The Government has been criticised for a lack of commitment to HS2 in today’s Queen’s Speech.
While immigration curbs announced by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament are likely to dominate headlines, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) was more concerned about the fate of Britain’s high speed rail project.
Among the bill’s announced in the speech were the HS2 Hybrid Bill and the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill, which have given the go ahead for the first phase of the project from London to Birmingham.
But the IET has warned the project risks being developed in isolation as there is still no certainty on the second phase from Birmingham further north or to Heathrow.
Prof Phil Blythe, chair of the IET Transport Policy Panel, says: “HS2 could serve as a key catalyst for a more joined up approach to infrastructure development in the UK. A commitment for the entire length of the route is vital if it is to become the backbone of such transport integration.
“Progressing with the HS2 project in this piecemeal fashion creates a large amount of uncertainty and risks Phase 2 never getting further than the drawing board. This risk is important to minimise, as only in Phase 2 will the main benefits of HS2 be delivered.
“The government must show its commitment to the entire route if HS2 has any chance of being the much needed spine for successful transport integration.”
The Government also used the speech to announce its plans for the Energy Bill, apprenticeships, deregulation to aid businesses and the so-called “Snoopers’ Charter”.
Terry Scuoler, chief executive of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation says: “Industry will welcome a Queen’s Speech that is lighter on legislation and denser on delivery. Making progress in key areas such as energy, apprenticeships, pensions and key infrastructure projects such as HS2 is vital for growth.”
While there was no new legislation announced on apprenticeships the Government used the speech to reconfirm its commitment to increasing uptake and, in briefing notes accompanying the speech, promised an implementation plan for the Richard Review of apprenticeships by the autumn.
“Today’s announcement on apprenticeships and traineeships provide some important building blocks to raising standards and participation. Clarifying the definition of apprenticeships will help establish them as the quality route into work and enhance their brand across all industries,” Scuoler adds.
“Involving employers in the design and development of apprenticeships will also ensure they deliver the skills industry needs. But it is also important to develop the pipeline and traineeships will give young people the extra skills and experience they need to prepare them for going into an apprenticeship, work or some other form of training.”
The Government also outlined their plans for the long-awaited Energy Bill including the introduction of contracts for difference to provide predictable incentives for companies to invest in low-carbon generation; a capacity market to ensure security of supply; the power to set a target range for the decarbonisation of the power sector; and a measure to incentivise reductions in electricity usage from businesses and households.
Commenting on the demand reduction measures Fergus McReynolds, senior climate and environment adviser at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, says: “Attempts to overcome barriers to energy efficiency are welcome but should not have been taken forward through amendments to the Energy Bill.
“Market wide measures for energy efficiency would be extremely complex to both design and a one size fits all approach will not overcome the specific barriers manufacturers face.
“Government must now ensure that the programme delivers real added value for the UK economy and that the scheme developed has robust measurement and verification.”
The Queen’s Speech also revived the possibility of a so-called “Snoopers’ Charter” previously ruled out by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Last month the Liberal Democrat leader said he would block measures included in Home Secretary Theresa May's proposed Communications Data Bill that would allow the storage of details of the history of website visits and social media contacts for each internet user.
But the Downing Street background briefing note published alongside the speech says: "We are continuing to look at this issue closely and the government's approach will be proportionate, with robust safeguards in place."
The passage of the Queen’s speech dealing with the issue said: “In relation to the problem of matching internet protocol addresses, my Government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace.”
This could give the go-ahead for legislation to deal with the technical problem of there being many more devices including phones and tablets in use than the number of IP addresses that allow the police to identify internet users.