The Queen’s Speech did not deliver on energy bills, foreign aid or co-operative values.
The previous session of parliament was indeed a marathon one. However, it was not one that offered much improvement to the lives of many in constituencies up and down the country.
It would be hard for even the most passionate Conservative to argue that this government was a slick legislating machine – we have seen bungling over the Health and Social Care Bill, Welfare Reform Bill and Public Bodies Bill.
This, together with the government’s shaky record of holding on to senior ministers and the lobbying scandals, all contributed to nearly 850 new Labour councillors being elected up and down the country earlier this month.
The Co-operative Party enjoyed electoral success in the local elections as well; many newly elected Labour councils have come to office committed to delivering upon their co-operative council pledges.
Labour Co-operative councillors were even elected in the prime minister’s constituency of Witney.
Therefore the 2012 Queen’s Speech was billed to be a reboot of the coalition. It was short on content and left many parts of society without the measures they required. Sadly, the Queen’s Speech also confirms that once again the government have walked away from the real practical measures that could have helped the co-op and mutual movement to grow.
In contrast, through the last session, Co-operative MPs have been active in promoting co-operative and mutual proposals as well as scrutinising the government’s legislation – so it was no surprise to hear Meg Hillier MP during her speech in the debate say:
“There is no commitment in the Queen’s Speech to introduce any mutual models at all, as far as we can see. The Water Bill would have offered such an opportunity and the Energy Bill might have offered opportunities for some mutual solutions, as would, of course, the Banking Bill.
“We need new measures on demutualisation and we have already missed an opportunity through the selling off to the highest bidder, rather than remutualisation, of Northern Rock. If the house is united on the need for banking reform, why not join that up with the idea of the mutual model and ensure that businesses as well as individuals are supported by mutuals?’’
I agree with Meg – this demonstration of the government’s priorities was particularly disappointing for the Co-operative movement, as it comes on the back of no serious effort to remutualise Northern Rock, no serious interest in encouraging more energy co-ops to emerge, no sustained effort to encourage real involvement in the running of football clubs by football fans through football supporters’ co-operatives, and no requirement to promote a diverse market in financial services for the Financial Services Authority or its replacement to help financial mutuals.
• Queen’s Speech: Cameron reneges on his promises 9 May 2012
• The Queen’s Speech needs an ‘Economic Freedom Bill’ 9 May 2012
Labour co-operative MP Gareth Thomas, in his speech during the Queen’s Speech debate, raised a number of areas that are important to many in our movement. For example, he felt this gracious speech was striking in that it did not include a bill to fulfil the commitment that 0.7% of our national income should be spent on development assistance.
The three major parties all committed to legislating on that. Indeed, before the last general election, Thomas took such a bill through the pre-legislative scrutiny process.
There is a strong case for Britain continuing to set an example on the provision of international aid for people in less well-off countries. We should think of the current West Africa food crisis and the huge numbers of people at risk of dying of hunger there, and of the considerable remaining health challenges in respect of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State for International Development explain why he failed to convince colleagues for this bill’s inclusion.
This Queen’s Speech and following debate seemed to confirm the suspicion that ministers are currently unwilling to really challenge the big energy companies. In his speech, Thomas highlighted the fact that our movement is leading the way in the field of energy purchasing and delivery, which given the right support would continue to grow and provide an alternative to the current oligopoly.
Minsters would also do well to look again at the measures included in the bill he championed in the last session relating to community investment in energy delivery. It is clear that the announced bill aimed at electricity market reform would benefit from learning lessons from our movement. I hope that it does not come too late in this parliament to make a real difference to the size of the bills we will have to pay.
Further the community groups that were championed when the Conservatives were in opposition are now left very much on the sidelines. Huge cuts in funding that began to hit hard last year will hit even harder this year.
Last week, the head of Volunteering England warned that the network of volunteer centres across the country is beginning to fragment, with a number set to close this year. Why, at a time when we need national renewal, are we set to make it harder for people to give something back through volunteering? The National Children’s Bureau has warned that 25% of the charities it contacted that help young people and children believed that they might have to close next year.
Charities that were promised government contracts will now know that they were hollow words when ministers spoke them.
Sadly, the Queen’s Speech confirms that once again the government have walked away from the real practical measures that could have helped the co-operative and mutual movement to grow.
Whatever the next session of parliament holds for the government and indeed the country, it is safe to say that Labour and Co-operative members of parliament will provide a powerful voice to ensure the aims, values and needs of co-operative movement are not ignored by this coalition government.