This morning the Government delivered its first Queen’s Speech following a tumultuous eighteen months and the landmark Brexit agreement. While some ceremonial aspects of the event were pared back, it was something of a victory lap for the Prime Minister, coming days after the Tories’ success in the local elections and historic win in Hartlepool.
The address provided Boris Johnson with a platform to set out his Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda to support jobs, businesses and economic growth and address the impact of the pandemic on public services.
As anticipated following the biggest health crisis in living memory, protecting the health of the nation was front and centre of the announcement. As part of this, the Government pledged to provide additional funding for the NHS and bring forward measures to support the health and wellbeing of the nation, including ones to tackle obesity and improve mental health. Action on obesity, in particular, is seen as an agenda point which has become personally important to the Prime Minister since his own experience of COVID-19.
The Speech also highlighted the success of the vaccination programme, reiterating promises to build on this to make the UK a world leader in life sciences, pioneering new treatments against diseases like cancer and securing jobs and investment across the country.
The intention to devolve economic growth was a clear theme of the speech, which also marked the start of the PMs campaign to reinforce his position with ‘red wall’ voters ahead of the next general election. Through the address, Johnson vowed to strengthen the economic ties across the union by investing in and improving national infrastructure and connectivity. As well as reiterating this commitment to improve digital connectivity across the country, the Speech announced the introduction of the controversial, and much delayed, Online Safety Bill which will hold firms accountable for the harmful material on their platforms.
Skills also received the ‘levelling up’ treatment through the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which promises to expand access to student loans and state-funded training programmes to older adults. While the latest unemployment figures give reason for optimism – falling to 4.9% in February – this is clearly a government conscious of the imminent end to the furlough scheme and looking to develop sustainable employment.
The Government also used the address to firm-up its green credentials by carrying forward its Environment Bill. This is not without controversy, as many commentators have questioned why this did not make it through in the last term. The Government will be subject to intense scrutiny on this in the months ahead as it prepares to showcase its wider Global Britain agenda through its hosting of COP26.
With such a wide-ranging legislative agenda, the Government has never been more in need of consultation and expert advice. For businesses, this presents a significant opportunity to engage with policy makers and shape the laws that will govern or influence their operations.
Written by Clova Fyfe, Head of Public Affairs
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