Her Majesty the Queen delivers an “unashamedly” pro business speech at the State opening of Parliament.
Coalition representatives anticipated this year’s Queen’s Speech as an “unashamedly” pro-business agenda for legislation.
Key bills around infrastructure, pensions, childcare and zero hours contracts are designed to make the UK more flexible and competitive said the incumbent government in the lead up to its last Queen’s Speech before the next general election.
The Queen said her government would introduce measures to make Britain the best place to start, finance and grow a business.
Of particular interest to manufacturers, and specifically energy intensive manufacturers or those in oil and gas supply chains, was the introduction of the Infrastructure Bill, including proposals to open up the fracking industry in the UK.
Fracking, the process for extracting shale gas, is controversial with environmentalists and has faced high profile opposition in the south east of the UK where there are known to be big opportunities to extract shale gas.
However, liberalisation of the shale gas industry in the USA has been integral to its recent industrial resurgence by providing access to cheap energy and increasing security of supply.
In the 2014 Budget announcement the Coalition announced measures to support a similar phenomenon in the UK. The Budget announced tax reliefs for shale gas projects and promised to support the development of skills for the nascent industry. It is thought that a lively fracking industry and supply chain could lead to the creation of 74,000 jobs in the UK.
Today, the Queen said that a new Infrastructure Bill will increase energy security by opening up fracking and optimising the use of North Sea oil reserves.
The detail of the Infrastructure Bill will include a liberalisation of fracking regulation so that shale gas can be extracted from beneath private property without the permission of property owners.
Commenting on this Gareth Stace, head of environment and policy at trade association EEF said: “The amendment of trespass laws is vitally important if the UK is to get serious about exploiting its shale gas reserves.
“Natural gas will continue to be a vital part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future and, the exploitation of our reserves is one of increased reliance on foreign imports and exposure to volatile prices.
“This is an issue for the whole of Europe as the entire continent must take steps to establish more secure forms of energy in the long term. The move, however, is clearly not without controversy and it is vital that the Government does more to engage with communities and the wider public to allay concerns about both the risks and importance of this endeavour.”
Other elements of the Bill will reform planning laws and invest in the national road network.
Another industry-relevant element of the Queen’s speech was the intention to introduce a charge for plastic carrier bags in England.
The 5p charge will apply to all bags dispensed in English shops and supermarkets. The coalition says it will cut down on the amount of plastic bags sent to landfill, or being littered and ending up in British waterways.
Labour disagrees and has said the inclusion of the measure in the Queen’s speech indicates the coalition has “run out of ideas” in the run up to the 2015 election.
Philp Law, CEO of the British Plastic Federation (BPF) which represents around 5,000 British plastics producers is inclined to agree.
Commenting on the 5p charge he told TM ”It’s discriminatory, anti-competitive and will distort markets.
“A populist measure, it ignores the immense re-usability of plastic bags and is inconsistent with the government’s own life cycle assessment of bags which has been conveniently put in a drawer and forgotten about. Plastic bags represent a mere pin prick in the overall mass of waste”
In a recent article for TM outgoing BPF director general Peter Davis claimed that plastic carrier bags are responsible for just 0.02% of household waste in the UK and that reducing their use will prevent more efficient recycling of plastics in Britain. (See our June issue).
Turning to the creation of skilled workers for industry, the Queen communicated that the government promises to create 2m apprenticeship placements in the UK before the end of their parliament.
More comment in the implications of the Queen’s Speech for manufacturing employers will be available at www.themanufacturer.com shortly.