On Wednesday the Queen will go to the House of Lords and give a speech, written by the Government, which will outline the laws it will try to get approved by Parliament in the coming year.
The occasion won't be all flummery and fancy-dress, although there's quite a bit of that. The Queen's Speech is an important moment in the Parliamentary calendar. It is intended to tell Parliament and the public what the Government wants to do next. But since coming to power last year, the Government has set out a big agenda, full of ambitious reforms and spending cuts. Adding new items to this agenda without consulting and prioritising carefully is risky.
So before you settle down to watch the pomp and pageantry, here are four things you need to know before the Queen's Speech:
1. Public services are under pressure
Government spending is being cut dramatically. This chart shows which departments' budgets are growing and which are shrinking (the budgets in this chart don't include some big items like welfare):
We are now six years into a decade of austerity, and this is having a big effect on the funding of public services. Health services are under particular pressure. While the budget for the NHS in England is protected from austerity, but both social care and public health have been cut significantly, and will be cut further for the next few years. Social care involves helping old people, which keeps them out of hospital. Public health involves things like making sure people get immunised so that they don't get ill and end up in hospital. Not only are there attempts to find efficiencies and save money - there are simultaneous efforts to extend seven day services. All of this pressure helps to explain why waiting times in A&E are at record highs. It's important to understand these pressures on public services as the context for any new announcements.
2. Academisation is still happening
In the March Budget the Chancellor announced that all schools would need to become academies by 2022. About a quarter of the 22,000 state schools in England are academies or are becoming academies - the rest are under local authority control. Since the announcement, opposition to the proposal has come from teachers' unions, head teachers, local authorities and most importantly from Conservative backbenchers. The government has retreated, and said that while it still wants all schools to become academies, it will only force schools that are failing or are in areas where most schools are already academies to make the change. This is likely to remain a controversial area of the Queen's Speech.
3. Big changes are being proposed to both courts and prisons
The Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, has proposed that a fifth of courts will close. Access to justice will be maintained through digitising fines and spreading the use of video in courtrooms. This could make them more efficient, but previous attempts to improve IT in courts have failed, and spending cuts over the last few years have led to increases in delays in courts. Michael Gove is also proposing that prison governors should be more able to manage their prisons, without so much interference from the centre of government. As with the courts, spending cuts have already affected prisons - because there are fewer staff, there is more violence. So many people will welcome the fact that prisons legislation will be introduced in draft and allow time for consultation.
4. The Government is divided
Because of divisions over the EU referendum, the Government's slim majority of 12 has turned out to be no majority at all when it comes to doing difficult things. It has had three outright defeats in the Commons, and more than fifty so far in the House of Lords. It has been forced to withdraw or heavily amend many other measures, most notably £4.5billion per year cuts in tax credits and £1.3billion per year cuts in Personal Independence Payments for the disabled. Put simply, it isn't able to control what is already going through Parliament - let alone anything new that might be added in the Queen's Speech.
So while issues like anti-terrorism will certainly hit the headlines, the combination of spending cuts, ambitious reforms and a lack of unity have put the Government under intense pressure ahead of this year's Queen's Speech. If the Government wants to be effective, it must prioritise legislation carefully because the strain is already showing.
Daniel Thornton is Programme Director at the Institute for Government
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