Legislation to pave the way for widespread devolution to cities and the extension of the right-to-buy to housing association tenants have been announced by the Queen following the state opening of parliament this morning.
1.49pm The Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman has welcomed plans, announced in the Queen’s seech, to merge her office with that of the local government ombudsman.
Dame Julie Mellor said: “We have been calling for a single public service ombudsman to make it much simpler and easier to complain about public services in England and we are delighted that the government has made a firm commitment to this today.
“The current system is too complex and confusing for people. The public should not have to work out who funds or runs the service they feel let down by and then which ombudsman service to turn to, to get a final decision on their complaint that has not been resolved locally.
“We want a unified public service ombudsman that will make it easier for people to get redress when things go wrong - what I call the ‘no wrong door’ approach to complaining. This will be better for the public, better for Parliament and provide better value for money.”
1.29pm The National Housing Federation has described the plan to extend right-to-buy as “like trying to fill a bathtub with the plug taken out”.
Henry Gregg, assistant director of campaigns and communications, said: “This policy is not a genuine solution to our housing crisis. An extension to the right-to-buy would mean that housing associations are working to keep pace with replacements rather than building homes for the millions stuck on waiting lists. At a time when we need to be increasing the overall amount of social housing, it is like trying to fill a bathtub with the plug taken out.
“What’s more, forcing housing associations to sell of their properties under the right-to-buy sets an extremely dangerous precedent of government interference in independent business.”
1.26pm The Alzheimer’s Society has raised concern about the lack of focus on social care in the Queen’s speech.
George McNamara, head of policy, said: “Integration of health and social care is vital to providing personalised care fit for an ageing population with increasingly complex needs. Yet strikingly absent from the speech is any reference to social care funding. If the government continues to treat social care as the poor cousin to the NHS, genuine integration can only remain an aspiration. It must be acknowledged that you cannot secure the future of the NHS without investment in social care.”
1.24pm Away from housing and devolution, LGC’s Sarah Calkin has produced a quick round up of the other legilsation which will have an impact on local authorities.
Other bills announced today which have implications for councils are the Education and Schools Bill, the Childcare Bill, the Extremism Bill and the Psychoactive Substances Bill.
The former is the most significant of these and will give the education secretary power to compel councils to form regional adoption agencies. The briefing note said the government would set out a definition of a “coasting” school and under the bill schools that meet this definition would be “eligible for academisation”. The bill will also legislate so that academisation is the usual outcome when a school is rated inadequate by Ofsted.
Under the childcare bill, in addition to their existing responsibilities in this area, local authorities will be required to publish information about the provision of childcare in the local authority area and other services that might be of benefit to parents or children.
The Psychoactive substances bill is intended to “enable police and local authorities to adopt a proportionate response to the supply” of new psychoactive substances, or legal highs. The bill would include provision for civil sanctions – prohibition notices and prohibition orders, where breach of the latter would be a criminal offence.
The extremism bill will hand police and councils powers to close down premises used to support extremism.
1.05pm Director of the Institute for Government Peter Riddell has described the legislative programme set out in the Queen’s Speech as “very ambitious”.
“The four proposed devolution bills present large constitutional challenges, not only in the nations and regions affected but also for the government of the UK as a whole. There is not going to be one solution for the whole of the UK, but the changes need to be coherent and consistent. The Institute for Government has stressed the need to strengthen relations between the various governments of the UK,” he said.
12.57pm The charity Barnardos has warned plans announced in the Queen’s speech to end housing benefit for 18-21 year olds risks increasing the number of homeless young people.
Chief executive Javed Khan said: “These rash plans risk compromising 118,000 vulnerable young people, forcing many to choose between staying on in unstable homes or becoming homeless.
“Day in day out, Barnardo’s works with young people who are scarred by growing up in abusive or substance misusing households. Housing benefit is a lifeline that gives these youngsters a fresh start, so it’s deeply worrying that the Government is severing it.”
