Headlines: November 27th, 2003

There has been mixed reaction from public sector groups to the Queen’s Speech, setting out the government’s legislative programme. While many of the proposed measures have been welcomed, there has been criticism over areas not included in the Bills to be laid before the next session of Parliament.In its immediate reaction to the plans, the Local Government Association gave a warm welcome to the announcement that the new Fire and Rescue Services’ Bill is about to start its legislative journey. The LGA has lobbied for many of the proposed changes that it believes will deliver more emphasis on prevention. But the Association had hoped the bill would tackle what it sees as one of the most important potentially life-saving changes – the installation of sprinklers in schools and domestic premises. It says it will continue to push the government to make this a statutory requirement.

The LGA also welcomed proposals to boost tenant protection in bed-sits and other multiple occupation houses. These, it said, were a victory for common sense but, again, it is urging the government to go further by introducing a set of national fire safety standards for homes in multiple occupation.

The new powers and duties promised for authorities to manage the local road network more effectively were greeted as ‘a mixed bag’. The LGA said they should help councils to take an overview of measures needed to manage traffic and reduce delays. But there was concern that the new Bill was also likely to include measures to enable the Secretary of State to impose an external ‘traffic director’ on an individual council or group of authorities, if one of them was judged to have ‘failed’ in its duty to facilitate the movement of traffic.

For its part, the British Medical Association highlighted concerns over the consequences of student top up fees. Its own research, published immediately before the speech, showed that the average fifth-year medical student was already in debt by 17,000 pounds. Top-up fees would increase that burden, making it harder for some of the most able students to become doctors.

The BMA said it supported moves to increase patient choice in principle and looked forward to hearing the Government’s proposals, but it was extremely disappointed that a bill to ban smoking in public places was not included in the speech.

The biggest public service union, UNISON, welcomed the extension of rights for same sex couples, increased rights and opportunities for disabled people, the proposed legislation on domestic violence and on child protection. It said, too, that abolition of hereditary peers should bring the House of Lords into the 21st Century and UNISON said it was pleased with the concentration on public services. It said it hoped this would mean moves to genuinely improve services in partnership with the workforce.