Wilf Stevenson on the government’s failure to learn the lessons of last year’s Queen’s speech
When we debated the 2012 Queen’s speech last May, unemployment had soared, we were in a double-dip recession, and the government was borrowing £150bn more than forecast to pay for the costs of their failed economic plan.
The Coalition’s response to that dismal state of affairs was to introduce the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which, while including some sensible measures (several of which were initiated by the last Labour government), ended up becoming a Christmas tree of a bill.
It also carried some egregious measures, trampling over people’s long established rights at work, overturning more than 150 years of health and safety protections, abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board, watering down the statutory remit of the Equality & Human Rights Commission, and making significant and detrimental changes to copyright and design rights.
All of this was done in the name of growth, but without a scintilla of evidence to show how doing so would create jobs or boost enterprise – and it won’t. Some 28 changes to the bill were made while it was in the Lords, mitigating some of the worst excesses. So while a bad bill can never really be rescued, it was greatly improved by the time it received Royal Assent.
What meanwhile, has happened to the economy in the past year? Well, since October 2010, the UK economy has grown by just 1.1% compared to 3% growth in Germany and 4.3% growth in the United States. Unemployment is still stuck around 2.5 million. A large number of those in employment are working part-time when they want full-time work; and most people having had a cut in their pay, face difficulties in maintaining their standard of living.
According to the latest Queen’s speech, delivered last Wednesday, the “government's legislative programme will continue to focus on building a stronger economy so that the United Kingdom can compete and succeed in the world”. Surely for that you need to create the conditions for businesses to grow and for wealth to be created; and, in turn, a restructured economy and diversification of the sectors which contribute to GDP.
Instead, the government’s programme for 2013- 2014 is a motley collection of minor bills – none of which will stimulate growth or enterprise, create jobs, or help ordinary people struggling to make ends meet.
Where are the bills that will ensure that we have a modern economy? Why is there no agenda where the role of government is not to step back, but to work with business to create better outcomes at home and ensure we can pay our way in the world, deliver growth more broadly across sectors and regions, reduce imports and grow exports.
Twelve months ago, we warned the government that its legislative programme wouldn’t do much to get our economy going again. Today, it is flat-lining and there is little – if any – hope that the new bills announced last week will bring the growth and jobs we so desperately need. Perhaps ironically, the Coalition that legislated for a five year parliament seems to have run out of steam after three.
And as for building a stronger economy? No way. Ministers are just offering the prospect of another wasted year.
Lord Wilf Stevenson of Balmacara is a Shadow Business, Innovation & Skills Minister in the Lords
Published 13th May 2013