The Queen’s Speech today marked the official opening of Parliament, a fresh start for the Government where it set out its agenda for the year ahead. Against a back-drop of high inflation, rising interest rates, a cost-of-living crisis and political turmoil, this speech was closely watched. The country is in a period of economic transition, symbolically personified by the Prince of Wales delivering the speech on the Queen’s behalf. The speech opened with the Government’s pledge to “strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living”.
Depending on when Boris Johnson calls the next general election, this could be the last Queen’s Speech before he goes to the country for their backing and, simultaneously, his last chance to deliver on his manifesto commitments.
Dropped from the agenda were two bills previously promised; a planning bill which could have unlocked large housing developments particularly in the south of England (unpopular with many MPs and their constituents) and an employment bill to strengthen workers’ rights.
Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill
- Give local authorities more power to force landlords to rent out empty shops
- Strengthens compulsory purchase order rules for councils to take control of empty buildings
- Reform of the planning system to give residents more involvement in local development
Brexit Freedoms Bill
- A “bonfire” of European laws, facilitating the removal of EU regulations retained after Britain’s exit
- Related to this is a procurement bill, enabling small companies to bid for government contracts
Economic Crime Bill
- Giving Companies House more power to investigate suspected fraudulent company registrations
- Other announcements included the modernisation of rail services, a clamp-down on protesters, energy bill to introduce laws for the planned nuclear power stations, an overhaul of the Mental Health Act and reform to education, including a life-long loan for retraining.
The takeaway from this for the development sector is the move by the Government away from the wholesale planning reform previously indicated by Michael Gove and towards more localised planning. There will be more involvement by residents in the planning process and powers will be passed to local authorities to manage under-used sites. A reform of procurement will allow smaller companies to bid for public sector contracts, reducing the onerous constraints and bureaucracy. This is to be welcomed.
The devil will (as ever) be in the detail as the bills come forward over the next 12 months.
by Mark Gitsham, Client Manager