12.54pm Commenting on the proposal in the Housing Bill to introduce local development orders on 90% of brownfield land by 2020, Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “The focus on brownfield land is similarly positive, but we have doubts about how much suitable land will come to market. Local Development Orders are not the silver bullet and experience shows that they are costly for local authorities to produce.
“Neighbourhood planning changes are to be welcomed, particularly if they enable pro-growth, business-led neighbourhood plans to come forward with greater speed.”
12.48pm Commenting on the Queen’s speech, Paul Dossett, head of local government at Grant Thornton UK LLP, welcomed the city devolution bill.
He said: “City devolution has the potential to enable more innovative and efficient public services, joined up and tailored to local circumstances and outcomes, and investment in local economic priorities that can support business growth. Proposals for integrated health and social care should complement this. As well as looking at devolution to major cities, the Government does also need to think about smaller metropolitan areas and London Boroughs. It is these councils, many of which have seen some of the biggest spending cuts to date and Grant Thornton analysis shows have significant financial resilience issues, which could benefit from the innovation and joined up services that greater flexibility or devolution could bring. Counties could also benefit from greater flexibility to support economic growth.”
12.39pm The briefing note also reveals the government will bring forward a ‘buses bill’ which will “provide the option for combined authority areas with directly-elected mayors to be responsible for the running of their local bus services”. This would give places the chance to “franchise bus services” and “promote an integrated transport system”.
These measures were included in Greater Manchester’s devolution deal while in October the North East Combined Authority started the process of seeking powers to re-regulate bus fares and services across the network in the Tyne and Wear area from April 2017. Local authorities in the Tees Valley, which are in the process of setting up a formal combined authority, have also expressed an interest in taking back control of bus services. However, any additional powers would be contingent on the area having an elected mayor, which leader of Darlington BC Bill Dixon told LGC would happen over his “political dead body”. Further details on the main elements of the Buses Bill will be published “in due course”, the briefing note says.
12.34pm David Sparks, chair of the Local Government Association, said the devolution bill was good news but warned devolution must “reach all corners of England.
He said: “Making decisions at a more local level will bring about huge economic and social benefits and with non-metropolitan England responsible for 56 per cent of economic output the case for wider devolution is clear.
“Like the communities secretary we believe the push to decentralise power should be extended to these non-urban areas and are ready to work with the government to meet this aspiration.”
12.30pm Chief executive of the Local Government Information Unit, Jonathan Carr-West has warned of a “devolution log jam” if care is not taken over the process for agreeing devolution settlements.
“Today we see the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill front and centre in the Queen’s speech. This is a welcome development and we hope that it is a first step towards stronger local economies and more sustainable local services.
“But, at LGiU, we would like to see devolution go further: to include real fiscal devolution of the sort our local authority members tell us they want need.
He added: “There’s no detail at present on the process by which these city devolution settlements and county deals are to be managed. It’s important that we do not have a cumbersome Whitehall led process which could create a devolution log jam.”
12.28pm LGC’s David Paine summarises some of the key points of what we know about the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill:
The briefing note said the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill would be “generic” so it could “applied by order to specified combined authorities and their areas”. It added it would enable an elected mayor for a combined authority’s area to “exercise specified functions and chair the authority”. The elected mayor will also be enabled to take on the functions of Police and Crime Commissioner for the area. The legislation will also “remove the current statutory limitation” on combined authority functions as these are currently limited to those on economic development, regeneration, and transport. The bill will also enable “local authority governance to be streamlined as agreed by councils”.
12.18pm To tackle housing supply the briefing note says the Housing Bill will “introduce a statutory register for brownfield land, to help achieve the target of getting Local Development Orders in place on 90% of suitable brownfield sites by 2020”. The coalition government consulted on this before the election but it did not go down well with councils: Concerns raised over ‘draconian’ brownfield site proposals
12.16pm LGC’s Sarah Calkin tweets: “No more detail about#QueensSpeech Housing Bill in cab office briefing note. Still no indication of what counts as a ‘high value’ property.”
12.12pm The briefing note contains little further detail on plans for a Housing Bill to extend the right-to-buy to housing association tenants,force councils to sell of thier most expensive properties and introducing a ‘right to build’ requiring local planning authorities to “support custom and self-builders registered in their area in identifying suitable plots of land to build or commission their own home”.
