Prime Minister David Cameron and his coalition counterpart Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats today saw the Queen deliver the final 11-point bill of the year, and their final bill before next year’s General Election.
As with the 2014 Budget, delivered in April, it is pensions that provide the main focus of the announcements given by Her Majesty. Changes to both the annuity schemes alluded to in April, and workplace schemes are now moving forward.
In addition, voters will now have the power to be able to call elections at a local level for MPs found to be up to no good. Controversially, fracking companies have been given the green light to press on with little or no limitations imposed, a move much to the distaste of Greenpeace who staged a protest outside David Cameron’s home in Oxfordshire.
A full rundown of the measures announced are:
- The confirmation of the plans regarding annuities were confirmed. From age 55, retirees will be able to draw their entire pension savings in one go without the requirement to buy an annuity.
- Pension funds are to be introduced for collective saving between workers. This is seen as a measure to both cut costs and encourage saving.
- A new childcare scheme will be introduced offering up to £2,000 to parents to subsidise the cost of looking after their children whilst at work. This is state-funded and is introduced to replace the current scheme which is funded by employers.
- Restrictions are to be placed on excessive and large redundancy payments to public servants. A new bill offering legal protection to those who have acted in a manner that could be deemed as heroic or in the public interest has been introduced. It protects these individuals against allegations of breach of duty or negligence.
- Employers failing to pay the minimum wage will face tougher penalties.
- There will now be a charge of 5p for a plastic bag in England, a move which has been a long time coming.
- Infrastructure projects have received some attention. Controversially, fracking companies will now be able to run shale gas pipelines anywhere without prior permission. This move has been widely criticised by environmental groups who claim that any resident could find their property being dug up with no requirement for notice.
- The Highways Agency has also been given more freedom to start on projects without the need for qualification.
- New criminal measures introduced to counter crime syndicates and their affiliates, harsher terms for cyber criminals and more power to be able to seize assets of high powered crime organisers. Possession of written paedophilia material is now a criminal offence.
- Human Trafficking now amounts to human slavery in a new measure introduced.
- Voters in constituencies can now call for by-elections if MPs have committed wrong-doing of a serious nature.
All in all, nothing within the bill has particularly caught the imagination, the pension reforms were already announced in April, and the other bills are unlikely to create many waves as the coalition looks to gear up towards the general election in May 2015.
Of particular interest is that both the NHS and immigration were completely overlooked in the bill. These are prime issues for those in the country with the motivation to vote (less than 30%). It has been UKIP’s focus on immigration that has pricked the ears of the common voter, and David Cameron will need to do some serious thinking – and perhaps some image remodelling – if he is ever likely to be able to connect with Britain’s new kind of voter.