Posted: Tue 11th May 2021
In the annual state opening of Parliament, the Queen has outlined the UK government's legislative agenda for the coming year.
During a ceremony that was scaled back from the usual pomp and pageantry due to the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch's speech had a strong focus on the government's levelling up policy and recovering from the pandemic.
"My government's priority is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before.
"To achieve this, my government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services."
A total of 30 Bills were announced. Here are the plans of interest to small businesses.
The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill outlines the government's "lifetime skills guarantee". It includes measures to transform the student loans system" by giving every adult "access to a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college, useable at any point in their lives".
Employers will also have a statutory role in planning publicly-funded training programmes with education providers, through a "Skills Accelerator".
A document released alongside the Queen's Speech said the system will be reformed "around the needs of employers so that people are trained for the skills gaps that exist now and in the future, in sectors the economy needs including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing".
In 2019, employers were unable to fill a quarter of the 214,000 vacant positions due to a lack of people with the right skills. Skills shortages account for 36% per cent of all construction vacancies, and 48% of all manufacturing and skilled trades vacancies.
Public sector procurement
For small businesses looking to win public sector contracts, the Procurement Bill will be of interest.
The legislation would bring together 350 EU rules on how government organisations buy services from the public sector in a "single, uniform framework". It promises to make the process "quicker, simpler and easier to use, allowing more freedom for suppliers and the public sector to innovate and work in partnership with the private sector".
There is a particular focus on making the system more accessible for small businesses and voluntary, charitable and social enterprises to compete for and win public contracts.
The Bill aims to cut red tape by setting up one platform for supplier registration so suppliers only have to submit their data once to qualify for any public sector procurement.
Government funding for businesses
The Subsidy Control Bill will outline post-Brexit measures to support businesses now that the UK is not subject to what the government describes as the European Union's "burdensome" state aid rules.
The government has said it will replace the EU funding businesses have previously accessed with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund in 2022. Public and private sector organisations in the UK received £5.9bn in EU funding in 2018.
The National Insurance Contributions Bill outlines the creation of eight new freeports in England where businesses get tax breaks and other benefits.
Freeports are intended to be national hubs for global trade and investment. They also aim to promote regeneration and job creation as part of the government's policy to level up communities.
The locations of the new freeports are:
East Midlands Airport
Felixstowe and Harwich
Liverpool City Region
The government has committed to establishing at least one freeport in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
National Insurance relief
The National Insurance Contributions Bill also includes a relief from National Insurance contributions for eligible new employees in freeports for three years, up to earnings of £25,000 per annum. Freeport employers will be able to claim this relief on all new hires from April 2022.
Employers of veterans will also receive National Insurance contributions relief for the first 12 months, up to earnings of £50,000 per annum. This relief will be available to employers on earnings from April 2021.
In addition, self-employed people who must, or have had to, self-isolate due to COVID-19 will not have to pay National Insurance contributions on their self-isolation support payments. This measure is intended to have retrospective effect from 6 April 2020 for the English, Welsh and Scottish schemes that were implemented in autumn 2020. The exemption is already in place for National Insurance contributions for the employed.
The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill will extend 5G mobile coverage and high speed broadband. It will also include measures for protection against cyber attacks.
The Queen's Speech confirmed a major overhaul of the UK's immigration system. The Bill promises to ensure the system "does not reward those who enter the UK illegally and that those who have travelled through a safe country where they could have reasonably claimed asylum, such as France or Belgium, will not be admitted into the UK asylum system".
Green businesses, sustainability and the environment
The Queen said: "My government will invest in new green industries to create jobs, while protecting the environment. The United Kingdom is committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and will continue to lead the way internationally by hosting the COP26 Summit in Glasgow."
The Planning Bill will modernise the planning system in England which dates back to 1947. It aims to simplify and speed up the building of schools, homes and hospitals.
It promises to "transform our planning system from a slow document-based one to a more efficient and easier to use digital and map-based service, allowing more active public engagement in the development of their local area".
The government says the changes will provide more certainty for communities and developers, particularly smaller developers, about what is permitted where.
A good bus and train system is important for many small businesses. The Queen's Speech promises reform of rail and bus networks "to deliver services which are better, greener, more reliable and easier to use".
The government will publish a White Paper containing proposals "that will transform the railways and deliver for passengers".
The High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill will provide the powers to build and operate the next stage of the High Speed Two (HS2) network from Crewe to Manchester.
Under the HS2 programme, journey times between London and Manchester will be cut from two hours seven minutes to one hour 12 minutes, while the journey from Birmingham to Manchester will be reduced to only 40 minutes, a 48 minute reduction.
The latest coronavirus small business support
We are keeping you updated on the latest information on how to access the government's coronavirus business support here. You can also find advice and ask a question on Enterprise Nation's coronavirus business advice hub. Follow Enterprise Nation on Twitter too for updates.