Queen’s speech marks Government intent to build back better
The State Opening of Parliament saw a number of new laws unveiled in the Queen’s speech, to ensure the UK ‘builds back better’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. With 30 new laws set to be passed in this new parliamentary session, the Government once again confirmed its commitment to net-zero, along with a host of other legislation. Of particular interest to the plumbing and heating industry will be laws surrounding planning, building safety and education.
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
Prime minister, Boris Johnson has hailed incoming educational reforms in the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, as a skills revolution. Aimed at the adult education system in England, the new bill is set to introduce a number of measures including:
- Flexible loans for adults to use towards higher-level education, to retrain or upskill at any point in their lives. The loan will provide financial support for up to four year’s learning either full or part time.
- Encouragement for businesses and trainers to target ‘local needs’ in sectors including construction, clean energy, manufacturing and digital.
- Powers for ministers to intervene at colleges not meeting local needs.
The government is set to introduce full details of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill next week, with a ‘lifetime skills guarantee’ central to the offering.
The Queen made reference to an often-contentious new Planning Bill. Designed to overhaul the planning system in England, the changes are intended to help speed up the planning process and allow Councils to meet house-building targets. The current system is based on a number of rules passed after the Second World War, with the new Bill making sweeping changes including:
- Replacing case-by-case planning application assessments with a new zoning system. Going forwards, English Councils will be required to classify all land in their area as either protected, for renewal, or for growth.
- In protected areas, planning will be largely restricted. In renewal areas councils should look positively at applications, while in growth areas applications conforming to pre-agreed local plans would automatically gain initial approval.
- Each zone will have a 10-year plan, which local residents will be consulted on. However, residents will have less say on individual applications.
Building Safety Bill
The long awaited Building Safety Bill was also referenced in her Majesty’s speech. First mentioned in the 2019 Queen's Speech, the Bill (which is currently in draft form) will cover the safety of high-rise buildings and the inspection of buildings that are under construction. Recommendations from the Hackett Inquiry underpin key aspects of the new legislation such as the introduction of an Accountable Person, who is responsible for keeping residents safe in high rise buildings of 18 metres and above.
Kevin Wellman, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering said, “Commitments to adult education and upskilling follow on from the spring budget, with the Government recognising that we need a skilled and competent workforce to help carry the country out of the pandemic. While we await full details of the bill next week, it is positive that the Government is taking this approach, especially with the heating industry requiring an estimated 100,000 workers to upskill to install low carbon technology.
“As ever, Government funding for training opportunities is a double edged sword. We continue to hold firm that further investment in sole traders and SMEs is vital to provide the work placements required in the construction industry. We already know that demand for quality training and work experience outstrips supply in the plumbing and heating sector, so it is vital this imbalance is addressed before increased demand is generated. We also need to protect adult learners from poor quality ‘rogue’ training providers, or we could face a dire impact on training standards.
Kevin continued, “While the Planning Bill continues to be controversial, there is no doubt its passing will help stimulate work in residential construction, especially once Councils and planning departments have got to grips with the new regulations. We also look forward to seeing how the Building Safety Bill progresses. This bill, along with the recently launched Fire Safety Act, will play a vital role in making residential high-rise buildings safer.”