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PM targets economy, but little action on cost of living

Hostilities on hold: Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer in conversation

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.”

Prince Charles opening parliament

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.

Kirsten Oswald: measures won’t help those who are struggling

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:

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