Boris Johnson has laid out his plans to “create a stronger, healthier and more prosperous nation” after the coronavirus pandemic with more than 30 new pieces on legislation unveiled in today’s Queen’s Speech.
As part of a strong focus on enacting the prime minister’s manifesto commitment to “level up” the country, there are a number of bills on improving skills and education, as well as around housing and the environment.
But crucially, there is once again no concrete plan on how to reform social care, despite Johnson pledging to make it priority when he entered Downing Street almost two years ago.
Reading out the government’s legislative programme in the House of Lords this morning, the Queen simply said: “Proposals on social care reform will be brought forward.”
Explaining the bills included in the speech, the PM said with the help of the vaccination programme allowing the country to exit lockdown, "we cannot simply return to the way things were".
Johnson said as the UK gets back on its feet, “we will turbo-charge our economic recovery in every part of our country, increasing and spreading opportunity” with the publication of a levelling-up white paper.
He promised to “make the most of our new-found Brexit freedoms”, as well as to “turn Britain into a science superpower”, protect the union and strengthen democracy and free speech.
The PM added that the pandemic "has shown – if there was any doubt – that deep wells of talent, kindness, ingenuity and resourcefulness exist in every village, town and city of the United Kingdom”, and his government’s task is now to mobilise that and unleashing the country’s full potential.
Here are the key bills included in the Queen’s Speech:
Health and care bill
The bill will “lay the foundations for a more integrated and efficient health and care system”, which the government says will enable staff to “focus on delivering the best possible treatment and care for their patients and giving the NHS and local authorities the tools to level up health and care across England so people can live healthier, longer and more independent lives”. It will also put the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch on a statutory footing to deliver a fully independent national body to investigate healthcare incidents, and will form part of the wider NHS Catch-up and Recovery Plan.
Despite repeated claims there would be a plan to enact longterm reform to adult social care since Johnson became PM in 2019 (and several governments before that), there is once again no concrete legislation on the issue. The government simply says: “We will bring forward proposals for social care reform in 2021 to ensure that every person receives care that provides the dignity and security they deserve.”
The creation of a new Office for Health Promotion will work across government to improve health with an increased focus on delivering greater action on prevention, as well as tackling obesity, air quality, smoking and drug misuse.
Mental Health Act reform
Following the White Paper on reforming the Mental Health Act published in January, the government plans to give people greater control over their treatment “and receive the dignity and respect they deserve”, as well as reforming the process for detention, change the law around how people with a learning disability or autistic people are treated under the act and make key improvements to how offenders with acute mental disorders are managed. The government adds that “these reforms also seek to address the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic groups detained under the act”.
Levelling-up white paper
A key plank of this government’s election campaign, there is again no firm legislative proposals to back it up, and the MP Neil O’Brien has recently been appointed as an adviser to oversee this process. The white paper will “set out bold new policy interventions to improve livelihoods and opportunity in all parts of the UK as we recover from the pandemic, grasping the opportunities of Brexit”, with a focus on improving public services, giving more access to skills, and increasing infrastructure spending.
Advanced Research and Invention Agency bill
The brainchild of Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings, the new Aria agency will fund “high-risk, high-reward research”, to enhance the UK’s research and development offer and “help cement the UK’s position as a global science superpower”.
National Infrastructure Plan
The Spending Review 2020 committed £100bn of capital investment in 2021-22, and the new UK Infrastructure Bank will launch later in the spring to help deliver these ambitions. Headquartered in Leeds, it will be able to deploy £12bn of equity and debt capital and £10bn of guarantees and is expected to support more than £40bn of infrastructure investment overall.
Skills and post-16 education bill
The government say this legislation will “transform access to skills across the country to ensure that people can train and retrain at any stage in their lives”, as part of plan to get people into higher quality, higher-skilled jobs. It will enable people to access flexible funding for higher or further education, deliver the PM’s new "lifetime skills guarantee" and strengthen the powers of the Office for Students.
The replacement for the Erasmus programme, which allows students to spend a year studying abroad, the government says this new international educational exchange scheme will have a worldwide reach unlike its EU-focused predecessor, and “will give young people across the UK, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, the opportunity to work and study globally”.
Subsidy control bill
This will implement a domestic subsidy control regime to “reflect our strategic interests and particular national circumstances”, to provide a legal framework within which public authorities make subsidy decisions now the UK is out of the European Union.
This will consolidate and streamline the 350+ EU-derived regulations and make the UK’s procurement regime “quicker, simpler and easier to use, allowing more freedom for suppliers and the public sector to innovate and work in partnership with the private sector”.
Professional qualifications bill
This will create a new “bespoke framework for the UK to recognise professional qualifications from across the world” which will make sure employers can access the right professionals where there are shortages in particular industries.
National Insurance contributions bill
This will provide a relief for employers of veterans and and for the self-employed who receive NHS Test and Trace payments, as well as help deliver the government’s commitment to establish a number of freeports in England.
The bill will create a “simpler, faster and more modern planning system” to replace the current one that dates back to 1947, as part of plans to build more homes and deliver infrastructure projects more quickly. The government says it “will bring forward reforms to deliver a fairer and more effective private rental market in England”, but the renters' reform bill from the last Queen’s Speech appears to have been quietly dropped.
Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.