Skip to main content

Commenting on the 2021 Queen’s Speech, Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive of Bright Blue, said:  

“Blown off course and utterly consumed by Covid-19, the Government now – with the UK vaccination programme impressively and successfully doing its job – has an opportunity to concentrate more on its domestic reform agenda. There is a genuine, deep-seated desire from this Conservative Government to break from old ideological shackles and introduce a transformative ‘levelling up’ agenda that really supports and rewards those voters in less prosperous areas of the country, especially in northern England and Wales.

“Today’s legislative agenda is broad, but there’s still a long way to go on the detail and delivery around levelling up. In truth, this agenda is nothing new. Indeed, it is to a large extent the very purpose of government: to intervene in markets to help those people and places that are struggling to prosper. There have been countless regeneration initiatives since the 1960s. The lesson from the evidence on these, in essence, is: you need lots of pounds and patience, and the results are not necessarily transformative.

“Accordingly, what really makes a difference to so-called ‘left-behind’ areas is employment opportunities, which derives from the amount of private and public investment. So ensuring, as we recover from the pandemic and repair the public finances, that people and places in coastal and former industrial areas experience economic growth should be the Government’s biggest priority.”

Below, Bright Blue has responded to the announcement of legislation that is particularly relevant to our current work. It therefore is not an exhaustive response to the 2021 Queen’s Speech.

The Government is adopting the following Bright Blue policies in this Queen’s Speech:

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill 

  • Introducing the Lifelong Loan Entitlement
  • Introducing the Lifetime Skills Guarantee
  • Strengthening the powers of the Office for Students to take action to address low quality higher education provision

Sam Robinson, Senior Researcher at Bright Blue, commented:

“A generous pot of government-backed finance from the age of 18 for any type of learning, as Bright Blue has previously recommended, is a pragmatic, flexible approach to enabling people to reskill and upskill after Covid-19. And if future repayments are made income-contingent, such a policy need not be costly to the taxpayer.

“But there is much more the Government could and should be doing to help people navigate the economic upheaval of the last year. The Lifelong Loan Entitlement is not set to be offered until 2025, so should be brought forward. The rollout of the Kickstart Scheme has thus far been slow and ineffective. And the Lifetime Skills Guarantee could include a wider selection of courses to better support hard-hit sectors. While the Government has the right ideas on skills, it now needs to back these up with greater ambition.”

Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive of Bright Blue, commented:

“There is an issue with some universities charging high tuition fees when their graduates on average have very low salaries when they enter the labour market. This is not necessarily always a sign of a low-quality course, but it is very burdensome on the taxpayer. The fairest way for the Office for Students to deal with this is to introduce a levy on universities that produce cohorts of graduates with disproportionately high levels of subsidies on their student loans.”

Environment Bill 

  • Introducing a framework for new legally-binding environmental targets
  • Establishing a new Office for Environmental Protection

Commenting, Patrick Hall, Senior Researcher at Bright Blue, said: 

“It is laudable that the Government is seeking to establish environmental targets across a wide range of policy areas, from air quality to plastic pollution. However, the Government should be more ambitious in a number of areas, by introducing the World Health Organisation’s guideline limits for all major air pollutants; establishing a nationwide target on biodiversity decline; and, banning non-recyclable plastics.”

Education Recovery Plan

  • Providing additional funding for the National Tutoring Programme, a Recovery Premium and summer schools

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive of Bright Blue, said:

“The learning loss from Covid is highly likely to be profound, especially for students from lower income backgrounds. Considering that the current catch-up tutoring is missing many children who have suffered severe learning loss – especially but not exclusively the most deprived – the Education Recovery Plan really needs to be radical. We know compulsory schooling is the most effective and efficient way of educating children. So we need all children to spend more time in it, both gaining and solidifying knowledge they should have developed in this very unusual year. School summer holidays should be significantly shortened by three weeks.”

Early Years Healthy Development Review

  • Providing further funding for the rollout and evaluation of ‘Family Hubs’

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive of Bright Blue, said:

“The Government is trying to reinvent Children’s Centres as Family Hubs. There is now good evidence that the establishment and evolution of these institutions provided significant benefits to both parents and children. The earliest years of a child’s life are the most important for influencing life outcomes, so the Government must ensure these institutions are now properly resourced and supported.”

