16 May 2008
Gordon Brown has set out a draft legislative programme combining a new wave of public service reforms with measures aimed at reassuring the public that they will be shielded from the worst of the economic downturn.
The prime minister, in his preview of the Queen's Speech on May 14, promised a tough Welfare Reform Bill — 'emphasising obligations as well as rights' — that would force unemployed people to have their skills assessed 'and to acquire skills'.
He also signalled a continuation of the Blairite agenda in the NHS and education. An NHS Reform Bill will adjust hospital funding to reflect patient satisfaction (see page 8).
New legislation will also give ministers reserve powers to ensure local authorities intervene in underperforming schools and give parents greater powers to hold schools accountable and to say whether new schools are needed locally.
A Community Empowerment, Housing and Economic Regeneration Bill is also pitched at increasing the public's say in shaping local services, while an Equality Bill will compel public bodies to consider the diverse needs of service users and staff.
But it is unclear how some of Brown's people-power reforms will work. Although a Police and Crime Reduction Bill would give 'directly elected representatives' more say over police priorities, a Home Office spokeswoman was unable to say whether or not these would be existing councillors.
Legislation will allow top-tier local authorities to levy a local supplement on the business rate and invest the proceeds in regeneration — an announcement that sparked immediate protests from the British Chambers of Commerce. Councils might also benefit from a migration impact fund, to which new arrivals in the UK will have to contribute.
Brown promised to 'help family finances' with plans to 'steer our economy safely through the global downturn' set to be released in the next few weeks.
A Banking Reform Bill will include measures to protect depositors, while a 'special resolution regime' will allow the Treasury and the Bank of England to intervene where banks get into difficulties.