, and one that is likely to impact on Cornwall Council and the services it provides.

Thanks go to the finance dept at CC for making sense of the Queen’s Speech and providing the information.