Debate resumed (Order, 16 March).
Question again proposed
It is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide–
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation;
(b) for refunding an amount of tax;
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that–
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.
It has now been the best part of 24 hours since the Chancellor delivered his Budget. There are some things in it that I would like to welcome. On the sugar tax, we look forward to seeing more detail about how it will be put into practice. I agree with my right hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn who said yesterday that we needed a comprehensive strategy to tackle the growing problem of obesity. I regret, therefore, that £200 million has been cut from public health budgets this year—those are the budgets that were to be used to develop that strategy.
We are also pleased that the Chancellor is looking at addressing savings overall, though we wonder whether the new lifetime individual savings accounts will do much to address the scandal of low retirement savings for the less well-off. On the rise in tax thresholds, we welcome anything that puts more money in the pockets of middle and low earners, but we wonder how that aim can sit alongside the Conservatives’ plans to cut universal credit.
It is about time that we had some straight talking about what this Budget means. It is an admission of abject failure by the Chancellor. For the record, in the six years that he has been in charge of the nation’s finances, he has missed every major target he has set himself. He said that he would balance the books by 2015, but the deficit this year is set to be more than £72 billion. He said that Britain would pay its way in the world, but he has overseen the biggest current account deficit since modern records began.
I want to help the Labour party in every way that I can. I want it to be credible at the next election, but the shadow Chancellor took to the airwaves this morning and talked about borrowing more money. Will he give us an absolute commitment that, if he were to become Chancellor, he would not borrow more money than the present Chancellor? He can just say yes.
The present Chancellor has borrowed £200 billion extra than what he promised. Let us be absolutely clear that like any company, UK plc under us will invest—it will invest in plant and machinery to create the growth that we need if we are to afford our public services.
Let me go back. The Chancellor promised us a “march of the makers”, but manufacturing still lags behind its 2008 levels. He said he would build his way out of our housing crisis, but we have seen new house building fall to its lowest level since the 1920s. He said that he had moved the economy away from reliance on household debt, but, yesterday, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that his entire plan relied on household debt rising “to unprecedented levels.” He said that he would aim for £1 trillion of exports by 2020. Yesterday’s figures suggest that he will miss that target by the small matter of £357 billion.
When it comes to the Chancellor’s failures, he is barely off the starting blocks. The fiscal rule he brought before Parliament last year had three tests. We already knew that he was likely to fail one of them, with the welfare cap forecast to be breached. Yesterday, it emerged that he will fail the second of his tests. Having already raised the debt burden to 83.3% of GDP, it is set to rise now to 83.7% this year. Therefore, since the new fiscal rule was introduced, it is nought out of two for the Chancellor’s targets.
The hon. Gentleman started by saying that we needed some straight talking. In order to be fiscally credible, one needs to have concrete figures. The Chancellor has said in his Budget that he will borrow £1 in every £14 in 2016-17. Will the shadow Chancellor tell us what his borrowing figure will be?
Unlike the current Chancellor, we will not set ourselves targets that can never be realised, and we will create an economy based on consultation with the wealth creators themselves—the businesses, the entrepreneurs and the workers. In that way, we will have a credible fiscal responsibility rule.
Yesterday, the OBR revised down its forecast for growth for this year, and for every year in this Parliament—in some cases by significant margins. That is reflected in lower forecasts for earnings growth. The Resolution Foundation says that typical wages will not recover to their pre-crash levels before the end of this decade. It is not just forecasts for economic growth and wages that are down. Those are driven by productivity, which has also been revised down for every year of this Parliament. Any productivity improvements last year have disappeared. As the OBR said, it was, “Another false dawn”. Perhaps that is not surprising. After all, productivity is linked to business investment, which should be driving the recovery, but which plunged sharply last quarter.
I have noticed that the hon. Gentleman does not like answering the question on how much he would be willing to borrow were he Chancellor. Is there any limit to the amount that he would be willing to borrow and to the debt that he would be willing to pass on to future generations?
I find it extraordinary that this Government want to talk about debt. Under this Government, the debt that our children will inherit will be £1.7 trillion. Under their watch, the debt has risen significantly—it has almost doubled. When we go forward, we will ensure that our borrowing will be based on sound economic advice from the wealth creators. Unlike this Government, we will create economic growth. This Chancellor is borrowing to fund cuts in public services, not to invest in growth or productivity.
Several hon. Members rose—
Did somebody wish to comment? Okay, we will carry on.
Let me assure Members that I will give way, but let me proceed a bit further.
As I have said, perhaps the fall in productivity is unsurprising, because productivity is linked to business investment, which should be driving the recovery, but which plunged in the last quarter.
I will give way in a moment. I can tell the House what happened to business investment forecasts—they were revised down again in this Parliament. None of this should be a surprise for the Chancellor, but it seems that it is. At the autumn statement, he said that he wanted a plan
“that actually produces better results than were forecast.” ”.—[Hansard, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1385.]
I will come back to the hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said this last week about the autumn statement:
“If you can’t forecast more than two months, how in heaven’s name can you forecast the next four or five years.”
That is what we all want to know.
Of course we welcome that employment growth, but we are concerned about the insecurity of that employment. The number of zero-hours contracts has gone up by another 100,000 over the past month, and the insecurity of that employment, unfortunately, is affecting people’s long-term investment plans as well.
Yesterday the Chancellor pointed repeatedly to global economic headwinds as an explanation for his failure. His problem is that we have known about them for a while. Many of us were warning him last summer about the challenges facing the global economy. I spoke about them in this place, as did others on the Labour Benches, but rather than adapting his proposals to deal with the global reality, the Chancellor has charged headlong into another failure of his own making. He has failed to heed our warnings and the warnings of others, he has failed to invest in the key infrastructure that our economy needs, and as a result he has failed to boost Britain’s productivity figures.
Is it not the case that our Chancellor is being very adaptable, as we heard yesterday? Is it not the case that the Opposition have an economic credibility strategy which essentially reverts to exactly what they did before—more borrowing, more spending, and higher taxes? It did not work then, so why would it work now?
The hon. Lady might describe the Chancellor as adaptable. Most of the media and most independent analysts described him today as failing—failing on virtually every target he set himself under his own fiscal rule.
Regrettably I do not think it has been sugar-coated for many of those who will be suffering the cuts included in this Budget.
On productivity, it is the Chancellor’s failure to boost Britain’s productivity that is at issue. The Office for Budget Responsibility is very clear on this point. British productivity, not global factors, is the reason the Chancellor is in trouble. Robert Chote, the head of the OBR, confirmed in an interview last night that “most of the downward growth revisions were not driven by global uncertainty, but by weaker than thought domestic productivity.” As a result of that, we now see drastically reduced economic forecasts and disappointing tax revenues.
The Chancellor has been in the job six years now. It is about time he took some responsibility for what has happened on his watch. It is not just on basic economic competence that the Chancellor has let this country down. Unfairness is at the very core of this Budget and of his whole approach.
I will press on, if the hon. and learned Lady does not mind.
The Chancellor said in 2010 that this country would not make the mistakes of the past in making the poor carry the burden of fiscal consolidation. The facts prove that that is just not accurate. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the long-run effect of all tax and benefit changes in last year’s autumn statement would mean percentage losses around 25 times larger for those in the bottom decile than for those in the top decile.
The hon. Gentleman and the Opposition are suffering from some form of collective amnesia. Does he not remember that the British economy was on life support in 2010 when the Chancellor took over? The body of the economy was barely twitching. Why does he not acknowledge the fact that since 2010 growth is up, wages are up, employment is up and the deficit is down? He should be praising the Chancellor, not saying the economy is going down.
Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the objective statements of the past 48 hours have demonstrated that all the factors that he mentions are falling back, and that we now face a serious problem that should be addressed by a responsible Government when they see their own fiscal rule and economic policies failing?
Let me repeat what the IFS said so that everyone is clear: the percentage losses were about 25 times larger for those at the bottom than for those at the top. So much for the Government’s statement about the broadest shoulders taking the strain. Furthermore, time and again, it is women who have borne the brunt of the Chancellor’s cuts. Recent analysis by the Women’s Budget Group showed that 81% of tax and welfare changes since 2010 have fallen on women.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just women who have borne the brunt, but disabled people? Half a million disabled people are losing between them £1 billion. Surely not even Conservative Members can stand this anymore.
I fully concur with my hon. Friend. I will come back to that point.
The distributional analysis by the Women’s Budget Group shows that by 2020 female lone parents and single female pensioners will experience the greatest drop in living standards—by 20% on average. In the case of older ladies, the single female pensioners, the cuts in care are falling upon their shoulders. I find that scandalous in this society.
It is disappointing, too, that the Budget offered no progress on scrapping the tampon tax. The Chancellor is hoping for a deal from the EU on the tax. If there is no deal, we will continue to fight for it to be scrapped.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that productivity was down for domestic reasons, not for international reasons. Can he therefore explain to me why the Congressional Budget Office in the US has reduced its forecast for potential productivity growth by 8.9 percentage points, which is lower than that for this country?
That relates to the US economy. The figures that I quoted were not mine. They were from the Office for Budget Responsibility, which referred to domestic productivity falls.
Young people have also paid a heavy price during the Chancellor’s tenure. It is not just the education maintenance cuts in the last Parliament, or the enormous hikes in tuition fees; it is the dream of home ownership receding into the distance for young people on average incomes.
The new Lifetime ISA will not resolve that. With pay falling so sharply for the young, there can be very few who can afford to save £4,000 a year.
We know that so far on the Chancellor’s watch, people with severe disabilities have been hit 19 times harder than those without disabilities. If that were not enough, the Government are now taking over £100 a week out of the pockets of disabled people. Even for a Chancellor who has repeatedly cut public spending on the backs of those least likely or least able to fight back, this represents a new low. I believe it is morally reprehensible.
The problem, as the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge, is housing supply. Because of the failure to build homes under this Budget, I fear that the interventions that the Government may make, which I often welcome, may force up prices, rather than allowing access to homes. The hon. Gentleman shares with me the desire that young people should be able to afford a home, and with me he should campaign now for more housing construction. That means investment, and sometimes you have to borrow to invest.
I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.
On disability, I am appealing to the Chancellor to think again. We will support him in reversing the cuts in personal independence payments for disabled people. If he can fund capital gains tax giveaways for the richest 5%, he can find the money to reverse this cruel and unnecessary cut.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Chancellor is not going to listen to the Opposition on the draconian cuts to these benefits, he will perhaps listen to Graeme Ellis, the chair of the Conservative Disability Group, who, as a result of these pernicious cuts, is cutting all links with the Conservative party?
I just say this across the House: this is a very important issue—we will not make party politics of this. As someone who has campaigned on disability issues in the House for 18 years, I sincerely urge all Members to press the Chancellor to think again. This cut is cruel, and it is, unfortunately, dangerous for the wellbeing of disabled people.
Several hon. Members rose—
With the greatest respect, I have just been reminded that I have spoken for more than 20 minutes, and I know there is a crowded schedule. I have given way extensively, and I would like to press on.
If corporation tax—already the lowest in the G7—can be reduced yet further, money can be found so the Government can think again about making yet more cuts to people with disabilities.
Finally, I want to talk about the future. Yesterday’s Budget does not meet the needs and aspirations of our society. It fails to equip us for the challenges ahead. It fails to lay the foundations for a stronger economy that could deliver prosperity shared by all.
The Chancellor has repeatedly told us we are the builders, and yesterday we heard more of it. On infrastructure, we are back to press-release politics: projects announced with no certainty of funding to complete them—projects that should have started six years ago. It is always tarmac tomorrow. If stories about garden suburbs sound familiar, it might be because we have heard them before. Announcements about garden suburbs have become a hardy perennial of the Chancellor’s announcements.
However, despite all the rhetoric, all the re-announcements and all the photo opportunities in high-vis jackets, one statistic is in black and white in the OBR’s documents: public sector investment as a share of GDP is scheduled to fall from 1.9% last year to 1.5% by the end of this Parliament—a lack of investment in our infrastructure that will hold back the growth of our economy.
On education, it seems that we are back to the politics of spin and stunts. Forcing schools to become academies will do nothing to address the shortage of teachers, the shortage of school places and increasing class sizes. Forcing schools to compete for the extra-hour funding places more bureaucratic burdens on headteachers, with only a one-in-four chance of gaining that additional funding.
We have learned this morning that there is a half-a-billion-pound black hole in the funding needed for the Chancellor’s plans for schools. I would welcome the Secretary of State for Education confirming whether she will find the money to ensure that, if academisation is funded, schools are fully funded for that process.
As for long-term financial planning, it is increasingly clear that the Chancellor is determined to flog off anything that is not nailed down, in a desperate attempt to meet his self-imposed targets.
Several hon. Members rose—
I have spoken for more than 25 minutes. You have made it clear, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there are many Members who want to speak. I have been extremely generous in giving way—more than any other shadow spokesman before.
Last year, we noted that the Chancellor could meet the conditions of his fiscal rule only by selling off profitable state assets, even at a loss to the taxpayer. Official figures yesterday suggested that taxpayers will face a loss of more than £20 billion pounds as a result of the Chancellor’s decisions on RBS share sales.
Yesterday, again, we learned that the Government are considering the privatisation of the Land Registry. That is despite their deciding against it as recently as 2014. That is despite the Land Registry returning millions of pounds in profits to taxpayers. That is despite a 98% customer satisfaction rate. It makes no difference to this Chancellor: everything must go, everything is up for sale. When will he learn that you cannot keep paying the rent by selling the furniture?
The Chancellor has consistently put his political career ahead of the interests of this country. Yesterday he tried to do the same, and he failed. His disastrous economic failures are the result of putting personal ambition ahead of sound economics.
The Chancellor is clinging to the tattered remains of his fiscal charter, using it to justify brutal cuts to vulnerable people. In contrast to his rule—widely savaged by economists, and now on the point of being torn up by Government statisticians—Labour has a real alternative. Labour will build a society based on a fair tax system, where the wealthy and powerful pay their fair share. In line with recommendations from the OECD, the IMF, the G20, the CBI and the TUC, Labour will invest to grow opportunity and output. Labour will eliminate the deficit by growing our economy. Labour will invest in skills for a high-wage, high-tech economy.
In contrast to the Chancellor’s broken promises, we will balance Government spending, using a fiscal credibility rule developed, and recommended to us, by the world’s leading economists—our economic advisory council. We will balance Government spending, but not, like the Chancellor, by bullying those who will not fight back. We will invest to deliver shared prosperity, with people able to fulfil their potential, and a country meeting its potential.
Let me make this clear: Labour does not want to see the Chancellor drive the economy over a cliff, blinded by his adherence to a fiscal rule that everyone now knows cannot work. In the interests of this country, we are making him an offer: let us work together to design a fiscal framework that balances the books without destroying the economy. However, let me also make this clear: if he refuses our offer of co-operation, Labour will fight every inch of the way against the counter- productive, vindictive and needless measures the Chancellor has set out in this Budget. Britain deserves better than this.
The shadow Chancellor recently unveiled Labour’s fiscal credibility rule, which we are told is part of its economic credibility strategy. Well, let me suggest that what Labour is missing is a political credibility rule, which would go something like this: the British people expect the same rule to apply to politicians as applies to them; they expect Governments to live within their means, and that is what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been doing for the past six years.
The shadow Chancellor proved today that he is incapable of answering any of the questions put to him by my colleagues on the Government Benches. However, he is able to tell us a few things. He has told us he wants to transform capitalism. He has told us his heroes are Lenin and Trotsky. He has told us that he wants to borrow more—in fact, had we carried on with the Labour party’s plans from when it was in government in 2010, we would have borrowed £930 billion more in the past six years.
Listening to the Labour party speak on economics is a bit like listening to the arsonist returning to the scene of his crime. It is a constant criticism from Labour Members that the firemen are not putting out the fire swiftly enough to correct the mistakes they made.
The Budget presented to the House yesterday by the Chancellor puts education at its core and invests in the future of young people right across Britain. I noticed that the shadow Chancellor got on to education only right at the end of his speech. This Budget will ensure that we give young people the best possible education, no matter where they are born, who their parents are, or what their background is.
Let me make a bit more progress and then I will give way.
Having listened intently to the shadow Chancellor, I have to ask this: why has he found it impossible to welcome in its entirety a Budget that puts the next generation first? He talks about productivity, but I did not detect any mention at all of investment in skills and the future education of the young people of this country.
Did it strike my right hon. Friend, as it struck me, that the hon. Gentleman made no mention at all of the Government’s commitment to fairer funding for our schools, which will even help schools in Labour Members’ constituencies—in Doncaster and in Barnsley? This is not about party politics; it is about helping the next generation.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention; he makes a very good point. We are tackling, as in so many other areas, the issues that Labour Members failed to tackle for 13 years when they were in government. In fact, the shadow Schools Minister, Nic Dakin, has himself campaigned for fairer funding across the country for our schools.
Several hon. Members rose—
Let me nail this point once and for all. It shows that many Labour Members could also benefit from staying on to do more maths education. What Labour Members—including the shadow Education Secretary, Lucy Powell, who I note is not here today—have missed is the money allocated by the Chancellor in the spending review in November to make sure that we can academise all schools: those that are failing or coasting, and those that are good and outstanding.
Based on the shadow Chancellor’s previous exchange at the Dispatch Box with the Chancellor, I had assumed that he would be an advocate of our “great leap forward” in education reform. I thought that he would welcome the Chancellor’s £1.6 billion of new spending to make our education system fit for the 21st century.
Before I came to this place, when I was the chairman of FASNA—Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association—which led the self-governing schools, I discussed with Labour Members on many occasions the unfair funding system that they had, and they agreed that it was unfair, but did nothing about it. Will my right hon. Friend finish the job and deliver a fair and transparent funding formula by 2020, given the money that she has been given by the Chancellor?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. As in so many areas of Government policy, we will of course finish the job that was not even started by the previous Labour Government.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on the bold steps on academisation. I will relate to her my own personal experience in Solihull, where the majority of secondary schools are academies and we have some of the finest schools in the country. We have found the academisation process to be transformative, and I now want to see it spreading out across the United Kingdom.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Not long ago, I had the pleasure of visiting a school in Solihull with him and my right hon. Friend Mrs Spelman. He is absolutely right to talk about transformative education, which is what Conservative Members want to see. It is a basic right for every young person in this country to have an excellent education. We now have 1.4 million more children in schools rated “good” or “outstanding”.
Does the Secretary of State realise that many people outside this Chamber will think it extremely odd that, a week after the head of Ofsted described very serious weaknesses in the main academy chains, her answer to that criticism is to force every single school in this country to become an academy?
No. I think that what people in the country will want, particularly parents, who often are not spoken about nearly enough in this debate—
Absolutely. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read the White Paper and then he will see exactly how parents are going to be involved in this. What parents want is for their children to be in a good school.
“I also want to be clear that there are some excellent” multi-academy trusts
“that have made remarkable progress in some of the toughest areas of the country.”
I am going to make some progress.
What the next generation really needs is better schools, the skills they need to succeed in life, affordable housing, and secure pensions. The Budget that the Chancellor outlined yesterday is designed to give them all those things. It is designed to achieve that while making sure that we are managing the economy properly, protecting the next generation from the burden of debt and affording them the bright future that they deserve. It is a Budget in which we have chosen to act now so that the next generation does not pay later.
I know that the shadow Chancellor will understand me when I say that in 2010 we had to embark on a “long march” to reform our schools because we inherited an education system that was more concerned with league tables than with times tables, where an “all must have prizes” culture prevented the pursuit of excellence, and where the centralised structure and bureaucratic control of schooling stifled the sort of leadership and classroom innovation necessary to drive improvement.
We owed it to our young people to tackle the soft bigotry of low expectations and to give them the education they deserve: an education that will help them to fulfil every ounce of their potential; an education with knowledge at its core, even if that does include the shadow Chancellor’s greatest influences—self-confessed—of Lenin and Trotsky. This Budget will provide the resources to translate into reality the vision for the future of our education system in the schools White Paper that I will outline later today.
The Secretary of State will know that the Sutton Trust, in its comment on the Government’s proposals on academies, said that it is
“the quality of teaching that has the most substantial impact on pupil outcomes, especially for the disadvantaged, regardless of school type or setting”.
Is not the Sutton Trust absolutely right about that?
The Sutton Trust also recognised that the quality of teaching in academies is extremely good. If the right hon. Gentleman reads the education White Paper, he will see how we are going to invest even further in what is already a great profession.
We want an education system that is regarded as the gold standard internationally—one that is based on high expectations and an intolerance of failure, treats teachers as the professionals they are, and unlocks real social justice in allowing every young person to reach their potential. Those who are saying that we are not addressing the critical issues could not be further off the mark, because our White Paper published today is a vision for raising standards in teaching, and raising them higher than any Government have before. Teachers will be better qualified and accredited, they will have access to the best development opportunities, and they will command more respect than any generation of teachers before them, taking their rightful place among the great professions.
Did we not go through years and years under Labour when our standards fell so low that we did our children absolutely no favours? I applaud this White Paper. I would like to tell the Secretary of State that a school in my constituency, Court Fields, which was turned into an academy, has seen its maths GCSE results improve by 20% in the past year.
My hon. Friend sets out very well the transformative effect that academies and great teaching have on the lives of young people. It is really quite extraordinary that Labour Members, who started the academies programme, have now moved so far away from their original intent.
On the point about the forced academisation of all remaining schools, may I ask the Secretary of State specifically about the 800 Co-operative schools? A few of those are run by the Co-operative Academies Trust, but the vast majority are Co-operative trust schools. Will she comment on the implications for those schools? Is she willing to commit either herself or her Schools Minister to meet representatives of those schools to discuss the implications for them?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that very sensible, measured question. The Schools Minister or I would be delighted to meet him and those representatives. When I go around the country, schools say to me that they understand that the direction of travel is for academisation. We want to work with schools. I suggest that the relevant schools speak to their regional schools commissioner, but also of course to the Department, to make sure that we are able to help them to academise in a way that continues with excellent education and continues to transform the lives of young people, because that is what we all want to see.
Let me turn to the longer school day. We know the difference that positive character traits can make to the life chances of young people, including the resilience to bounce back from life’s setbacks, the determination to apply themselves to challenges, and confidence in their own ability to improve themselves. Such traits also include persistence and grit—the sorts of characteristics that some Labour Back Benchers might need to demonstrate as they face years in the wilderness under their current leadership. With those traits, we know that young people are more likely to achieve their potential and make a positive contribution to British society.
