Building Britain's Future
yesterday, in which he set out the draft legislative programme for the session that will start in November and finish early with the General Election, most likely in June next year.
Usually, a deluge of press notices flows forth from Whitehall with briefings on the bills announced in such speeches. So far, apart from housing, there has been virtually nothing on the dozen measures the Prime Minister promised. This shows that the announcement was brought forward and rushed out as Labour tries desperately to win back the political initiative.
So, what do we know about the programme that will affect the financial services sector?
Most obviously, there is a Financial Services and Business Bill that will be the vehicle for delivering regulatory reform. Quite what that reform will look like is still a matter of a major debate but the short briefing from 10 Downing Street on the bill makes it clear that the government is sticking to its decision to give the Financial Services Authority greater powers "to ensure financial stability". This has already provoked an increasingly bitter confrontation with the Bank of England and is likely to be the most contentious measure in the draft legislative programme.
This bill will also create a new national money guidance
service which follows on from the Thoresen Review
(published in October 2007) and the pilot schemes currently being run offering generic advice.
Less contentious, but very welcome to the insurance industry, will be the Flood and Water Management Bill which promises "increased investment in flood defence and improved emergency planning and flood risk management". This sounds as if it should be everything the insurance industry wanted following the Pitt Report in the wake of the severe flooding two years ago. Of course, the devil will be in the detail but at least it is there to be argued about.
The big cloud that hangs over all of this is the uncertainty over the timing of the General Election and, of course, its outcome. The dozen bills announced yesterday could be forced through if this Parliament runs to next June but any foreshortening of the session or unforeseen political or financial crises (and there have been enough of those around in the last year) and the government will struggle to complete this programme.
The government has been very slow to put any flesh on the bones of the Prime Minister's statement on