PM targets economy, but little action on cost of living
Boris Johnson’s government today set out its aims to boost the economy but was criticised for failing to include in the Queen’s Speech any specific measures to tackle the cost of living crisis.
Prince Charles, making history by standing in for the Queen for the first time, opened his remarks by saying the government’s priority was to “grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living.”
But government critics said there was a glaring omission of any help for those struggling to cope with higher bills that will force many households into debt and threaten the viability of thousands of businesses.
Commenting on the government relying on its existing package of support, Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, said: “These measures will not touch the sides of people’s real struggles.”
Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Business and Industrial Strategy, repeated calls for a windfall tax on energy companies.
Pat McFadden, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, added: “Families need a government with a plan for the cost of living crisis and a plan for economic growth. Instead, we’ve got a Government devoid of ideas, and a Chancellor and Prime Minister who can’t even agree on the Emergency Budget the country sorely needs.”
New laws to strengthen the Brexit deal, privatise Channel 4 and improve digital and financial safety were among a packed legislative programme outlined by ministers along with more investigatory powers for Companies House to increase corporate transparency.
The speech did not set out new powers to rip up the Northern Ireland Protocol – which governs the distribution of goods across the Irish Sea – despite speculation that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has asked her department to draw up legislation.
Nor was there any mention of an employment bill to protect working rights, including flexible working. Plans for the bill were first announced by the government in 2019. Unions accused the government of “turning its back” on workers while industry groups said they were disappointed the bill had been omitted.
The government proposes some new laws which will have implications for the devolved nations, such as changes to business rates, planning, a new rail regulator and setting up an infrastructure bank.
The GMB Union said the UK Infrastructure Bank bill is “a great opportunity to stop UK renewables jobs going overseas.”
The union expects part of the bank’s statutory remit will be to ensure support for UK content and supply chains.
But there was concern at a lack of action to tackle immediate business concerns. Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Unless the Government takes immediate action on the economy, they will come too late to help many firms.
“An emergency budget is needed to provide firms with the breathing space they need to raise productivity and strengthen the economy.”
Other proposed legislation includes:
- A Levelling up and Regeneration Bill will give councils new planning powers, including to force landlords in England to let out empty shops to rejuvenate high streets
- A Brexit freedoms bill to sweep away EU red tape following Britain’s departure from the EU.
- A Public Order Bill will introduce new police powers over disruptive protests, which were blocked by the House of Lords earlier this year
- A Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill will give British ports powers to refuse ferry services that do not pay their crews the national minimum wage, after a row over P&O Ferries
- A new state-run agency to regulate railway services across the UK, Great British Railways, will be established by a Transport Bill
- Changes to business rates, the property tax paid by companies, will be introduced via a Non-Domestic Rating Bill
- There will be new legislation to set up the UK Infrastructure Bank, a body designed to increase financing of infrastructure projects
- An Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will beef up the investigatory powers of Companies House and aim to increase corporate transparency
- The Procurement Bill will replace EU rules on how the government buys services from the private sector
- The Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill will stop public bodies imposing their own boycotts on foreign countries
- The government will aim to increase competition among auditors and improve financial reporting in a draft Audit Reform Bill
- Ministers say a Financial Services and Markets Bill will aim to simplify EU rules governing the sector and will pave the way for the Payment Systems Regulator to force banks to compensate victims, with a mandatory reimbursement for anyone who is tricked into transferring their money to a fraudster. It will also It will ensure the continued availability of withdrawal and deposit facilities across the UK, and that the country’s cash infrastructure is sustainable for the long term.
- A Modern Slavery Bill will force companies with an annual turnover of more than £36m to publish a statement every year on the steps they are taking to prevent modern slavery among their suppliers
- The Online Safety Bill is a mammoth piece of legislation to deliver a government pledge to better regulate content appearing on the internet
- A new Media Bill will enable the planned privatisation of Channel 4, and allow Ofcom to regulate on-demand streaming services
- A Data Reform Bill will replace EU rules on data protection
- The Electronic Trade Documents Bill will enable greater digitisation of trade-related paperwork
- The Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill will extend 5G mobile coverage and introduce new safety standards for digital devices
- A draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill will aim to tackle fake consumer reviews and boost competition between social media firms