I thank the Education Secretary for giving way and rewarding character and grit. Although most of us agree that the extension of the school day is welcome, there are schoolchildren who are hungry and therefore find it most difficult to benefit from any reforms. One welcomes the Chancellor’s sugar tax, which will give more children the ability to start school with food in their bellies, but will the Education Secretary break convention and lead a cross-party group to meet the Chancellor, who is sitting next to her, so that we can lobby for some of that sugar tax to feed the poorest children during the school holiday?
I and the Chancellor would be very happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss that. One of yesterday’s announcements that has not received attention—I will come on to it—is the significant additional funding for breakfast clubs. Of course, the Government have also committed to continuing the pupil premium, which is another way in which schools are able to support those most disadvantaged children. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the need for holiday funding and feeding, and I am certainly prepared to look at that.
A recent Public Accounts Committee report looked at the pupil premium and highlighted that, due to the vagaries of the existing funding system, funding per pupil in depravation can vary massively. Does the Education Secretary agree that fairer funding will help to tackle that and mean that schools such as those in Torbay will not have to explain why a child there is worth hundreds of pounds less than a child elsewhere?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. One of the reasons we are having a two-stage consultation is to make sure that we get the factors in the new formula right. One of those factors will be to reflect those children who are disadvantaged and in need. One of the figures we uncovered during the course of preparing the consultation was that a child with characteristics of need could receive about £2,000 in Birmingham and £36 in Darlington. That cannot be right if we want to have a proper national funding formula across the country.
The new investment in education means that £559 million is going towards a longer school day to support more schools in offering vital enrichment activities. I welcome the support of Frank Field and others. There is evidence, including from the Sutton Trust, that a longer school day is likely to be particularly beneficial for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Participation in physical activity and sport in particular is associated with better cognitive functioning, better mental health and improved concentration and behaviour in the classroom.
It is an investment that will particularly raise the life chances of the most disadvantaged young people, who may otherwise struggle to access enriching activities. The new funding will allow 25% of secondary schools to extend their school day by up to five hours per week per child. There are added benefits, as we continue to lighten the burden of childcare costs to parents who can work longer, knowing that their children are engaged in worthwhile extracurricular activities such as sport, debate and music, and are receiving additional support for their academic studies. We are doing that because we are determined to spread opportunities. As a one nation Government, we want to make sure that as many young people as possible have access to those opportunities.
The £413 million promised for education in yesterday’s Budget will double the primary sports premium, because we know that getting young people engaged in sport and fitness early is vital to tackling the growing levels of obesity in children. This significant investment in school sport will have a game-changing impact on the health of young people.
The Education Secretary will know that there were very impressive school sports trusts in place up to 2010, with a big focus on secondary and feeder primary schools working together. Unfortunately, they were lost in earlier budget cuts. Will the funding that has now been announced be used for that purpose again?
The funding that has been announced will be used even more effectively, because we are not going to tell schools how to spend it, apart from the fact that we want them to be doing more sport and more physical exercise. The belief that runs right through my party’s education policies is that the people who are best placed to make decisions in schools are the heads, the teachers and the governors—those who know the needs of their pupils best.
What is more, that will be paid for by the new levy on producers of excessively sugary drinks. I thank the Labour party for putting on record its support for that policy. I hope that in the longer term the levy will serve as an incentive for the industry to offer products that are lower in sugar and therefore healthier for young people.
The Education Secretary says she is not going to tell schools how to spend the sports money. Is she going to tell schools that they must convert to academies, even if parents make it crystal clear that they do not want that to happen?
The academies policy was started under the Labour party. We have adopted it and taken it forward, and it is providing a transformative education for young people in this country.
On breakfast clubs, £26 million will go towards developing and running breakfast clubs in up to 1,600 schools over three years, so that children can receive a healthy breakfast and start school ready to learn. The money promised for the longer school day, sport and breakfast clubs underlines this Government’s commitment to happy, healthy students who will be well placed to become the active citizens of tomorrow, contributing more to our economy and relying less on the welfare system.
We want to be absolutely certain that the investment in education promised by the Chancellor yesterday is felt up and down the country. Our new “achieving excellence areas”, supporting, among other regions, the northern powerhouse, will do exactly that. The Budget has given £70 million of new funding for the education powerhouse to add to the Department’s existing commitment to prioritise its programmes in the areas that most need support, and to deliver a comprehensive package to target an initial series of education cold spots where educational performance is chronically poor, including in coastal and rural areas. The investment will help to transform educational outcomes and boost aspiration in areas that have lagged behind for too long.
On the northern powerhouse, a recent written answer to my hon. Friend Louise Haigh shows that 100% of the Treasury’s senior civil servants are based in Whitehall and that 60% of them are men. Apparently, the Chancellor really does think that the man on Whitehall knows best—he had a lot of men on Whitehall making decisions for this Budget. Is that why they have failed to come up with a solution to the tampon tax?
I had the pleasure of working in the Treasury with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the last Parliament, and hon. Members could not find anybody who is more supportive of promoting women and of women’s causes. On the tampon tax, we hope very much that we will make progress with the EU on the VAT rate. I know that the hon. Lady is new to Parliament—she joined last year—but the last Labour Government, including female Ministers at the Treasury, had 13 years to tackle the issue. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has put aside money and there is a fantastic list in the back of the Red Book of the charities and organisations that will benefit from it. We can all agree that it would be better not to have VAT levied on sanitary products, but we support those organisations.
I have talked about support for the northern powerhouse. The review of northern schools will be carried out by Sir Nick Weller, executive principal of the eight Dixons Academies in Bradford.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. To be fair, we welcome the £20 million for the northern powerhouse school strategy. Nevertheless, does she not think that that would operate a lot better without the forced academisation agenda?
No, I do not. Nick Weller is the executive principal of the eight Dixons Academies in Bradford and they are transforming young people’s life chances. Academies are bringing in strong sponsors and strong multi-academy trusts. I cannot think of anyone better to conduct the review. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other Bradford Members will work with him to make sure that we identify exactly how we can continue to transform education in Bradford and elsewhere.
We have already discussed the national funding formula in interventions, but I just want to put on the record that we believe that the same child with the same characteristics deserves to attract the same amount of money, wherever they live in the country. A national funding formula will mean that areas with the highest need attract the most funding, so pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds will continue to receive significant additional support to overcome the entrenched barriers to their success. We are going beyond our manifesto pledge to protect per pupil funding for the core schools budget by investing an extra £500 million in the schools budget. That means that, as part of our consultation on these reforms, we can aim to deliver a fair funding formula allocation to 90% of schools that should be gaining by 2020. That further demonstrates that we deliver on our promises.
We are looking at that for precisely this reason. One of the reasons why recruitment is difficult is the recovering economy. I welcome that, in many ways, but as Education Secretary I recognise that it means that there are more opportunities for graduates to go into careers other than teaching. The number of students taking A-level maths, which enabled them to study it further and perhaps to become teachers, fell under the last Labour Government. There are fewer such people around, so we are having to look very hard, but that is the purpose of the review. As I have said, the review also needs to look at the shadow Chancellor’s calculations about how we can afford the full academisation policy. The numbers set out are from the spending review.
Quality of teaching is the most important factor in education. I welcome the focus on quality of teaching, teacher training and recruitment in the White Paper that has been published today. May I welcome the Government’s grip on that factor in education? That is such a contrast to the previous Labour Government, who spent so much money on buildings rather than on teachers.
I thank my hon. Friend, who makes an excellent point. I thank her for looking at the White Paper, and I hope that other hon. Members from all parts of the House will do likewise. The Government absolutely agree that the quality of teachers is the single most important factor in great education for our young people. If we were to follow the example of the Opposition, we would constantly be saying, “We cannot teach that, because of issues around finding the right teachers.” It is a totally defeatist way of looking at the matter. We have identified the important subjects that we want our young people to study, and we will make sure that teaching is a rewarding and exciting profession that the best people want to go into.
I have already talked about full academisation. We firmly believe that the policy continues to put power into the hands of school leaders and teachers so that they can decide how best to teach and nurture young people, as the great leaders in our best academies already are. We want schools to have the freedom to innovate and demonstrate what really works, but they will be able to do so within the scaffolding of support needed to realise the full benefits of autonomy. Crucially, this funding will support the reform and growth of multi-academy trusts with the people and the systems they need to enable them to drive real, sustainable improvement in schools’ performance.
For Opposition Members who say that the structure of the school system is not important, let me quote a Labour leader who knew how to win elections:
“We had come to power saying it was standards not structures that mattered…This was fine as a piece of rhetoric…it was bunkum as a piece of policy. The whole point is that structures beget standards. How a service is configured affects outcomes.”
What an acknowledgement from the former Prime Minister who started the academies programme of the fact that this policy has the power to transform our school system. That is another demonstration of the current Labour party’s lack of ambition for England’s schools, and of the way in which it has retreated into the fringes and kowtowed to unions rather than putting the interests of children and parents first.
There now 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools than there were in 2010.
I am going to make some progress, because I know that the Budget debate is oversubscribed. I have been very generous with interventions, and I will try to take a few more towards the end if I can.
We stand by our record of getting young people into study and training. We have the lowest number of people not in education, employment or training on record, but we are not going to rest on our laurels, because we believe that any young person who is NEET is wasting their potential. The Prime Minister has announced a mentoring scheme, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced yesterday that a further £14 million would go towards mentoring, so that we can recruit a new generation of mentors from the world of business and beyond, who can help to engage young people who are at risk of underachieving. By 2020, we want those new high-calibre mentors, businesspeople and professionals to reach 25,000 young people who are just about to start their GCSEs.
We have talked about reviewing our maths curriculum. If we are successful in keeping all young people in education for as long as we can, we have to be sure that we are offering them the education that they need to get a job and to get on in life. Among OECD countries, we have among the lowest level of uptake of maths among young people post 16. That is of great concern, but, more importantly, it is of concern to universities and employers, who need young people with sound maths skills. The review will be led by Professor Adrian Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of London. He will review how to improve the study of maths from 16 to 18 to ensure that the next generation are confident and comfortable using maths. That will include looking at the case for, and the feasibility of, more or all students continuing to study maths until the age of 18.
It is national apprenticeships week, so let me bang the drum for apprenticeships for a moment. The Government have championed apprenticeships consistently since taking office. We have delivered more than double the number of apprenticeships delivered by Labour in their last term of office, and we have committed to 3 million more by 2020.
Will the Secretary of State tell me how she envisages the future of the national curriculum, given that academies do not have to follow it? The forced academisation of schools will create a free-for-all when it comes to what schools teach our children.
The hon. Lady’s question demonstrates an absolute lack of trust and belief in the professionals who run our schools. The national curriculum will be a benchmark. If the hon. Lady goes and talks to those who are running our schools, she will find that many academies are teaching above and beyond the national curriculum.
I have already given way to the right hon. Gentleman several times, and I really need to finish now.
The Budget has been all about setting the next generation up for the future. The shadow Chancellor, unlike the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, finally got around to recognising and congratulating the Government on the enormous progress that has been made on the employment figures. The creation of jobs is a true success. The female employment rate is at a record high, with 1 million more women in work since 2010. The OBR is forecasting 1 million more jobs across the economy throughout this Parliament.
It is essential that we have a well-rounded, well-educated and highly skilled generation of tomorrow, and they need the security that only the Conservative party can deliver. The next generation also need the ability to secure their own future, with incentives to save, both to buy their own home and to make provision for their retirement. In the past, people have had to make a choice between the two, but the measures announced yesterday leave them in no doubt that we are on their side. The ISA allowance has been increased to £20,000, and in the new lifetime ISA the Government will give people £1 for every £4 they save.
This is a Budget in which the Government have had to take the difficult decisions that will continue to deliver the economic security that has been the hallmark of this Government’s time in office. The decisions have been made because we want to balance the books fairly across all generations. Let me point out that while we have been making the right decisions, gender inequality in the labour market is down in our society. We have the smallest gender pay gap ever, but we are not complacent, which is why we are taking action to make sure that it is reduced even further.
We know from Labour’s great recession that those who suffer most when the Government run unsustainable deficits are people who are already at a disadvantage. When Government spend recklessly, the next generation are burdened with debt. At a time of public sector spending restraint, education has not been spared difficult decisions, but the Government have chosen to invest in the next generation. The choices that we have made represent a huge boost to funding for children and young people. As I have outlined, we have put in place plans to use it effectively and ensure that it is targeted where it is needed most. Later today, I will set out more about our vision for the entire school system and how we truly deliver educational excellence everywhere.
No, I am going to draw to a close. Labour’s plans to spend, borrow and tax more are exactly what got us into a mess before, and they led to a rise of almost 45% in youth unemployment. We cannot risk the kind of youth unemployment seen today in places such as Spain and Greece.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you can give me some guidance. I understood that when a Minister had a major announcement to make on policy, as I think the Secretary of State just said she had about education policy, they are supposed to come to the Chamber and make it first before it is reported elsewhere. Why has she not done that as part of her speech?
Of course, all statements of policy come through this Chamber.
Let me just remind the hon. Gentleman that I am standing here and giving the House information about the White Paper. It is kind of him to allow me the opportunity to talk again about the White Paper that we are publishing today, setting out our vision of the school system. He can also read the written ministerial statement that I have laid before the House.
We have been very clear that we want good and outstanding schools to expand and we do not want to hold them back. As the right hon. Gentleman has asked that question, I hope he will offer support to new free schools that are set up in his constituency and elsewhere to challenge the expansion of places in schools that require improvement or are in special measures.
As I was saying, we cannot risk the kind of youth unemployment seen today in places such as Spain and Greece. We should not forget that the shadow Chancellor has recently asked for and taken on board the advice of Yanis Varoufakis, that successful Greek economy Minister. In Spain and Greece, there have been thousands of school closures and there have been cuts to teachers’ pay, because they have failed to balance the books. We know that the previous Labour Government left 287,000 more young people unemployed than when they came into office. That cannot be allowed to happen again.
As we promised in our manifesto last year, this is a Government with a plan for every stage of life. From the start of a young person’s life, their schooling and the decisions they make about their career to the choices they make on housing and pensions, which will determine their future happiness, this Budget will deliver the most confident and secure generation ever.
This is a Government who deliver on their promises. From fair funding to further support for families and giving every child the best start in life, we have shown the British people that this Government are on their side. It is clear that Labour Members have not learned from their mistakes. They spent and borrowed too much last time they were in power, and the shadow Chancellor’s speech last week revealed that they are happy to do so again. It should have been entitled a speech on fiscal implausibility, because the Labour party has no credibility when it comes to the economy. They would repeat the same mistakes again and expect a different result—the very definition of madness.
No, of course I will not give way.
The truth is that not only would Labour Members fail to deliver, but their economic policies would risk our nation’s security, our economy’s security and the security of families up and down Britain. The Conservatives will continue to deliver fairness, stability, security and opportunity for everyone. We, the Conservative Government, will continue to put the next generation first.
Yesterday, the Chancellor highlighted the huge uncertainties and risks facing the global economy, and he painted a fairly bleak picture of what might lie ahead just around the corner. These have been very tough years for a lot of people, characterised by financial insecurity and drops in living standards, which have started to recover only in very recent times.
One response, as advocated by the IMF and the OECD, would be to boost public investment as a means of pushing up productivity and growth. Instead, yesterday’s Budget confirmed a decade of austerity—austerity of choice, not of necessity; austerity that is falling on the shoulders of those least able to carry the burden; and austerity that is harming our public services. There are £3.5 billion of new cuts in this Budget. Even if we exclude cuts to capital spending and social security, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that funding for day-to-day public services is forecast to fall by the equivalent of £1,000 per head over the course of this Parliament.
Yet all this pain has failed to deliver the economic benefits that we were promised. As the shadow Chancellor said earlier, the Government have failed to meet their own targets on debt, borrowing and bringing down the deficit. They have missed every key economic target they have set themselves. Another target that the Chancellor quickly glossed over yesterday was the fact that the Government are once again set to miss their own self-imposed limit on welfare spending. In fact, the OBR predicts that the Government will breach their welfare cap by £4.6 billion in the coming financial year, and will miss their own target in the next four years as well.
The quagmire that is the implementation of the new universal credit is right at the heart of the Chancellor’s problems. The difficulties with universal credit are not new. However, the OBR has said that universal credit is
“one of the largest sources of uncertainty” in forecasting spending on social security, and that it has identified
“new sources of significant concern” in trying to assess the impact of universal credit on spending. I think we all appreciate that predicting spend on universal credit presents some inherent challenges and that certain aspects of universal credit spend will be driven less by policy than by the economic cycle and the state of the labour market, but given the OECD and others’ sobering account of the turbulent global economic outlook, the problems with universal credit are likely to become much more acute.
In that context, I am not convinced that the Government’s arbitrary welfare cap is helpful. The reality is that the austerity cuts of recent years have fallen heavily on budgets for social protection. The £12 billion of cuts already identified in the autumn statement will largely come out of the pockets of low-income households with children and of those who need support to cope with illness or disability. The cuts to work allowances and other changes to the tax credit system, which are due to come into effect from April, will significantly reduce the support to parents working in low-paid jobs, some of whom are going to be thousands of pounds worse off, even when we take into account the increase to the minimum wage, the increase to the personal allowance and other changes confirmed or announced yesterday.
The research published in recent days by the Women’s Budget Group has shown how austerity cuts have fallen disproportionately on women—that point was well made earlier—and points out that women face “triple jeopardy” because they are more likely to be in low-paid work, more likely to work in the public sector and more likely to be in receipt of tax credits or other benefits subject to cuts or freezes. Its research suggests that as many as one in four women are earning less than the living wage.
I want to pick up that point about wage levels and say a wee bit about terminology. It is very important that we distinguish between the minimum wage, which is now being rebranded as the national living wage, and the real living wage, which is calculated on the basis of the actual cost of living and is significantly higher. I of course welcome the increase in the minimum wage to £7.20 an hour for those over 25, but let us not pretend that it is a living wage. Let us also not forget that those under 25 are not so fortunate. For the life of me, I can see no rationale for such a significant differential in pay as the one experienced by younger workers.
The real living wage is currently £8.25 an hour, although we should bear in mind that that calculation was based on the assumption that low-paid workers would be claiming their full entitlement to tax credits at the present rate, not the new reduced rates. In Scotland, we have a higher proportion of workers paid the real living wage than in any other part of the UK, and there are ambitious plans to increase further the number of accredited living wage employers. However, I think we all recognise that there is a long way to go if we are to tackle low pay.
One of the questions I want to ask Ministers today on the subject of the minimum wage is whether and when they plan to raise the carer’s allowance earnings threshold. They seem to be ficherin’ about with their papers, so I do not know whether they have even heard that question. There is no automatic link between the level of the national minimum wage and the carer’s allowance earnings limit. In the past, the limit has just been raised on a very ad hoc basis as something of an afterthought. The limit has huge implications for carers who might be working part time and receiving tax credits, so I hope Ministers will confirm that they plan to increase the carer’s allowance earnings limit in line with the increase in the minimum wage and to do so at the same time. I put it to Ministers that it might make more sense for this to be included in the annual benefits uprating order in future.
I want to return to the guddle of the Government’s social security spending and their cack-handed attempts to save money. The Chancellor confirmed yesterday that the Government intend to take a further £1.2 billion from sick and disabled people through changes to the assessment points awarded to sick and disabled claimants for personal independence payments on the basis of the aids and appliances that they need to carry out daily living activities. PIP is in the process of replacing disability living allowance. This is yet another transition process in the Department for Work and Pensions that has been fraught with problems and lengthy delays.
Jonathan Portes, principal research fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, has pointed out that
“delivery and implementation failures related to welfare changes, particularly related to disability benefits, continue to push up OBR forecasts of welfare spend”.
In his view, the £1.2 billion cut in support for aids and appliances within PIP is being done partly to offset such failures. Personal independence payments are, however, really important. They are the means through which those with very substantial disabilities and long-term health conditions receive extra support to help them to meet the extra costs they incur because of their disability. For many, DLA or PIP is what enables them to work and live independently, and what allows them to participate in their community.
These further cuts come hard on the heels of a raft of measures that have reduced the incomes of sick and disabled people since the start of the Government’s austerity drive. The Welfare Reform Act 2012 has already cut the budget for PIP by £1.5 billion and raised the bar on eligibility for the new benefit. The Government’s forecasting has consistently underestimated the cost of the policy, which is why—once again—disabled people are in the front line.
The transition from DLA from PIP has been blown far off course. By making it more difficult to qualify for PIP, the Government thought that they could save money, and they expected 20% fewer claimants to be eligible for the new benefit. However, they grossly underestimated how many, and how badly disabled, those claimants were. Making disability benefits harder to claim does not change the health or support needs of claimants. In practice, cuts in support have meant that many sick and disabled people have been pushed further into poverty, and some into destitution or worse.
Around 370,000 people in the UK are likely to be affected by this new cut, including around 40,000 in Scotland. That comes on the back of a string of austerity measures that adversely affect disabled people, from the bedroom tax—eight out of 10 households affected in Scotland were the home of a disabled adult—to cuts to the independent living fund, the loss of eligibility for Motability vehicles, and the most recent changes to ESA that we debated the other week, which will reduce support to some disabled people by £30 a week.
I have heard what the hon. Lady is saying, but does she recognise and accept that disability spending is going up, and there will be more than £1 billion of spending on disability? Is it not appropriate for welfare spending to go to those in most need?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue because those figures deserve much greater scrutiny. The rise in the overall budget for disability spending to 2020 is easily explained by the fact that as the baby-boomer generation start to lose their health, and as life expectancy increases but healthy life expectancy does not increase at the same rate, there is more demand for disability support.
I accept that those with the most extreme disabilities need more support—that is definitely the case—but those who are losing out from PIP are probably those who are closest to the labour market, and their PIP, or DLA, enables them to participate in that market and support themselves. Those people have ongoing additional extra costs, whether for aids and adaptations, transport, or because they do not have sight and need support to get to and from their place of work. Such people need and deserve support, so why should they be put on the frontline when many other able-bodied people are not being asked to bear the same level and proportion of that burden? I hope I have addressed the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I am grateful for the opportunity to unpack those top-line figures that sound so generous to disabled people, but mask systematic cuts to the support that individuals who need help can expect to receive.
