The Queen’s Speech lacked the ambition and ideas to deliver for Portsmouth

This week Her Majesty delivered the Queen’s Speech, setting out the government’s priorities for the next parliamentary session.

This was an opportunity to implement the lessons we learned during the pandemic and forge a better society. But while many Bills needed to be carried over following the disruption of the pandemic, there were notable absences that demonstrate this government doesn’t have answers to the challenges facing Portsmouth and our country.

Social Care

The pandemic brutally exposed the vulnerabilities of our social care system, which the government allowed to be ravaged by the virus. Meanwhile partners, relatives, and friends continue to bear the burden of unpaid caring responsibilities. The sector is now at crisis point. Yet the issue was reduced to a footnote and we are still waiting for the Prime Minister to deliver on his promise of a fix, made more than two years ago.

Work, education and skills

We have also seen huge insecurity in the world of work, with 18,200 people in Portsmouth South furloughed during the pandemic and young people the most likely to be out of work for an extended period. But the government has no long-term plan to stimulate jobs across our country or address high levels of in-work poverty. Instead Ministers seem content to do nothing and hope that the pandemic will have no long-term impact on working life for our next generation.

Meanwhile, the Government has neglected children over the last year and throughout the last decade. Education recovery spending announced in February amounts to just 43p per child a day next year. This funding promised in the Queen’s Speech means schools will have no more money to spend on pupils than they did a decade ago, while added costs from coronavirus are putting huge pressures on school budgets. This is particularly true of nurseries in our City, and I will continue to raise concerns around the availability of places, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Fire and rehire

There was also nothing on the long-overdue Employment Bill, which could have finally outlawed unjust fire and rehire practices. Earlier this year I met British Gas employees who are being subjected to this pernicious practice. Their stories were heart-breaking, and I will continue speak up for them until these workhouse tactics are stopped for good.

Climate Emergency

While the Environment Bill has been carried over from the previous session, I remain deeply concerned that the government is not doing enough to tackle the climate emergency. Ministers have refused to support Labour’s proposed amendments on protecting biodiversity and setting more ambitious air quality targets. I want the UK to take tangible steps towards a greener future now and will continue to push for bold, rapid and meaningful action at every opportunity, both locally and nationally.

Housing, planning and Building Safety

The government’s proposed reforms of the planning system are a Developer’s Charter that will remove powers from elected local representatives and hand them to Whitehall-appointed boards of developers. Taking decisions away from local councils and communities who know their area best will be bad for social housing and could exacerbate the challenges our city faces in delivering the government’s inflated housing targets.

Our city recognises the need to build more homes, but any delivery must be sustainable, integrated with the right infrastructure, and acknowledge the unique circumstances Portsmouth faces. I have recently written to Secretary of State Robert Jenrick urging him to consider our unique circumstances and will continue to make the case for a more measured approach to development in our densely populated city.

Voter ID

Proposals on voter ID have rightly prompted deep concerns about voter suppression. At the last General Election, of the 47,587,254 people voting, there was 1 conviction of voter fraud. That represents 0.0000021014% of votes. More than 2 million voters may lack the ID required under the proposed Bill. This is not about making sure people don’t vote twice, it is about making sure some people don’t vote at all. Ministers must urgently rethink their discriminatory plans.

Armed Forces Bill

Finally, with the Armed Forces Bill due to return before the end of this year, I will continue to lead Labour’s efforts to ensure that the Armed Forces Covenant is made a reality for every member of the armed forces. We aim to make central government responsible for delivering the Covenant and all its promises, improve access to justice for our forces and end the Commonwealth visa fees scandal.

The people of Portsmouth need and deserve a legislative agenda that delivers on their priorities. I remain steadfastly committed to speaking up on the issues that matter to our city as your strong voice in Parliament.

See a full list of the Bills in the Queen’s Speech at this link.