Boris Johnson Gives Vision for British Revival Post-Pandemic
(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his blueprint for the U.K.’s revival after the coronavirus crisis, promising new laws to unleash “the nation’s full potential” and saying the country must not return to how things used to be done.
In the traditional speech to Parliament by Queen Elizabeth II, the government set out a legislative program with measures to spread broadband Internet and 5G mobile coverage, boost home ownership and reform health care.
The overarching theme is one of recovery from a pandemic that hit the U.K. with its biggest crisis since World War II, with more than 127,000 deaths.
At the same time, Johnson aims to take advantage of the U.K.’s new freedom from European Union rules to set its own state subsidy regime for businesses, reform government procurement and create at least eight freeports.
Writing the foreword to the speech, Johnson returned to the theme of helping economically disadvantaged regions of the U.K. It’s a message that won him a big majority in 2019 elections and he cemented those gains in local votes last week.
“We have been given an historic opportunity to change things for the better, level up opportunities across the whole of the United Kingdom and address the problems that have constrained us far too often before,” Johnson wrote.
A successful vaccination program, with two-thirds of adults having received at least one shot, has enabled Johnson to press ahead with lifting the pandemic lockdown in stages, allowing the economy gradually to reopen. Yet with so much financial support given to businesses and citizens, the government will also need to address the impact on public finances.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said Johnson’s plans lack ambition and fail to commit to legislation on important issues such as social care reform. He also criticized a lack of measures to tackle unemployment and increase pay for workers.
The government’s plan is “packed with short-term gimmicks and distant promises,” Starmer said in the House of Commons. “It misses the urgency and the scale of the transformation that’s needed.”
These are the highlights from the package:
- Extra funding to the NHS to continue fighting the pandemic, prepare for booster vaccinations and tackle a backlog of healthcare; reforms to make health provision more efficient and joined-up between different parts of government and invest in preventative strategies such as reducing obesity, smoking, drug-use
- A Subsidy Control Bill will create a new system of state aid to free local authorities and devolved administrations from “bureaucratic” EU controls
- A Procurement Bill overhauling how the government spends some 290 billion of taxpayer’s money by simplifying processes and opening up government contracts to more innovative companies, small businesses and charities
- The Telecoms Security Bill will put a new duty of securing the security of the entire U.K. telecoms networks on network providers such as BT Group Plc and Vodafone Group Plc. Failure to meet standards would be met with fines of 10% of turnover or 100,000 pounds ($141,000) per day
- A draft bill on oil resilience to address threats to security of fuel supply. It would give government the powers to direct companies to act to ensure fuel supply
- The Counter-State Threats Bill will create a register of foreign spies in the U.K. and will update espionage laws, some of which date from previous world wars
- Laws to create the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, an 800 million-pound body designed to fund high-risk, high reward scientific research as ministers aim to turn Britain into a scientific superpower
- An Innovation Strategy outlining priority areas and seeking to attract business investment
- Legislation to create freeports at East Midlands Airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber, Liverpool City Region, Plymouth and South Devon, Solent, Teesside, and Thames, as well as at further sites in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
- An Environment Bill to boost investment in green industries and creating jobs by putting the environment at the heart of all government decision-making. It also aims to tackle air pollution, protect water resources and increase biodiversity
- A white paper setting out how the government will pursue its “leveling up” agenda to equalize opportunities across the country
- Creating a new building safety regulator, to avoid tragedies like the Grenfell Tower fire
- Measures to restrict the charging of ground rents on residential long leases
- A plan to repeal the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act and give the prime minister the power to trigger an election when he decides the time is right. A law to require voters to show identification at the polling station
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.