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Richard_Rosser_2016.jpgRichard Rosser on the government’s other worldly approach to its Space Industry Bill

A Space Industry Bill might sound a bit futuristic. A 2016 assessment however, reported it was worth £13.7bn in 2014/15 – equivalent to 6.5% of the global space economy, and employing some 37,000 people.

The 1986 Outer Space Act provides the current legal framework for the UK to fulfil its obligations under the United Nation’s space treaties, which require any organisation or individual launching, procuring a launch or operating space objects to be licensed.

To date launches licensed by the UK Space Agency have had to take place overseas but the global market for small satellites is growing rapidly, and is highly competitive. So the purpose of the new legislation is to create a regulatory framework to enable commercial launch to orbit and sub-orbital spaceflight to be carried out from UK spaceports for the first time.

Clauses within the Bill make provision for the grant of licences, the establishment of zones for spaceflight activities, safety and security – as well as liabilities, indemnities and insurance. That’s why we expressed our support for the broad thrust and intent of the plans at Lords second reading, earlier this week.

A major downside however, is that it is in effect a skeletal Bill which places many powers in the hands of the regulators and the Secretary of State, and with around one hundred provisions for delegated powers to bring forward secondary legislation.

There is clearly an argument for a flexible regulatory structure for a growing industry, where there are many ‘unknowns’ and technical advance is rapid. But there is also the need to provide for meaningful parliamentary debate and scrutiny – not least on matters affecting the rights and safety of the public. These cannot be achieved through secondary legislation to the extent that they can through a primary Bill.

The draft Bill was considered by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and some changes have been made by the Government as a result. Whether those changes go far enough in meeting the concerns raised by those Committees, and others, is an issue that will have to be considered in more detail during the further stages of the Bill.

The government says industry wants the Bill in order to make investment decisions based on the certainty of being able to have commercial spaceflights from the UK. But much of the work relating to the Bill appears rushed, even though the Statutory Instruments will not be laid for two years. Policy scoping notes covering all regulation-making powers were promised prior to the second reading, only to be sent around late the day before – all 94 pages.

Apologising for this tardiness, after we raised our concerns, the Minister said “the policy scoping notes are not provided for discussion: they are our initial statement of intention with regard to the use of delegated powers and the need to consult on the use of powers”. Whatever the government thinks, I have a feeling these will be discussed – both in the Lords and beyond.

We have also been given a written intention: “to make more information available regarding the Government’s approach to secondary legislation in advance of Committee Stage of the Bill”. Let’s see how far in advance of Committee Stage that that information actually turns up.

So, a skeletal Bill containing so many provisions for delegated powers, lengthy documents arriving at the last minute, and some documents still to come. It may not be controversial, but does it remind us of anything? As was said in the second reading debate: “many may be wondering if this is but a dry run for the government’s approach to both the legislation and to Parliament in seeking to implement the decision to withdraw from the European Union”.

Lord Richard Rosser is Shadow Transport Minister in the House of Lords

Published 13th July 2017 

Flight of fancy

Richard Rosser on the government’s other worldly approach to its Space Industry Bill

Kennedynew4x3_head.jpgRoy Kennedy on giving struggling councils greater financial certainty to do their job properly

Councillors and the local authorities they control are often the main contact that residents have with the state. They provide a wide variety of services from nursery and pre-school provision to social care towards the end of life, along with more general neighbourhood services.

To do their job effectively they need certainty, stability and clarity in the area of funding to plan the delivery of service years in advance. Although the Local Government Finance Bill was lost in the last Parliament due to the snap election, observers were surprised there was no mention of this Bill being brought back in the Queen’s Speech.

That Bill would have allowed local government in England to keep the £26bn it raises in Business Rates each year. But we wanted to ensure there was an effective mechanism in place to ensure that those council without the business rate base were not unfairly penalised and an already difficult situation made worse.

Local government has taken far more than its share of spending reductions since 2010 and by 2019/20 the central government grant will have fallen by 63% - despite public spending rising by 4% over the same period. Ministers have made a welcome commitment to a fair funding review but it has to assess the commitments of local authorities and the needs of the communities they serve.

An example of where this has, so far, totally failed is the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. A well intentioned piece of legislation, based on initiatives taken by the Welsh Government but which has been inadequately funded, bringing additional risks for everyone. Passing legislation only solves a problem or creates better conditions if the resources are there to match the obligations being made.

