PLMR RESPONSE: QUEEN’S SPEECH 2013

PLMR

Written by the Government and delivered by the reigning Monarch, today’s Queen’s Speech outlined the Government’s legislative agenda for the coming Parliamentary year and formed the centrepiece of the annual State opening of Parliament.

The speech was delivered against the political backdrop of a poor showing for the Coalition partners in last week’s local elections and a surge in support for UKIP who won a record 147 seats. As a result, there had been speculation that last minute changes would be made to the Speech to try and win back support from right leaning voters.

It was interesting to note that on the day Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United, Prince Charles and Camilla were present at the Queen’s Speech for the first time ever. Is this a sign of a forthcoming Dutch style handover?

In a speech lasting just ten minutes, the Queen introduced 20 new Bills, including major reforms to the state pension, long-term care, and the immigration system. There were also Bills aimed at boosting the economy, with National Insurance exemptions for small businesses designed to increase employment. Meanwhile, the Government is pressing ahead with plans to deliver High Speed Rail 2, with the granting of a second round of funding and permission for the Government to make compulsory purchases of the land on the designated route.

What do all these changes mean? Our expert Team, who have cross party experience, have analysed the Speech from the perspective of the three main parties, as well as the Health & Social CareEducationPlanning and Legal sectors. An overview of all of the Bills introduced can be found online here.

James Ford, Senior Adviser

JAMES FORD: THE COALITION AT HALF-TIME: NO CHANGE IN TEAM STRATEGY

James Ford is a Senior Adviser at PLMR, as well as an Adviser to the Digital Chamber of Commerce at the London Chamber of Commerce. James was formerly an aide to Mayor of London Boris Johnson (2010-12), specialising in transport, environment and digital policy. Prior to joining City Hall he worked in the Square Mile as Public Affairs Manager for the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (2004-10).

In a move that will probably be interpreted as an effort to clip UKIP’s wings, immigration took centre stage in the Queen’s Speech today. Although the speech was written in advance of last week’s local elections, Conservative strategists had been anticipating the UKIP surge for several months (and certainly since the Eastleigh by-election). Coupled with measures on welfare reform, the Conservative’s objective is clearly to court popularity with blue-collar voters whilst simultaneously forcing Labour to make difficult, uncomfortable decisions.

With just 20 Bills named in the Queen’s Speech, and no real surprises amongst them, it is clear that the Government’s message is ‘steady as she goes’ on the economy rather than any suggestion of a change of direction or ‘re-launch’ for the Coalition. With the far-reaching proposals on social care, pensions and childcare costs, the devil is likely to be in the detail and these Bills are likely to be major battle grounds between the Government and Opposition over the coming months. However, if the Government can cut childcare costs, prevent people having to sell their homes to pay for care, and make progress on reforming pensions then they will have addressed popular concerns over the cost of living and have a compelling story to tell voters at the next election.

As is always the case with the Queen’s Speech, what is not announced is often as telling as the list of planned Bills that the Queen reads out. Over the remaining lifetime of this Government the Conservative leadership is likely to face sustained pressure from its own backbenchers to accelerate progress on the promised EU referendum in order to counter the growing threat UKIP poses. However, with the Lib Dems likely to veto any effort to legislate on the timing of a referendum it is hard to see how Number 10 can answer these calls. Dropping plans to legislate on both minimum alcohol pricing and plain packaging for cigarettes – however controversial – seem easy way to attempt to placate backbench disquiet. How effective this strategy will be remains to be seen.

Ros Trinick, Account Director

ROS TRINICK: THE “SAME OLD TORIES” CAVE IN TO THREAT FROM THE RIGHT

Ros Trinick is an Account Director at PLMR and leads one of PLMR’s Teams working on some of our most important health and social care, professional services, planning and ICT accounts.  In her private life she is a Member of the Labour Party most recently campaigning in Sheffield in the 2010 General Election.  She has also presented on community radio, appeared on Al Jazeera television commenting on PR, and spent time volunteering in Africa.

As they begin their reply from the Dispatch Box, we will no doubt hear claims from Ed Miliband and his Front-Bench Team that today’s Queen’s Speech represents “the same old Tories”.

Despite some bold statements from the Coalition on issues such as immigration and housing, the Queen’s Speech failed to address reform of the living wage, youth unemployment and how to kick-start the economy – all easy attack points for Miliband to exploit this afternoon.

There’s no doubt that having taken the current political temperature, the senior coalition partner was acutely aware of the threat from UKIP and their recent successes in the local elections.  Certain issues included in the Queen’s Speech, such as the Immigration Bill, proposed restrictions to accessing care from the NHS and welfare for EU migrants are a clear indication of the Coalition’s fear of losing a proportion of their vote to Nigel Farage’s ascendant Euro-sceptic party.

