Giving his reaction to the Queen’s Speech delivered today, John Longworth, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said:
“If the last Parliament was defined by austerity, this one should be defined by growth. And the government needs a confident, unapologetic programme to deliver that sustained growth. What we have seen in the Queen’s Speech is a positive start, and overall the message appears to be one of ambition, enterprise and growth for firms across the country.
“Businesses will welcome the government’s proposals to cut red tape, the move to more local decision-making and progress on an agenda which will see the UK reform its relationship with the EU before holding a referendum.
“While recognising that an incoming government cannot do everything at once, alongside these encouraging ideas, businesses will want to see the government seek to ease the housing crisis and tackle access to childcare in a sustainable way. Firms will also be concerned by the absence of any concrete measures to ensure young people are ready to make the transition from education to work and, crucially, measures to bring about a revolution in the UK’s export performance.”
Commenting on specific elements from within the Queen’s Speech, John Longworth said:
On the Enterprise Bill:
“Simplifying life for small or growing businesses should be an objective shared across the political spectrum. If properly targeted the government’s efforts to cut red tape for business could make a real difference – saving time and money. However, as much of the most costly regulatory burdens are created by the EU, cutting red tape will be a challenge.
“The government also has a role to play in helping to alleviate both the cause and effect of late payments. But, in order to truly change the culture of late payment, we need to see a concerted effort from businesses themselves.”
On the Trade Union Bill
“Individuals and businesses depend on transport, education, and healthcare service, so the right to strike must only be exercised with the greatest restraint. Higher standards should apply when a strike puts people at risk or affects the ability of large numbers of their fellow citizens to earn a living, creating equity between the right to work and the right to withdraw labour. In the eyes of businesses, large and small, this legislation has merit, as it would help ensure essential services and the freedom to work in the event of strike action.”
On the EU Referendum and EU Finance Bills:
“Our research shows that British businesses want to remain in the EU, but a different EU, one which has been reformed. They want the Union to work better for them, now and in the future. The government must pursue a reform agenda that gets the single market working properly for UK businesses trading in Europe; addresses what it means for us to be part of the union, but not part of the monetary union; creates safeguards for non-Eurozone countries in EU decision-making; and ensures that the EU adopts a relentlessly pro-business, pro-growth agenda that minimises regulatory burdens.
“A referendum should be held as soon as is practicable to minimise further business uncertainty.”
On the Housing Bill:
“The housing shortage is a brake on business growth and employment in many parts of the UK. Yet the problem isn’t that we’re selling too few houses, it’s that we don’t build enough of them. Businesses would rather see the government focus their efforts on freeing up more land for much-needed housing, including, where necessary, on the green belt. An annual target of 200,000 new homes built by the private-sector should be central to the government’s housing ambitions.”
On the Childcare Bill:
“Expanded access to childcare is a win-win solution for employers and parents alike, enabling more talented individuals, should they wish, to stay in work. However, past commitments to raid pensions savings, even to pay for a business priority such as childcare, will dismay entrepreneurs, for whom long-term rewards are often more important than short-term pay. We hope the Government reconsider and move towards a more cost effective method of supporting working parents through a fiscally neutral Childcare Contribution Scheme, as outlined in our Business Manifesto.”
On the National Insurance Contributions/Finance Bill:
“Freezing income tax, along with some other major taxes for the next five years, would leave the government with little wiggle room, particularly if economic circumstances were to change. This has the hallmark of posturing, not planning.”
“Businesses across the UK broadly support the concept of further devolution of decision-making powers. Whether it’s devolution to the nations or within the nations of the UK, the transfer of powers must deliver greater efficiency and greater accountability at a local level, with businesses having a say in local economic development. If we get devolution to work for business, we will create sustainable growth and job creation for many years to come.”
On the Immigration Bill:
“The government is right to strike a balance between the legitimate concerns of communities regarding immigration and the vital needs of businesses and the broader economy. If we are to have wealth creation that benefits all and deliver long-term growth, then businesses must have access to the skills they need and sometimes that means drawing on talent from outside the UK, while at the same time maintaining stability and social cohesion. Immigration should be based on a points system, flexed according to economic need.
“But these proposals must go hand in hand with measures to equip young people with the skills they need to compete in a country with open borders and recognising the need for improvements in productivity. Not least, when youth unemployment is three times higher than the average, balancing these factors is the key to achieving long-term economic success and social cohesion.”
On the Education and Adoption Bill:
“It is welcome that the Government is focused on raising standards in schools, but businesses also rely on the education system to equip young people with the soft skills and attitude they need to successfully make the transition to work. The government can help to generate a pipeline of young talent by ensuring that secondary schools are measured on pupil destination and earnings, by guaranteeing a business governor in every secondary school and ensuring that every student leaves school with high quality exposure to business.”
On the High Speed Rail Bill:
“Britain desperately needs world-class infrastructure, including on the rail network. HS2 will deliver the step-change in capacity that Britain’s north-south railways need. Parliament must progress the HS2 Bill as swiftly as possible to ensure the benefits of the scheme are felt far and wide.”