Greater London has particular problems, demands and challenges that need to be addressed within social services, education, housing and public transport. By 2039, the Capital’s elderly population will have risen by 70%, with huge rises also expected in the number of young people.

But whether London or elsewhere, Theresa May’s government needs to be clear how local government will be funded, including whether an element of localism will be introduced to allow councils to decide the levels of fees and charges they levy on matters such as planning applications. Even allowing full cost recovery would be a huge step forward.

So we now have a perfect storm. Local government with no certainty over how it will be funded post- 2019/20. Greater pressures and more demands on services, especially for those that are most vulnerable in our society. A housing crisis with no plans to let councils build homes for rent. All matched by a central government apparently in no hurry to do anything to address these serious concerns.

Local authorities are speaking with one voice asking for stability and certainty. They should be allowed to get on with the job and it's time for Ministers to give them the tools to get on with it.

Lord Roy Kennedy of Southwark is Shadow Local Government Minister in the House of Lords. He tweets @LordRoyKennedy

Published 13th July 2017

Beyond the perfect storm

Roy Kennedy on giving struggling councils greater financial certainty to do their job properly

SimonHaskel2.jpgSimon Haskel on why it’s time for the government to stop being dishonest with the public, hiding behind the public sector pay review bodies

In 2015, the then Chancellor announced that public sector workforces would be getting a pay award of 1% a year for the next four years. In the recent debate on the Queens Speech the government voted down a Labour amendment to end this cap.

Some heat was generated when in spite of that vote, anxious departmental Ministers concerned about recruitment and retention in the related public sector pressed for higher pay rises. More heat was then generated because of the obvious split in the Cabinet, with the current Chancellor taking a firmer, more rigid view.

The Conservative Home blog has added to the heat by telling us that such unruly behaviour is manoeuvring for the Tory party leadership. And tweet after tweet creates yet even more heat by referring to finding £1bn on a magic money tree in Belfast. 

So perhaps it’s time to throw a bit more light onto the subject?

To do this, we need to know that there are eight pay review bodies, mainly covering the vocational parts of the public sector, that recommend levels of pay. Originally created to avoid protracted disputes, these take evidence and send in recommendations to the government. Last year, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury told them that he expected a cap of 1%.

The letters to the review bodies setting out their work for 2018/19 will be going out soon. What will these say? To review pay by looking at the evidence or not to bother because the cap remains? 

Even when public services are contracted out to the private sector, it probably costs the taxpayer more than they think. It is estimated that nearly one million low paid private sector workers actually work in outsourced jobs, delivering social care, school and hospital services.

Many of the contracts to supply such services were won on the basis of low pay and so it’s not surprise that most of those million workers rely on tax credits to make ends meet. The taxpayer pays in the end but from another pocket – something that may suit the politics of ‘public bad/private good’ but doesn’t provide value for money. 

One reason why the Conservatives have capped public service pay is because productivity, on average, is static. In both the public and private sectors. Yet Ministers have an industrial strategy partly designed to deal with this. Can we not review that strategy before the white paper comes out with particular reference to raising productivity in the public sector as a means of removing the pay cap? That would be a much more constructive approach.   

It is within this narrative of greater productivity and improved public services that one can speak of, perhaps inevitable, tax rises. Council tax could be extended beyond band H. Heavier taxes on activities which damage the environment.  VAT charges on financial services.

Some compare pay in the public and private sectors. Yes, it is complicated.  A recent paper from the NIESR shows that taking into account pensions and other benefits, pay restraint has meant public sector workers have lost 12% since 2010 while those in the private sector have lost 2%. 

No surprise then that this week we saw a report from the education review panel, drawing attention to serious staff shortages. We have similar warnings in health, care and council services but the Treasury’s official position is the 1% cap holds. Hiding behind the pay review bodies is dishonest and the government should be prepared to take action. Otherwise, taxpayers will continue to lose twice over, paying more money while getting increasingly inferior public services.

Lord Simon Haskel is a backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords. He tweets @simon_haskel

Published 12th July 2017

 

Less heat, more light

Simon Haskel on why it’s time for the government to stop being dishonest with the public, hiding behind the public sector pay review bodies

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