In response to the Budget yesterday, Citizens Advice Scotland said that
“the confirmation of changes to the Personal Independence Payment will mean that disabled people are set to lose entitlement of up to £3,000 per year to support them to live an independent life.”
Liz Sayce of Disability Rights UK said that the cuts to aids and appliances
“will impact on people’s ability to work, enjoy family life and take part in the communities they live in.”
Before I conclude, let me address the Chancellor’s announcements on savings. In the weeks leading up to the Budget, it was widely reported that he was planning to reform pension tax relief, to rebalance the pension system and make it fairer for basic rate taxpayers and other modest earners. That opportunity was missed yesterday, and instead we got measures that will further widen the gulf between the haves and have-nots, and which lay bare the stark priority that this Government seem to attach to maintaining, and even celebrating, the gross income inequalities that characterise modern British society.
There were some great wheezes for very high earners, not least the increase to the personal allowance. Although everyone can potentially benefit from that, those set to benefit the most are higher rate taxpayers like ourselves. The Resolution Foundation estimates that a third of the benefit of that change will accrue to the top 20% of earners. Meanwhile, a lot of low-paid and part-time workers—most of them women—will not even earn enough this year to take them over the threshold.
Similarly, raising the ISA limit to £20,000 will benefit only those who happen to have a spare twenty grand lying around. To take full advantage of that tax break, someone would need to save more than £1,666 pounds a month, which is a lot more than many people’s take-home pay. The same applies to the new lifetime ISA, because a young person would need to save £333 pounds a month to take full advantage of it. For a 20-year-old working full time on the minimum wage, that represents 38% of their gross salary. It is not realistic. Even among better paid young people, many of those eligible for the scheme are likely to struggle to pay grossly inflated rents in the private sector, and many will be servicing substantial student debts and be unable to take full advantage of the scheme.
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, because the assumption is that people have spare money sloshing around to put into a lifetime ISA. Does she agree that even if someone saved the maximum amount every year over the period allowed, they would not be allowed to buy a pension at the end of that, and in many cases—especially in London—they would not even be able to buy a house?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point and highlights the fact that young people’s housing problems are caused by undersupply of affordable housing. With the best will in the world, people on normal wages will never be able to buy a house in an urban area such as London, or in places such as Aberdeen and Edinburgh where the housing market is inflated.
I will make some progress.
The lifetime ISA is a nice little bung for trustafarians and others with munificent parents or grandparents. An 18-year-old whose wealthy parents put £4,000 into a lifetime ISA every year until he or she is 40 will get a tidy wee £22,000 handout from the Government. That stands in sharp contrast to the Help to Save scheme under which people on breadline incomes—if, by some miracle, they manage to save £600 pounds a year—will get £300 from the Government. In other words, they receive less than a third of the annual benefit available to those who are already wealthy and privileged.
I will not give way at the moment. No wonder that the Chancellor did not have much to say about the Help to Save scheme yesterday. It is a sham opportunity that is being dangled in front of people who can never hope to insulate themselves properly against financial shocks, whose financial security is increasingly precarious, and who are most exposed to the risks of global economic instability. Some people have already started calling the lifetime ISA the LISA, but out of deference to my hon. Friend Dr Lisa Cameron I will resist that temptation. Instead, we might consider calling it the PIERS— for People Inherently Entitled to Rich Savings.
However, this is a serious point because we all recognise the need to encourage people to save more for later life, and for almost all of us the best way to do that will be through a workplace pension to which an employer can contribute. At best, the lifetime ISA is a fairly gimmicky sideshow, and at worst there is a danger that it could undermine auto-enrolment, which is the key vehicle for incentivising savings and promoting fairer universal pensions. We must shore-up confidence in auto-enrolment and not distract focus from it. The pensions industry and sector has suffered a real crisis of confidence over recent decades because people have not seen adequate rewards from the process and do not believe that that is the best way to protect themselves for the future.
This morning the Resolution Foundation published a graph that shows how the Government’s income tax cuts will benefit people across the income distribution. It shows that the lowest 20% of incomes will gain a miserly £10 on average, while the wealthiest 20% will gain an average of £225 each. For me, that encapsulates in a nutshell this Government’s warped priorities and the unfairness at the heart of this Budget. There is an alternative to austerity, and I am sorry that the Government have chosen not to take it.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. There are 29 Members who wish to speak. I will start with a time limit of eight minutes, although that will inevitably drop down if people make too many interventions.
Perhaps the most important thing about the Budget is also the most understated, which is that it is occurring against a veritable job creation miracle in this country. Since world war two, jobs have never been created at the rate that they are being created now, and that is the starkest difference between the economic management of this Government, and that of Labour when it was in power in recent years.
There is much in the Budget to boost that job creation further: the increase in tax thresholds, which is a further incentive to work; the doubling of small business rate relief, which will help to generate more wealth and jobs; the lifetime ISA, which is an encouragement to saving; and the cut in corporation tax, although that will not happen for a number of years.
There was a great welcome in the west country for the measures specifically outlined by the Chancellor. It is great to see the west country getting that long-overdue recognition from the Treasury.
My right hon. Friend rightly emphasises that the Chancellor has provided funds for the west country. Rail, road, housing and broadband are all needed there.
That advertisement for the west country’s economic potential was nicely put, and does not really require any response from me.
I share the disappointment that the Chancellor expressed about the fact that the growth figures were downgraded and that debt was rising as a proportion of GDP. The figures make it more difficult to see how we can achieve the substantial and sustainable surplus that is needed to make a meaningful reduction on the level of debt. However, I must say to some Conservative Members and many of the commentators who call for faster fiscal consolidation that they cannot get it by wishful thinking. Their objection to every tax rise and every spending cut proposed by the Chancellor makes it all the more difficult to achieve what we all want.
The Chancellor yesterday set out his view on the European Union element and the impact on our economy. It will not surprise anyone to learn that I do not take the same view as he does, but I want to tackle one or two of the myths and the claims that are made. The first claim, which comes from the Governor of the Bank of England onwards—I almost said “downwards”, but I am sure that is not correct—is that being in the European Union is key to our economic wellbeing. Of the OECD countries, 16 of the 20 with the highest unemployment are in the European Union. Of the 10 OECD countries with the highest unemployment, only one is not in in the European Union. Unemployment averages 6.5% in the OECD; 5.5% in the G7; 8.9% in the EU; and 10.3% in the eurozone—if we extract Germany, it is something like 14% or 15%. I should therefore like to know in the response to the debate the answer to this question: if the EU is so good and so key for economic wellbeing, why is it failing almost every other country in the EU?
The second claim is that inward investment in the United Kingdom comes because of our membership of the European Union. That does not strike me as being logical. If the UK gets the lion’s share of inward investment in Europe, it cannot by definition be simply because we are a member of the EU—we would otherwise get a proportionate share of inward investment. There must be other reasons that are nothing to do with our EU membership that enable that inward investment.
Chinese companies looking to move into the Asian business park in my constituency want to come to the UK because it is the best place in Europe for them to be located, it is English speaking and so on. Is it not the case that they want to address the European market, and that if we have left the European market, they will not come?
I simply do not believe that that——the idea that, if we are not in the EU, we will no longer trade—is credible. Countries do not trade with countries; companies sell to consumers. They will sell to consumers when they have products of the appropriate quality at the appropriate price. The worst case scenario is having World Trade Organisation tariffs, but sterling’s depreciation since November was a far bigger change in the financial costs to business than anything tariffs could produce.
I will not.
I believe we will get investment into this country because we have a skilled workforce, a good tax structure, and fiscal and political stability. I also believe that money will go to where money can be made and moved. Our commercial law is one of the main reasons why money will continue to flood into this country. Those who invest in this country know that they can take their profits out, unlike other countries where they might consider investing.
Rather than providing the great opportunity, the EU provides two major risks to our economic stability, the first of which comes from the euro. The decision not to join the euro was one of the most beneficial in recent British politics. The euro is a vanity project. It is a political project dressed up as an economic one. The wrong countries were allowed to join, and when they joined, they were allowed to follow fiscal policies that caused them to diverge from the original premise. As a consequence, millions of young Europeans face structural, high and long-term unemployment, sacrificed on the altar of the single currency.
That will have a huge cost, and it has an economic cost to the UK because of the budgetary mechanism by which we support the EU. In other words, the more our economy continues to grow in relation to the EU, the higher our contributions will be, because they are a factor of our GDP. We in this country and our taxpayers will be penalised for our economic success and for remaining outside the project that we said from the very outset was doomed to failure. The one thing that we did not hear yesterday in the Budget was how we could otherwise spend the £350 million a week we currently send to Brussels.
The second instability that affects our economy is free movement. According to the Government’s figures, 1.162 million have settled from the European Union in the past decade. That puts pressure, including economic pressure, on the number of school places and the number of houses we require before we see any benefit to the UK population. It also puts pressure on health services. It might well be that those who fund the remain campaign, such as Morgan Stanley and the big oil companies, are not particularly worried about the lack of school places in this country—they will probably not use those places—but free movement has a huge impact in large parts of this country and applies financial pressure on the Government if they are to provide those things. That is even before we take into account the mass migration coming across Europe, which is leading to political and social instability, which will have an economic cost in the longer term.
I want briefly to deal with a completely separate issue that the Chancellor raised yesterday. In his Budget statement, he said:
That is not true. We have not reached such an agreement. A draft agreement will be put to some of our councils in the coming weeks, but we have not agreed to the authority. Let me make it clear that the Members of Parliament—the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend John Penrose, my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, my hon. Friend Ben Howlett and I—fundamentally and totally oppose the concept of a mayor being applied to the west of England.
We had the experience of Avon, when the outlying areas became nothing much more than an automated teller machine for Bristol’s spending plans. We have no wish to see it re-imposed on us by stealth. I am completely opposed to it and urge my colleagues in North Somerset to reject the proposal when it is put in front of them. If we want devolution, let us devolve down to existing democratic local government structures. We do not need another layer imposed on top of us—a metro mayor. That it works in the north of England is not a reason for it to be applied to the south of England. I have always believed it is a great Conservative policy to have whatever works in place, and not to apply a one-size-fits-all policy from Whitehall.
As I have said, the Budget comes against an extraordinarily good economic backdrop. Britain is outperforming almost all other EU countries, and almost all other developed countries. We have sound finance, free markets, low taxes, deregulation and political stability. The Government have presided over a veritable job creation miracle in this country while the European Union stagnates. We have a chance in the referendum on
I am told by the House of Commons Library that I have been in the House for 41 Budget debates. I have not spoken in all of them, but I have a lot of experience of Budgets and Budget debates. They are always such high octane occasions: the Budget comes out and then there is usually a fundamental disagreement across the Benches. I have always believed, however, that we never really know what a Budget contains, or how it has been received, until we at least get to the Sunday papers. Let us wait for the Sundays to see how it is going down, and wait even longer to see how it will affect the people we represent.
In the run-up to the Budget, one of the most interesting speeches I heard was from someone who is a very classy journalist, Andrew Neil. Many people think, well he is humorous and he has “The Politics Show” and so on, but he used to be the editor of The Sunday Times. He has a sharp intellect. I heard him speak to the Engineering Employers’ Federation only two or three weeks ago. His analysis was chilling: the world economy, as the Chancellor himself said, is in a febrile and delicate state. If we look at what is happening with Putin in Russia, what has happened in the middle east and the lack of leadership in the United States, with the possibility of a President Trump, it is an unstable and worrying world. He said that if people think the UK leaving the EU would be just a little local ripple, they should think again. It could well lead to a breakdown in the world economy. I believe that that analysis is correct.
I get on quite well with Dr Fox on a personal level. I do not know what people do in North Somerset, but I represent a university town. We in this country receive more research income from Europe than any other country per capita. The other day we could not find anyone in the higher education world to speak in favour of Brexit. Not only do we have all that research money and research partnerships, we have, because of the English language, the tremendous stimulus of many European students coming to this country. I do not want to detain the House on this point, but I believe we are successful, will be successful and have to be successful in Europe. We have been successful in Europe. We have been weathering the storm, but that is largely because of our own efforts within Europe.
I would like to say, very briefly, something about what was not in the Budget. I know that that is permissible under the rules. The missing element is health. Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association Council, said earlier this week that George Osborne should use Wednesday’s Budget to stop the NHS heading to “financial ruin”. He said there is a
“complete mismatch between the Government’s promise of extra funding and the reality on the ground…If the Chancellor squanders this chance the NHS will continue to slide further into financial ruin.”
We are told that the NHS is ring-fenced. The truth is that one third of hospital trusts across the country are in deadly distress and trouble. My local hospital serves the big university town of Huddersfield and one of the biggest urban areas in the country, Kirklees. Unless we win the fight, we are likely, very shortly, to not only lose accident and emergency for the whole of Kirklees—Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Holmfirth; it is a very big area—but not have a major, proper hospital.
My hon. Friend says there was nothing in the Budget about health, but there was a stealth tax on the NHS. It was the announcement that employers’ contributions to pensions, including in the NHS, will increase. That will be another burden on the budgets of his local health trusts and mine.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point and I absolutely agree with him. I spoke to the chief executive of my local trust the other day—I would like the right hon. Member for North Somerset to listen to this—and he said that if it was not for the Spanish nurses we have been able to recruit from Spain, we could not provide a service in the hospital.
I regard that as an entirely irrelevant argument. We would be able to employ whoever we wanted outside the European Union. The difference is that we would be making that choice, rather than having the numbers imposed on us by free movement.
Moving on—the House would expect me, after 10 years as Chair of the Education Committee, to say something about education today. I am very concerned about the proposal for the academisation of all our schools. I spent a lot of time with the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, talking about academies. The previous Labour Government created academies because none of us in this House should put up with the underachievement of young people. If we know that there are towns, cities and coastal communities where kids are not getting the opportunity to find that spark to realise their potential and get good qualifications, and, through those qualifications, gain entry into a good life, we should all be ashamed of ourselves—on all Benches in this House. That is the fact of the matter.
Too often, however, Governments look for a holy grail or silver bullet to produce good standards across the country in a hurry. I do not believe that such a holy grail or silver bullet exists. My experience as an amateur historian looking at the history of education policy leads me to believe something quite revolutionary: we do better on education policy when we co-operate across these Benches, rather than when we are ideological and fight over education policy. Forced academisation and the finishing of local education authorities as a real power in the land are deeply damaging to the future of education, deeply damaging to local government and deeply damaging to our local democracy.
The Government say they are in favour of giving power to the people. If we keep taking resources and functions away from local government, what will be the point of local government? Local government must have local roots. The right hon. Member for North Somerset said the same thing just now, in relation to his opposition to the big elected mayors. I have an open mind on that, but if we take away functions from local authorities, we have no trust in them. Good local authorities have been brilliant at education. They have produced some of the greatest educators and experts on education that this country has ever known. If we get rid of that wonderful core of people and cease to have them coming into the system, we will do great damage to the future of education. Many of those people have been very fine chief inspectors, including two of the recent ones. We need to fight for a real, accountable education system. There was even a high degree of co-operation and agreement across the House on the need for comprehensive education. Indeed, Mrs Thatcher, as Secretary of State for Education, made more schools comprehensive than any other Secretary of State.
The way things are going under this Government, we will have a top-down, tiny Education Department in London with 20,000 schools and just the inspectorate. Time and time again, we will have crises in our schools, as we had in Birmingham. We will then have to have a firefighting exercise. We will have to find a former chief inspector of schools to sort it out. I believe the Budget should not have been about education. That is the job of the Secretary of State for Education. It is not up to the Chancellor to make these decisions; these decisions should have been made independently. If we make a highly ideological divide between those people in favour of academies and those against them, it will damage not only our education system but our young people who deserve the very finest education for their lives.
Compared with Mr Sheerman, I am a mere callow youth in the House, having sat through only 35 Budgets, I think, and spoken in most of them. I sometimes feel I am constantly repeating the same theme, but generally in this place, unless one stays with a personal theme and keeps repeating it, one will probably not get anywhere.
Over those 35 Budgets, I have argued constantly for tax simplification. For instance, the cut in corporation tax is no doubt greatly welcomed by our larger companies, which have been the biggest cheerleaders for our remaining in the UK, but whatever they save from these modest cuts in corporation tax has been clawed back in other parts of the Budget. Unless we can achieve tax simplification and move gradually towards a flatter tax system, instead of having one of the longest tax codes in the developed world—as long as India’s—we will never make progress on tax avoidance.
My hon. Friend’s consistency and sagacity are well established in the House, and I take his point about tax simplification, but would he not agree that the best form of simplification is to take people out of the higher tax band and out of tax altogether? Is that not the ultimate simplification and precisely what the Chancellor has done—once again—in this Budget?
Yes, of course I acknowledge that, and I congratulate the Chancellor, the Government and my right hon. Friend the Minister on creating an economy in which more people are in work than ever before and more people are being taken out of tax than ever before. We are returning to the historical position of actually making work pay for people at the bottom of the heap. Helping people at the bottom of the heap and taking them out of tax is what the Government should be doing. So everything he says is absolutely right.
If I make a few suggestions or criticisms in the few minutes allowed to me, I do not want it to take away from the Government’s achievement in their macroeconomic management of the economy, and nor do I want to resile from my criticism of Labour Members, who must learn from history and become a credible Opposition. It is not good enough for the shadow Chancellor to come to the House today and refuse to answer any questions about his borrowing plans. There is no point just repeating a generalised mantra about borrowing to invest. It is fair enough to say that—it is the old golden rule of Gordon Brown, and we know how that was broken—but one must be prepared to provide concrete facts and figures. Would the shadow Chancellor borrow more than the present Government?
I repeat, however, that I am in favour of a much-simplified, flatter tax system, and in that context, I recognise that the Chancellor is at last—I have been campaigning for this for years—indexing the higher 40p tax band.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman in terms of the position he describes in respect of the Opposition. That did not stop his party in opposition agreeing to all the tax and spending proposals and all the Budgets right up to 2008 but then, as soon as it was in government, condemning the Labour Government for overspending—we heard that again today from the Front Bench.
All I can say is: not in my name.
I agree with tax simplification. The sugar tax is a fairly benign proposal and is not coming in for two years, but, generally speaking, as a Conservative, I believe we should cut people’s taxes and then let them make their own choices. We all know there is as much sugar in Heinz tomato soup, which I love and is not going to be taxed, or in some of these baguettes one can buy from one of the increasing number of coffee shops in the Westminster village, as there is in Pepsi or Coca-Cola. These companies, of course, will find a way around it—they will probably just ensure that a Diet Coke costs the same as a normal bottle of Pepsi.
I should mention, however, that the Chancellor is repeating a mistake perhaps made in the 18th century. The 1765 Sugar Act, which imposed a tax on sugar, led to boycotts of British-made goods in Boston and sporadic outbreaks of violence on the Rhode Island colony. It was one of the Acts, along with the more famous Stamp Act, that provided ample inspiration for the American revolution. I say to the Chancellor, if he is listening, that we should be aware of that lesson from history.
My right hon. Friend Dr Fox mentioned the proposal for a mayor. I was quietly sitting over there, gently dozing, as the Chancellor was going through his complicated plans for business rates, when suddenly I sat up with a start, because he said we were going to have a mayor of Lincolnshire. I was not consulted, although when I talked to a colleague last night—I will not say who—he said, “Well, of course we didn’t consult you, because we knew you’d be against it.”
It is true that some of the greatest achievements in local government have been made by the mayors of great cities—I am thinking of the likes of Joe Chamberlain—and I have nothing against cities such as Bradford, Manchester, Birmingham and London having mayors, but mayors are for towns. Are they for huge rural areas such as Lincolnshire? It takes an hour and a half to drive up the southern part of Lincolnshire to Stamford, where the Minister’s constituency lies, and another hour and a half to get up to Grimsby. Does it make sense to have a mayor? None of my local councillors wants a mayor, but they have been bribed into accepting one, although it is only a draft proposal, and they can still vote it down in their councils.
If councils want a mayor, I will not stand in their way, but they should consider it very carefully. The fact is they would have preferred a devolution of power from the centre, which is fair enough. They are being offered another £15 million a year. They would like a co-operative body, comprising the existing district and county councils, with a rotating chair, to disburse the extra £15 million, but they have been told by the Chancellor that, unless they accept a mayor, they will not get the £15 million. That is quite wrong. It is not true devolution; true devolution is passing powers down.
We have experience of this, in the imposition of the police and crime commissioner. It was not done with public consent, there was a derisory turnout, an independent was elected in Lincolnshire, and the first thing he did was to fall out with the chief constable, and we have barely made progress since then. I say to the Chancellor and the Government: we are Conservatives and we believe in true devolution. They should not attempt these top-down solutions. An elected mayor might work fine in the big cities, but it is not necessarily the right thing for a large rural county such as Lincolnshire. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset, who talked about money being sucked into Bristol, I worry about money being sucked from rural areas up into Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Lincoln.
The Conservative-controlled county council is doing an excellent job. It is not fair that a large part of its budget will be sucked out through the academisation of schools, leaving it with a share of the extra £15 million. I am a strong supporter of academies, but I believe in true independence and devolution. We have a mixed system in north Lincolnshire: we have grammar schools and some very good comprehensive schools. We should not insist, in an area such as Lincolnshire, which has some excellent schools, that the county council give up control of all its schools. In rural areas, we have some very small schools, with just 50, 60 or 100 children, and a top-down, imposed solution is not necessarily right for the education of the kids.
In conclusion, there are many good things in the Budget and in what the Government are doing, but I urge them to pause and listen to local opinion on the imposition of mayors in rural areas.
In common with all right hon. and hon. Members, I listened very carefully to the Budget that the Chancellor delivered yesterday. It was his eighth Budget—an opportunity to show that, after six hard years nearly, his plan has worked. Although I welcome the introduction of the sugar tax and his clear commitment to a Britain that will be stronger, safer and better off inside a reformed European Union, the reality is that, yesterday, his record of failure became clear: fiscal rules broken; cuts targeted at the most vulnerable in society; no compelling vision for our country; an ideological Budget for the better-off that seeks to reshape the state on the back of our country’s poorest. This was from a Chancellor who frankly focuses too much on the politics and not enough on the economics.
