June 16, 2024

Government plans in the Queen’s Speech for a clampdown on scams and a tailoring of financial services regulation post-Brexit were among measures welcomed by business groups.

In a speech delivered for the first time by the Prince of Wales, the government set out a legislative programme of 38 bills.

An Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill was welcomed by the trade body UK Finance as “critical in helping to address money laundering and the growth in fraud and scams, which are now the most prevalent type of crime in the UK”.

The UK’s regulator for payment services is to gain the power to force banks to offer compensation to blameless victims of “push payment” scams.

UK Finance added that the new Financial Services and Markets Bill provides the opportunity to “tailor” regulations and create a more competitive financial services sector post-Brexit.

The Treasury said that the bill would also protect consumers’ access to cash by ensuring the availability of withdrawal and deposit facilities.

Other proposals including long called-for plans to modernise the business rates system with more frequent revaluations “based on more accurate data” and support for renewable energy and energy security.

The business rates revaluation cycle will be shortened from five to three years from 2023 and in the Energy Security Bill, where there was no windfall tax, the government plans to extend a price cap on the most widely used domestic energy contracts beyond 2023.

Government plans to complete the establishment of the UK Infrastructure Bank, utilising its £22 billion financial capacity to “support growth, improve connections across the country and help level up the UK whilst supporting our transition to net zero by 2050”, were supported by the IoD, as well as the GMB union, which said it was a “great opportunity to stop UK renewables jobs going overseas”.

However, plans to unlock new powers for local authorities to bring empty premises back into use and instigate rental auctions of vacant commercial properties in town centres and high streets under a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill received a mixed response from business.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, which represents the industry, said that “if properly considered and scrutinised” it could make a “huge difference in rejuvenating empty properties and … reviving high streets”. But Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said such “political gimmicks” were “not the solution and will deter rather than encourage investment into the areas where it is most needed”.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors called it “blunt” and separately said it was disappointed that bolder planning reforms had been “sidelined”.

“We have supported root and branch planning reforms and now look forward to seeing where government’s level of ambition for a reformed planning system is,” it said.

There was relief — after initial confusion among business groups — that the government had made a commitment to publish a draft audit reform bill. It was included in supporting government documents rather than in the Queen’s Speech itself.

John Wood, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors, said that putting the audit regulator on a statutory footing “with the legal powers it needs to do its job effectively, is vital to restoring trust in audit and corporate governance”, but urged ministers to “get on and swiftly issue its full response to the white paper it published over a year ago”.

There remain concerns about the effects of the cost-of-living crisis at what the Confederation of British Industry called a “crucial time, with households and businesses facing significant economic headwinds”.

Unite criticised the lack of action to address the impact of rising inflation, with Sharon Graham, general secretary of Britain’s largest union, saying “we are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and a recession is looming”.

The CBI said that the “government should remain laser focused on unlocking the investment needed to grow the economy and address the cost-of-living crisis”.

There was also widespread criticism of the absence of an employment bill.

Verity Davidge, director of policy at Make UK, which represents manufacturers, said “business will be frustrated that, yet again, three years after having promised it”, trhe government had shelved it. Make UK called it “a major omission given how fast the world of work is changing, a trend accelerated by the pandemic”.

Ben Willmott, head of policy for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the professional body for human resources, said delay on the employment bill “once again leaves the government with very little time to meet its promises to protect and enhance workers’ rights”.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the the TUC, said: “No employment bill means vital rights that ministers had promised — like default flexible working, fair tips and protection from pregnancy discrimination — risk being ditched for good.”

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Queen’s Speech gets mixed reception from business groups