Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:41 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North 4:41 pm, 14th March 2017

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. As the niece of a black cab driver, I should really declare an interest.

It seems that, as far as the Chancellor is concerned, the “strivers” that his party claims to stand up for are not striving quite hard enough. It is beyond belief that at a time when Britain needs to rebuild and rejuvenate its economy, this Government have chosen to impose a tax on hard work and entrepreneurship. It is also a tax on aspiration, something that we should promote, not attack. I remind hon. Members that this was billed by many as the last pre-Brexit Budget, yet the glaring omission in the Chancellor’s plans was any clear vision of what Britain might look like after Brexit and what sort of investment and Government support might be needed to get us there.

As for constituencies like mine, which voted overwhelmingly to leave, there seemed to be no consideration of the investment and support needed to make sure that places like Stoke-on-Trent can benefit and thrive from our new relationship with the world. There is no clearer example of this than the Government’s approach to education and skills, which is the single biggest issue raised by all the employers and educators in my constituency when we discuss industrial strategy—another phrase sorely missed from the Budget.

Schools in my constituency are losing an average of £400 per pupil, and our city is crying out for proper investment in skills and education. Instead, the Chancellor is choking the life out of our public education system, while pouring millions into a doomed experiment in selective education. That lack of commitment to our wider education system is deeply concerning, because the single most important thing that we can do to improve the economy of my great city and others is to improve the skills of the people who live and work there.

It is not a lack of will that is holding my young people back: they are enthusiastic and keen to work. What is missing is the support and investment to ensure that they are fulfilling their potential, learning the skills that they need in order to succeed and gaining the qualifications to prove it. Last week I visited a wonderful primary school in my constituency—the best primary school in the city, even—which is already having to choose between teachers and computers. It is not two to one for books; it is two to one for computers. That is why it is so wrong —at a time when we should be upskilling our communities for the challenges of the future so that they can embrace the fourth industrial revolution—for the Government to focus on a grammar school system that will benefit only a select few and overwhelmingly favour those from more privileged backgrounds, rather than providing the basics for every child in every school.

We need to ensure that all our schools are properly funded, and that we have a robust system of early intervention to support the most vulnerable families right from the start. That is why our children’s centres, our primary and secondary schools and our further education system need investment, not vanity projects. If we are to make the best out of Brexit, which we now desperately need to do, we must ensure that our communities are ready to seize those opportunities. We need a workforce that is ready for the jobs of the future, we need a universal and properly funded education system, and we need to ensure that all our young people are supported so that they can realise their potential. We need a better deal for the next generation, not this ideologically driven waste of public funds.