Coalition fails to fire up UK’s private sector

Queen Elizabeth was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh and her son Prince Charles
Queen Elizabeth was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh and her son Prince Charles

BUSINESS groups and think tanks last night dismissed a pledge by David Cameron to “fire up our private sector”, following yesterday’s Queen’s Speech setting out the coalition’s priorities for the year.

The coalition used the set-piece event to confirm populist measures such as tough new immigration controls. But businesses fear these could add to their regulatory burden and bemoaned the lack of radical pro-growth measures.

“The government has lost its last chance to introduce legislation to unleash business before the next election,” said Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, which criticised the speech for a “poverty of ambition”.

The parliamentary timetable means the bills announced yesterday will represent the last major batch of legislation before the UK goes to the polls in May 2015.

The new immigration bill will leave businesses facing heavier fines if they employ illegal immigrants, force landlords to check the residency status of their tenants and block illegal residents from holding driving licences.

There was also confirmation that the government will push ahead with the £32bn High Speed Two railway, as well as updating consumer protection law to cover more online products, and a deregulation bill that promises to reduce the power of employment tribunals and water down health and safety rules.

Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs said the measures “offered little to promote growth” while the deregulation push appeared to be “aspirational, rather than radical”.

“Policies to boost the economy should have made up the majority of the legislative agenda, yet barely anything has been promised except more business regulation and more government spending,” Littlewood added.

Bills that failed to make the speech include plans to bring in plain cigarette packets and enforce a minimum alcohol price. The Communications Data Bill – known as the “snooper’s charter” – failed to make the cut on Lib Dem fears that it would enable the security services to spy on the public’s internet usage.

The Queen took seven minutes to read out the speech, which sets out proposed bills that have the backing of both the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

In a sign that the royal family is making succession plans, Prince Charles attended the ceremony for the first time since 1996 and was seated with the Duchess of Cornwall on the right hand side of the throne.

Afterwards Labour leader Ed Miliband said government had run out of ideas and the immigration bill was a weak response to the growth of Ukip.

“The lesson for the Prime Minister is you can’t out-Farage Farage,” Miliband told the House of Commons.

David Cameron defended the bill, insisting it will “end the legacy of the last government where people could come here and expect something for nothing”.

Queen’s Speech: What you need to know about the coalition’s plan

Government sets out its priorities for the parliamentary year

IMMIGRATION
■ Tougher fines for businesses which employ illegal immigrants.
■ Require migrants to contribute to the NHS if they use the healthcare system.
■ Landlords required to check whether tenants have right to be in the UK.
■ Restrictions on immigrants using the right to a family life as an excuse to remain in the UK.

INFRASTRUCTURE
■ Legislation allowing the government to compulsorily purchase land along the route of the High Speed Two railway.
■ Water industry legislation allowing all businesses and public sector bodies – but not consumers – to switch water provider.
■ Push ahead with the existing energy bill that hopes to secure £110bn investment in new low-carbon electricity generating capacity.

CRIME
■ Legal requirement for all prisoners to be monitored for twelve months after their release.
■ Streamline antisocial behaviour rules into one law, promising tougher rules on gun ownership and dangerous dogs.
■ Tougher punishments for forced marriages.
■ Investigate ways of monitoring web users’ IP addresses.

EDUCATION
■ Introduce a new National Curriculum for schools.
■ Introduce new GCSEs from September 2015.
■ Allow more flexible pay scales for teachers to enable payment by results.
■ Encourage school leavers to take up an apprenticeship if they do not go to university.

BUSINESSES
■ Introduce a £2,000 national insurance holiday from April 2014 for all companies.
■ Bring forward a deregulation bill that promises to cut red tape, exclude the self-employed from health and safety laws, and water down powers of employment tribunals.
■ Pledge to make all regulators consider economic growth when making decisions.
■ Cut the time it takes to apply for patents and make selling goods based on stolen intellectual property into a criminal offence.

CONSUMER RIGHTS
■ Update consumer rights law to offer more cover for digital purchases.
■ Clarify a purchaser’s rights on the quality of eBooks and software.
■ Trading Standards granted power to request compensation is paid to consumers.
■ Make it easier for consumer to challenge deals if they have been misled into a contract.
■ More notice of Trading Standards inspections.

WELFARE
■ Introduce a cap on care home fees.
■ Require local councils to support carers.
■ Introduce Ofsted-style hospital ratings.
■ Introduce a single-tier state pension.
■ Provide a fund for cancer sufferers whose condition is a result of exposure to asbestos.
■ Push ahead with childcare allowances.
■ Continue with reforms to benefits payments.

HOUSING
■ Social housing tenants will be able to exercise the Right to Buy after three years rather than five.
■ Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme will be in place by January 2014.

DEFENCE
■ Reform the Ministry of Defence’s procurement process, allowing purchases to be made without a competitive tendering process.
■ Increase the size and importance of the reserve forces.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT
■ Close the Audit Commission which scrutinises local government accounts and the NHS.
■ Extend the power to hold referendums on council tax rises from local quangos.
■ Restrict newspapers published by councils.

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April 22, 2014, 2:25pm