I want to speak today about the Chancellor’s fiscal record, his Budget rhetoric and his short-sighted approach to the future of our economy. First, on the fiscal record, the Chancellor stood here in 2010 and said he was going to get a grip on our country’s finances. In his Budget shortly after the general election, he said:
“This emergency Budget deals decisively with our country’s record debts.”—[Hansard, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 166.]
Despite that bold claim, six years later, public debt is still rising and household debts are growing. The Chancellor also said he would eliminate the deficit, but we learnt yesterday that this year the deficit will be over £70 billion. It has been just a few months since the Chancellor came to Parliament and presented his “long-term economic plan”—what was supposed to be the plan for the next five years. Yet already those plans are being revised, with deeper spending cuts, growth revised down and borrowing and debt as a percentage of GDP revised up. I have had goldfish that have lasted longer than some of the Chancellor’s fiscal rules.
Secondly, let us look at the Chancellor’s Budget rhetoric. Each year, he stands up and delivers a great line, but if we look at it more closely, we find it is just rhetoric, a mirage. In yesterday’s Budget, the Chancellor said that this was a Budget “for the next generation.” The reality? The Children’s Society says that the Budget “fails the next generation”, and the Child Poverty Action Group says that the next generation are to be the poorest generation for decades. The Chancellor has now been found out for what he is—someone who when he says “long-term economic plan”, really means “short-term political gain”.
The Chancellor says that he wants to talk about the future and that he wants to build a northern powerhouse, but he is not willing to fund it. He is spending three times more on transport in London than in Yorkshire and the Humber, and we now know that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for the northern powerhouse, is closing its Sheffield office, moving to London and taking the 200 jobs along with it. You could not make it up. I do not think that the people of South Yorkshire will think that this is what a northern powerhouse should look like.
Infrastructure is crucial to our country’s future. Although I welcomed yesterday’s announcement of money to scope the trans-Pennine tunnel, a project that has been championed by my hon. Friends the Members for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), the reality is that investment is too low. Where it is happening, things are moving too slowly. Figures show that just 114 out of 565 infrastructure projects are in construction. If our economy is going to compete in the “global race” the Prime Minister has talked about, R&D spending will be key to our future success. Despite that, Britain is spending less than France, less than Germany, and less than half of what South Korea spends on R&D.
Speaking of our future, where were the measures to build more homes? Where were the measures to help the NHS? Where were the policies to boost the earnings of those living on low pay? These are crucial issues that will define our future, yet we got nothing from the Chancellor yesterday.
On the one issue relating to our future where the Chancellor was decisive, he was completely wrong—our children’s education. Forcing every school to become an academy is an ideologically motivated policy, and there is simply no evidence that standards will be improved. There are already concerns about the rapid expansion of a number of academy chains. This policy is likely further to antagonise the biggest asset in our education system—the teachers.
Who is going to pay for the Chancellor’s fiscal failure? It is my constituents in Barnsley and people across the country. As the Resolution Foundation said this morning, it is those in the bottom half of the income distribution who will lose £375 a year by the end of this Parliament. It is the disabled people who will be denied personal independence payments, the single biggest spending cut announced in the Budget, and one made on the same day that taxes are cut for big business. As the charity Sense said yesterday, it was “a bleak day” for disabled people. Parents who use the children’s centres in my constituency of Barnsley Central—centres that are rated outstanding and good by Ofsted—have seen their nursery provision stopped as a result of Government cuts. Women, too, have suffered from the Chancellor’s tax and benefit changes, with 81% of savings coming out of the pockets of women.
That is the cost of this Chancellor—a Chancellor who puts his own interest before the national interest; a Chancellor who talks about fixing the roof while the sun is shining, but who should be fixing the foundations; and a Chancellor whose economic record is now being exposed as a mirage.
Several hon. Members rose—
My hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh described himself as a “callow youth” when it comes to the number of Budgets he has attended. By that calculation, I am probably an infant when it comes to Budget debates.
Dan Jarvis referred to the emergency Budget of 2010. I and many other Members were in their places to hear it. Let me take us back to what the economy was like in 2010. It is all very well for Labour Members to criticise what has happened over the last six years, but let us just examine what the economy was like. Actually, it was not growing. In 2009, growth was going down. There was a 4% drop in growth. Wages were going down and unemployment was high—all the things we do not want to see again in our economy. The markets had given their chilling verdict on Labour’s management of the economy.
Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that, when his party was in opposition, it actually agreed with our spending targets and the measures we took to rescue this country from the world crash. Moreover, what the emergency Budget did—I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is wrong because economic growth was moving in the right direction and unemployment was coming down—was suck out demand from the economy, which perpetuated the decline.
I have to disagree. If the hon. Gentleman looks at what Tony Blair said in his autobiography—he won three elections, but it does not look like any of this lot are going to—he will see that Tony Blair realised that Labour was spending more in the good years and that is why we got into the position we did. At the time, Bill Gross, the founder of global investment management firm PIMCO, said this about the UK economy. He described it as a “must avoid” and said that UK gilts were
“resting on a bed of nitroglycerin”.
Those were incredibly strong words from the market. We were looking over an economic precipice. Thank goodness we had a change of Government. That is why we are in a much better position now, with growth and wages up and the deficit down.
I of course welcome this Budget. It is a Budget for business and for individuals. It is a Budget for young people and a Budget for investment in infrastructure. When it comes to schools, I welcome what the Secretary of State said. In my constituency, I have helped to found two free schools and academies, and they are doing incredibly well. One that has been going for a few years was rated as outstanding in its first year.
Was my hon. Friend, like me, surprised that the Labour party did not welcome, or even mention the subject of fairer funding, which will have such positive effects on our schools?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As the Secretary of State said, Labour had 13 years to fix this and it did not. This Government are now getting that right.
I spoke this morning at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, which is much more interesting and exciting than it sounds. It greatly welcomed the business measures in the Budget, particularly the drop in corporation tax. I have to say to the shadow Chancellor, who is now back in his place, that if we drop corporation tax rates, investment will come into the country, which will allow us to raise more money. That is something that he needs to understand if he ever hopes to become Chancellor himself.
The changes to business rates are incredibly welcome to many small businesses, for which business rates constitute a large component of their fixed costs. I welcome, too, the abolition of class 2 national insurance. I hope that we are seeing a move towards a merger of national insurance and income tax. I know that this is potentially very complicated, but the dividends it will pay in terms of tax simplification will be huge, as will be the benefits for businesses.
Investment in infrastructure—many billions have been invested since 2010, and there is more to come during this Parliament—has been a hallmark of this Chancellor’s Budgets. My own constituency has benefited from significant rail investment: nearly £1 billion has been invested in Reading station, and Crossrail is coming, as is rail electrification. There has been investment in local stations as well. However, may I issue a plea to those who are looking at the Hendy report consultation? Two stations in my constituency, Theale and Green Park, are fully funded, but their development has been delayed. I hope that, as a result of the consultation, we can actually get moving so that my constituents can benefit. I welcome the work that the National Infrastructure Commission is doing in driving forward investment and infrastructure in the United Kingdom.
A few weeks ago, I was appointed the Prime Minister’s infrastructure envoy to India. I think that the experience that will be gained by us in this country, and by our companies, will be fantastic. It will not only allow us to help countries such as India with growing economies to raise finance in the London market, but enable our world-leading businesses that are involved in infrastructure to go out and assist those economies.
Finally, let me say something about Europe. I am very much in favour of a stronger, safer, better-off, reformed European Union, and I will be campaigning for us to stay in the EU. I know that we have a limited amount of time today, and I do not want to initiate a huge debate on the subject, but I will say this: if, on
Uncertainty has two impacts. Businesses hate it, which means that they stop investing, and consumers hate it, which means that they stop spending money. The effect of all that will be very bad news for our economy. Both the Office for Budget Responsibility’s book and the Red Book contain all sorts of predictions about how our GDP could be hit if we left the European Union, but, by any measure, it will go down. All the net savings that my colleagues who want us to leave the European Union say we will gain will, I think, disappear as a result of the losses that will follow a fall in GDP and a consequent hit on tax revenues. I therefore hope that all of us, not just in the House but throughout the country, will think very carefully before voting in the referendum on
I have never been keen on our joining the euro. All I can say is that I think there will be a huge amount of uncertainty if we decide to leave the European Union. That is what I want to guard against, so I ask everyone to vote to remain in the EU.
I commend the Budget to the House.
We heard a lot from the Chancellor yesterday about creating stability, ensuring fairness, and choosing to put the next generation first. I must say that his promises sound particularly hollow today, as we debate the important issues of education, women and equalities.
I want to join other Labour Members in raising concerns about the impact on women of the Chancellor’s economic failures. I agree with the assessment of the
Fawcett Society that women are facing the greatest threat to their financial security and livelihoods for a generation. Changes in the welfare system and Government cuts in local authority funding and social care budgets have hit women hardest, and many women and young families in my constituency have been driven into abject poverty as a result. According to the Trussell Trust, the London borough of Enfield now has the fifth highest food bank usage in London. That is not a record of which the Government can be proud, and in the light of it I have little confidence that they will be able to deliver on the Chancellor’s promise to do
“the right thing for the next generation”.—[Hansard, 16 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 963.]
I do support the proposal for a sugar levy on the soft drinks industry. The rise in childhood obesity is alarming. However, although the funds raised from the levy are due to go towards the money that is available for primary school sport, we now learn that there is a £560 million black hole at the heart of the Government’s academisation plans for schools. That forced academisation programme will therefore not be fully funded. It seems that the Chancellor could do with some extra maths lessons of his own.
I have serious reservations about the drive to turn all schools into academies. In some parts of the country where standards remain a concern, all schools are already academies, and the Government seem to have no other school improvement strategy for those areas. What will it be like when all the schools in the country are academies? Academies were introduced with the aim of lifting failing schools and helping to improve standards, but the model is now being stretched to fit all schools. This is an ideological approach on the part of the Government, and it constitutes an attack on local education authorities, which will become surplus to requirements. It is disheartening to note the virtual silence from the Government on the important role that LEAs play, both in supporting schools and in helping them to build positive working relationships with each other.
The Chancellor may claim that the academy process offers a “devolution revolution”, but in fact it will centralise power in the hands of the Department for Education. Local parents will no longer be able to hold elected councils, as well as the Government, to account for education standards and provision. Indeed, they will have no say whatsoever. That is a very backward step in democratic accountability.
I know from speaking to parents in Enfield that the structure of the education system is not the first thing that springs to their minds when they are discussing their children’s schooling. They want to know that their children are happy and settled, are doing well at school, and can achieve their full potential. Where are the Government’s grand plans to tackle the teacher recruitment and retention crisis? How do their structural reforms resolve that pressing issue? This matter is of great concern to parents and head teachers in my constituency, and the situation is getting worse, not better.
The Chancellor said yesterday that the performance of the London school system had been one of the great education success stories of recent years. I agree, and I would like to keep it that way. However, the inability of schools to recruit and retain the staff they need is liable to have a lasting impact on the standard of education on offer to children in Enfield and throughout the capital. It will prove very difficult for schools in my constituency to maintain their strong track record of raising standards if their funds are substantially cut, but that is what the new national funding formula threatens to do.
Most London boroughs have per pupil funding rates that are above the national average to reflect the higher costs of education in the capital, but head teachers now face the prospect of money being taken away. That does not seem very “fair”, despite the Chancellor’s claim. We need to be levelling up, not down. I know that the consultation on the funding formula is under way, but I think that schools in my constituency would appreciate reassurances from the Secretary of State today that the Government will continue to invest fairly in the London school system. Such reassurances are vital. I recently conducted a survey involving head teachers in my local primary schools, secondary schools and colleges, which established that real-terms budget cuts were their No.1 concern. Several said that they would be running significant budget deficits within the next three years.
Despite the evidence from schools of increasing levels of poverty and social deprivation, there has been a significant drop in the number of pupils who are eligible for free school meals. According to the Enfield schools forum, that has
“resulted in a drastic and untimely reduction of funding provided to schools.”
The Government need to give further consideration to reviewing the indicators that they use to measure deprivation for funding purposes. Rather than putting the next generation first, this Budget—particularly in relation to school reforms—could do great damage to the provision of high-quality education for all pupils. That is not fair on children, schools or families.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and warmly to welcome the Budget. There is much in it for my constituents and for small businesses in my constituency to welcome, including the tax-free personal allowance, the fact that fuel duty has been frozen yet again and the introduction of the lifetime ISA. I also welcome the measures to tackle homelessness. Poole has an issue with homelessness, and I am delighted to have been elected as an officer on the newly formed all-party parliamentary group for homelessness. The measures announced yesterday will help to raise awareness; they represent a small step in the right direction.
Today, however, the focus is on education and I want to focus on three areas: a fairer funding formula, academies and the sugar levy. I disagree with Mr Sheerman that Budgets should not be about education, because education and money go hand in hand. The Budget has to be right and the funding formula has to be right for our education to flourish. The manifesto pledge that I stood on was to deliver a fairer funding formula, and I congratulate the Secretary of State for Education and the Chancellor on delivering it. I have campaigned with F40 and I am a parliamentary patron of it. I also pay tribute to my hon.
Poole and Dorset fall within the bottom two and the bottom 11 respectively in terms of funding per pupil—[Interruption.] I hear Labour Members chuntering. I am surprised and disappointed that there is no support for fairer funding from the Opposition. When Labour was last in power, the then Secretary of State—I believe it was Ed Balls—admitted that the formula was unfair, and it is time that Labour Members recognised that fact.
No one is opposed to fairer funding, but some Labour Members believe that this Government should be done under the Trade Descriptions Act for their track record on dealing with so-called fairer funding, especially in local government. They clearly take out the element of need, which leaves us in the ridiculous situation in which poor parts of the north-east are getting their local government budgets cut, while areas such as the hon. Gentleman’s, which have less demand as a result of poverty, are getting their budgets increased. That cannot be fair.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, and I can give him three examples. Local authorities in Doncaster, Barnsley and Leeds will all benefit under a fairer funding scheme. There is no rhyme or reason to the current scheme. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to say, but the present funding formula is in place due to an historical anomaly. Joan Ryan mentioned levels of deprivation, but it must be understood that that is not the basis for the funding formula. For example, funding can differ by up to 50% in two areas that share exactly the same characteristics. That is neither right nor fair. Indeed, the top 10 schools receive £2,000 more per pupil than the bottom 10 schools. If the formula were based on areas of deprivation, I could understand that and I could explain to my constituents why their funding was in the bottom two and in the bottom 11, but that is not the case. I therefore welcome the changes.
I also welcome the fact that there is to be a consultation and I invite Opposition Members, who are still chuntering, to join in the two stages of that consultation and to make their case. I also welcome the announcement on timing, and the fact that 90% of schools can expect to have this funding by the end of this Parliament. I shall be inviting all schools in my area to contribute to the consultation, and I urge all hon. Members to do the same.
Turning to the subject of academies, I am a parent governor at my local primary school and I know that there will be concerns about academisation. I pay tribute to the teachers in Poole and Dorset, who work so hard.
Has the hon. Gentleman had a chance to read the White Paper? Paragraph 3.30 states that there will no longer be parent governors. Does he realise that he would have to stand down as a parent governor as a result of that?
Doubtless there are many on the governing body who would be relieved if I had to stand down, but I am sure that there would be opportunities for others to step forward. I have not yet had the opportunity to read that paragraph, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman to drawing it to my attention. I shall look at it in due course.
I was about to pay tribute to the hard work of our teachers in Poole and Dorset, and indeed across the country. They work tirelessly. The school of which I am a governor recently went through an Ofsted inspection and I saw the hours that the headteacher and everyone else in the school put in. It is right to pay tribute to our hard-working teachers. There is a risk that the rhetoric from the Opposition Benches will come across as talking down the teaching profession, and that must not happen. It will certainly not happen here, because every time I stand up to speak on this subject I pledge to pay tribute to the hard work of our teachers.
However, academisation will be unsettling to our teachers. I urge the Secretary of State to reassure the teaching profession about the structuring and the process involved and to offer support. I know that she will do this. Dare I say that communication will be absolutely vital in this regard, as will setting out the positives—including the financial positives—that can result from academisation. It will be critical for our schools to be supported.
I want to touch briefly on the sugar tax. My hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh went into great detail about a previous sugar levy, but I do not share his pessimism that we risk such disastrous consequences this time round. Instinctively, I too am a low-tax Conservative and therefore cautious about this measure, but I warmly welcome the direction that this money will go in. I am passionate about sport and I believe that the additional funding for sport in primary and secondary schools will be warmly welcomed. I will invite secondary schools in my area to bid for funding so that they can be among the quarter of secondary schools to benefit from these measures.
Sport is vital in our schools. I hugely benefited from playing sport on Wednesday afternoons and on Saturdays, and I miss those days. I miss the opportunity to play sport at the weekends. Perhaps, Madam Deputy Speaker, there should be time on Wednesdays for parliamentarians to play sport and to show the way. I put in that mini-bid to you today in case it is within your gift to make that happen. Perhaps time could be found in our busy lives to play sport. There is a serious point here: sport benefits our children and it can benefit everyone.
I support this Budget. In particular, I support the measures on education, especially those relating to a fairer funding formula for our schools, which will be vital for Poole and for Dorset.
I refer the House to my declaration of interest as a serving member of Oldham Council. I have found quite a lot of this debate rather patronising. The way in which the Secretary of State for Education addressed Opposition Members and gave us lessons in maths and other issues was quite condescending. I hope that we can raise the tone a little.
When we give people an education, we ought to do it in a way that is easy to digest and to remember when they leave. I tend to think that if I cannot explain something to my seven-year-old son, I am probably over-complicating it. That is the way I am going to pitch my speech to my friends across the House today. It is no more complicated than this: Georgie Porgie spun a lie. He kicked the poor and made them cry. When the rich came out to play, Georgie delivered a tax giveaway. It is really no more complicated than that: he is taking money from the poorest and giving it to the richest. And I can tell you that teachers in schools across the country will repeat that rhyme to the children when they realise the true implications of academisation for the future of their schools.
We accept that we have a complex and diverse education system. Councils must adapt, as must communities and schools. Indeed, many have done so, but if the question is “How do we address the disconnect between democracy, local accountability and leadership?”, how on earth can more fragmentation be the answer? Taking schools away from local control and dismissing the community in the mix makes no sense at all. Looking at my local area, I see Oldham getting a grip. Oldham recognised that it needed a different approach, which is why, with the support of Baroness Estelle Morris, the Oldham Education and Skills Commission was established. That was quickly followed by a political commitment to a self-improving education system owned by every school in the borough, parents, business and the wider community, all of whom had a part to play in ensuring that schools performed to the best of their abilities and that our young people were set up for the best possible future, to which they are of course entitled.
Most people accept that we have a diverse education system and most of us have reached the conclusion that we should allow for local determination and that councils should not be fighting schools that might want to consider a different model. Equally, councils should ensure that the right considerations have been taken into account and parents should be central to the decision-making process. For the Secretary of State to impose the change on local communities, whether they like it or not and whether they have a good track record or not, makes no sense whatsoever. It beggars belief that the Secretary of State has taken that approach. When the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report was finalised, the three borough MPs wrote to the Secretary of State to seek her support because we wanted the support of central Government and of the regional schools commissioner. Two months on, we have not even had the courtesy of a response. No Conservative MP can convince me that the Secretary of State has one jot of interest in education in Oldham.
Not all councils are the same in the same way that not all schools are the same. It therefore follows that not all academies are the same. We recognise that there is good practice across the board, that some excellent progress has been made, and that schools have been turned around, but what is true for state schools and community schools is true for academies. This polarised debate about having one or the other makes absolutely no sense and does nothing for the people we represent. If anything, it could send us backwards. The evidence suggests that where local partnerships work and where councils step up and take a wider leadership role, good results can be delivered for local communities.
The Chancellor made several references to the change being devolution in action. How can that be when the Government are saying, “You’re getting it whether you like it or not”? But that is a hallmark of this Chancellor. For example, people get a mayor whether they like it or not, and it is the same with schools. There will be no devolution at the grassroots level either. E-ACT, a sponsor with a school in Oldham and a range of academies across the country, decided to sack every single one of its community governors. I was so concerned by that, as were my constituents, that I again wrote to the Secretary of State to ask for her support in stopping it. Her response was that she was actually quite relaxed about it, because it was a decision for the academy, so we now have a school in Oldham with no community representation whatsoever.
Where are the safeguards to ensure that academy sponsors go out to tender for the support services provided to schools? Academies are required to seek such services at cost value if they do not go out to contract, but academies and trading companies will include an overhead, which will contain director and non-executive director salaries, gold-plated pensions, to which public sector workers are not entitled, and company cars. Where are the safeguards to ensure that that cannot happen?
Where are the safeguards to ensure that salaries are published in the same way as in local authorities? Everybody in Oldham knows exactly how much senior officers are paid, because the information is published every year. It is not the same for academies or their sponsors. The chief executive of one academy is paid £370,000 a year for looking after 37 schools. Were that to be replicated in Oldham, with its 100 community schools, the director of education would be paid £1 million a year, which is nonsense. How many people know that that is happening? It happens behind the scenes and is an exercise in smoke and mirrors.
Let us get a level playing field and ensure that academies and their sponsors publish every decision that they make in the same way as councils. Let us ensure that academies cannot give contracts to their parent companies through trading companies and that they are forced to go out to contract like councils. Let us ensure that they publish a pay policy statement and senior salaries just like councils do. Let us ensure that academies publish freedom of information requests in the way that councils do. It is ridiculous that the local education authority, which has been there since 1902, is being unpicked for short-term political gain without any safeguards being put in place. The Government cannot say that they are doing it for democracy, because that does not stack up. They cannot say that it is being done for the communities that we represent. We can no longer say that it is being done in the interests of the taxpayers, because the safeguards are just not in place.
Mark my words: this is heading towards disaster. The structures are not sound enough, the safeguards are not in place, and providers are not mature enough to step up and take on all schools. There are some real questions about whom the Tories represent. Is it the pupils? Is it the teaching profession? Is it the wider community interest? Or is it the narrow sponsor interest? It would be an interesting piece of work to find out just how many Conservative party donors are involved in free schools and academies.
The Chancellor coined this Budget as one for the “next generation”. What struck me was the focus not only on today or next year, but on the years to come after that. “Long-term economic plan” has been said in this Chamber about as many times as “Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker” but the Budget has highlighted that the phrase is not rhetoric or jargon, but a tangible plan to create a saving, home-owning, business-friendly and education-focused nation. Education is the bedrock of opportunity and key to helping the next generation, so it is necessary that a Budget with such a label focuses on education and is bold—and bold it is.