When thousands of young people in the country are long-term unemployed or ‘under-employed’, Labour has already stated that with another two years in office, the Coalition has already run out of ideas for how to help those most affected by austerity.  Although the measures outlined in this Queen’s Speech are unlikely to win or lose the General Election for any of the major parties party, the failure to address key issues will surely hurt the Coalition partners.

Furthermore, the omission of reforms regarding the improvement of the living wage will undermine Government rhetoric that it is ‘on the side of the hard-worker’ with many people failing to enjoy a standard of living that should result from their being employed.

This Queen’s Speech proves that the Conservatives have been forced to appeal to unruly backbenchers and supporters of UKIP, yet fails to address the real issues that will affect both voter intention and livelihoods come 2015.  David Cameron has made much of the ‘global race’ Britain is in, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Labour contending that the Coalition are clueless as to how to win said race.

Steven Gauge, Senior Consultant

STEVEN GAUGE: IT’S WHAT’S LEFT OUT THAT MATTERS MOST TO LIB DEMS

Steven Gauge is a Senior Consultant at PLMR and spent the last two general elections on the road managing media events in battleground seats for Nick Clegg and Charles Kennedy. He has served eight years as a local councillor, award winning election agent, parliamentary candidate and was also Chief Executive of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

<style=”font-family: arial,=”” helvetica,=”” sans-serif;=”” font-size:=”” 12px;=”” “=””>Lib Dem spin doctors will be pleased to have shoe-horned their spring conference slogan into the opening few lines of her Majesty’s gracious address this morning (stronger economy fairer society) but will be less pleased to see the word “Immigration” in a rather larger font in the newspaper headlines tomorrow morning. In fact they are probably hoping that Alex Ferguson’s resignation pushes the whole sorry business off the front pages all together.

It’s hard to get credit for keeping things out of the Queen’s speech, but that so far has been the Liberal Democrat main strategy. Nick Clegg was keen to be personally associated with blocking the “Snoopers’ Charter” from this session’s legislative programme. The Deputy Prime Minister took a real battering from his party over his stance on Secret Courts. He will hope to have restored his reputation for protecting civil liberties with the liberal wing of his party with this minor victory in the coalition horse-trading.

However, the price for frustrating the Conservatives on one issue is a long series of difficult conversations with his troops over coming months as they attempt to reign in the excesses of the Conservative focus on immigration. Liberals tend to be rather in favour of free movement and cultural diversity and will not enjoy any moment of the anti-immigration onslaught that has been lined up by her Majesty following UKIP’s success in the local elections.

Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary candidates know only too well that the next election is two years minus one day away. Some will be clutching at straws like the Intellectual Property Bill aimed at protecting innovative small businesses or the prospect of new legislation to recognise carers better and cap the costs of long term social care for the elderly. However on the day when one of the leading football managers of a generation retires, it feels like we might be settling in for a frustrating, low-scoring second half of this coalition government. The Liberal Democrats will be playing a very defensive game trying to block the Conservatives from scoring a crowd-pleasing goal on the immigration issue and waiting anxiously for the final whistle.

 

SECTORAL ANALYSIS

PLANNING

The Queen’s Speech contained little of relevance for local level planning and development, but this was unsurprising given the ongoing reverberations from the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework a year ago and it won’t have the countrywide controversy of the now passed Growth and Infrastructure Act which became law at the end of April.

The big news for infrastructure, however, was the announcement of the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill and HS2 Hybrid Bill.

HS2 has proven immensely unpopular with much of the Conservative heartland.  The measures in the Hybrid Bill, providing the Government with the legal powers to compulsorily purchase land and deliver the planning consent necessary to the development of the new rail line, are likely to prove equally unpalatable.  They will no doubt be fiercely debated in both Houses as the Bill makes its passage.

Critics will also seize upon the apparent disconnect between the decentralising tendencies of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the fact that it will have no real power over the determination of HS2.  Eric Pickles has trumpeted the DCLG’s Local Audit and Accountability Bill, as ‘extending the Government’s localism agenda’, yet his Department, which is putatively responsible for planning, and the local authorities through which the proposed route will pass, are effectively being cut out of the loop on one of the nation’s most high profile planning projects.,/br>
HS2, backed by both the Treasury and the Department for Transport, looks set to take a significant step closer to fruition.  But the planning and ideological headache it creates will continue to bother the Government throughout the coming Parliamentary session.

LEGAL

Lawyers will have noted new regulation to ensure deregulation, immigration and crime reform all played a central role in today’s speech.

The Government has reacted to the the long called for move to provide legislation to compensate victims of Mesothelioma (the aptly titled Mesothelioma Bill). The Bill will establish a payment scheme for people with diffuse mesothelioma where their employer or employers’ liability insurance company cannot be traced –a victory for the personal injury lobby.

The Offender Rehabilitation Bill now means that all offenders released from prison will receive at least 12 months statutory supervision, whilst a new Immigration Bill to ensure UK “attracts people who will contribute & deters those who will not” (and it might help pinch a few votes from UKIP).

