THE QUEEN’S SPEECH.
Although the last months of the old parliamentary session gave the impression that MPs had run out of things to do, the Queen’s Speech had plenty of content, particularly to help small businesses in the North. Not that parliament’s success should always be measured by the amount of legislation passed. The old maxim “when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change,” is a good one. MPs should debate the bills they do pass more thoroughly with at least two or three days for a second reading.
After the Lib Dem’s poor showing in the recent elections, there was a danger that David Cameron would be left riding into his last legislative term before the General Election with Nick Clegg strapped, half dead, over the back of his horse. Instead the Posh Boys have signalled that they are in it together till the end.
Lib Dem influence remains alive both in measures included, like infant free school meals, and bills left out, such as entrenching the E.U referendum in law.
The key elements in this Queen’s Speech are pension reform and help for business. It is a bold aim of the Prime Minister to make Britain the most business friendly country in the world but the list of support measures is long. Penalties on employers who undercut the minimum wage should help honest business people. Measures to reduce delays in employment tribunals, to tackle red tape (again) and simplify the collection of National Insurance from the self employed will all be welcomed.
The government pledge to help SMEs with access to finance will be met with some scepticism. A survey out this week found that a third of companies planning growth in the North West feared the banks would turn them down.
The pension changes will potentially affect people’s lives into the second half of the century. Giving people new rights over their pension pots and the proposed defined collective contribution schemes(DCCs) are not without their problems. There is a danger we will create a new class of feckless retirees who blow their pension pots and have to rely on meagre state pensions in their last days. In relation to the DCCs proposal, will there be enough employers prepared to band together to create pension funds with the clout to get better returns than the current annuity system? These funds will have to be managed by the financial whizz kids who were responsible for the mis-selling of financial products in the past.
Other measures in this surprisingly meaty Queen’s Speech included a continuing freeze on petrol duty and plans to elect the boards of our National Parks. A whiff of democracy in the Lake District and High Peak is no bad thing.
More controversial is the measure to make fracking easier. Battle will be joined from Blackpool to Salford and beyond.
THE QUEEN OF THE SEAS.
I had the privilege at the weekend to go aboard the first Cunard liner to dock in Liverpool for nearly forty years. The Commodore and crew of Queen Victoria all expressed their delight at returning to their spiritual home virtually underneath the Cunard Building on the Pier Head.
Mayor Joe Anderson, who has done much to get the cruise business back to Liverpool, announced that a restaurant in the Cunard Building is to be named Aquitania. It’s in honour of the longest serving express liner in the company’s history. The Aquitania made its maiden voyage from the port a hundred years ago.
Many people at the event were looking forward as well as back. Max Steinberg, the captain of the International Festival of Business told me it is hard to keep up with the number of events that are being added daily to the global networking event about to get under way in the city.