The acceleration of fairer funding to help 90% of affected schools by 2020 will ensure that some older children in Chippenham will also have the chance to benefit from just and equal funding. It will mean an end to the ludicrous existing funding system and will ensure that Wiltshire’s schools get the money they deserve and can continue to offer the fantastic education for which they have become known. Pupil funding in Wiltshire is over £2,000 per pupil less than the national average, so teachers, parents and pupils will be thrilled by this week’s announcement, because they will recognise that their cry has been heard.
I am also delighted that the Government are backing academisation. To be clear, I do not for one moment think that it is the panacea to solve all our problems, but it offers independence, choice, economies of scales and high standards. Abbeyfield School in Chippenham is going through the process and is desperate to become an academy because of the huge benefits and freedoms on offer.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that some schools will have genuine concerns about the change and will need support and guidance about restructuring and the rest of the process?
I completely accept my hon. Friend’s point. One of the reasons for the announcement was to encourage schools to take ownership and the process will be school-led. We want schools to choose which multi-academy trusts they join, so it is very much a bottom-up reform.
Moving on, I must also stress my support for the sugar tax on soft drinks, which is another bold move. It sends a message that will educate and encourage consumers, parents, children and the drinks industry. With the two tiers, it will also encourage manufacturers to try to reduce sugar in order to move to the second tier. My grandmother died of diabetes when my father was very young. She had a complete addiction to soft drinks. Although it was a different era and we cannot be 100% sure that soft drinks were the cause of the diabetes, it is extremely likely. The household had a modest income, and I often think what a difference might have been made if we had had the tax back then. So I ask anybody who doubts this policy what they mean when they say it will not have any effect. Do they mean it will save only one or two people? Do they mean it will save only someone else’s grandmother or mother? This tax is not just about that, however; it is also about cutting the obesity rate, which means that we will have more money for the NHS to pay for dealing with ailments such as cancer.
This policy will not deter everyone, and nobody is suggesting it will. You can only lead a horse to water, you cannot make it drink. We can, however, send a strong message about the threat that these drinks pose. I believe that this policy is very Conservative; it is a responsible action by a responsible Government. It is a forward-thinking action, one that does not ban but which encourages personal responsibility. It encourages people to take ownership when they have the right facts and the right message from the Government. A recent study by Public Health England found that the average teenager consumes more than three times the recommended amount of sugar. The report also showed that if they cut down to the 5% target within five years, 77,000 lives would be saved and the saving to the NHS would be £14 billion. That makes the case on its own.
Using the money generated to double the primary school PE and sport premium from £160 million to £320 million per year is a great step forward in encouraging sport and fitness, and tackling childhood obesity. The £285 million a year to allow 25% of schools to extend their school day by an hour will assist parents and reduce their childcare bill. That, too, is a forward-thinking move, one supported by the Sutton Trust. The use of the hour will be key, and I look forward to reading more information about that.
This Budget was business-friendly and it was aimed at combating our productivity crisis. It will help businesses in my constituency and around the country, and it will encourage start-ups. However, we also need to encourage and enable the next generation of business owners, managers, directors and employees, and they will need to be proficient in maths. We need to use this opportunity to bring maths to life—to teach practical and applicable maths. We need to teach maths for real life, to ensure that students are work-ready and life-ready. We need, thus, to be able to give them help with their mortgages, tax returns and balance sheets. We need to give them maths for technical applied roles and basic business mathematics—the list goes on. This is particularly important, given that we have a growing number of self-employed in the economy. There will be 40,000 self- employed people in Wiltshire alone in the next five years.
I must stress that we must not allow this to be the start of a journey towards compulsory A-level maths or a broad-based maths course pegged at this level. I hope that Sir Adrian Smith’s report will reflect the need to enliven and enrich students’ mathematical basis for the real world. We need to ensure that our system creates numerate and mathematically proficient young people, but we must also remember that not everyone needs to be a mathematician—as I well know. We will need to ensure that they have the element that is necessary for the workplace. I repeat that this report and this reform offer us a massive opportunity, but only if we go about it this correctly. I also welcome the additional support to encourage lifelong learning, and the recognition it shows that the economy and labour market are moving at a fast pace in our international world.
There are many things I would have liked to have said, but the time limit has severely handicapped me. I just sum up by saying that this is a bold Budget. It is an opportunities-based Budget. It is a Budget designed not only to improve our education system in the long term, but to offer opportunities in the short term and the long term for all.
Yesterday, the Chancellor stood at the Dispatch Box proclaiming that this is a Budget for the “next generation”. Beyond the headlines what we heard was that debt is higher than it has ever been; that growth forecasts have been cut; and that he is missing his own targets for reducing the deficit. What we heard is the Chancellor admit that he is failing. He may have tried to add some fizz to his speech, but we know it was just sputterings of more cuts, more cuts and more cuts. These are cuts to the police, cuts to youth services, cuts to support for disabled people and cuts to the fire service. He has been Chancellor of the Exchequer for six years and no matter how much he wants to, he simply cannot blame Labour any more.
The Chancellor was quick to proclaim his Budget for the “next generation” but there is one glaring omission with that: he has forgotten this generation. To be honest, he has even forgotten the next generation, too. Research by the World Health Organisation puts us way down a list of 42 countries, with only the children of Poland and Macedonia being less satisfied with life than the British. The report says that our teenagers are suffering high levels of stress and have big worries about their health. They feel pressured by school work, and school-related stress is on the rise. What is the Government’s answer? It is: turning every school into an academy; removing democratic control; extending the school day; removing collective bargaining for teachers; and getting rid of governors. In short, the Government are restructuring a whole system, adding to teachers’ concerns and stress. We know that the Government do not have a good track record in top-down reorganisations. Have they learnt nothing? Clearly they have not learned, as this is another top down reorganisation that nobody voted for; they have no mandate. These proposed changes will turn our education system into the wild west, with everyone doing their own thing and with the Department for Education running it all—it is ridiculous. Will academies be able to run selections? Will we see a mass return of the 11-plus? This reform will increase the cost of education, make our country more unequal and embed unfairness throughout our education system. This reform takes us backwards, not forwards. Let it go on the record now that I will fight this every step of the way.
It is not just in education where we find problems, as the Government’s failures are letting young people down all over the place, with one example being on housing benefit. The Government have said they will cut housing benefit for 18 to 21-years-olds, without any consideration being given to the needs of any of those young people, what they might be escaping and what their situation is. What are the Government doing? This benefit is an essential safety net. Removing it just increases the risk of homelessness and damages these people’s prospects of finding work in the future.
We are also seeing the death of youth services, which provide—or should I say provided— a vital safety net. Unison has reported that at least £60 million was cut from youth service budgets between 2012 and 2014, which meant that more than 2,000 youth workers have disappeared since 2010. But that is not all, because on top of this more than 350 youth centres have closed. What is going on? If we look at what happened from 2013 to 2014 alone, we see figures from the Department for Education showing a cut of more than £103 million from youth services. Children’s social care—cut; family support services—cut; adoption services—cut; youth justice teams—cut; Sure Start centres—cut; child protection services—cut; and looked-after children services—cut. The list goes on and on. More and more young people are falling through the gaps left by a lack of services. The choices that this Government are making are damaging young people’s life chances, worsening their mental health, and increasing the possibility of them getting into trouble, as they are open to abuse and potentially at risk of becoming involved in serious youth violence.
Quite simply, the impact of the Government cutting council budgets is putting children’s lives at risk. Children are dying on our streets because councils can no longer afford to fund crucial services. That makes me angry, but what makes me really angry is the fact that, in the eyes of many young people, all MPs are the same, and that cannot be further from the truth. This is a shocking Budget, as it harms the country’s young, but it does not have to be like that. Young people do have the power to change things at the ballot box. More young people need to register to vote and to use that vote. Labour will invest in our young people, and we will do so not because we want headlines, but because we know that they are the future.
I followed the remarks of Vicky Foxcroft with a great deal of interest. Clearly, I do not agree with many of them, but I do commend her for the passion with which she prosecuted them.
This is a good Budget, and it is a good Budget for the next generation. I am the father of five children, so the next generation is important to me. I also represent a number of schools that have benefited from the pupil premium and other such changes, and a large number of service families who have been particular beneficiaries of them. I most certainly welcome the acceleration of the move towards fairer funding for schools.
However, I am ever so slightly cautious about the maths thing. I noticed that we will be consulting on whether we should have maths to the age of 18. Maths can be great, particularly vocational or lifestyle maths—the sort of maths that my hon. Friend Michelle Donelan had in mind—but it can also be demotivating and a somewhat depressing experience for children for whom maths is not their bent. I would be a little bit of cautious about making the introduction of that particular discipline compulsory to the age of 18.
I am a strong supporter of the sugar tax. The Opposition has suggested that this may be a pun-rich artifice to draw attention away from the three fiscal tests. That is grossly unfair, because the sugar tax will come to be seen as an historic tax. It is an indication that the Government are prepared to act on important public health measures when it becomes clear that voluntary measures have not succeeded.
I am very conscious of Robert Chote’s clarification of the position of the Office for Budget Responsibility on Brexit and the importance of not misrepresenting organisations such as his. However, as we have already had talk of the European Union as part of this Budget debate, I would like to weigh in with my own observation about the tampon tax. I commend the Chancellor for his imagination in finding £12 million from this tax to spend on relevant women’s charities, but it is a great pity when a country such as ours has to tiptoe around a requirement instituted by the European Union. Where on earth is the sovereignty in a state that cannot determine even the tax paid by its citizens on tampons?
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will be undertaking a drive for efficiency and value for money. In so doing, I hope that he pays attention to Lord Carter’s review of efficiency in hospitals, which was published last month. It is a marvellous piece of work that draws attention to the unwarranted variation across our national health service that is costing somewhere in the region of £5 billion a year. The concept of a model hospital and metrics such as the adjusted treatment cost and the weighted activity unit are absolutely necessary if we are to make what is an efficient service even more efficient, and bring our healthcare outcomes up to the level of the very best in Europe, and not, as is so often the case, around about the level of the worst.
Simon Stevens’ £22 billion funding gap seems unbridgeable without measures of the sort that has been presented by Lord Carter of Coles. Part of the answer is right-sizing the national health service estate, and we will increasingly have to get to grips with the need to regionalise our acute sector and secondary care hospitals. That will involve some difficult political decisions, but we must not baulk at them if we are to drive up healthcare outcomes.
Yesterday, I was called a health fascist by a colleague for my views on the sugar tax and on taxing tobacco. I make absolutely no apologies if indeed that is the case. I am particularly exercised about tobacco. Smoking is the captain of the men of death in this country. It kills 100,000 people a year, far more than obesity, alcohol and illicit drugs put together. It causes death before normal retirement age in 50% of those it kills. It causes 20 times as many smokers as die to have smoking-attributable diseases and disability. If we are serious about public health, we have to be serious about smoking, and although rates have fallen in recent years, they appear to have reached a plateau, and we need to drive them down much more and much more rapidly.
There is no safe threshold for smoking. Unlike many substances which we might like to control—I am thinking particularly of alcohol—there is no safe threshold. It is surprising, maybe, that this product is available for sale at all. Half of all health inequality between social classes 1 and 5 is thanks to cigarettes. Poorer people consume more, draw on their cigarettes harder, use higher tar products and leave shorter stubs. Their smoking is worse not only in quantitative terms, but in qualitative terms.
Bravo to the Chancellor for listening to Action on Smoking and Health. Well done for raising the duty by 2%. I would like to see it higher. Well done for the innovative minimum excise duty tax to head off trading down. In all, it is a good Budget—a good Budget for the next generation.
It is a pleasure to follow Dr Murrison. I have great respect for him and his views on health and I would never call him a health fascist. He is measured in the way that he presents health issues, particularly in relation to public health.
I will repeat some of what was said from the Front Bench by my hon. Friend John McDonnell. This is the eighth Budget of this Chancellor in six years—eight Budgets of big promises to eliminate the deficit by 2015. He has broken his own budgetary rules on debt and on welfare, and he is heading towards breaking his rules again on the budget surplus in this Parliament. Why? Because of the actions of this Chancellor. Yes, there are global issues that will impact on any country’s economy. That was the case when the Labour party was in government, it was the case when the previous Conservative Government were in office, and now this Chancellor is admitting that they will impact on his plans.
Early Budgets choked off growth. The initial emergency Budget in 2010 contained cuts and an increase in value added tax.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is remarkable that the Chancellor now refers to global headwinds that may knock him off course, but in 2010 when he choked off demand—and we have heard it again today—he claimed that the recession in 2008 was nothing to do with the global situation, but was all down to a Labour Government? Is it not ironic that he chooses to use the global situation as an excuse for what he blamed the Labour Government for in 2010?
My hon. Friend is right. He and I and the Chancellor came into Parliament together and we know he has form on these issues, which have been laid bare in this Budget.
The early Budgets choked off growth. I mentioned value added tax because it is forgotten that initially this Government raised value added tax by 2½ pence in the pound. That took money out of the economy at a time when there should have been a fiscal stimulus, as there was in many other countries, to ensure that we got out of the recession and out of austerity as quickly as possible. So it is the Chancellor, in his eighth Budget over six years, who is responsible for not being able to balance the books, which he promised he would do.
The poorest, the vulnerable are paying the price of extended austerity, and less so those on higher incomes, who have seen their income tax cut. Now we hear in this Budget that capital gains tax will be cut at a time when the personal independence payment is being taken away from some disabled people. That is the priority of this Chancellor, and that is why we are in the present situation.
I talk about value added tax being raised because the Chancellor is always talking about how thresholds are going up and how that is helping. However, that is eliminated by the additional value added tax that people have to pay on goods. The big announcement yesterday about a freeze in petrol duty and a freeze on beer duty is wiped out when people have to pay 2½ pence on each pound when they buy petrol, drink beer or go out for a meal. This Chancellor is putting taxes up, not down, and families are suffering across the country. Ordinary people are paying the price.
I refer to the insurance premium tax. Yes, we all want to see investment in our flood defences, but again, it is ordinary families who will pay for that through a stealth tax. Rather than being the work of a tax-cutting Chancellor, the Osborne taxes are hurting ordinary families in this country.
The biggest losers are women and the disabled. The Chancellor really missed an opportunity to use the Budget to help the many women born in the 1950s through transitional pensions. He missed the opportunity to use some imagination to come up with a formula to try to smooth out the issue of those whose pension age is going up but who were not given sufficient warning to plan for that.
The Chancellor talked about an ISA for young people under 40. He needs to get out and about. I have two daughters under 40, and they are burdened with student debts—they are struggling to pay the bills. People like them do not have £4,000 in their back pockets to invest for the future. They need help and support—not to be told that they can get an extra £1 for every £4 they save. The Chancellor is out of touch.
I do agree with the sugar tax, but it is not a silver bullet. To deal with child obesity, there needs to be long-term, careful planning, and there needs to be a change in lifestyles as well. I welcome the proposals on sports provision in English schools—I do not think it has been cut in Welsh schools—but it was the Chancellor who cut the funding for it, which he is now reintroducing.
When the Chancellor talked about infrastructure for the future and the next generation, there was one area he missed out: digital infrastructure. The Prime Minister has promised universal superfast broadband coverage across the United Kingdom. Again, the Chancellor had an opportunity to stand up and say how we will fund that in a way that will allow us to compete with the South Koreas of the world and to have modern infrastructure.
Mobile coverage is poor across most of the United Kingdom. There is a small plan in the Budget for 5G in 2017. Many areas that I represent in north-west Wales do not even have 3G, and they certainly do not have the luxury of 4G. Poor broadband, alongside poor mobile coverage, makes businesses in that area difficult to operate. We talk about education, but what about those who are not in conventional education but doing Open University courses? They cannot complete their studies, because they do not have the basic infrastructure in the 21st century.
The Budget is therefore a missed opportunity, although I welcome many of the things the Chancellor talked about. He mentioned north Wales, which I was very pleased about, because I have been lobbying the Conservative Government to link north Wales into the so-called northern powerhouse. I will work with the Welsh Government, the UK Government and local authorities to get a good deal for growth in north Wales, but we need to see the detail. What we heard were big plans for the long-term future that we have heard before. What we wanted were radical, bold initiatives to invest in this country, invest in people now, invest in those who are losing out on pensions and invest for those in the next generation, helping them today—not giving them false promises for tomorrow.
It is a privilege and an honour to follow Albert Owen, but I am afraid I cannot agree with much of what he said, and particularly not with his pessimism about what he called ordinary people. Thanks to the enormous growth in jobs, many of those people are now in work when they were not before. They are paying lower taxes and getting higher wages, so I think he is wrong to be pessimistic and should welcome much more of the Budget than he did.
I might also remind the hon. Gentleman of where we were in 2010, when more than 2.5 million people were unemployed and Government borrowing was more than 10% of GDP. That was a consequence, unfortunately, of years of reckless spending under the last Labour Government, who built up a ballooning budget deficit, even when the economy was strong. That, in turn, built up the country’s debt month by month. Opposition colleagues have no plan to pay off that debt—I can only assume that they plan to pass it on to future generations.
There are areas where we disagree on the allocation of expenditure, but overall my party has a plan for stability and Labour does not have a plan and simply wants to borrow more.
This Government have worked hard, and are working hard, to turn the economy around. We know that involves some tough choices, but one part of being a Conservative is thinking of the long term. I do not think that any of us, on either side of this House, wants to pass debt on to our children as individuals, and we should not do so as a country either. I welcome a Budget that looks to the future, investing in education, cutting taxes for businesses to stimulate growth, and balancing the books so that we are prepared for whatever financial shocks we may face.
I want to live in a country where every child has a chance to succeed and make the most of their lives, and that starts with a good education. Educational standards have gone up, but it is a mixed picture. I welcome the Chancellor’s and the Secretary of State’s announcement on schools, particularly the new funding formula, which I have campaigned for. The old funding formula was arbitrary and unfair. It left some schools in my constituency receiving far less per pupil than other schools with very similar students. As a result, those schools have had to cut back on important subjects and extra-curricular activities. We are also going to get an extra £500 million of funding that will speed up the introduction of the new funding formula. That is very important, because with every year that goes by another group of children in my constituency loses out under the current system.
My hon. Friend the Minister will know that I care a great deal about health. In the Health Committee, expert after expert told us that obesity is one of the greatest threats to the health of the nation, particularly among children. One in five children leaves primary school overweight. Obese children are more likely to grow into obese adults, with the associated health risks that that brings, as well as the cost to the economy. In the Health Committee we have also heard evidence on the quantities of sugar hidden in soft drinks. For instance, an average can of cola can contain nine teaspoons of sugar, or even up to 13.
I am therefore very happy that the Chancellor has been bold in introducing a levy on the soft drinks industry. That, in itself, sends a really strong message, rightly, about how unhealthy these drinks are, as my hon. Friend Michelle Donelan said. I hope it will encourage manufacturers to reformulate their products. It will also raise some £520 million that will go to fund school sports. Despite the existing school sports fund, there is not enough sport in schools. Some children get to do sport for only one hour a week, and that is not enough for their health or for their academic achievement.
I look forward to the childhood obesity strategy that the Government are due to publish in the summer. I urge them to include in it more of the Health Committee’s recommendations: for example, its recommendations on controls on advertising and on promotion of sugary foods and its recommendations on giving greater powers to local authorities to ensure a healthier environment. A levy on sugar, or a sugar tax, is just one of the proposals that we put forward, and just one of the things that needs to be done to tackle the problem of sugar consumption and obesity.
Much in this Budget will be welcomed in my constituency, not least the tax cut that will mean that 1,854 people in mid-Kent are taken out of income tax altogether; the freeze in fuel duty, which is so important to rural areas; and a higher threshold for business rates, which will boost small businesses, hundreds of which will be completely taken out of paying business rates. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn might have laughed at the freeze in beer duty, but it will be very welcome in my constituency, not just to beer drinkers, who may raise a glass to the Chancellor, but to Shepherd Neame, the brewery, which is the largest employer in my constituency, so there will also be a big boost for jobs.
I am glad that the cider industry in my hon. Friend’s constituency is benefiting as well. However, one of my local industries in this sector that did not benefit was the English wine industry. While beer and cider have been supported, I would like the Chancellor to give some support to the fast-growing English wine industry.
Farming is very important to my constituency, and I know that farmers will welcome the alignment of the national living wage and national minimum wage cycles. I am afraid that they will be disappointed, however, that there are no mitigations to help them to cope with increased labour costs, which hit fruit farmers particularly hard. May I ask the Government to keep considering how they can help farmers who have large numbers of employees to manage to pay the national living wage, which they very much want to do to, without going out of business?
Young people in my constituency can struggle to buy a home, because houses in the south-east are very expensive and not everyone is on a high income, so I think that young families will welcome the lifetime ISA to help them do so.
Unemployment in my constituency has more than halved since 2010. Stability and jobs are the best thing that the Chancellor has given the country, and this Budget will continue to provide them.
The UK expects to have the fastest growth of any G7 country, but the fact that the OBR revised down its growth estimate shows that we cannot be complacent. These are turbulent times and we need to be prepared.
Many of us would love to spend money on shiny new buildings, as past Labour Governments did, but unless we do that out of a balanced budget we will just pass debt on to the next generation. I have heard Labour Members complain about the savings that need to be made, but if this Government had not made difficult decisions to reduce the structural deficit, cumulative borrowing would have been on course to be £930 billion higher in 2019-20, and we would have been in a much worse position today.
I welcome this Budget for the next generation. It supports education, employment and businesses as the engines of growth, puts long-term stability ahead of short-term fixes, and sets Britain up for the future.
In following Helen Whately, it is worth setting the record straight: it was a worldwide banking crisis that caused the recession, not Labour investing in teachers, nurses, doctors and shiny new buildings, as she called them. I think what she meant to say was hospitals and schools. In fact, in 2010, the economy was growing when Labour left Government.
It has been 24 hours since the Chancellor’s Budget statement, and I think it will be remembered not as a Budget for the next generation, but as a Budget of unfairness. That is most starkly emphasised by the £4.2 billion-worth of support taken from disabled people, many of whom cannot work, to give £2.7 billion-worth of support in capital gains tax cuts to wealthier people, many of whom do not need to work.