For those practicing in areas of the law reliant on legal aid, crime in particular, the speech was silent on the tumultuous changes predicted regarding contracting. According to the Legal Gazette, probate lawyers may also feel disappointed “that the government has not found time to work on amendments to amend and simplify the rules governing intestacy”. Meanwhile most people will simply wonder what “intestacy” is.

The Deregulation Bill, whose purpose is to “reduce the burden of unnecessary legislation…to reduce or remove burdens on businesses and civil society and facilitate growth”, will be welcomed by lawyers – all legislation is good legislation after all (well almost).

HEALTH & SOCIAL CARE

The legislative agenda set out by the Government this year is perhaps most notable for its lack of sweeping reforms. Where it comes to health, David Cameron seems to have jettisoned things that might affect his relationship with Conservative Backbenchers, such as legislation on plain paper packaging for cigarettes and minimum pricing on alcohol.

One of the centre pieces of this year’s Queen’s Speech, however, is a major reform that will have a lasting effect on the care system in England.  The Care Bill, to be brought forward in this Parliamentary Session, will completely reform the way elderly care is paid for by introducing a cap on social care costs.

Where currently anyone with over £23,250 in savings or assets is liable for the cost of their care, the proposed legislation will extend that means test threshold to a new level of £123,000 . The legislation will also create a cap on care costs at £75,000, after which the Government will step in. These measures are to ensure that no one has to sell their home to pay for residential care, and that people who worked hard to amass savings throughout their lifetime are not penalised in old age. Remember how Labour was bashed up for its so called “death tax” in 2010? That tells you how sensitive an area this is to reform.

These sweeping reforms, due to be implemented in 2017, may seem surprising In a Parliamentary Session where reducing the deficit remains a main priority, and emphasis has been put on tackling the country’s welfare and pensions bills.  In fact these reforms have been on the Government’s agenda for a long time, and few commentators in health and social care will think today’s announcement has come a day too early.

The reforms were first proposed in July 2011 when the Government commissioned economist Andrew Dilnot to write a report on the future of funding long term care. His proposals to cap care costs at £35,000-£50,000 and set the means test threshold at £100,000 were well received, but would have cost the Treasury £1.7bn a year. Following a draft Social Care Bill announced in last year’s Queen’s Speech, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt accepted many of Dilnot’s proposals in theory, but revised the cap on the cost of care to £72,000 and raised the means test threshold to £123,000, which would reduce the burden on the Treasury to £1bn a year, but leave average families liable to care costs that burrow deep into their savings and assets.

By bringing more certainty to the health and social care system, and aiming to tackle recent failings, today’s Queen’s Speech can be considered a partial victory for health and social care. What it doesn’t do is deal with the overall lack of funding in the system, local authorities with ever depleting budgets, and a whole other host of end of life issues.  But at least it’s a start and let’s hope some form of cross Party Consensus can be maintained as we move towards 2015 and beyond to 2017 after the General Election. As an aside, huge amounts of uncertainty has been created by the Labour Party’s recent announcement of an overhaul of its health and social care policy formation process which contains a huge public sector bias at a time when a majority of care is funded by private sector providers.

Aside from funding, the Bill will bring much needed support from the local council to those caring for elderly and disabled relatives. In response to the Mid-Staffordshire health scandal, the Bill will also introduce Ofsted-style ratings for hospitals and care homes (too complex and debated a measure to get into today), and give more power to a new Chief Inspector of Hospitals.  It is indisputable that next 12 months will usher in the most hotly anticipated reforms of recent times in social care in England.  Watch this space……

EDUCATION

Shortly after it was delivered, the Prime Minister said that the Queen’s Speech was focused on “legislation that unlocks the potential of the people of the UK to unleash their talents.” His vision seemed most apparent in the section of the Speech on education where it was clearly outlined that, “To make sure that every child has the best start in life, regardless of background, further measures will be taken to improve the quality of education for young people.”

Michael Gove’s education reforms, which are already well underway, were cited heavily and there was confirmation that the Government will be going full steam ahead with a new National Curriculum. The reference to the Government taking forward plans for a “world class exam system” further indicates that an overhaul of GCSEs and A-levels will be a priority for the Department for Education in the coming year. Proposals to allow greater flexibility in teachers’ pay were also reiterated, stirring further grumblings from the teaching unions, no doubt.

It was confirmed that the Government plans to ensure that it is “typical” for school leavers to undertake an apprenticeship, traineeship or go to university. As well as being a bold statement to tackle youth unemployment, the mention of universities was a reminder that a ‘Higher Education Bill,’ which would have made it easier for private providers to enter the market, remains on the shelf with no signs of being dusted off.

In the aftermath of the Queen’s Speech it is unlikely that the Coalition’s plans for education will provoke as much immediate controversy as the measures announced on immigration, infrastructure and cyber-crime. However, it is clear that the Government is poised to deliver long term reform in education which could essentially change the face of the sector –something unlikely to go un-noticed by the electorate in 2015.

 

 

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