Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 8th March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee 3:33 pm, 8th March 2017

My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. In the coming weeks, the Public Accounts Committee will be looking into the proposal for retention of business rates, and how effective and efficient that would be. I will keep my hon. Friend and other Members informed, because this is a cross-party issue that concerns many of us. I welcome the changes, but I worry that they do not go far enough and that there may be hidden costs.

The Chancellor mentioned tax, but I was disappointed that he did not say whether the Government would be considering tax reliefs. The Public Accounts Committee does a fair amount of work on tax, as does the Treasury Committee. There are many tax reliefs out there that cost more than was budgeted for them, some of which lie fallow in the system for too long without challenge. When we have challenged HMRC to publish its list of reliefs, it has been very reluctant to do so. We find that extraordinary, because transparency would enable effective and serious change to take place. It is possible that, quite often, industries, individuals and companies point out that some of the tax reliefs are no longer fit for purpose. I believe that the Black Beer tax relief, which had been on the statute book for more than 100 years, was dropped only recently. Perhaps that is the pace at which some of these matters are considered, and perhaps we should urge the Government to think a bit faster about whether tax reliefs are delivering what they set out to deliver.

The Chancellor talked a great deal about the security and dignity of people at work. I echo what some of my hon. Friends have said about the impact on the self-employed, of whom there are a large number in my constituency, but I was particularly disappointed that the Chancellor did not refer to people in low-paid, part-time jobs. Many of them want to work more hours, but their employers do not create full-time jobs because of disincentives in the tax system and, in particular, the national insurance system.

Those people, many of whom are doing multiple part-time jobs, are at the difficult end of the scale. They are working hard, and they are paying tax because they are over the threshold, so they do not receive free benefits such as dental care. They are struggling to survive: “Just About Managing” barely covers it. They find it very hard to reach the next rung of the ladder. I think that it behoves the Treasury to have a close look at that situation, and I intend to take it up with the Minister outside the Chamber.

The national living wage is very welcome in my constituency, but we do need to look at the knock-on effects. It is already causing huge challenges—for example, in delivering social care. I hope the Treasury is working across government to look at how it can ameliorate the impact on the costs of provision in some sectors.

This is not a Budget that is really on the side of ordinary people, because of the impact on the self-employed, the lack of action on the lowest paid, the smoke and mirrors on funding for the NHS and social care, and the facts that there are too many short-term cash injections into the NHS, that it is not looking at the evidence before injecting more money into programmes like the free school programme and that there are no measures to support stability in low-paid jobs. The Budget therefore leaves many questions unanswered. In particular, there is the fact that, as many Members have pointed out, the Chancellor did not really address the elephant in the room: how will Brexit affect our economy and what measures will he take at the Treasury to make sure he provides a buffer?