Queen’s Speech 2016

Queen’s Speech 2016

Our reaction to the State Opening of Parliament, and what the proposed legislation means for our key policy areas.


The Buses Bill will give Metro-mayors in other English cities the same powers to strategically plan and operate public transport that London has long possessed. Applications from other local authorities without mayors will be considered on a case by case basis. Critics of the status quo have noted that in the regulated transport systems of London and other European cities bus ridership is increasing, but in the deregulated bus market in the rest of England patronage is declining.

The Bill is likely to lead to significant improvements in public transport in the core cities of England. City councils will want to use the powers to redesign their transport networks to carry many more people to work and around their cities, faster and more frequently. The restriction to Metro-mayoralties is likely an incentive to push more areas to adopt Metro-mayors, as transport powers are vital for all areas, urban and rural.

Tom Follett, ResPublica Devolution Policy & Projects Officer, said: “This is a positive development and will enable English cities to start catching up to European standards of public transport. However, these powers should be available to all areas, not just those with Mayors. Rural parts of the country are currently being badly let down by the deregulated transport system.”


Edward Douglas, Senior Policy & Project Officer, said: “The Government’s ongoing commitment to home ownership is welcome. We need 250,000 homes each year, so the Government’s target of one million homes over this parliament is not enough. But it will in fact prove to be too ambitious if underlying issues to housing delivery and land release are not resolved. The result is that, on current estimates, we will be facing a shortfall of 400,000 homes by 2020.

“It’s therefore disappointing that the new Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill does not at present include measures beyond improvements to pre-commencement planning conditions and the CPO process. These are welcome as they will enable local authorities to better earmark sites for housing, assemble land and ultimately accelerate development. But public sector land remains largely off the radar, local authority ambitions remain restricted politically and financially, SME developers are still struggling to access land, and we have an acute construction skills shortage. We will wait to see if the Government uses the opportunity of this bill to address these key issues.”

British Bill of Rights

Caroline Julian, ResPublica’s Deputy Director, said: “A British Bill of Rights could be a welcome move. Despite the UK’s Human Rights Act, many in this country still suffer from the lack of its proper application and implementation, and a general sense of apathy toward its ultimate goal: to protect all people and enable them to flourish. A British Bill of Rights could ensure that rights are reconnected with this wider civic responsibility, curate the more bespoke means to truly care for those who are suffering, and celebrate difference and diversity. However, if not handled properly, we will be presented with huge risks that might instead see a step back from progress made in recent years, and could damage the UK’s leading reputation as a defender of citizens’ rights.”

Sugar Levy

Emily Crawford, Principal Research Consultant, said: “Childhood obesity is a serious issue and we welcome the inclusion of the sugar tax in the Queen’s Speech. The commitment to linking the levy to school sports and breakfast clubs ensures extra resource. While achieving reformulation of drinks through the levy is a  positive outcome, there is a risk that with active reformulation by manufacturers – and the consequently lower tax take – the resources available for schools sports will be similarly diminished without further Government commitments.”

Neighbourhood Planning

The Government’s aim to accelerate delivery of housing and infrastructure, and to make the delivery process more transparent and fairer, cannot be met if communities are not intimately involved. For too long local people have faced a dispiriting choice to either acquiesce in development over which they have had little to no say, or attempt to contest that due process has been followed and embark on a protracted and expensive appeals process. The Government’s promise to strengthen the neighbourhood planning framework, including by clarifying local government’s duty to support community groups, is therefore welcome, but remains too cautious.

Duncan Sim, Senior Policy & Projects Officer, said: “Our research demonstrates the importance of beautiful, community-shaped places in improving local economies, public health, and quality of community; and neighbourhood planning is a key vehicle to enable the creation of such places. We believe neighbourhood planning should be mandated in the most deprived areas of the country in order to encourage these outcomes where they are most urgently needed.”


Caroline Julian, ResPublica’s Deputy Director, said: “Countering extremism and the growth of radicalisation has been, rightly, a top priority for this Government. Further powers for Government interventions will now be brought forward in the Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill, but the level and nature of such powers have come under increasing concern. Islamist extremism needs to be tackled at its source – on ideological terms – and this cannot be achieved through top down interventions alone. This Bill could provide an opportunity to take a new approach to counter-extremism policy: one which factors in the effects of theology and ideology and the battle of ideas as a significant dimension in violent Islamist extremism that blights the lives of a small but significant minority of Muslims and poses a threat to the safety of us all.”

Prison and Courts Reform

The Prison and Courts Reform Bill will establish new ‘reform’ prisons, giving prison governors freedoms to use different methods of education and rehabilitation as they see fit. Prisons will be established as independent legal bodies able to engage in contracts. For the first time, prisons will have to produce statistics on their effectiveness at turning around prisoners, with data being published on prisoner education, reoffending and employment on release. The Government has identified that prisons are very ineffective, with 46% of prisoners re-offending within a year of release.  47% have no formal qualifications at all on entry to prison, 42% were expelled or permanently excluded from school and 13% report never having had a job.

The Bill will likely improve rehabilitation services. However, in focussing on the institution of the prison, it will miss the opportunity to intervene in the wider social factors that cause criminality. Prison governors will not be incentivised to prevent prisoners being jailed in the first place. A much more radical and effective approach to devolution of criminal justice would examine potential for integration of justice and police budgets, moving spend from punishment to diverting those at-risk of offending away from crime.

Tom Follett, ResPublica Devolution Policy & Projects Officer, said:  “These reforms could offer a potentially positive opportunity for prison governors to open up to rehabilitation in their local community, using effective local providers. However, preventing crime is still seen as an adjunct to imprisoning offenders. Truly radical reform would devolve and integrate justice spend, focussing on the interventions that most effectively prevent offending – which often won’t be prison.”


The goal of nation-wide educational excellence is of course to be welcomed; yet the Government’s resolve to move toward universal academisation in pursuit of that aim (even if it will not now directly legislate for this goal) risks obscuring other vital challenges. The morale of the teaching profession is at a historic low; claims of recruitment shortages abound; and the future relationship between local authorities and schools outside of their control in their area remains unclear.

At a higher education level, the continuing emphasis placed on widening access to university is right and much-needed. Plans to promote competition and raise standards within the sector by facilitating the opening of new high quality institutions are welcome insofar as they achieve this aim and position universities as key partners to local authorities and business in driving forward regional economic and social transformation; yet care must be taken that the proper oversight is in place to monitor and guarantee this added value.

Duncan Sim, Senior Policy & Projects Officer, said: “The Government must ensure that its structural reforms to primary and secondary education are complemented by the appropriate focus on teaching – the most important factor of all in the quality of a child’s education – and how local schools can be joined in with other local social infrastructure. Otherwise, the education system will continue to fail in its key role of empowering every child to achieve their potential and improving their life chances.”

Energy Markets

Caroline Julian, ResPublica’s Deputy Director, said: “The UK’s energy market has come under significant scrutiny in recent years, triggering an intervention by the Competition and Markets Authority, which is due to end its two-year investigation next month. Measures to speed up the process of switching between energy suppliers is a welcome move, but this alone will not be enough to engage those who do not switch – usually the most vulnerable in society. 57 per cent of consumers are still disengaged from the energy market, and about 70 per cent of households in the UK remain on the most expensive standard variable tariff, paying £325 more a year than those switching to the cheapest deal. Beyond competition and short term market interventions, a more transformative and sustainable plan is needed in order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.”

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