It is certainly not a Robin Hood Budget, because he was good at hitting his targets. I also note that the Chancellor pledges to fix 214,000 potholes in the next year, but I think that filling the huge one in his deficit plans will take much longer.
The bulk of what I want to say is about the effect of this Budget on my constituents in a city in the north that is apparently a key player in the northern powerhouse, although the Government seem to forget that Hull is part of the northern powerhouse, because they focus mostly on the Manchester area. As someone who has been a Hull MP for 11 years, I know that we have to fight every inch of the way for a fair deal and we often have to make our own luck. After getting only £1 million in the autumn statement, I was pleased that the Budget made available to Hull a more fitting £13 million for its year as city of culture in 2017. That happened only after the issue was raised on numerous occasions in the House and with Ministers, but I am pleased that the lobbying by the three Hull MPs has paid off. Granting the £5 million to renovate Hull’s new theatre will leave a legacy after 2017, which is one of the main city of culture objectives. I also welcome the £1.2 million for the British mercantile marine memorial collection in Hull.
Elsewhere, however, the news is more mixed for people in Hull. Although Labour in particular has championed changes to business rates for small businesses and letting local areas keep business rate revenue, the Government’s approach ends any recognition of the needs of poorer areas—the cause that George Lansbury went to prison for so many years ago. This Government constantly favour wealthy areas that have a stronger local tax base and that have experienced less deep cuts than more deprived areas such as Hull.
Hull, like many other northern cities, is left facing a social care crisis, even with the social care levy that the Government have announced. It worries me greatly that local social care providers and other small businesses in the area are not getting enough help to ensure that the living wage meets its objectives and does not mean job losses in the months ahead.
There is little hope in the Budget for Hull’s policing or NHS services. Today, the Secretary of State for Health is in Hull demanding that the people who work in the NHS in Hull perform better, but taking no responsibility for the disastrous Lansley reforms introduced in the last Parliament. Neither is the Secretary of State taking any responsibility for his mishandling of the junior doctors’ contracts, which is affecting morale and recruitment in an area where it is very difficult to recruit doctors in the first place.
I want to move on to infrastructure investment, which is a vital part of rebalancing the economy, increasing productivity and raising overall UK growth. There is good news, I note, for those in Hertfordshire who want to travel to Surbiton via Chelsea, with the £27 billion for Crossrail 2. Although High Speed 3 between Leeds and Manchester was announced again, our privately financed initiative for rail electrification between Selby and Hull, to get average speeds above 42 mph, has been stuck in the sidings in the Department for Transport’s decision-making process for the last two years. The Department has been studying the business case since September, but time is running out on the proposal if we are to get it by 2021.
Clearly, Hull is not given the same priority as building a £500 million Crossrail station at Canary Wharf or plans for a £175 million Thames garden bridge. With no A63 road upgrade, and even a delay in building the bridge over the A63, Hull faces running city of culture
2017 with not one of the transport improvements that would have assisted in its success. It beggars belief that we cannot even get a bridge built over a road, but we can put a man on the moon. Similarly, I am concerned about the increase in flood insurance premiums. Hull flooded terribly in 2007, and I want to make sure that some of that investment comes to our city.
I want to close by talking about devolution. We heard about the greater Lincolnshire model for devolution yesterday, but we heard nothing about Yorkshire. That is a real pity, because it will divert attention away from the Humber estuary.
The poorer areas of the country are going to lose out. The way in which the Government have handled devolution is really sad. They have rushed it through and imposed arbitrary timescales for putting deals forward. The public have not been properly engaged. I have talked to people in Hull who say that they have not been asked for their opinion about what they would like. They also object to the fact that the Government want to impose this one-size-fits all model of an elected Mayor. That may not be suitable for whole swathes of the country, but it is the only option available.
There is a real problem, particularly in my area, with the idea of the greater Lincolnshire model. There is nothing for Yorkshire at the moment, and I think that there will be real problems for Hull. All in all, if we are serious about getting devolution right, we need to go back to the drawing board and think carefully about what suits the needs of different parts of the country, rather than rushing ahead. My constituents will find the Budget wanting, and they will think that it does not really meet the needs of a city such as Hull.
I am pleased to follow Diana Johnson. Among her negativity, I was pleased to hear her praise for the Chancellor and the funding that he is giving to Hull for the year of culture and for its theatre, in particular. I would like to visit and have a look. Hull got more from the Budget than we did in Taunton.
I cannot imagine that too many children listened to the Chancellor’s statement yesterday—no offence to the Chancellor—but if they had they would have heard that the school day for secondary school children is likely to get longer. That may not be welcome news for some children, but when they see what they are going to get, they will realise the benefits of it. I welcome the new funding provided for extracurricular activities, such as Mandarin, Chinese or music lessons and special clubs. I would like to put in a bid to the Secretary of State for Education for, and talk to her about, teaching children more about where their food comes from. I am working with local farmers on that, and we have a “Farm to Fork” event coming up. Our children could benefit a lot from such teaching.
I support my hon. Friend’s point about the benefits of an extended school day. One of the greatest divides between the state sector and the independent schools sector is how much extra is offered by independent schools after the main school day, so this is a very good initiative to narrow that gap.
Interestingly, when I asked one teacher at a school in the most deprived part of my constituency what single thing would make the biggest difference to the children’s lives, he said, “Extending the school day.” That gives them many more opportunities. They may not be fortunate enough to have such opportunities at home. If the parents are working, they may not be able to run around with their children to the after-school activities we all want our children to take part in. The Chancellor must have been listening because we now have this funding, which I welcome.
I welcome many of the other things connected with education in the Budget. A good education underpins everything we are doing to raise standards for our children. Ultimately, such an education will have an impact on the skills, businesses and opportunities we are so trying to encourage and increase. In Taunton Deane, we have great ambitions to do that. We are part of the way there, but we need to do more. I hope the Secretary of State will listen when I ask this: how about a university for Somerset?
Primary schools have scored well in the Budget, with the funding for sports provision doubling from £160 million to £320 million. I was a governor of a village school for quite a number of years, so I realise how difficult it is to provide good PE input. I welcome this funding because it will enable schools to get in outside coaches, have specialist PE classes and even to share a teacher with other schools. That point was made by my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson and other colleagues.
It makes so much sense to get our children to take up sport because it will make them fitter and healthier, while the incidence of cancer, diabetes and all the other awful diseases increases for those who become obese. Upping the profile of sport in schools will also have an effect on mental health, about which there is an awful lot of data. Only this week, the launch of the mental health charter for sport and recreation highlighted the fact that physical activity is as effective as medication in treating depression. The money for the sport scheme will come from the tax on sugary drinks, which has been much mentioned today. The funding is welcome, but because we are tackling obesity, it also means there will be fewer such diseases and the NHS will therefore have more money to spend on other things.
The move to make every school an academy by 2020 will simplify the education system. We have two systems at the moment, so having only one will mean the system is much more dynamic. In such a system, the best schools will benefit with more freedom, and the schools that need help will get help from others. In many cases, that will be done through forming multi-academy trusts. The sharing of resources in such trusts will bring advantages. The Taunton Academy, which is part of a multi-academy trust, already receives such an input, including through sponsorship from our excellent Richard Huish sixth-form college. On that note, will the Secretary of State provide clarification about whether academies can take international students and offer higher education?
We have heard quite a lot about students doing more maths, including from my hon. Friend Michelle Donelan. Students may not fancy the idea of continuing to do maths to the age of 18, but maths is a must. This will not be highly academic maths, but the sort of user-friendly maths—reading balance sheets and all that kind of thing—that will help people in the world of work, and I welcome that.
I welcome the fairer funding deal mentioned by my hon. Friend Helen Whately. I, too, campaigned long and hard in Taunton Deane for fairer funding, because pupils in my constituency get, on average, £2,000 less than those in the 10 best funded schools. That is unfair, and I welcome the fact that that anomaly will be ironed out, as well as the extra funding announced by the Chancellor to speed up that introduction. Much in the Budget is designed to benefit the next generation, and for the sake of my three children, and indeed everybody’s children, I welcome that.
I also welcome initiatives to benefit the self-employed, who too often have been regarded as second-class citizens in our society. I will not refer to all those initiatives because I am running out of time, but we all know what they are, and they will be of benefit. In 2015, employment in the south-west grew faster than anywhere else in the country, but we must build on that with the better skills that we will get through better education. That is all referred to in this sensible, sensitive Budget, which is very necessary in a time of global uncertainty. We will build on a low tax, enterprise economy with a special emphasis on education as the building block. It is as simple as A, B, C, and I welcome it.
I am pleased to follow Rebecca Pow and I agree with some of the points she made in the early part of her speech. Like her, I want to comment on the education measures in the Budget.
In 2001-02 I was the Schools Minister responsible for the introduction of the Teach First programme. That was a successful response to the teacher recruitment crisis at that time, and it has continued to do a great job until the present day. We now need that kind of innovation and imagination from current Ministers, to respond to the teacher recruitment problems that we have at the moment. There was nothing in the Budget about teacher recruitment or retention, but those problems are building and we need an initiative on that front.
Along with London Challenge, Teach First was a key element in the dramatic improvement in the performance of London schools since 1997, and it is important that the new national schools funding formula does not put that improvement at risk. As has been mentioned, the Chancellor said yesterday that he was providing an additional half a billion pounds to speed up the implementation of the school funding formula so that it will apply to 90% of schools by 2020. Will that extra money be used—as I hope it will be—to ensure that the formula is implemented by levelling up the finances of underfunded schools, not by taking funding away from schools that are adequately funded at the moment? I hope that that is what the half a billion pounds is for, and I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that at the end of the debate.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that some boroughs, particularly in London, are affected by as much as 10% by some of these worrying proposals?
There is a lot of worry about the proposals, and I hope that the Government will assure us that there will be no real-term cuts in the funding of individual schools. Half a billion pounds could go a long way to achieving that, and it would be helpful if the Minister could give us that assurance.
As we have heard, the Red Book contains a chapter called the “Devolution Revolution”, but the Budget ends local authority influence over education, which always used to be devolved. The hon. Member for Taunton Deane said that it was wonderful that we will have one system for education in the future, but I thought the Government were in favour of devolution, and the Red Book claims that they are. It is a big contradiction to proclaim devolution on the one hand, at the same time as ending local influence over education.
I am particularly sceptical about the benefits of turning every primary school into an academy, because I have seen no evidence that doing that will be a good thing. The Minister and the Secretary of State will know of local educational authorities—other Members have spoken of them in the debate—that do a very good job in supporting the local network of primary schools, enabling schools that are struggling to be supported, for example by a gifted head from another school nearby. I therefore want to put this question to the Minister and ask him to respond on behalf of the Secretary of State: what is the case for simply dismantling and smashing up all the successful arrangements of that kind?
The Church of England referred in its response to
“the particular challenges that many smaller primary schools will face as they seek to develop such partnerships”.
“academy chains are having a transformational impact on pupils’ life chances”, which is a very good thing, but it also says that
“others have seriously underperformed and have expanded too rapidly.”
That is why I pressed the Secretary of State specifically on whether the mass process of turning every primary school and every remaining secondary maintained school into an academy will be done by adding those schools on to existing chains, too many of which are underperforming. Only about a third are doing well, according to the Sutton Trust. The chains that are doing badly are doing badly because they have expanded too quickly. The process could make that far worse by forcing hundreds of additional schools into those same underperforming chains. I therefore press the Minister again. I did not get the assurance I was seeking from the Secretary of State that the process would not be done by adding new schools on to underperforming chains. I hope he can give us that reassurance in his response.
Local authority support for families of primary schools is successful. Do the Government envisage those simply being rebadged as multi-academy trusts? Perhaps that is one way out of the problem. Destroying those arrangements is potentially very damaging.
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting observation. What are his thoughts on the initiatives of Labour councils such as Brighton and Hove, which are setting up co-operatives for their schools to join together to try to undermine the Government’s attempts to isolate and atomise schools?
I very much welcome that. I thought everybody agreed that diversity in school provision was a good idea rather than having the one-size-fits-all model for which the hon. Member for Taunton Deane argued. Surely we should be encouraging exactly the kind of arrangement that my hon. Friend draws attention to, so that we can enjoy the benefits of the diversity that results.
I am glad that, in opening the debate for the Opposition, my hon. Friend John McDonnell focused on the failures that the Budget highlighted yesterday. The OBR pointed out to us that the Chancellor had three fiscal rules in the run-up to yesterday’s Budget. He has broken two of those. He has broken his commitment, which was made less than a year ago, to reduce debt as a proportion of GDP in every year. We had that rather puzzling passage in the Budget speech when the Chancellor talked about numerators and denominators and a paradoxical outcome. It turns that he was saying that he had failed on that rule.
The second rule he failed was on the welfare cap. It is hard to think of any Treasury legislation of the past 20 years that has backfired so spectacularly as the welfare cap. It was legislated for last summer with great fanfare, but within weeks it was announced that it would be broken. The OBR now tells us that it will be broken in every single year of this Parliament. The whole thing has become a complete fiasco.
The third rule that the Chancellor went into the Budget with was the commitment on delivering a surplus. Of course, in the last Parliament, the centrepiece of the Chancellor’s project was to eradicate the deficit by 2015. He failed on that, and it now looks very likely that he will fail to achieve the surplus he has promised by 2019-20. To deliver it would require extraordinary fiscal tightening in what will almost certainly be the year leading up to the next general election. I cannot see that happening. By then, the Chancellor will have failed on all three of his rules.
It is a pleasure to follow Stephen Timms and his typically thoughtful contribution. Both he and I will know that the great disadvantage of speaking late in a debate is that everything that can be said has been said, although of course not everybody who can say it has said it. I will try not to be too repetitious, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I commend both Front Benchers for taking so many interventions during their speeches. That set a very good tone for the debate. I trust that that will continue. Perhaps the shadow Chancellor will even extend me the generosity of allowing me to intervene on him next time.
When I was listening to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor make his eighth Budget speech yesterday, I was thinking about how different the world was six years ago when he made his first Budget speech. At that time, unemployment in Tamworth was rampant. Businesses and jobs were going to the wall. Walking down Glascote high street, one would see notices of repossession in the windows of people’s houses. When Gordon Brown left office not only were people losing their jobs, but their homes too.
After eight Budgets, the situation has been transformed. Unemployment in Tamworth is now less than 300. Just about everybody who can work in Tamworth is working in Tamworth. The Jobcentre has turned into a recruitment agency, going out looking for people to do better-paid, better-skilled jobs. House prices are going up and people are better off. Having continually raised the income tax threshold, my average constituent is now £1,000 better off than he or she was in 2010.
I heard Opposition Members, in particular my otherwise good friend Albert Owen, criticise the lifetime ISA. This savings initiative sends a very good message to young people about the importance of the savings culture. As the Chancellor was making his speech, I got a message from a young constituent of mine called Dan Ball, aged 19 from Amington. He said, “How can I get one of these ISAs?” I will be writing back to him before the end of this week to tell him just what he can do to save and invest in his future.
The support that the Chancellor has given to businesses—for big businesses, in the form of corporation tax; and for small businesses by reforming and changing the business rate—will help businesses in my constituency, from small newsagents in the high street to companies such as Tame Plastics and Invotec. That will help jobs and growth, so I commend what the Budget has to offer.
If I could make two pleas in the time I have left, they would be these. Given that we want to create a Budget for the next generation, part of it must be about infrastructure investment. The Chancellor made great play—rightly so—of the midlands engine. One of the overlooked pieces of infrastructure in the midlands is the A5 corridor running through Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire. Much of the A5 is single carriageway. It would benefit from being dualled, so that we could open up developments and house building along the corridor. There are plans for such development and house building. I hope the Exchequer Secretary will make a note of that and use all is artistry and eloquence to prevail on the Transport Secretary to put the dualling of the A5 in the next road investment strategy.
May I also encourage more house building? Hon. Members on all sides of the Chamber have mentioned the need for more house building. Some 88,000 new houses are needed in the west midlands. We are building, and are planning to build, more houses in Tamworth, but one of the challenges—even though we have reformed planning, introduced Help to Buy and are selling public land to private developers—is the number of small and medium-sized enterprises in the development supply chain. Many were wiped out during the crash, and we need to get them back in. I would like the Government to encourage big developers, such as Bovis, Persimmon and Redrow, to franchise some of their land bank to smaller developers so that they can build houses on that land. It would de-risk the big developers, because they would not have to take the risk of building the houses, and help smaller developers, because the planning activity would already have been undertaken and so would not cost them so much. That would get more SMEs into the supply chain and help us build those homes for the future in the midlands and beyond.
I listened attentively to the Budget, and I was not carried away by the doom-mongers on the Opposition Benches, and I listened attentively to the Leader of the Opposition, who I thought began rather well but then, like the rest of us, lost interest in his own speech halfway through. He can do better next time by listening to and learning from the Chancellor and by supporting our plans for a Budget for the future.
I share the many concerns raised about the Budget’s giveaways to the rich at the expense of the poor and disabled. It is despicable and against the British sense of fair play but entirely in line with the behaviour of a Government who are pushing more people into poverty and then blaming and punishing them for it.
Others have spoken movingly about that, but I would like to focus on what the Budget says about the Government’s commitment to devolution. Their actions do not match their rhetoric. The Secretary of State, who introduced the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, at the same time introduced the Housing and Planning Bill, which contained more than 30 new centralising measures. The Budget contains more of that same centralising instinct. Yesterday, the Government centralised control of every school in the country. They have learnt nothing from the Trojan horse scandal in Birmingham and are now stripping away local accountability from every school.
There is no way that the Department for Education can provide proper oversight of 24,000 schools from Whitehall, and a lack of oversight means that problems will not be noticed or tackled until they have grown into crises. It is not devolution to hand schools over to giant national academy chains, and it is not localist to do that in the teeth of opposition from parents, teachers and communities. I do not understand how the Secretary of State can come here and lecture the House on the need to listen to parents, when she will not listen to parents over forced academisation.
What does my hon. Friend make of Conservative Peter Edgar, the executive member for education at Hampshire County Council and a former teacher, who said that the scheme could result in Britain’s education system “imploding” and urged the Government to think again? He said:
“I am horrified to think that the county council’s role in education is going to be destroyed by George Osborne in his budget. We have worked with the government to deliver the reforms and have been congratulated”—
It is sad that the councillor has felt forced to say that, but he is absolutely right of course.
There is little evidence of devolution over how local services are funded as a result of the Budget. Yesterday, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies has now confirmed, the Chancellor tightened his fingers around the neck of local government funding. He has handed over limited powers to city regions and others but refused to link those powers to resources. I want to see the Government go much further on devolution—more local control over schools, housing, health and the Work programme—but we need real fiscal devolution as well. If the Government hand over services but then cut the funding centrally, all they are really doing is devolving the blame for cuts made in Downing Street.
Yesterday’s Budget graphically underscored that point. The Chancellor made much of his plans to allow 100% retention of business rates, which of course sounds good, but he will not be clear about which services they will have to pay for. At the same time, he is entirely scrapping the central Government grant, leaving councils far worse off and less able to fund the services that local people rely on. He will not explain, either, what mechanism, if any, will be in place to ensure that business rates retention does not just benefit areas that are already wealthy and penalise those that are not. There needs to be a fair funding mechanism in place that helps areas to expand their capacity for economic growth, otherwise they will be locked into a downward spiral, with no way out.
Of course, we should not be surprised that the Budget did not include anything about fair funding. Under this Government, the 10 poorest councils have suffered cuts 23 times bigger than the 10 richest. Last month, the Government voted to cut Croydon’s funding by another £44 million, but handed a £23 million windfall to far wealthier Surrey next door. Unfairness is the defining feature of this Government.
What these further cuts mean for the vast majority of communities in this country is the closure of libraries, museums, youth services and children’s centres. They will leave streets unswept and street lights turned off at night. They will mean home care taken away from frail older people, and disabled people left to struggle alone. They will mean a cut to early intervention in troubled families, and social workers will not be there to protect children from the impact of domestic violence. Services will not be there any more to protect children at risk of abuse. We are simply storing up problems for the future, while watching young lives get ripped apart.
This Chancellor has got so much wrong. He has had to downgrade growth forecasts that he made only four months ago. He missed his own deadline for paying down the deficit caused by the banking crash. He delayed the recovery by cutting big infrastructure projects early on in his tenure, and he is now struggling to make up for lost time. He has failed to tackle the economy’s desperately low levels of productivity. Now, the IFS has questioned his ability to meet yesterday’s forecasts without more cuts or tax rises to fill a £55 billion financial black hole. The IFS further says that the Budget will reduce wages, lower living standards and lead to further austerity.
Quite simply, this is a Chancellor who cannot be trusted, and who is himself unable to trust. He gets the big decisions wrong, and he is afraid to devolve decisions to others. Instead of reforming public services, this Government are laying them to waste. Instead of sharing the proceeds of growth more fairly, this Government are presiding over growing inequality. Instead of handing decision-making to local communities, this Government are centralising power in their own hands. Instead of shaping a fairer Britain, this Chancellor has thrown a financial bung to his wealthy mates and thrown the rest of the country to the dogs.
I rise to support the Budget statement, particularly for the support it gives to small businesses. Of the 4,000 businesses in my Congleton constituency, all but a handful are small and medium-sized enterprises, started up and sustained by hard-working individuals and their supportive families. It is right to champion the value of and encourage SMEs, which are the lifeblood of my local economy.
“without businesses there are no taxes and without taxes there are no schools or hospitals.”
I am therefore delighted that the Chancellor is taking 600,000 small businesses across the country out of bearing the burden of any business rates at all, while another 250,000 firms receive a reduction in those rates. This will save small businesses £6.7 billion over the next five years, enabling them to take on more staff, invest and grow. I know it will be warmly welcomed in my constituency.
Welcome, too, are the new tax-free allowances of £1,000 a year for micro-entrepreneurs who trade goods or rent property online on a small scale. Positive, too, are reductions in capital gains tax, the reform of stamp duty on commercial premises to help small firms move to bigger premises and, for incorporated businesses, the substantial reduction in corporation tax to 17% in 2020—down from 28% in 2010. This means that we will have the lowest corporation tax in the G20, and it will benefit more than a million businesses.
