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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Queen's Speech and Scotland

Despite the Secretary of State's spin, the Queen's speech was light on legislative proposals for Scotland, or the UK for that matter. I am always impressed with the Queen's ability to keep a straight face through these speeches. Particularly this nonsense, "My government’s legislative programme will continue to deliver on its long-term plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society."

The UK Government has set out its legislative programme in the final session before next year’s UK General Election. Most of the Bills don’t apply in any significant way to Scotland. However, those that do include:

PensionsPension changes are the main headline for Scotland. People at 55 or over with defined contribution pensions will be able to withdraw their savings as they wish, subject to marginal rates of income tax and scheme rules. No-one will be required to buy a guaranteed lifetime annuity with their pension pot. This doesn’t apply to most public sector pensions, which are defined benefit schemes, although they also intend to bring forward legislation to ban transfers out of unfunded public sector schemes such as the Scottish NHS scheme, but apparently not the LGPS.

New "defined ambition" collective pension schemes will be launched as an alternative to other existing options. This would allow groups of people to pay into the same scheme and share the risk. This approach has delivered lower costs in the Netherlands. Again, it doesn’t apply to public sector pensions.

In addition, there is an obvious contradiction between the two pension proposals. As Craig Berry explains, the success of collective pensions depends on the very restrictions that Osborne’s plan outlaws. It is also inconceivable that collective pensions can be delivered before the General Election.

Childcare Payments
A new tax-free childcare subsidy worth up to £2,000 a year per child will be introduced in the autumn of 2015. All parents with children under the age of 12 will be eligible, if they are in paid work and earn less than £150,000 a year. For every £8 paid by parents towards the cost of childcare, the state will provide a £2 top-up. The existing employer-supported childcare scheme will be repealed. Nothing of course about the quality of childcare provision.

Recall of MPs
Voters will be able to trigger a by-election where an MP has committed serious wrongdoing and 10% of their constituents have signed a petition over an eight-week period. The "recall" process would be triggered if an MP is convicted of an offence and receives a custodial sentence of less than 12 months and when the Commons agrees to such a process. This is a watered down version because parliament will have an effective veto.

Infrastructure Bill
Mostly an English Bill, but there are proposals to allow developers to run shale gas pipelines under people's land without their permission. There is a complex interplay of reserved and devolved issues with this proposal that is anyway subject to further public consultation and with the Scottish Government.

On a lighter note you can watch the other state opening of Parliament ritual (starring Dennis Skinner) here

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