11 May 2022

This Queen’s Speech was a recipe for growth – of the state

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Listening to this year’s Queen’s Speech, it was easy to feel enthusiastic about the opening line: ‘My Government’s priority is to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families’.

Unfortunately, this buoyancy was swiftly deflated as Prince Charles, standing in for his mother, reeled off a number of the Government’s pet projects, none of which form a coherent strategy to meet its principle stated objectives.

The Government’s proposals are peppered with promising titbits, including making al fresco dining permanent; banishing cookie consent popups online; committing to new legislation for self-driving vehicles; and hinting at a change in the rules on private e-scooters, which are currently banned from use on public roads and pavements. But against a backdrop of interventionist policies which fail to come together to form any kind of meaningful vision, the Government is essentially a chef trying to hastily season a meal he has already burnt.

Despite the glimmers of hope that ministers do understand the value of the free markets, this is predominantly a highly interventionist set of proposals, with the state reaching into parts of British life where it has no place – including football.

One particularly concerning area is freedom of expression online. Sadly, the Government is ploughing on with the dreadful Online Safety Bill, with its ill-defined rules on ‘legal but harmful’ speech and unnecessary burdens on tech companies.

The over-reach into the wider economy also continues apace with the establishment of a state-owned investment bank which will release funding for the Government’s projects, including the vague ‘levelling up’ agenda. The history books suggest this is unlikely to do much to promote growth. If anything, a National Investment Bank risks crowding out private sector investment, with the risk that ministers waste taxpayers’ money trying to rescue inefficient businesses.

There was a lamentable failure to introduce planning deregulation, reduce the tax burden or target support to those most in need. Indeed, plans to give ‘residents more involvement in local development’ sound like a carte-blanche for the kind of obstructive Nimbyism that has stopped us building enough houses in the right places for so long.

However, the most striking aspect of the Speech is arguably what it has not included; namely, any measures to ease the impacts of the cost of living crisis. The Treasury admitted as much when it reacted with some surprise to the Prime Minister’s hints that any such measures were forthcoming.

The UK needed bold new ideas to pull itself out of our current productivity crisis and decline in living standards. Unfortunately, the only growth the Government looks set to achieve is the growth of the state.

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Emily Fielder is Head of Communications at the Adam Smith Institute.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.