England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance, Finance

Comment from Jonathan Carr-West on the 2014 Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s speech outlining the last legislative programme before the election in May 2015 once again underlined the Coalition’s main task of cutting the deficit. Measures to cut tax avoidance, help small businesses access finance and simplify the planning system all point to the central aim of this administration.

Two weeks after the local elections we might reflect that there is little in the next year which fundamentally changes local government. In fact, the current fiscal regime and devolutionary measures all occurred in the first years of the Coalition – local government has effectively been set to task from the start. Yet gone are the days when a speech from the Throne would entail a check-list of measures which councils would have to incorporate. Policy officers across the country will welcome the clear, if constrained steer the Government has provided.

LGiU has some concern over the proposed changes to allow developers effectively to bypass the local democratic planning system if a decision has not been given in time. The Government assumes that the blockage in development lies at the hands of local authority planners – after many years of land banking on the part of developers.

The government has announced that it will stop public sector employees from keeping redundancy payments when returning to the public sector. A popular move but could this have implications for the freedom of councils to employ, and fire, who they want to?

Free school meals will also be a project which councils will need to watch in development – the provision of kitchens and the relationship between school meals and the pupil premium will need to be worked out to give councils a clear idea of what their own spending commitment is likely to be.

The question for local government to ask is what will the Queen be announcing in a year’s time – will we see an administration of whichever political hue usher in another period of radical change? Or will the next Government send out the message ‘steady as she goes’, with a continued dribbling down of difficult funding settlements with no bargain to devolve real power?

The next year will see manifesto pledges from all parties released with promises to bring
power to the people. We can’t be sure whether these ideas will prevail into the next legislative programme. In fact, with nearly 60 speeches by HMQ, the one thing we can be certain of is that she will be the only person who knows which job she will be doing next year.