You may have read in several places over the last week about a new “jobs bill” which is being drawn up for the autumn and will somehow launch the Heathrow expansion, slash red tape and kickstart the economy.
All of this is a little premature.
Tensions are growing in the coalition over how to fill the gap in the parliamentary calendar left by the collapse of House of Lords reform, but ministers are nowhere near agreement on new laws to stimulate the economy.
Downing Street is under pressure from rightwing Conservative MPs to deliver free-market reforms that some hope could be enacted through a “jobs bill” or “economic regeneration bill”.
Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, spoke for many on Sunday when he urged the government to press on with “supply-side reforms” such as slashing red tape, as well as a new London airport and more housebuilding and infrastructure.
Nadhim Zahawi, a former businessman who is close to George Osborne, the chancellor, told the Financial Times that he wanted a more flexible labour market to unlock business growth.
Elizabeth Truss, a leading member of the Conservative party Free Enterprise Group, called for an aviation bill to allow a new four-runway hub airport in the south-east and employment reforms to exempt small companies from unfair dismissal claims.
The Tory backbencher is championing a planning bill to include compensation packages for residents affected by nearby developments and legislation to enhance the competitiveness of the banking, energy and telecoms sectors.
But officials denied Downing Street was behind reports that such measures would form the heart of any new bill.
“It reads like a Tory wish list,” one said. “The idea you’re going to get a bill for a new runway at Heathrow sounds like a pipe dream.”
Aides of both ruling parties warn that they have barely begun to discuss the legislation or indeed whether there will be any new economic bill at all. “You can’t just legislate for growth or we would have already done so,” said one Downing Street insider.
The authorities can take action to boost the economy without changing the law, for example through new guarantees for infrastructure or revisions to the tax system. Another government insider said there could be bills for jobs and growth but this would not be discussed until the autumn.
However, the coalition may bring forward other items of legislation already announced in May’s Queen’s Speech.
The business department insists that the government is already legislating to improve the economy.
The enterprise and regulatory reform bill going through parliament contains a shake-up of employment law, reforms to the competition system and an attempt to curb high pay. An energy bill attempts to reform the market, to boost low-carbon producers of nuclear and green power.
“We don’t [yet] have plans for a new growth bill,” a government official said. “We have spent the last year working on this stuff.”
Number 10 would face resistance if attempts were made to shake up the planning system again. Eric Pickles, communities secretary, is keen to avoid a repeat of last year’s conflict with conservation groups, such as the National Trust, over earlier reforms.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, wants the government to implement the Dilnot recommendations on funding social care for the elderly, further banking reforms, and an expansion of the Youth Contract – a job subsidy scheme.