A number of bills set out in the Queen’s Speech are likely to affect contractors.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

In her address at the opening of Parliament today (May 8th), the Queen set out the government’s priorities for the coming session. A total of 15 new bills, two draft bills and three carried over from the last session are likely to make a significant difference to British life - especially with sweeping changes to the way we pay for social care and the protection of consumer rights. But while many of the proposed laws will enforce moves set out in March’s Budget Statement, what could be in store for contractors and self-employed professionals?

Freelancers in the creative industries will be interested in the progress of the intellectual property bill. By incorporating the Unified Patent Court, it will ensure that a single patent application is recognised in nearly EU member state. The process of applying for a patent will become quicker, possibly including the new fast-track patent application on which the government has recently consulted. Significantly, it will reinforce patent protection by introducing criminal penalties for breaches of any patent registered in the UK.

But the draft deregulation bill could prove to be the most significant law for contractors in a range of industries. It will repeal regulations across a number of sectors in line with the government’s Red Tape Challenge, which takes different industries in turn and opens every regulation out to consultation. Based on those responses, ministers must then make a case for retaining every rule - if they cannot do so, it will be repealed.

Regulations have already been repealed in a wide range of areas, but health and safety has generally lost the biggest chunk of bureaucracy. This will inevitably affect those freelancers working as specialist health and safety consultants, but the bill contains one reform which could have a major impact on contractors across the economy.

Under the draft bill, self-employed professionals whose work does not pose any risk to other people will be completely exempt from health and safety legislation. Although those who work as employees of umbrella companies will not be affected directly, sole traders will no longer be obliged to follow any of the rules which govern them when they are working alone - even though when they are on client sites, they will probably be expected to obey company rules.

On a broader scale, bills intended to boost specific industries will improve the business conditions in which many contractors find themselves. The high speed rail (preparation) bill will grant the government powers to compulsorily purchase land and rubber stamp spending on work such as ecological surveys. Until this bill is passed, the government will not be able to pass the high speed two hybrid bill, making it an important step towards increased opportunities for contractors in engineering and construction.

The energy sector will enjoy continued support as reforms are carried over from the last Parliament to make sure the UK has the capacity to fulfill its own electricity needs.

But for many companies, the biggest boon will be the legislation approving the cut to National Insurance contributions. Under the measure set out by the chancellor in this year’s Budget, employers will be given a National Insurance allowance of £2,000 on every employee, which will mean thousands of British businesses paying none whatsoever.

Time will tell what difference the plans set out by Her Majesty will make to contractors, but for now it appears there will be some laws worth following through the next session.

By Victoria McDonnell

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