For 3 million self-employed people, the cancellation of class 2 national insurance contributions is also welcome. Some may say, “Well, that’s only a saving of £2.80 a week”, but that fails to appreciate that many small businesses live on the margins, particularly in the early years, as I know from experience. My husband and I had to sell our home to keep our business going, and live above our offices with our first child, with the staff tea and coffee-making area being our kitchen.
My story is not unusual, and I mention it only because that is so and because I know that, just as Government support for small business matters, so does
Government support for the families who stand behind the businesses. Stable families contribute to a stable economy. If we want small business to flourish, we need families to flourish, too. It is important to note that these are related: the one sustains and supports the other. I therefore greatly welcome the Government’s commitment to including family stability measures in their life chances strategy. However, just as family stability supports business, family breakdown has a negative impact on productivity. According to a survey conducted by Resolution, the family justice organisation, one in seven workers said that relationship breakdown had had a negative impact on their businesses’ productivity.
In his Budget statement, the Chancellor said:
“We as Conservatives understand that tax affects behaviour.”
I welcome that, and I therefore also welcome the tax on sugary drinks, which the Chancellor is introducing to incentivise healthy behaviour. He said many times that it was
“to help children’s health and wellbeing”, and that this was
“a Government not afraid to put the next generation first.”—[Hansard, 16 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 964.]
May I urge the Chancellor also to do what he can to encourage healthy family relationships for our next generation?
The marriage tax allowance that the Chancellor has introduced is still very low. Moreover, its aim is not, as has been claimed, to encourage people to get married and stay married, but simply to remove the disadvantages in the overall tax and benefit system that are incurred by women who look after their children at home. Will my hon. Friend say a word about the allowance, and about how we should upgrade it?
I will, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue.
The Prime Minister said recently:
“Families are the best anti-poverty measure ever invented. They are a welfare, education and counselling system all wrapped up into one.”
I have heard that the cost to the national health service of treating child obesity has been estimated at £5 billion. By contrast, the cost of breakdown is £48 billion. Increased investment in relationship strengthening to help to prevent that would be money well spent. According to a survey carried out by the Department for Education, every pound invested in strengthening family relationships would save the Treasury £11.50. I believe that spending on creating healthy relationships for the next generation is as valid as promoting that generation’s physical health and wellbeing. Few Members can disagree with the principle that such early intervention is key if a child’s life chances are to be maximised, or with the principle that maximum support should be given to children in the areas of greatest need.
Let me end by making a few practical suggestions. The Chancellor would do well to think again about the transferable tax allowance for married couples. He should consider refocusing it on the families with the youngest children. That would be an exponential investment, as the highest rate of family breakdown occurs in families with children under three. By focusing the scheme on couples with low incomes and children under five, and doubling the amount receivable to about £9 a week, the Treasury could offer more substantial support for some of the country’s lowest earners and neediest families, and could do so at no extra cost, because there is an underspend in the money already allocated for the purpose in a previous Budget. A further nuance would be to target for greater take-up those living in the 100 housing estates that the Prime Minister identified for regeneration, and those living in the 100 local government wards with the highest levels of family breakdown.
Perhaps the Chancellor could also consider using any remaining underspend to strengthen parenting and relationship support. A practical suggestion from the Centre for Social Justice is the provision of an online one-stop shop to give families information about local relationship support.
Strengthening families by supporting healthy relationships should be an aspiration for the Government. Reversing family breakdown and building strong and stable family life as a foundation block of a healthy society must be our ambition. That would really put the next generation first, and it also makes sound economic sense. If we want our productivity to flourish, families must do so as well.
Several hon. Members rose—
Yesterday I listened intently to both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, hoping against hope that we would see a Budget for the poor as well as the rich—a Budget that would be not just for private businesses but for local services, and not just for London and the south-east but for the north-east of England.
First, I heard the Prime Minister boast about a very welcome drop in unemployment in the UK, but he did not have a word for the 3,000 more people out of work in the north-east of England than 12 months ago. The Chancellor, apart from mentioning his pet project to impose an extra tier of politicians on an unwilling electorate to deliver devolution of power without devolution of real resources, failed to announce anything that would provide the north-east with the investment in infrastructure—or anything else, for that matter—that would help to create the jobs we need to employ the people this Government have clearly forgotten.
Today’s theme is about education and equality. It is time the Chancellor recognised that there is tremendous inequality between the regions, and that it has been created as a direct result of his policies and those he shared with the Liberal Democrats. Others have already detailed the colossal failures of the Government in missing self-imposed targets, but still the Chancellor maintains that all will be well because he can always squeeze those who have been squeezed before. Sadly, this means that women and less well-off folk are again in his sights.
The Chancellor’s warm words about acting now to protect future generations, about shrinking inequalities and about us all being “in this together” were designed to create an image of fairness and social justice, but they do not paint an accurate picture. They do not, for instance, detail how 81% of the Chancellor’s cuts, totalling £82 billion in tax increases and cuts in social security, have fallen on women. Nor do they mention the fact that the Government’s policies are projected to be even more regressive than those of the coalition that went before, hitting women and lone parents disproportionately hard.
In fact, contrary to what the Chancellor would have us believe, women in Britain are now facing the greatest threat to their financial security and livelihoods for a generation. Never before has a Chancellor upset so many middle-aged women at a stroke of his red pen; the pensions issue for women born in the 1950s is just one area of their income he has attacked. An awful lot of people will remember this, should he ever realise his ambition to lead the Conservative party. He might do that, but his blindness to the anger and upset felt by women on all manner of issues will probably mean that he will not fulfil his second ambition: to win a general election.
I spoke last week to my constituent, Amey-Rose McGrogan, who manages a small but successful independent business in Stockton North. The business is about to celebrate its second birthday. As of this coming Monday, the non-domestic business rates for which the business is liable are set to rise from £157 a month to £581. The business is facing tremendous increases in costs all round. The measures announced yesterday will help a little, but they are perhaps going to be a bit late. As the North East Chamber of Commerce has highlighted, this is just another example of a Government paying lip service to stability and failing to provide businesses with sufficient detail to plan for the future.
The Chancellor is not really doing anything to help our overall economy. He is not using any of the money available to central Government to fund this planned benefit to small businesses. Instead, he is stealing it from the local authorities, which are planning their budgets based on his previous proposals for the localisation of business rates, only to find out that he has cut their income yet again. That simply places further constraints on their ability to deliver the vital services that local people need, and I have no doubt that that will create untold difficulties for local authorities as they strive to cope with cut after cut and change after change.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that the Government are giving to small businesses with one hand and taking away from local government with the other. Does he agree that these measures will take money out of the local economy that those same small businesses were relying on for part of their success, and that the overall package is far less impressive and attractive than the Chancellor has made it out to be?
Indeed; I certainly agree with that.
The Minister needs to tell us what assessment has been made of the impact on local economies and on local authority funding of this policy change. In my constituency, Stockton Borough Council has faced funding cuts of £52 million in the last six years, and that is set to continue with a further reduction of £21 million over the next four years. The concessions to businesses are great, but local authorities should not be suffering as a result. Instead of empowering local councils, the Chancellor is undermining their effectiveness. Authorities such as Stockton with low tax bases will lose out as the vast wealth realised by rich councils in the south will no longer be redistributed to provide vital services across the country.
Unemployment is another particularly pertinent issue. When the Chancellor spoke in the House yesterday, he chirped merrily about a labour market delivering the highest employment in our history and unemployment having fallen again. What he did not say, however, was that that is not the case across the whole country. In Stockton North, for example, unemployment has actually increased, adding to the pressures that have been created by a spate of business closures and by Government failures to do more to protect our vital steel industry and related supply chains. As recently as Friday, 40 highly skilled workers at a specialist steel foundry in Stillington in my constituency were told that their jobs would go in May. What did the Budget offer such firms? Simply nothing. This Government stood in the way of EU tariffs on steel produced in the far east and now prefers to use foreign-made steel, rather than home-produced materials, to build Navy ships.
Speaking of materials, despite the hint from the Business Secretary during departmental questions on Tuesday that we would soon hear whether the materials catapult proposed by the Materials Processing Institute would be created, we heard nothing. It is all very unfair. We need fairness for the north-east of England.
It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this Budget debate, particularly because the topic is education. Since being elected, I have visited a school a week in my constituency, which has given me the opportunity to discuss with heads, staff and pupils what they want from their schools. I have visited almost 50 schools and must say that I do not recall academisation being a particular ask of any of them.
Of my five secondary schools, only one is an academy and it has made me somewhat open-minded about academies. When it was built only six years ago, it was decided to build classrooms, or pods, for 90 students and that students would need a microphone to ask a question. As it was situated in a ward that is ranked within the bottom 5% for deprivation, it would not have taken Einstein to work out that that would cause some pupils to shrink into themselves and for behaviour to deteriorate. The situation became so bad that thanks to our new headteacher, a visionary leader, a welcome £6 million was awarded by the Department for Education to turn the pods into classrooms for 30.
The school is being transformed under a new head, but the situation should never have been allowed to happen and the £6 million would have been better spent improving the ageing facilities of my neighbouring schools, which are ranked as outstanding despite their buildings being poster children for the 1950s. Had the school been under the governance of East Sussex County Council, I would venture that the situation would not have arisen. That is not to say that I do not recognise the virtues of schools operating outside of local education authority control, I just happen to be an advocate of choice. I also believe that, call it a free school, an LEA school or an academy, the key is having the right leadership in place and the good times then tend to follow.
Prior to moving to East Sussex 10 years ago, I spent five happy years as a governor of the Phoenix High School in White City. There were over 50 different first languages, a high proportion of pupils received free school meals, and just 9% of its pupils achieved five grades at A to C compared with a national average of over 50%. Our new headteacher, William Atkinson, was empowered by his team of governors to transform the school and did so through strong leadership, discipline and an expectation of excellence from staff and pupils. I spent many an hour dealing with disciplinary procedures as another child was excluded for a period of time. The head transformed the school from one that a parent would not want to consider into a centre of pride. The GCSE comparison went from 9% to over 60% and the head is now Sir William Atkinson. I recall that he did not have too much time for the services offered by the LEA, and it was no surprise that our school became an academy.
I make that point because it is proof that some schools work brilliantly as academies, but they should not be seen as bullet-proof. A good leader, excellent staff, a committed board of governors, and support are key for any school to thrive. Ultimately, however, I am excited by schools having the ability to make their own decisions.
Of my five secondary schools, only one has a sixth form. Two are outstanding, but the children have to leave at 16 years old. Children at one of the schools, Claverham Community College in Battle, are required to leave the town and travel long distances to study A-levels. I would like such schools to be able to make their own decisions on expansion and not be told by the LEA that they have to fit into a wider model. If academies allow that to happen, I can see the positives. However, we should be mindful that the considerable support that a good LEA such as East Sussex County Council provides, particularly to small primary schools, will need to be found from elsewhere. I look forward to reading the White Paper.
Yesterday, I happened to meet pupils from Herstmonceux Church of England Primary School straight after the Budget and was able to tell them the exciting news that they may be required to study maths until the age of 18. I did not detect a huge amount of excitement in their faces, but I recognise the desire, fuelled by our employers, that our young people should have the basics of maths and English covered when getting ready for the workplace. Much is made of this country learning from attainment in south-east Asia, but this is not Singapore, it is Britain. As well as mastering Maths and English, I want my children to explore the creative subjects, as that has allowed their fellow countrymen and women to become global leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, explorers and pioneers.
Time will not permit me to continue, but ultimately, I would say, as a son of a teacher, that if we could give our heads and teachers more freedom to do their jobs and inspire our children, we may surprise ourselves and find that the need to dictate becomes less of an imperative.
Several hon. Members rose—
The Chancellor hailed his Budget as being for the “next generation”, so I want to focus on a nationally significant research and development, industrial and economic issue that feeds through from STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—to higher education and into our industrial base, to which I urge the Government to give their attention. Disappointingly, there was nothing in yesterday’s Budget to address this matter, but I wish to address it now.
Against the backdrop of the steel closure debacle at SSI on Teesside, many deficiencies and challenges were identified in our steel industry, and several asks were made of the Government. Sadly, there was no meaningful or timely intervention from them to save the SSI plant, which employed many hundreds of my constituents, but there could have been and there should have been. Although, without doubt, the entire materials sector is still critical to the UK economy, it is also widely accepted that critically important innovation in the sector is patchy and poorly co-ordinated. The UK industry Metals Forum has said:
“A forward-thinking, collaborative approach to R&D will have embedded innovation throughout the industry, from the smallest firms to the largest, directed by customers’ needs.”
In the UK, the catapult concept is where we have the mechanism for innovation intervention whereby we transform our capability and drive economic growth. Sadly, there is no catapult for the metals and materials sector, but there is an opportunity right under the Government’s nose and I ask them to seize it. The proposal is a joint one from the Materials Processing Institute, the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, and The Welding Institute—TWI—which jointly propose to meet that very need by establishing a new national materials catapult, as a not-for-profit partnership. The partners have letters of support from leading universities, which show this to be a major concern for the development and upscaling of fundamental research. There is widespread support for the proposal across industry. In a short period, more than 50 letters of support have been received from employer associations, trade associations, industry, small and medium-sized enterprises, universities, the public sector and private consultants.
The beauty of the proposal is that the partners are already in play. The catapult will work with universities and the other catapults, across all the sectors, and it would be headquartered at the campus of the Materials Processing Institute in Redcar, in close proximity to TWI in Middlesbrough and Teesside industry. Of course, the proposed location for the catapult would also enable the Government to deliver on the commitment they made in the Tees valley city deal, signed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, to encourage Innovate UK to establish this catapult at the Tees valley innovation and commercialisation hub.
The concept of a materials catapult was raised by the CBI in 2014 and has been reaffirmed in its Treasury submission in advance of yesterday’s Budget. Support has also been expressed by UK Steel and FSB, but, sadly, that was not reflected by the Chancellor yesterday. With the partners having collectively more than 300 years of experience, world-leading facilities and an immediate national presence, the catapult presents excellent value for money. There are minimal start-up costs and because it is proposed to use existing buildings there is no lead- in time for construction activity. The ask is for £5 million per annum of revenue support and £2 million per annum of capital, under the normal catapult funding model, and an initial capital award of about £10 million to fund equipment for core projects. The catapult will leverage recent and secured future investments that have been used to upgrade materials research and support facilities in Rotherham, Port Talbot and Cambridge, as well as on the two sites in the Tees valley.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that, and it shows the value of these initiatives. I regret to say that sometimes we have to keep on pressing and repeating these requests. We are talking about a major contribution to our economy and it should be grasped, because, based on previous studies, a benefit of £15 per £1 of Government spending would be expected, giving a gross value added benefit of £75 million per annum.
The catapult is needed by industry nationally and could be delivered immediately. It would give some credibility to the much-vaunted but singularly absent northern powerhouse. The catapult is an entirely appropriate response to the steel crisis and builds on existing capabilities and expertise. It is cost effective and would have an immediate positive impact on UK companies. As well as that fifteenfold return, it could be a beacon for inward investment, and there is the real potential for a £300 million project to come to the catapult.
The catapult would improve productivity in the materials sector, strengthen manufacturing supply chains and drive growth by supporting new and growing technology-based small and medium-sized enterprises. It would improve international competitiveness by addressing the UK’s relative disadvantage in materials innovation compared with Germany, the USA and Japan.
I urge the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills not to block this proposal, because I am convinced that it is vital for our industrial base and will provide immediate and significant research and employment opportunities. It will be readily achievable and make a huge contribution to our economy.
I congratulate Huw Merriman on his excellent speech. He and a number of other Conservative Back Benchers gave the Government fair warning that the proposals in the White Paper will not be accepted without a great deal of scrutiny and challenge. He raised some very serious and correct concerns.
I am a parent of two children who are at secondary schools in my constituency, and a community governor of a primary school, which is also in my constituency. I must say that the primary schools in particular work extremely closely not just with other primary schools, but with the local authority. They view the education proposals with growing horror, as they see the flaws in what is being put forward.
Let us examine the Government’s record on education since 2010. One of their first actions was to cut the Building Schools for the Future programme and to make other cuts in capital spending, with a disastrous effect on the then recovery—yes, it was a recovery, which was happening as a result of the actions of the outgoing Labour Government.
When the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury responds to the debate, I am sure that, as a former member of the Education Committee, he will want to comment on the Government’s education plans. Over the past nearly six years, we have seen cuts in sixth form college funding, with a third of colleges facing an uncertain future, the forced academisation programme with a likely price tag of half a billion pounds and an extra £500 million cost for extending the school day, which is on top of £4 billion of cuts over the next four years. I have been asked: what will happen to special schools and to children with special educational needs?
Does my hon. Friend share my view that it is hypocritical of the Government to claim that they support localism while forcing schools to academise whether they want to or not?
Order. Just before anyone else gives way or intervenes, it must be noted that there is only a certain amount of time for this debate and that Members who are at the end could be squeezed out altogether. Giving way and adding an extra minute to somebody’s speech does not add any more minutes to the time in a day.
I was going over the Government’s approach over the past six years. They scrapped compulsory work experience, with the knock-on effect on the economy. The education and business partnership in my borough is a great success, but it has been consistently undermined over that six-year-period. It had established very good working relationships with businesses and employers generally, and there is a profound economic effect of that policy, as there is with the undermining, and almost destruction of, the careers service.
Turning to forced academisation, we have many good and outstanding schools in the maintained sector. We have parents, children, staff and communities that value the partnership between schools and the local authority. We have academies that are successful, so why are the Government hell-bent on making changes?
In an intervention earlier, I referred to the White Paper and the section on removing the requirement to have parents on governing bodies. Parents will be ignored in the forced academisation process, despite the words from the Secretary of State in her foreword expressing confidence in parents and calling on them to join in the process to improve standards, but clearly not so much that the Department wants parents to be involved in the governance of schools in future.
All that is done in the name of localisation. I think not. This is centralising to the Whitehall desk of the Secretary of State and her Ministers, as is the land grab—the biggest land grab since Henry VIII ransacked the monasteries—with the Government taking ownership of all the land. When the Treasury Minister responds, he will have to demonstrate to me that that is not the case. That is what is proposed by transferring ownership of the land to the Secretary of State.
We have a centralising Secretary of State and a centralising Government who do not trust local people, parents or school leaders. At a time when we have a shortage of staff and a great lack of confidence in Government, all they can do is force schools to do things against their wishes. That is not the way in which education should be run.
Growth has been revised down last year, this year and for every year of the forecast. Business investment has been revised down last year, this year and for every year of the forecast. In this Budget the Chancellor has failed to provide a future for the next generation.
I have some fantastic schools in my constituency and I have been privileged recently to visit two of those schools which have improved their Ofsted results, Fleetwood High School and Carter’s Charity Primary School in Preesall, both coastal schools which, with strong leadership and under the headships of Richard Barnes and Brendan Hassett, respectively, are showing great signs of improving, with the support of the local authority. But all this is at risk from the Chancellor’s reckless plans to force all schools to become academies, whether they want to or not. Parents must have a say in the future of local schools, and it is wrong for this Government to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on schools. That will take away the national curriculum, accountability to local people through councils, and the ability of parents and of the community to obtain information to find out what is going on through freedom of information requests.
How does removing local authorities’ role from our schools put power in the hands of local people? Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, has written to the Secretary of State, highlighting to her the serious weaknesses in academy chains, but this Government have failed to listen to the evidence.
I have great concerns for my constituents about the future of museums. Although I welcome the announcement in the Budget of support for museums, that is of little comfort to my constituents, who are worried about the future of Fleetwood Museum, the Maritime Museum in Lancaster, the Judges’ Lodgings and the Cottage Museum, all of which are supported by Lancashire County Council, but after budget cuts year after year, the council is unable to provide that support and we risk losing our northern museums.
On disability, I pay tribute to my constituent Graeme Ellis who, until yesterday, had been a lifelong Conservative party member. He felt that the choices made by the Chancellor to hit disabled people to give tax breaks to the rich was a step too far. He resigned in style.
I welcome the principle of the sugar tax as a positive step towards encouraging people to make healthy choices. As an MP with a heavy dairy-farming constituency, I welcome the decision to remove milk-based drinks from the levy. The situation in the dairy industry is far from good right now. Average dairy farm incomes are forecast to fall by half in 2015-16 and arable incomes are expected to be down by almost a quarter. Sadly, there is little comfort for the 90% of UK farm businesses which are unincorporated and therefore will not be beneficiaries of the Chancellor’s continued focus on reducing corporation tax.
Three months on from Storm Desmond, the Chancellor’s announcement of £700 million for flood defences is welcome for the parts of the country that benefit from it. I was concerned to see that Lancashire was not included, and it is little comfort to my constituents around the River Cocker and in Winmarleigh and Thurnham, who suffered so badly in the flooding.
One of the biggest issues, which fills my inbox every week, is the effect of council cuts and losing local services, but there is nothing in the Budget that helps councils. This Budget fails local government.
Rather than investing in building new homes to fix Britain’s broken housing market and cut housing benefit costs, the Chancellor has slashed housing investment by 60%, and housing benefit has risen by more than £4 billion a year in cash terms.
This Budget is a failure, it lacks any fairness and it offers nothing for the future. If anything it only amplifies the question: how can we trust the Chancellor to get it right for the next four years, when he has not had it right in the last four months?
Yesterday, in his Budget announcement, the Chancellor made much capital out of the economic recovery and the rate at which unemployment was falling, but he needs to understand that not every part of Britain is enjoying this economic recovery. In my constituency, not only do we have above-average unemployment, but the latest figures from the House of Commons Library show that unemployment recently increased for the third month in a row. The Chancellor says he wants to put the next generation first, but youth unemployment remains stubbornly high in my constituency, at nearly twice the national average.
The Chancellor says all schools have to become academies by 2020. While I wish the schools in my constituency that are already academies every success, there is simply no evidence that forcing all schools to become academies will deliver higher educational standards and more qualified teachers. I am also concerned that removing accountability to local authorities may put children with special educational needs and disabilities at risk of losing the vital support they need. Schools are also still struggling financially, and we have a particular problem in my constituency with recruiting and retaining teachers, which puts huge strain on our schools’ ability to meet the educational needs of our children.
