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17.05.16

Queen’s Speech: Government must ‘tread carefully’ to avoid more U-turns

“Enormous challenges” are likely to confront the government as it tries to implement tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech, the Institute for Government (IfG) has said.

The Queen will lay out the government’s legislative programme when she formally opens Parliament tomorrow, but the IfG said that it would have to tread carefully to avoid future policy U-turns.

The IfG added that the government’s slim 12-seat majority in the House of Commons will be hard to hang onto because of divisions in the Conservative party over the EU referendum, meaning it is likely to face more challenges from its own party, particularly over public sector cuts.

Daniel Thornton, report author and IfG programme director, said: “To be effective, the government must recognise the enormous challenges it now faces. It is making big spending cuts and attempting far-reaching public service reforms, and the strain is showing.”

The IfG briefing said that although the centre piece of tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech is likely to be anti-terror legislation, policy on public sector funding cuts will be the most likely source of divisions in government.

The Conservative government must now try to implement ambitious manifesto pledges, including making £12bn in welfare cuts while increasing health spending by £8bn, protecting pensions and not increasing tax.

The IfG said that those promises were made before the last election, when the polls were predicting a coalition or minority government, meaning the government may have expected to have to compromise on them in reality.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has already had to admit that the promised £8bn for the NHS really includes just £4.5bn of new money, as reported in PSE’s sister title National Health Executive.

It said the government will have to “take a realistic approach and prioritise carefully” to implement legislation without dissent.

Key challenges currently facing the government include making £22bn NHS savings, introducing more digital technology in the justice system to facilitate the closure of one-fifth of physical courts, prison reforms, and continuing with the programme of academisation.

The government has already faced three defeats in the House of Commons in the past year, over English votes for English laws, purdah for the civil service during the referendum and Sunday trading hours.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan was also recently forced to back down over plans to force all schools to become academies, which the IfG said showed the dangers of trying to introduce government policy without backing from parliamentary whips.

The government has also faced extensive opposition from the House of Lords over issues such as child refugees and the Housing Bill, and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith resigned in protest at further benefits cuts.

Councils have already warned that social care is ‘at breaking point’ because of spending cuts.

Writing for PSE last year, Chris Painter, emeritus professor of public policy and management at Birmingham City University, and a member of PSE’s editorial board, predicted further spending cuts from the new government.

PSE will provide full coverage of the Queen’s Speech tomorrow on this website and on our Twitter account.

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