Summary of the Queen's speech for Governance professionals
Yesterday’s Queen's speech was historic in that it was the first time in over 200 years that it was delivered by the heir to the throne rather than the reigning monarch.
More significant in the short term was the number of bills announced. At 38, this is an ambitious programme to push through in one parliamentary term, although not quite equaling the 45 bills announced in 2005, Tony Blair's final term as Prime Minister.
In such a wide-ranging government agenda, there is much to interest the governance professional.
One highlight is the inclusion of the long-awaited draft Audit Reform Bill, which will establish a new statutory regulator, the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority (ARGA) and give it effective powers to carry out its functions, provide new measures to open up the market, including a new approach of managed shared audit in which challenger firms undertake a share of the work on large-scale audits, and bring the largest private companies in scope of regulation in the definition of ‘public interest entities’.
As expected, time will be given to combatting illicit finance and reducing economic crime covering those areas which could not be fitted into the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act in March of this year through a new Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill. This brings with it a number of changes at Companies House which will be of significant interest to members. It will broaden the powers of the Registrar of Companies, introduce identity verification for directors and others who manage, own and control companies and other UK registered entities, provide Companies House with more effective investigation and enforcement powers and tackle the abuse of limited partnerships (including Scottish Limited Partnerships), by strengthening transparency requirements and enabling them to be properly wound up.
The Modern Slavery Bill will extend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to strengthen the requirements on businesses with a turnover of £36 million or more to publish an annual statement to set out steps taken to prevent modern slavery in their operations and supply chains as well as mandating the reporting areas to be covered.
A new Football Regulator is also proposed. This body will be responsible for oversight of a new licensing regime for professional football in England, to include governance at football clubs and financial regulation of the game including ensuring owners and stewards are “fit and proper” people to manage football clubs prudently and sustainably. The Government will publish a White Paper in the summer, which will set out further details.
Colleagues in the education sector will be interested in the announcement of the Schools Bill which pursues the Academy Trust approach, linking this to levelling up school standards and a fair and consistent funding approach. The main elements are to strengthen the regulatory framework for academy trusts and establish new statutory standards to drive ‘clarity and consistency’ of expectations for trusts with intervention powers to tackle serious failure.
The bill will also propose support for more schools to become academies in trusts, removing barriers to conversion for faith and grammar schools and bringing them into the academy sector on the request of local authorities.
The government has committed to a Plan for Growth alongside the private sector. One aspect of this will continue the ambition to encourage an increase in private sector investment in employee training both for apprenticeships and employees more generally, considering whether further intervention is needed to encourage high-quality training including whether the current tax system provides sufficient incentive for business to invest in improving their workforce skills
Another area where government promises to examine tax reliefs will be to build on those previously announced for research and development in the next Budget.
The Non-Domestic Rating Bill will fulfill manifesto commitments to review the business rates system to make it fairer, modernising the current system and increasing the frequency of reevaluations.
The Electronic Trade Documents Bill will establish electronic documents on the same footing as paper documents, increasing efficiency and lowering trade administrative costs, one aspect of which will be to remove the need for paper and wet ink signatures.
Of some interest will be the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill designed to improve cyber resilience and digital connectivity for both individuals and businesses by setting up minimum security standards for manufacturers and a robust regulatory framework to keep pace with technological changes.
The Financial Services and Markets Bill promises to cut red tape in the financial sector and harness the opportunities of innovative technology. One key element will include updating the financial services regulators to provide greater focus on growth and international competitiveness.
A Data Reform Bill promises to reduce burdens on businesses, boost the economy and improve lives in the UK. One element will be modernising the Information Commissioner’s Office to give it the powers to take stronger action against organisations in breach. A key benefit aim is to produce a data protection framework focused on privacy outcomes rather than ‘box-ticking’ including a clearer regulatory environment for personal data use to fuel innovation and scientific progress while ensuring personal data is protected to a ‘gold standard’.
Colleagues in the Housing sector will follow the Social Housing Regulation Bill with keen interest as it seeks to “improve the regulation of social housing to strengthen the rights of tenants and investment in the new supply of social housing.
A Higher Education Bill will support lifelong learning through a loan entitlement to the equivalent of four years of study.
A new National Security Bill will include a Foreign Influence Registration Scheme requiring individuals to register certain arrangements with foreign governments and support the Economic Crime Act and the second Economic Crime Bill proposed today.
There will be other bills in the today’s Queens speech of relevance to particular sectors and this is only intended as a brief summary of those with the broadest impact on the governance professional. There is much here for the Institute to respond to as these bills make their way through Parliament, and we will engage on the detail in due course.