Business leaders give mixed reaction to Queen’s Speech

Business leaders in Greater Birmingham have welcomed the decision to bring forward legislation for the extension of the HS2 high speed rail line, which was announced as a key piece of legislation during the Queen’s Speech.

However, they also said a lack of focus on addressing the needs of businesses was disappointing.

The new legislation planned to go through Parliament during the next two years includes proposals to bring forward the HS2 Phase 2a Bill – which proposes an extension of the high speed rail line from Birmingham to Crewe.

The speech also focused on key issues relating to Brexit, including bringing forward the Repeal Bill and legislation on immigration, international sanctions, nuclear, agriculture and fisheries, trade and customs policies and planned support for exporters.

Paul Faulkner, chief executive, Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said: “Today’s Queen’s Speech offers promise of action on some area of major concern raised by local businesses.

“It foregrounds preparing for Brexit across key areas such as trade and customs, immigration and the industrial strategy.

“The confirmation that legislation relating to HS2 Phase 2a – the start of the extension of the line northwards from Birmingham – will be brought forward this Parliament is a welcome vote of confidence for the national significance of this major investment in infrastructure.”

But Mr Faulkner was disappointed by the overall lack of focus on business needs.

Earlier this month, the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce asked more than 400 local businesses for their views on what the Government should prioritise during the next Parliament.

More than 80% ‘quite’ or ‘strongly’ agreed extracting maximum value from Brexit was a main priority, while investing in regional transport infrastructure (72%), tackling skills gaps (71%), avoiding further input costs (70%) and delivering a robust Industrial Strategy (66%) were also high on the agenda.

Mr Faulkner added: “There was a lack of focus on making the UK the most competitive place to do business by easing input costs and streamlining growing reporting requirements on businesses beyond a brief mention of the Industrial Strategy.

“By nature, the Queen’s Speech lacks the detail many businesses want to see to understand the potential impact of proposed legislation.

“The speech may have included references to building consensus with businesses but the Government has done little in recent years to bolster businesses’ confidence in their approach. The referendum, Brexit and now the snap General Election and hung Parliament have created ever greater uncertainty.”

He said if the Government was serious about a successful Brexit then it would need to work with businesses to make it happen.

“Almost all of the legislation highlighted in the Queen’s Speech from immigration to data protection, trade and customs to technical education must have the needs and concerns of businesses at their heart,” he added.

“This speech and whether it makes it through Parliament next week, is a major test of Theresa May’s ability to lead the new Government.”

New West Midlands Mayor Andy Street adopted a more positive stance.

He said: “Most of the attention around the Queen’s Speech will inevitably focus on the Brexit negotiations, however there are three more really important things to draw out of it that affect the West Midlands.

“The first is the Industrial Strategy – so important to our economic plans here in the West Midlands – remaining a key plank of the Government’s efforts to rebalance the economy.

“The second is HS2. I am pleased to see the long-term vision for extending the network to the north-west was included in the Queen’s Speech.”

He said the work on phase one was imminent and as a result, the region was already starting to see the benefits in terms of additional investment, particularly around the HS2 stations in Birmingham city centre and the Birmingham Airport interchange.

“But HS2 needs to be part of a network, not just one route, effectively cementing our region’s connectivity with the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” he added.

“And thirdly, the commitment to developing the infrastructure for electric vehicles is also a positive move on the part of Government.

“The region is united behind efforts to establish the West Midlands as a global centre for the design and manufacture battery-powered vehicles and the Government’s support for this emerging industry will accelerate the shift to this type of vehicle.”