12.08pm The Cabinet Office briefing note appears to indicate a softening on which areas could receive devolved powers.
LGC’s David Paine writes: “The legislation is called the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. That is a significant change from the ‘cities devolution bill’ previously outlined by chancellor George Osborne. And in a section outlining the main benefits of the bill, it said the legislative framework would deliver the Greater Manchester devolution deal and other deals “both in large cities which choose to have elected mayors and in other places”.
12.03pm Commenting on the speech, Cllr Paul Watson (Lab) leader of Sunderland City Council, and chair of the Key Cities Group, said:
“The Cities Devolution Bill is a landmark step for Westminster. It offers the opportunity for cities to assume real powers to boost economic development and deliver a better deal for their residents. We are very much encouraged that the Government is willing to loosen Whitehall’s grip on power.
“We await the full detail of the Bill, but encourage the Government to be bold and spread power far and wide. Our recent report Power, people and places: A Manifesto for devolution to Britain’s Key Cities, has shown that local control of taxes ranging from VAT to stamp duty and council tax and five-year funding settlements, for areas including employment, skills, transport, housing, and infrastructure could save £12.5 billion over the course of this Parliament.
“Key Cities have already grown strongly since the recession, leading the way from advanced manufacturing to support for small businesses or research and development. We are poised to help build a stronger, more inclusive, more prosperous economy. This is a chance the country cannot afford to miss.”
12.01pm In briefing notes suporting the Queen’s speech the government frames its right-to-buy extension as a central tenet of its commitment to be a ‘one-nation’ government.
“For too long we’ve been a two-speed country. Some could afford childcare; others could not. Some could afford a home of their own; others could not. A One Nation Government will change that. Our Childcare Bill will grant working parents 30 hours free childcare a week for 3 and 4 year olds, and because of our reforms, for the first time, childcare will get proper tax relief. Our Housing Bill will dramatically extend the Right to Buy to the tenants of Housing Associations – putting home ownership within the reach of 1.3 million more families.”
11.57am Commenting on the speech, prime minister David Cameron said:
Behind this Queen’s Speech is a clear vision for what our country can be. A country of security and opportunity for everyone, at every stage of life.
That is our ambition. To build a country where whoever you are and wherever you live you can have the chance of a good education, a decent job, a home of your own and the peace of mind that comes from being able to raise a family and enjoy a secure retirement.
A country that backs those who work hard and do the right thing.
This is the Queen’s Speech for working people from a ‘one nation’ government that will bring our country together.
We have a mandate from the British people, a clear manifesto and the instruction to deliver. And we will not waste a single moment in getting on with the task.
11.52am The full text of the speech has now been published. This is what the Queen said about devolution to cities:
To bring different parts of our country together, my government will work to bring about a balanced economic recovery. Legislation will be introduced to provide for the devolution of powers to cities with elected metro mayors, helping to build a northern powerhouse.
11.48am BBC estimates there are 21 bills in the speech, including four which involve devolving power away from Westminster.
11.47am MPs are now heading back to the House of Commons where the speech will be debated.
11.43am Other announcements in the speech included: a commitment to implementing the NHS Five Year Forward View, integrate health and social care and ensuring the NHS works on a seven day basis and a bill to ensure decisions affecting England and Wales can only be taken with the support of a majority of members representing constituencies in those parts of the country.
11.40am The government will continue to play a role on the world stage.
11.40am Early legislation will be introduced to provide for an ‘in-out’ referendum on membership of the European Union.
11.38am The government will work to bring about a balanced economy. Legislation will be introduced for devlution to cities that opt to have elected metro mayors.
11.36am Queen confirms right to buy legilsation, continuation of troubled families programme and benefits cap.
11.35am Legislation will be bought forward to ensure people working 30 hours a week on the national minimum wage do not pay any tax.
11.34am Queen’s speech is now underway. She says the government will continue with its long term plan to provide econmic stability and security, continuing the work of reducing the deficit.