Much of the agenda spelled out by the Queen this week will be welcome but there remain big concerns
If Her Majesty takes an interest in opinion polls, then this week’s Queen’s Speech - a purely Tory vision for the UK - was probably not the one she was expecting to give. The suspicion in Westminster is that, given the pre-election predictions of another coalition, David Cameron wasn’t expecting it either. So the policies it contains have the potential to give him and his ministers quite a few headaches.
This month’s shock election result has made it clear just how successful the Conservatives were at offloading the blame for the unpopular policies that were passed in what was a necessarily difficult parliament to negotiate. However, this time round, with no chance of any rapid end to austerity, the Conservatives have lost the fig leaf of coalition compromise, and will have to cope by themselves with the rising expectations that are likely to come with continuing economic growth. With Europe looming large, it’s not going to be an easy ride for Cameron.
For the construction and housing sector, much of the agenda spelled out by the Queen this week, as with much of the manifesto behind it, will be welcome - continuing as it does the coalition’s focus on stimulating the housing sector and prioritising infrastructure development and economic growth.
A purely Tory vision for the UK was probably not the speech the Queen was expecting to give - and David Cameron wasn’t expecting it either
Small businesses will also welcome the continued focus on prompt payment - although they will hope that efforts to tackle the problem in this parliament are more effective than those in the last, when help was most urgently needed. Most of all, the continuing push for devolution has the potential to enliven local economies - but only if city regions are given significant tax-raising and spending powers.
But there remain big concerns too. Most urgently, these surround the implementation of the extension of the right to buy policy (see here) to the very housing associations whose financial strength the government looks to in order to deliver the 165,00 “affordable rent” homes it has got planned.
The problems with this policy are numerous: What will it mean for associations’ borrowing capacity? How will it affect their private sector status? How will the homes sold be replaced? There are so many questions and issues, indeed, that many suspect that the policy was never expected to see the light of day, but was drawn up instead as a bargaining chip with which to lever concessions out of the Liberal Democrats - much as the need for such a thing seems ridiculous now.
Politically it is also hard to see how the policy squares with traditional Tory priorities, given that it effectively provides an enormous financial subsidy for already well-subsidised housing association tenants, while many of the “hard-working” families that the manifesto is designed to appeal to struggle in the private sector on exorbitant rents with no chance of saving for a deposit. Housing associations are understandably up in arms about it, and it may be that proposals will be watered down in the face of protest.
But, as we examine here and here, this is by no means the only problematic area. Sustainable construction and retrofit were almost totally absent from this week’s Queen’s Speech. Likewise, capital funding for schools, facing a 16% cut from the 2010-2015 parliament, is under huge pressure, as is capital spending in other departments. Meanwhile, fears are growing that the post-election strength of newly-emboldened shire Tories will lead to an increasingly difficult time for developers looking to gain planning permission.
If this is, as some suspect, an accidental programme of government, the most important thing will be to ensure that those in charge listen to the expert voices of industry when putting it into action.
Joey Gardiner, deputy editor