Social care reform

  • Bringing forward a long-term plan for funding adult social care

Commenting, Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive of Bright Blue, said:

“Further funding needs to be urgently unlocked to improve both the affordability and quality of the elderly social care system. It would be sensible and fruitful for the exchequer to extract that funding from the assets of the babyboomer generation especially, only after death if needs be, rather than increasing the tax burden on the income of the working-aged population. 

“However, when this approach has been tried by both Labour and Conservative Governments before, politicking has stood in the way, sadly. So reform needs to happen now rather than closer to the next general election. Today was a missed opportunity to publish a long-promised plan for future financing of elderly social care.”

‘Conversion therapy’

  • Legislating to ban ‘conversion therapy’ after a period of further consultation with relevant stakeholders 

Commenting, Joseph Silke, Communications Officer at Bright Blue, said:

“Initially promised under Theresa May in 2018, a comprehensive ban on the cruel practice of ‘conversion therapy’ for both sexuality and gender identity, across all settings, is long overdue. While it is encouraging that the Government remains committed to bringing forward landmark legislation, yet further consultation is a disappointing, additional delay to implementing this vitally important safeguard.”

Online Safety Bill 

  • Placing a duty of care on companies to improve the safety of online users
  • Increasing regulation of social media companies to tackle online harms
  • Allowing for the imposition of significant fines for those deemed to be in breach of user protection rules

Commenting, Nikita Malik, Deputy Director at Bright Blue, said:

“The much awaited Online Safety Bill will seek to reform the power of tech companies to foster better competition and innovation, and diversify products and services offered to users. However, the bill must have teeth and ensure that any regulator takes more proactive steps to achieve this and protect users – especially children – who have increased their time online during the Covid-19 pandemic. This should include holding tech companies to account when they fail to prevent children from accessing gambling products, which is currently not covered in the Online Safety Bill.” 

New Plan for Immigration 

  • Overhauling the UK’s post-Brexit asylum system to discourage Channel crossings

Commenting, Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield, Researcher at Bright Blue, said:

“It is understandable that the Government wishes to reduce the number of dangerous journeys undertaken by vulnerable people to reach the UK and to thus undermine the business model of people smugglers. However, it is only humane and right that, alongside effective measures to discourage irregular immigration to the UK, the Government expands safe and legal routes for those seeking asylum as a priority. This could take the form of significantly increasing the numbers of refugees allowed through the UK’s new global resettlement scheme.” 

Counter State Threats Bill

  • Reforming Official Secrets Acts
  • Creating a Foreign Influence Registration Scheme

Commenting, Nikita Malik, Deputy Director at Bright Blue, said:

“The recently published Integrated Review has highlighted the new and evolving threats placed on the UK by state actors, especially in the space of cyber warfare, soft power and espionage. Expanding our laws to allow for better tracking of foreign flows of income into the UK is long overdue. The Government is right to ensure that foreign investment that could threaten national security is investigated and prevented.”

Planning Bill

  • Modernising the planning system to make it easier to build new housing developments
  • Increasing certainty over the type, scale and design of permitted development
  • Replacing the existing systems for funding affordable housing with a new levy

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, Senior Research Fellow at Bright Blue, said:

“While the Government is correct in wishing to address some of the constraints posed by our current planning system and tackle ‘NIMBYism’, planning reform alone is not the panacea to the housing crisis that many cities and towns are facing. It is important not to simply build more homes, but to ensure that there is a range of affordable housing – especially social housing – options that can meet the varying needs of different people, and it is unclear whether the Government’s current approach delivers this.”         

Renters’ Reform Bill

  • Abolishing Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions
  • Introducing a single ‘lifetime’ deposit 
  • Requiring all landlords to belong to a redress scheme

Commenting, Anvar Sarygulov, Senior Research Fellow at Bright Blue, said:

“It is good to see that the Government is continuing to take significant action to improve the rights of private renters. The abolition of ‘no fault’ evictions will significantly increase the security of private renters, a new redress scheme will increase accountability of landlords and the introduction of a single ‘lifetime’ deposit will empower those on low incomes to have more control over where they live by making it easier to move.”    

To arrange an interview with a Bright Blue spokesperson or for further media enquiries, please contact Joseph Silke at joseph@brightblue.org.uk or on 07948 420 584.

 

[Image: UK Parliament]