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I have been in this place 18 years and I can think of few events that make it clearer why people have lost faith in our politics than yesterday’s Budget—little effort to address the main issues, just shameless grandstanding by a man more concerned with fitting his policies to scriptwriters’ gags than addressing the needs of our communities. Just days before the end of this Parliament he delivered a Budget which he knows cannot get proper parliamentary scrutiny and where the measures actually implemented will be largely dependent on the support and agreement of the Opposition. It is a political ploy and people can see straight through it. It may have improved on the chaos of the man who gave us the pasty tax, the granny tax and the omnishambles, but I doubt whether history will judge yesterday’s little show as a particularly competent moment.
There are measures that deserve support. Who could object to a penny off a pint? That is not exactly original, like much else to do with this Chancellor, although I believe there is currently a vacancy for a baron of Bexley. Anything that helps jobs in the whisky industry is welcome. If there was ever any likelihood of an increase in petrol duty, thank goodness somebody has persuaded him to drop it. However, yesterday’s Budget certainly will not go into the history books as a great radical or reforming Budget.
I welcome the decision to allow Greater Manchester and Cambridgeshire to retain their business rates. I welcome it because it is Labour policy, but of course I would like to see the same opportunity given to Birmingham. Voters in Birmingham must be asking what the Government have against them. Why is our police service subject to the largest cuts in the country? Why are our council services being decimated? Why is there no extra support for our small businesses? Just what has this Chancellor got against our city?
I support the plan to raise the starting point at which people pay higher-rate tax, but I wonder why the Chancellor did that and left the cut-off for losing child benefit unchanged. That is not a very family-friendly policy, because under his plans the number of households losing child benefit is now set to double. While the increase in the personal allowance is welcome, it does nothing for the 4.6 million people who do not earn enough to pay tax in the first place, and, as we have heard, any gains will be wiped out overnight if he makes it back to the Treasury and promptly raises VAT, just like he did last time.
I was bothered by the fact that the Chancellor completely ignored the NHS. In my constituency, a walk-in centre at Katie road has been under threat ever since this Government came to power, and nothing he did yesterday makes it any more secure. The Bournbrook Varsity practice, which caters for a large number of our student population, is set to lose substantial funds through the abolition of the minimum practice guarantee and other cuts that will lead to redundancies and a loss of services. Our wonderful Queen Elizabeth hospital is set to lose about 11% of its budget as a result of punitive measures that attack its success as a regional specialist centre. Labour has a plan to grow the NHS. Under this Chancellor, we are already experiencing NHS cuts, and most people feel that there is more to come. Yesterday’s Budget largely confirmed these fears.
My constituency has an unemployment rate of 4.4%. It is now in the top 17% of constituencies for unemployment —110th out of 650. Try telling my constituents that the sun is shining. What they experience is insecure employment, zero-hours contracts, and people working all hours to make ends meet and still having to resort to food banks to feed their kids. Try telling them about the Chancellor’s economic plan. What we need is action to support start-ups, with Government money to match initiatives like Entrepreneurial Spark, a cut in business rates and taxes for small and micro businesses, an improvement in the minimum wage that amounts to more than 70p over a Parliament, and action to enforce the minimum wage so that unscrupulous employers cannot exploit those desperate for work.
As Sir William Cash said, instead of a headlong rush to offload Lloyds bank, perhaps the Chancellor should encourage it to show a greater sense of social responsibility and more respect for local business people in places like Bournville, where its high-handed closure programme shows contempt for the local community and taxpayers. It is a joke for the Business Secretary to come here and say that he will protect the last bank in the village. It is the last bank in the village. There is a massive public stake in it, and he cannot lift a hand to do anything about it.
Where are the measures in this Budget that people in my constituency really care about? They are absent. The Chancellor says that the sun is shining as he strives to paint a rosy picture in the face of the misery endured by so many. It is a Budget where he simply ignored his broken promises and inaccurate predictions—a Budget where the threat of more suffering is ever present. It is less “Here Comes the Sun” and more like here comes the “Sun King”: a man who has lost touch with reality, with vanity crowding out the ability to speak or hear the truth; who is not interested in the lives of real people; and who is armed with an economic soundbite rather than a plan. His assurances are as reliable as those of the party chairman, and his integrity is as intact as that of the former party treasurer. We deserve better, and the country needs a lot, lot more.