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Queen’s Speech: our panel’s reaction

Jo Michell, lecturer in economics at UWE Bristol

It is clear from the Queen’s speech that David Cameron wants to shift focus from the economy to the earlier, ‘One Nation’, social themes of his leadership.

He may find this difficult.

The Queen opened her speech with references to ‘a strengthening economy’, ‘a higher wage economy where work is rewarded’, and the inevitable deliberately misleading statement that the country must ‘live within its means’.

But the reality – as today’s labour market figures confirm – is a slowing economy, weak wage growth, falling investment and stagnant productivity. The only remaining signs of positive activity are in the housing market – hardly cause for celebration.

A weakening economy means further deterioration in the public finances – the latest ONS figures show that public debt as a share of GDP is now rising again. Growing uncertainty in the run-up to the EU referendum will dent economic activity further.

Cameron is going to find it hard to prevent attention swinging back towards the economy.

Arianna Giovannini, researcher at SPERI

The big news is that the Northern Powerhouse featured highly in the Queen Speech, as it was mentioned within the first minute. And that’s about it. For the rest, the speech did not include anything that wasn’t already known on this matter – suggesting that, at the moment, the EU referendum is casting a long shadow over all the other issues.

The speech highlighted the need to foster economic prosperity through a Northern Powerhouse. It reiterated that further powers will be devolved to the new Metro-Mayors, including powers over busses. It also referred to the Local Growth and Jobs Bills that will allow local authorities to keep and invest business rates raised and to vary their levels – which, however, is not necessarily the best deal for them. But this is all old news, and nothing of substance has been added on how to advance further the Northern Powerhouse agenda, or on how this will intersect with the City Deals and the elected Mayors, or deal with the many idiosyncrasies that underpin all these plans.

Other areas covered in the speech included education. Although the government seems to have climbed down over its Academies plans, areas lagging behind, such as the North, will still be affected by a ‘forced academisation’. This will undermine considerably local governments and seems to run counter the whole narrative of the Northern Powerhouse. The Higher Education Bill can be read in a similar way. Universities are key anchor institutions that should play that could and should be mobilised in support of the Northern Powerhouse. And yet, they are just being increasingly marketised.

All in all, this suggests that the government is still commitment to develop a Northern Powerhouse, but this is still based on a piecemeal approach that lacks a coherent vision for the future for a sustainable system of economic development and real devolution for the whole North of England.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT

The Queen’s Speech promised ‘fairer’ funding for schools. In fact, schools face the first real terms cuts for a generation, a cut in the real value of funding per pupil of 8% or more. The Government is freezing total cash per pupil but simultaneously increasing the money school governors have to pay to the Treasury for each member of staff they employ. The struggle to balance school budgets will be made harder by the Government’s plan to rush ahead with a National Funding Formula without the additional funding schools already need.  Local authorities in London, the Midlands and the North are expected to be hit particularly hard – but all areas will lose out given the overall real terms cuts in school funding everywhere.

Having failed to gain support for the goal of forced academisation from parents, governors, teachers or head teachers, the Government proposes to take new powers to arrive at the same endpoint.
This Government claims commitment to social mobility but its policy of deregulation, austerity and competition will set the cause of social justice in England back decades.