The Queen’s Speech marks the start of the Parliamentary year, it is delivered by the Queen, but written by Ministers and identifies priorities in terms of laws that it wants to pass through the house and vote on this year.  This year the Government has identified 31 bills that MPs and peers will be asked to scrutinise and vote on over the next year.  Inclusion in the Speech doesn’t necessarily mean it will automatically become law, but the Government has a strong majority and through the Parliamentary process these bills will be scrutinised and adapted.

The themes in the speech reaffirm commitments to build back better, cleaner and greener with Net Zero Strategy central, seizing opportunity from exiting the EU, driving investment and levelling up with a view to strengthening the Union.

Below we look at the areas that will have the most significant impact on businesses in the construction industry and the finishes and interiors sector.

Planning bill
This has been billed as the biggest shake-up of the planning system in decades.  Whilst we have heard this statement by successive Governments, the bill does mark a fairly fundamental change as under proposals local planning authorities would no longer have the powers to turn down housing developments if they meet set standards.  The Bill also forces local authorities to set new zones for housing. This Bill is already getting opposition from within the Conservative Party, so is by no means a done deal yet.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
The Government is planning landmark reforms for the delivery of skills and training with a focus on ensuring that people can train and retrain at any stage in their lives.  Central to the Bill is introducing a right to government-funded training for all adults lacking A-levels or a qualificaion of equivalent value. The Bill will also extend the student loan system to those who want to study at local further education colleges. All adults will be entitled to four years’ worth of loans for training or education that can be taken at any point in their life.

Building Safety Bill
Government continues to press ahead with reshaping the regulation and enforcement that impacts building safety, this includes changes to the Building Regulations, new regulators and particular scrutiny on the safety of high-rise buildings and inspections of buildings under construction in the wake of the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster.

Environment Bill
Provides a regulatory framework to impose, adapt and absorb elements previously covered under EU directives.  The Bill allows Government to set legally binding targets, restore nature and biodiversity, tackle air pollution, establish an independent Office for Environmental Protection, cut plastic use and includes particular reference to “revolutionising” how we recycle.

Subsidy control bill
State Aid rules are no longer Governed by the EU (although are referenced in the Trade Agreement).  This Bill will enable Government to write legislation to establish a state aid regime in the UK that helps to accelerate recovery.
An independent body will be established to help government ensure intervention reflects strategic interests and National circumstances without breaching the terms of the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU.

Freeports bill
Again aimed at driving investment and regeneration at the same time as supporting trade, this Bill will allow Government to establish the legal framework for initially eight freeports: Teesside, London Gateway, Liverpool City Region, Humber, Felixstowe, Southampton, Plymouth and East Midlands airport.  Discussions continue between the UK Government and the devolved administrations to ensure the delivery of further Freeports in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

Businesses within Freeport areas will benefit from more generous tax reliefs, simplified customs procedures and wider Government support.

Procurement bill
This Bill is designed to consolidate and streamline the 350 plus EU derived regulations and make our procurement regime quicker, simpler and easier to use, allowing more freedom for suppliers and the public  sector to innovate and work in partnership with the private sector.  The Bill crystalises that “social value” must be considered a factor in the picking of suppliers (in keeping with the philosophy of the Construction Playbook).

Professional qualifications bill
Provides a new bespoke framework for the UK to recognise professional qualifications from across the world to ensure employers can access professionals where there are UK shortages. Whilst targeting the need to help fill skill shortages after Brexit, it is unlikely to have much impact on trade operative end of construction, but is more targeted at occupations like medicine and teaching, and will provide some freedom in the Engineering, Architectural and Surveying end of the market.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill
This is likely to drive investment as the Government focusses on making the UK a global science superpower by developing our Life Sciences sector to attract the best people and businesses from across the world, increasing public expenditure on research and development to £22 billion; and creating the Advanced Research and Invention Agency focused on funding highrisk, high-reward research and development.

Registration of Overseas Entities Bill
It is clear that International Investment will be critical to support growth, but more control is required.  This Bill is about transparency and ensuring foreign owners of UK property are no longer able to conceal their identity: a register of beneficial ownership will be set up to crack down on tax evasion.

The Speech also highlights a number of Funds designed to support investment in change these include:

Future Fund: Breakthrough
The £375 million, UK-wide ‘Future Fund: Breakthrough’ scheme will target innovative, R&D-intensive firms and provide them with the capital they need to grow and succeed.

Levelling Up Fund
The £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund will invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK, including regenerating town centre and high streets, upgrading local transport, and investing in cultural and heritage assets.

UK Community Renewal Fund/ UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF)
The £220 million UK-wide Community Renewal Fund will provide funding for local areas across the UK in 2021-22 to help them prepare for the introduction of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, in addition to the continued high level of funding from EU structural funds.

Towns Fund
Through the Towns Fund the Government has confirmed a £1 billion investment in 45 Town Deals across England, which will help local areas to grow their economies, create and sustain local jobs whilst encouraging opportunities to reshape the look and feel of their area.

National Skills Fund
The Government is investing significant amounts into further education – £1.5 billion to improve our college estate; £2.5 billion (£3 billion when including Barnett funding for devolved administrations) in the National Skills Fund; and £650 million extra into 16-19 further education

Commenting on the speech, FIS CEO Iain McIlwee stated: “As expected, this is a Queens Speech packed full of optimism, all about a fresh start outside the EU and building back after COVID.  The focus on Skills is particularly encouraging – we now need to ensure that construction is a key beneficiary of this.  The Planning reform is also a good sign of a Government recognition that construction activity is key to growth and hampered by red tape and nymbyism, but I suspect it will be a while before the sector sees the full benefit of this reform as it meets opposition in the House.  My sincere hope is that the Building Safety Bill is passed this side of the summer recess so we can crack on with the much needed reform that it heralds.”

Full details of the Queens Speech including a transcript and supporting information is available here.