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Queen’s Speech: key points for London business

The Queen’s Speech outlined the Government’s forthcoming legislative agenda at a critical time for our economy’s reopening. Below is a summary of a number of the announcements affecting London business.

National Insurance Contributions Bill
This Bill will provide employers with a relief from National Insurance contributions for:

  • Eligible new employees in Freeports for three years, up to earnings of £25,000 per annum – which they will be able to claim this relief on all new hires from April 2022.
  • Veterans for the first 12 months, up to earnings of £50,000 per annum – this will be available to employers on earnings from April 2021.

It will also ensure self-employed people who need to, or have had to, self-isolate due to COVID-19 do not pay National Insurance contributions on self-isolation support payments and will have retrospective effect from 6 April 2020. Changes to Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes will boost HMRC’s ability to clamp down on the tax avoidance market.

Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
As part of its reforms to skills and post-16 education, the Government will legislate for the Skills Accelerator programme, which seeks to place employers at the heart of local skills systems; and introduce the Lifelong Loan Entitlement, which will give individuals access to the equivalent up to four years’ worth of student loans for level 4-6 qualifications that they can use flexibly across their lifetime.

Professional Qualifications Bill
This Bill will establish a new framework to recognise professional qualifications from across the world, replacing the interim system that gives preference to professional qualifications from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. It will also seek to give UK regulators powers to agree recognition with regulators overseas.

Environment Bill
The Bill aims to provide a framework for achieving legally binding environmental targets. It will establish a new, independent Office for Environmental Protection and enable the introduction of measures for reducing waste and attaining a circular economy, including extended producer responsibility, product labelling powers, a deposit return scheme for drinks containers and powers to introduce charges for single use plastic items.

The bill will also require the Secretary of State to set at least two legally-binding targets on air quality for PM2.5, which is the most harmful air pollutant.

Planning Bill
To reform the planning system, the Planning Bill will change local plans to provide more certainty over the scale, type and design of development permitted on various categories of land. The Bill will also reduce the amount of time it takes for developments to go through the planning system. There will be changes to funding for affordable housing and infrastructure, with a new levy replacing the existing systems.

Building Safety Bill
The Bill aims to reform the UK’s building safety regime and implement recommendations made by an independent review on building and fire safety. It will lay the foundation for the introduction of a new Building Safety Regulator and a framework for the provision of national oversight of construction products. The powers of the Office for Product Safety and Standards will be strengthened. The Bill also makes provisions for supporting the removal of unsafe cladding through a financing scheme and levy.

The Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill
The Bill will restrict ground rents which are charged on new long residential leases, use a civil penalty regime to enforce the charging of prohibited ground rent and ensure that financial demand cannot be made for all future qualifying leases.

Subsidy Control Bill
The Bill will seek to create and set out the legal framework for a domestic UK subsidy control regime. As part of this, an independent subsidy control body will be established.

Procurement Bill
A Procurement Bill will reform the UK’s public procurement regime to improve its efficiency while ensuring it remains compliant with international obligations. It will also seek to make public procurement more accessible for new entrants and establish a single data platform for supplier registration.

Rail and bus reform
The Government will publish a White Paper on reforms to the UK’s rail system, including a move away from the existing franchising arrangement for contracts with train-operating companies.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill
The Bill will seek to provide security standards and a regulatory framework to ensure that smart consumer products, including smartphones and televisions, are more secure against cyber attacks, and accelerate and improve the deployment and use of digital communications networks to boost telecommunications coverage and connectivity. This will include reforms to the Electronic Communications Code to support faster and more collaborative negotiations for the use of private and public land for telecommunications deployment.

Union Connectivity Review
The Union Connectivity Review, led by Sir Peter Hendy, is due to publish its final report in the summer and will outline plans to improve transport connectivity between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Government is making £20 million of funding available to begin assessing options for schemes identified by the review as crucial for cross-border connectivity.