The Queen’s Speech was somewhat anti-climactic. There was a distinct lack of, or lack of detail on, supply-side measures needed to enhance our economic growth rate. These events are always suitably vague, so this was largely to be expected. But the Speech seemed to lack a coherent vision or theme around which the Coalition partners will rally.
What’s needed now is for the Government to use the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to get serious about deregulation and repealing unnecessary legislation, especially for small businesses. This should include reform of employment legislation and the recommendations of the Beecroft report. Unfortunately, the emphasis on being family-friendly will, in some areas, directly contradict this liberalisation. Flexible parental leave, for example, is unlikely to be popular with many employers. In other areas, such as tax reform, planning, infrastructure and energy policy, it’s a case of wait and hope.
Though there wasn’t anywhere near enough in the way of growth bills, it was welcoming to see the Government highlight the need to see through pensions reform. Finalising the creation of the single tier pension is a sensible step. This should be undertaken as soon as possible to put the Government in a better bargaining position with the public sector trade unions on pensioner poverty. The decision to continue with the 10 year period of protection for public sector employees approaching retirement will, however, eliminate much in the way of any early cash savings from public sector pensions reform.
A few other observations:
- It is very disappointing that the Government at least paid lip-service to pursuing Lords reform. Voters have shown their contempt for attempted constitutional reform in both the recent AV and elected mayors referenda. Lords reform will prove a major distraction and could prove deeply divisive within the Coalition. The policy seems to be based purely on a desire for an elected chamber, with little thought being given to the powers of the new chamber or its relationship with the Commons.
- Reform of banking sector regulation should not be rushed at a time of tight credit to small businesses. A greater priority is enhancing competition and encouraging new bank entry.
- The Government is right to attempt to speed up care proceedings and reform the adoption service – we owe it to children to make these processes more effective.
Overall, there were some welcome components of the speech, in particular on pensions reform and children’s policy. But this is somewhat overshadowed by the glaring lack of an overall coherent vision, including bold economic reforms which could assist the sluggish recovery. This very much had the feel of the Government trying to ‘play it safe’. But in the Lords Reform Bill, there remains the potential for an almighty rift within the heart of the Coalition.