Headlines: November 24th, 2004

Fears that the Government will not be able to deliver the measures outlined in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, either because of the shortage of time or the lack of staff, are among the reactions from the public sector to the proposed legislative programme.The Local Government Association broadly welcomed the contents of the Speech saying it showed the Government moving in the right direction. It was concerned though about plans to centralise school funding. These, it said, threatened to blow public service reform off course. It accused the Government of being reluctant to make a consistent and coherent long-term improvement to public services by freeing-up councils to join up public services at a local level. The plans to centralise funding would end local people’s ability to assess and meet local educational needs, and damage the link between schools services and other public services.

The Police Federation was delighted that a bill to introduce identity cards, for which it has lobbied for a decade, was included in the Queen’s Speech but it said the full potential of the cards as a crime-fighting tool would only be fulfilled if carrying them was made compulsory. The Federation was also cautious in its welcome for the planned Serious and Organised Crime Agency, calling for it to be integrated into the present policing system rather than being a stand-alone body.

Worries over shortages of staff needed to deliver the promises in the speech were voiced by the Public and Commercial Services Union. The government would be unable to put the bills announced into practice due to job cuts in key areas. On the planned Serious Organised Crime Agency Bill, the union said the new agency would need adequate resources to have teeth. The union raised similar concerns over resourcing of the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights. It said, too, that the law on equality needed to be harmonised to ensure the Commission didn’t become a wasted opportunity.

The largest public service union, UNISON, believes the Government has set itself an impossibly heavy schedule if it is to deliver all the legislation outlined, before a possible election in the Spring. General Secretary Dave Prentis is worried that what he called “the long-overdue bill for corporate manslaughter” would fall off the legislative agenda. The union also raised doubts over plans to introduce identity cards, which it believes could have consequences for staff in the National Health Service if nurses and paramedics had to act as gatekeepers to health care.

Reservations over ID cards also came from the British Medical Association chairman James Johnson. He said the BMA was not opposed to the idea in principle but warned that if ID cards are eventually linked to access to health services there was a risk of vulnerable groups like the homeless, the elderly, and asylum-seekers, being denied essential treatment and there had to be safeguards to ensure this did not happen.