I must confess that I feel as though the Chancellor has dusted off the black polo neck that he apparently used to wear as a young man and has delivered to us a box of Milk Tray, such are the delights that we heard about this morning. I want to run through a few of them before I get to the coffee cream and the nutty centre, which may provide a little more grist to the mill.
On schools and skills, more money in the system is extremely welcome. I particularly welcome the formalisation of training in the new T-levels. A huge number of young people in my constituency will look to those new qualifications with glee and will be pleased to participate in them. Such careers are increasingly developing as an alternative to going to university. A lot of young people want to get straight into the workforce, so the qualifications will be extremely welcome.
Similarly, the new money for the social care system will be welcome in constituencies such as mine, where the average age is higher than the national average. I have a large number of older people, and they often get trapped in the health service and look to the Government to help them to transfer back home, and back to a happy life.
Although the vast majority of businesses in my constituency are seeing a reduction in their business rates bill—hooray!—some smaller pubs in which there has been particular investment, and that have had success in trading over the past few years, have been presented with quite large rises, notwithstanding the transitional relief available. It is extremely welcome that the Government are making more money available to those pubs, and a foaming pint will be raised to the Chancellor at The Wellington Arms in Baughurst this evening.
I will now pick out and welcome one or two of the more obscure items mentioned by the Chancellor that have not been part of the general debate. His commitment to science as part of the British economic mix over the next few years is extremely welcome. His predecessor had a similar commitment, but the current Chancellor has made a point of mentioning science in pretty much every announcement he has made.
The £300 million allocation towards more PhDs and more research into innovative technologies, particularly in academia, is extremely welcome, as is the crucial simplification of research and development tax credits. If we are to bring together the alchemy of private capital and publicly backed science, we need to make it as simple and as easy as possible, so the encouragement to companies to invest capital in order to take advantage of R and D tax credits in a simplified way is extremely welcome.
The Chancellor also announced a Green Paper on consumer markets, which will be critical over the coming years, because notwithstanding the fact that the internet has disrupted a number of consumer markets, including insurance and energy, there is too little uptake by consumers of the advantages that the internet provides in markets such as energy and telecoms. Some 90% of people have yet to consider switching their energy provider, but by doing so, they could save a huge amount of money. Those areas need to be looked at, and I will participate in the Green Paper with enthusiasm.
The NHS capital programme is absolutely key, and it is brilliant that we are getting more support. In North West Hampshire, we are looking at a whole new model of operation around a new critical treatment hospital at junction 7 of the M3. The clinical commissioning group is wrestling with the issue at the moment, so more resources to help it would be fantastic.
Finally, domestic violence is an issue with which we have struggled. When I was doing the policing job at City Hall, we were the world’s first major capital city to introduce a strategy to address violence against women and girls, and we did so with our own resources. That was followed shortly thereafter by the Government, under the leadership of the then Home Secretary, now Prime Minister. It is fantastic to see her ongoing commitment, through the Chancellor, to investing in this important area.
Now on to the coffee creams. I am grateful to the Financial Secretary—this is part of her responsibilities—and the Chancellor for listening to the howls of anguish about “Making tax digital”, the prospect of quarterly returns of information to the Inland Revenue, and the burden that would place on small businesses. The extra year for those below the VAT threshold is extremely welcome. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Financial Secretary will appreciate that many of the small businesses that will be left out of the easing of that obligation will now feel that they should be included. I hope that she and her colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will be open to more conversations about how the system can be improved.
I accept that the path, in reporting business taxation, should be towards digital, as there will be enormous savings for the Government and for businesses, but I encourage the Financial Secretary to listen to the professional and business organisations that still think the Government can go further to make the system work. I am more than happy to sit down with her to talk about that, but I am grateful for the fact that she has listened to the campaign by me and others.
Finally, it will come as an enormous relief to an awful lot of businesses that the predictions of doom and gloom before the referendum have not come to pass, and that the macroeconomic picture is improving, forecast by forecast. Every organisation, from the OECD and the OBR to the Bank of England and, indeed, a lot of private forecasters, have revised their ideas about the economy upwards with every month and quarter that passes. That is a great relief.