We struggle to recruit skilled professionals in not just education, but healthcare, and that is in part down to our poor transport infrastructure. It is all very well the Chancellor announcing money for the northern powerhouse and talking about High Speed 3, but that does nothing for people in Cumbria, who have totally inadequate road and rail infrastructure. To get people to come to west Cumbria, we need to be accessible from the outside world. Simply upgrading the A66 between Scotch Corner and Penrith does not help west Cumbria or our recruitment crisis. I have been calling for investment in the crucial A595 artery, which will be heavily relied on following the new investment in the nuclear new build at Moorside.
To be honest, people in west Cumbria are fed up of the usual warm words and rhetoric from the Government. It is about time Ministers recognised that the north extends beyond Lancashire. With the nuclear new build at Moorside, Cumbria will physically put the power into the northern powerhouse.
The money announced yesterday for flood defences is welcome, because it is important we do everything we can to ensure we do not see a repeat of the devastation caused by Storm Desmond. My constituents need safe, secure homes and businesses, and I understand from the Treasury today that money will be available for the village of Flimby in my constituency, but there is no mention of Workington or Cockermouth.
The Budget documents talk about investing in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, yet the Government want to close the office at Lillyhall in my constituency and to centralise operations in Manchester and Newcastle—more than two hours away. That means not only that my constituents will lose any access to face-to-face interaction, but that hundreds of people will lose their jobs.
My constituents are absolutely fed up of being left out of the Government’s plans. Just because west Cumbria is remote, that does not mean we should be forgotten. We have huge potential—given the right tools to make things happen. I urge the Government to look again at how west Cumbria can be properly incorporated into the northern powerhouse so that all our people can have a future.
Order. The hon. Lady has to say “the Chancellor of the Exchequer” or “the right hon. Gentleman”.
The Chancellor’s Budget yesterday was nothing more than an attempt to confirm that austerity is king for this Government. Ideology has blocked the path of any attempt to ease the burden on the backs of the less well-off. Even setting aside the cuts to welfare and capital spending, the OBR estimates that between 2009-10 and 2019-20 Westminster funding for day-to-day public services is forecast to fall by the equivalent of about £1,800 per head. Chillingly, the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that the scale of the cuts to departmental budgets and local government will reduce the role of the state to a point where it will have “changed beyond recognition”, with £3.5 billion of new cuts in this Budget. That is an additional £3.5 billion of cuts for 2019-20 that will once again hit unprotected Departments. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not specified where that money will come from, either.
Scotland faces a £1.5 billion cut in its funding for public services, which means that between 2010-11 and 2019-20 Scotland’s fiscal departmental expenditure limit budget has been reduced by an eye-watering 12.5% in real terms.
I listened earlier to this Government lauding their support for young people, but we have already witnessed the slashing of student maintenance grants for some of the poorest students and their being converted into loans. Housing benefit for unemployed 18 to 21-year-olds has been scrapped, which will create enormous hardship for young people. Student fees will continue to rise. Student nurses will no longer receive grants, but loans instead. All calls for the reintroduction of the post-study work visa in Scotland have gone unheeded.
Of course we welcome the support for the oil and gas industry—as far as it goes—but what is really required is a strategic review of the whole tax regime for oil and gas. The SNP called for a such a review ahead of the Budget, but again that went unheeded. The freeze on fuel duty is to be welcomed. This is a victory for small businesses and rural communities such as Arran in my constituency, and it will also be welcomed by families with stretched budgets across the UK.
More than anything, this Budget bolsters and consolidates inequality across the United Kingdom. Increasing the personal tax allowance is a very expensive approach and it badly targets help for the low paid. That is the view of the Child Poverty Action Group, and the Government should take note. It is not a social justice measure when 85% of the £2 billion that the Treasury spends goes to the top half and a third goes to the top 10%. For every £1,000 by which the personal tax allowance goes up, basic tax rate payers gain £200, but universal credit rules will claw back 65% of that gain from the low paid, leaving them gaining only a maximum of £70 a year. Child poverty campaigners have concluded that this Budget sets the next generation up to be the poorest for decades. Yet there is still money—between £15 billion and £100 billion—to be found to renew Trident. Disability rights groups have warned that these changes will be a devastating blow to disabled people. This is a Budget of missed opportunities.
With time not permitting me to go further, I will focus my remarks on the northern powerhouse schools strategy.
Bradford lies near the bottom of the school league tables, as I have mentioned several times in this place. From what I have seen in the few paragraphs of the Chancellor’s Red Book, I tentatively welcome some aspects of the strategy to improve education in the north, as it is clear that we cannot carry on as we are, but the proposal needs a greater level of detail. I hope that the report from Sir Nick Weller in the next six months will provide that detail. I also want to point out that I am extremely cautious of other aspects.
Schools that are classed as vulnerable and coasting are often those in the most deprived areas, and that is the case in my constituency. They are the schools that are most in need of funding to get them on the road to recovery and to provide the standards of education that we expect and need for our children. We need to support those schools, so I will be interested to see how the Department for Education plans to implement the funding boost for turnaround activity in coasting and vulnerable schools.
I also note the intention to look at ways of recruiting and retaining the best teachers. The situation is close to crisis, particularly in Bradford, and it was recently highlighted by a damning report by the National Audit Office. I hope that the Department for Education will carefully consider that report and that it recognises the problems with teacher recruitment and retention. I look forward to its response to the report.
I cannot help feeling that I have seen some of the measures before. They look very much like the London challenge, which achieved extraordinary results in London, but the Government scrapped it in 2011. They also happen to look like the Bradford or northern challenge, which I have called for repeatedly. The Government appear to have finally seen sense, accepted the results the previous scheme achieved and decided to bring it back in another form.
Unfortunately, however, the Chancellor’s proposal appears to be an academised version of the London challenge. Despite the promise shown by some of the other measures, I am unsure about the Government’s plans to invest in expanding academy chains, as I see little evidence to suggest that academies are the best way forward.
I am also perplexed as to how the academisation of all schools fits in with the Government’s devolution agenda, as it will take responsibility for education out of the hands of local authorities and centralise it in the Department for Education. As well as removing the ability to focus on and scrutinise school performance, the proposal leaves me questioning what the role of local authorities will be after they have had huge funding cuts and responsibility for education taken away from them.
I await the publication of Sir Nick Weller’s report in the next six months, and I hope the Government will finally deliver solid recommendations for an effective strategy for improving the state of education in the north once and for all.
It is a pleasure to follow Imran Hussain.
What a dismal failure of a Budget from a failing Chancellor. We heard yesterday that there are to be additional spending cuts of £3.5 billion in 2019-20, as austerity is forecast to still be with us 12 years after the financial crisis. Yet we hear that, among other measures, capital gains tax is to be cut. Let us contrast those two measures: tax cuts for the wealthy, and ongoing austerity for everyone else. That demonstrates once again that austerity is no more than a political choice by this Government.
Indeed it does. This Government have missed an opportunity to create hope for a better future, with investment in our economy and people.
“nor as a nation are we powerless. We have a choice.”
No kidding! He is choosing to punish the poor again with the choices he is making. He also said that
“productivity growth across the west is too low”.—[Hansard, 16 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 951.]
He made no analysis of why that is, and he did not reflect on why productivity in the UK, which we were told was central to the long-term economic plan, has been flatlining for so long.
There is no long-term economic plan. It is a myth and a meaningless soundbite from a Chancellor who does not have a plan to deliver sustainable economic growth. His only plan is to move out of No. 11 and into No. 10 Downing Street as soon as possible. Without a plan to drive productivity, we cannot drive sustainable economic growth.
Let us look at what the Chancellor is changing in the pensions world. We need predictability and a high degree of certainty if we are to encourage savings in this country and make sure that people have security and dignity in their old age, but the Chancellor carries on fiddling with the arrangements and undermines confidence in pension savings. The Chancellor’s abandonment of radical reform of tax relief in the Budget was a missed opportunity to rebalance the system and instil fairness at the heart of pension savings. The current pension tax relief regime is regressive, because it benefits higher-rate taxpayers exponentially, while modest earners miss out. The Financial Times last week ran a story with the headline:
“How to double your money instantly using pension tax breaks”, adding:
“Welfare for the wealthy has rarely been so generous in the UK”.
That is the reality from this Conservative Government. The SNP support the offering of incentives through tax relief, but we want that to be done in a way that supports equity and fairness.
It is wholly remarkable and unacceptable, when we are told that welfare must be cut—when the poor have to pay the price—that pension tax relief, which is skewed towards helping higher tax-rate pensioners, is left untouched. Just where are the Government’s priorities? We are incentivising the wealthy and squeezing the poor; that is the Chancellor’s Britain.
The Chancellor has sat on his hands on tax relief in the week in which the Select Committee on Work and Pensions has published its report on the communication of state pension age changes. It is worth highlighting that the report’s conclusions and recommendations state:
“We recommend that, if the Government is subsequently able to allocate further funding, it should commission an independent assessment of the merits of the following options: slowing the increase in the state pension age to 66; revising the timetable for increases in the state pension age to reach 65 by April 2019 and 66 by April 2021…and a transitional pension benefit.”
Why has the Chancellor not reflected on that in the Budget, and why is he refusing to do something about frozen pensions? I tabled an early-day motion asking that we look at the issue of frozen pensions, because 550,000 foreign pensioners have paid into Britain, but their frozen pensions mean that they cannot benefit fully from that. The Government have to answer this charge. We are going into a European referendum. If the Brexiters win the day, an additional 400,000 British citizens will lose the automatic uprating of their pensions. That is something that the House must address.
Why does the Chancellor not look at redirecting some of his funds from pension tax relief to benefit the women born in the 1950s who are suffering inequality? This is a Budget that could do far better than it has done.
We heard in the Budget yesterday the story of a record of failure, which was highlighted by my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor this afternoon. Growth has been revised down. Investment has been revised down. Debt—both public debt and household borrowing—is rising. Productivity has been revised down. The welfare cap has been breached, and it will be in every year in this Parliament.
The Opposition welcome increases in the employment rate, although we should acknowledge that such rises have not been seen everywhere—particularly not for young people, as my hon. Friend Sue Hayman pointed out—but the scandal of in-work poverty is one that Conservative Members really should attend to. I say to Dr Fox that it is not enough just to create the jobs; they need to be secure, sustainable and adequately remunerated to ensure that work really lifts families out of poverty. The Government’s strategy does not do that. Indeed, secure jobs and a secure economy are made all the more vulnerable by the Tory chaos over Europe.
We heard from the Chancellor yesterday that this was
“a Budget for the next generation”—[Hansard, 16 March 2015; Vol. 607, c. 995.]
and we heard from the Secretary of State for Education earlier today about the detail of the policies that would give effect to the Chancellor’s intentions. Concerns have been expressed by many of my hon. and right hon. Friends, including my hon. Friends the Members for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) and for Croydon North (Mr Reed). It is fair to say that there is real concern among Members on both sides of the House about the policy of forced academisation in the teeth of a report by the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, that is at best ambivalent about the performance of academy institutions.
The proposals are against the wishes of teachers—the Secretary of State herself said that we ought to treat them as professionals—and they ignore the fact that some, indeed many, local authority schools, especially primary schools, around the country perform extremely well. That was said by my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, the hon. Member for
There is no guarantee that failing academy chains will not expand their failure by absorbing more schools into their academy structures. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham specifically asked about that, but he received no reply from the Secretary of State. There is a lack of clarity, although the Secretary of State made a welcome commitment to look at the particular situation of co-operative schools, which was raised by my hon. Friend Mr Thomas. There are real worries that the proposals ignore the wishes of parents, who will no longer have the right to be on school governing bodies.
I understand what the hon. Lady is saying about academies, and she will have heard the points I made. Will she say whether Labour Members are now in favour of fairer funding for our schools, as they were when they were last in power?
Of course we are in favour of fairer funding, but as we have always said, the devil is in the detail. It is particularly important to ensure that it does not create a situation in which schools serving a large number of disadvantaged students lose out. That will be a challenge for the Government to address if they are not prepared to put in funding where it is most needed and make sure that that funding is sufficient.
We have heard several right hon. and hon. Members express the concern that the Secretary of State’s proposal for academisation will in fact replicate the massive top-down reorganisation we saw in the NHS. In particular, Sir Edward Leigh made that point. The proposal was not in the Conservative party manifesto, and we have not had the opportunity to put it to the electorate, but now it is being forced on us. [Interruption.] It is not Labour policy to force academisation on any successful school. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, Mr Gyimah, really ought to get the detail correct before he intervenes from a sedentary position.
We have heard real concerns about the crisis in teacher retention and, as my hon. Friend Imran Hussain said, in recruitment. The target for teacher recruitment has been missed in each of the past four years. In particular, there are recruitment issues in mathematics, an area that the Secretary of State wishes to expand. We heard no mention of how rising class sizes and the crisis in school places is to be addressed. There was no mention of the cuts to further education and sixth forms, and no acknowledgment of the need not just to increase the number of apprenticeships, but to improve their quality.
The proposals do not form a coherent and complete strategy for education for young people, and we must also remember that the Government’s failure of young people goes further than failing them in their education. I was particularly struck by the passionate speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and for Croydon North, who highlighted the slew of policies that have been or have the potential to be extremely threatening to the wellbeing of young people—from cuts to Sure Start and child protection to cuts to youth services.
My hon. Friend Dan Jarvis highlighted the IFS’s projections about the very worrying rise in child poverty during the course of this Parliament, and many colleagues have also raised concerns about young people’s lack of access to housing. We of course agree that many young people aspire to own their own homes, and we wish to see measures to support them to do so. It is very disappointing that, alongside that, the Government are not prepared to support young people who are renting, whether from choice or necessity. Indeed, the situation of those young people has been made significantly worse by cuts to housing benefit. Members from right around the House acknowledge that the fundamental problem in housing is the lack of supply. The central part of this Budget should have been about building more houses.
Inequality in the Budget stretches beyond young people. We heard again and again about the disproportionate burden of the cuts to tax credits and benefits and the tax changes that have fallen on women, and there does not seem to have been much progress in negotiating away the tampon tax. My hon. Friends the Members for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), and Ian Blackford, spoke about how the needs of women pensioners born in the early 1950s have been overlooked.
The Labour party is appalled at the further cuts to benefits for disabled people, which will shred the dignity of those who need help with dressing or using the toilet. We are also concerned about the geographic unfairness inherent in many of the measures announced by the Chancellor, which have been highlighted by my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), for Croydon North, and for Stockton North. In particular, given that the business rate cuts that will help small businesses are not being funded by central Government, they will place a significant burden on local authorities—[Interruption.] Well, I am glad to hear that, but we did not hear that from Ministers earlier. [Interruption.] I am pleased to acknowledge it if I am in error, but the issue was raised earlier and not challenged by Ministers. I would expect them to be more on the ball in defending their policies.
My hon. Friend Cat Smith highlighted the need to ensure that the extra support for communities devastated by flooding reaches those communities, and my hon. Friend Andy McDonald highlighted the need to ensure industrial investment in his constituency. Overall, this Budget will benefit the better off at the expense of the poorest. The Resolution Foundation stated that 80% of changes to income tax will benefit the 20% richest people in the country, and capital gains tax changes will certainly benefit the better off. The TUC says that workers are on average £40 a week worse off than they were before the recession. This Budget does not deliver fairness, prosperity or a secure future for the next generation. It is a hotch-potch of excuses, revisions, disguises and failures driven by ideology. That is not fair to today’s young people, or to the next generation.
Today’s young people can look forward to some of the most exciting opportunities that a generation has ever faced, but also to a much more uncertain world. They face a changing world order, where the economic and political dominance of the west is increasingly challenged by developing and emerging economies. They face a changing labour market, with a growing premium on high value added jobs and the knowledge economy. They are unlikely to stay in the same job for life, they are much less likely than their parents to have a defined benefit pension, and they face much higher house prices, albeit that those are greatly mitigated by the low interest rates that have come about from our sound economic stewardship.
That comes on top of long-standing issues that the Government inherited in 2010 but that, to be fair, have existed for much longer. There is a productivity gap between the UK and other major global economies, an educational gap between rich and poor and between different parts of the country, and a lack of financial resilience in many parts of the population, without even the cushion of a small savings account.
The Government have been facing up to those structural issues through our educational reforms, the revolution in apprenticeships and the national living wage. This Budget puts the next generation first. It builds up our young people’s skills, and builds the infrastructure for a modern economy and higher productivity. Alongside all that is rightly being done to increase housing supply, it also helps young people to save for their retirement and for owning a home, with all the security that that can bring. For many, the Budget makes possible a rainy-day savings cushion for the first time.
The Budget also commits £1.6 billion extra over this Parliament to education in England. Academies are a key part of our education reforms, as the Education Secretary outlined earlier, and research from the OECD, the European Commission, and others, has repeatedly shown that more autonomy for individual schools can help to raise standards.
Stephen Timms, my cloakroom neighbour, rightly talked about the performance of London schools and the London challenge. Many factors have gone into improving the performance of London schools. In fact, the improvement in performance predates the London challenge—the year the London challenge started is the year that the GCSE performance in London caught up with that of the rest of the country—but one of the factors in London’s outperformance was the school mix, including the disproportionate contribution to improvement made by academy schools.
The money announced in the Budget comes on top of what was announced in the spending review.
The right hon. Member for East Ham asked how the national funding formula would be done. We will consult on the principles through which it will work, but the intention is to ensure that it is fair and that it reflects need, unlike the rather arbitrary system we can have currently.
I am sorry but I am going to make some progress.
A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Huw Merriman, talked about post-16 maths. There is a massive premium on the study of maths and maths qualifications, as the report by Professor Alison Wolf identified. Maths will become more important as time goes on, but it is right that we ask the question and work out the best way to have further maths study, including by taking into consideration the questions that a number of hon. Members raised.
Hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson) and for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), raised the importance of sport in school. My hon. Friend Helen Whately rightly mentioned in an intervention that the difference in opportunity in sport and other extracurricular activities is part of the gap in opportunity between children in state schools and children in public schools. It is therefore very important for social mobility.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members talked about the levy on manufacturers and importers of sugary soft drinks. My hon. Friend Michelle Donelan movingly spoke of her own family and reminded us of the health benefit that is at the centre of the policy, which was also mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) and for Faversham and Mid Kent, and Dan Jarvis. Of course, we would rather not collect that much of that tax. The reason for the delay before it is introduced is to allow the manufacturers to change the formulation of their drinks or change their marketing so that they are pushing and promoting more the lower-sugar variants and products. We hope they will do so.
Rightly, a number of times in the debate, the important subject of the support that is given to people with disabilities has come up. I reassure the House that real-terms spending on the personal independence payment and its predecessor, the disability living allowance, has increased by more than £3 billion since 2010. The PIP budget will continue to increase from now until 2020. The reforms announced last week will bring spending closer to the level forecast in November and ensure that increased spend is targeted on those who need it most.
I am sorry but I will not give way.
We are exempting disability benefits from the uprating freeze and exempting recipients of them from the benefits cap. We are aiming to halve the massive employment gap between those with disabilities and those without. Over the past year, the number of disabled people in employment has risen by 150,000, but there is much more to do, hence the increase in the Budget for the Access to Work programme, the expansion of the Fit for Work scheme, and the increase in funding for dedicated employment advisers in IAPT— improving access to psychological therapies—services, among other programmes.
As today’s theme is education and young people, I should mention the replacement—it comes from the previous Parliament—of statements for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities with educational health and care plans, which for the first time bring together the care, health and education needs of some of our most vulnerable young people from the age of zero right up to 25. It is too early to measure the full effect of the programme, but most hon. Members would welcome it—I hope so.
On some of the other issues raised in today’s debate, Andy McDonald talked about the catapult proposal. I am not in a position to comment on that in detail, but I am very happy to hear more about it. My hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh talked about tax simplification. We have eliminated the carbon reduction commitment part of the tax system, and there is also the zero rating of petroleum revenue tax. We are making the filing of taxes easier and making sure there are more people in HMRC call centres to take calls.
On the carer’s allowance, raised by Dr Whiteford, the spend has increased by almost half since 2010. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole rightly mentioned the increased funding to deal with homelessness and the attention being given to provide second stage accommodation for people leaving hostels and refuges.
Patricia Gibson and Kate Green—it is a pleasure to speak opposite the hon. Lady from the Dispatch Box for what I think is the first time—suggested that inequality was rising due to the Government’s policies and the Budget. Inequality is actually coming down. The simple fact is that, if we look at the effect of policy over the period, the pattern of how public spending goes to different income groups in society remains broadly flat, while the incidence of taxation has shifted towards the top end.
My right hon. Friend Dr Fox and my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent reminded us of the Government’s employment record. I remind the Opposition that the bulk of those jobs have been in full-time and higher-skilled occupations. My hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for Reading West (Alok Sharma) and for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) reminded us that only business can create the wealth that gives security to families, and affords us the excellent schools and our world-leading national health service. We are therefore right to reform small business rate relief; fuel duty, which is an important cost for many businesses; and corporation tax to make sure that investment is incentivised, while at the same time introducing a further £8 billion package on tax avoidance by multinationals. We say that we are going to have a very competitive tax system and that we want to attract investment to this country, but when companies operate in this country we expect them to pay the full tax that is due.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was candid with the House about the challenges facing the global economy. They are challenges from which no economy is immune, particularly a globally connected, trading economy such as ours. That is why it is so important to make Britain fit for the future, whatever challenges may lie ahead. It is why we focus on stability, employment, enterprise, innovation and opportunity. It is why we put in place policies helping people at every stage in their lives: from early-years childcare, to financial security and dignity in old age.
The reforms in education announced in this year’s Budget take that agenda forward. They help our aim of creating a society where everybody can achieve their aspirations and fulfil their potential—for children to get the best start in life, regardless of background; for them to be able to go to work in businesses as committed and skilled employees, companies that are incentivised towards productive capital investment; for young people to get on to the housing ladder; for our towns and cities to prosper, and to attract investment; for families to save for their retirement; and for everyone in our society to have a stake in the prosperity that, through this Budget, this Government are continuing to deliver.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the Minister for being very quick in his remarks and allowing a little time. I just wanted to know what he thought of Councillor Edgar, from his own authority, who stated that he was very angry with the Chancellor about the proposals brought forward yesterday for academisation. He almost sounds ready to rip up his Conservative card, so upset is he about the fact that all schools—[Interruption.] He is a local authority man who is very proud of his schools and who would like to reiterate his dedication to education—
Order. The hon. Lady has made her point, but a response is not possible. Things are rather in the wrong order.
The debate stood adjourned (
Ordered, That the debate be resumed on