It was The Queen’s Speech last week. Beneath the pomp and circumstance of The Queen’s procession into Parliament and the House of Commons slamming the door shut in Black Rod’s face, there is a serious and modern side to the day.
The Queen’s Speech sets out the Government’s agenda for the next session of Parliament, usually lasting for about a year, with a range of potential Acts of Parliament which will change the law and ensure that the Government of the day is able to implement its programme for the year ahead.
Just a year after the General Election, with the Conservative Party winning an overall majority, as opposed to sharing power with the Liberal Democrats, for the first time since 1992, you would expect a busy round of Parliamentary and legislative time. Actually, it seems pretty light, suggesting that the Tories have either already run out of ideas after only a year with a majority, or that the Government doesn’t want to do anything to disrupt the very fractious situation at the moment with the Parliamentary Conservative Party because of Europe and the impending referendum on our membership of the EU on 23rd June.
So, after all that, what was actually in The Queen’s Speech, and how does it affect Hartlepool?
The speech paved the way for greater autonomy for prison governors to run prisons as they see fit. There is a concern that this will essentially be privatisation of the prison system through the back door. This Prison and Courts Bill also allows for the release of prisoners for tags during the week and locks them up on weekends. How this safeguards the general public and secures appropriate law and order is something to be debated and discussed during the passage of the Bill through Parliament, but I can’t see how privatisation of the prison service really helps, especially in the light of the shambles of some of the offender management system by private companies.
Ominously for Hartlepool schools, the Education for All Bill, which in my opinion should contravene the Trades Description Act, provides a new funding formula for schools. On one level, this is meant to provide the same formula for pupils in urban and rural areas. However, given that there is a connection between urban deprivation and pupil attainment, governments in the past have recognised that more money should be given to schools in poorer, urban areas. I am hugely concerned that this will mean that Hartlepool children and schools will see their funding per pupil cut, to allow more money to flow to leafy, affluent areas like Surrey and therefore stop Tory MPs from rebelling. That really isn’t going to help kids in Hartlepool achieve their potential.
The Local Growth and Jobs Bill will mean more cuts for local councils and will bring in 100 per cent retention of local business rates. On one level, this is designed to stimulate business expansion and employment growth. However, as I’ve written before and raised in Parliament on numerous occasions, the structure of the Hartlepool economy makes this very vulnerable for Hartlepool Borough Council’s finances.
The Queen’s Speech doesn’t have a huge amount in it, if I’m honest, but the draft proposals for the next year don’t bode well with regard to assistance for Hartlepool.