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Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:04 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar 5:04 pm, 14th March 2017

After seven years of economic failure, missed deficit reduction targets, deteriorating public services, increasingly insecure employment, and an explosion in the number of food banks supporting working people, my expectations for this Conservative Budget were already low, but have we ever had a Budget so lacking in substance? With breathtaking complacency, it made no mention of the greatest economic challenge facing this country: Brexit. It is clear from the debate this afternoon that the Government have no clue about what they want from Brexit or how much it is going to cost.

Eliminating the UK’s deficit by 2015 used to be the Government’s overriding goal. That target has now been dumped and public debt is climbing to almost £2 trillion. Is this the long-term economic plan so often wildly cheered from the Government Benches? Our public services have paid the price of failure. NHS waiting lists are rising, and our social care system faces a huge funding black hole. In Redcar and Cleveland, the amount spent on social care has gone down in real terms by a fifth under this Government despite rising demand, and there are 400 fewer police officers keeping our streets safe in Cleveland.

Our schools are losing funding, too. In Redcar and Cleveland, schools will lose a whopping £7.8 million by 2020—£422 per pupil in one of the most deprived areas in the country. As my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman said, while our primary schools are in the top 10 in the country, our secondary schools desperately need more support, and the newly departed Lord Heseltine highlighted our poor secondary education in his report on the Tees valley. When the Government close our steelworks and batter our local economy, leading to the loss of over 3,000 jobs and a youth unemployment rate two and a half times the national average, the Secretary of State for Education owes it to our region to invest in the future of our young people, not to snuff out their potential before they have begun.

Teesside has suffered from the loss of well-paid industrial jobs and from falling living standards. Unemployment in the Tees valley has been above 10% for most of the time that the Conservatives have been in office. Austerity has hit many families in my constituency. Over 2,000 people were affected by the bedroom tax and others by unfair benefit sanctions and cuts to tax credits. Living standards are falling, with average annual wages forecast to rise much more slowly than expected over the next four years. At the same time, families are turning to credit to make ends meet. The household debt forecast has been revised up to £189 billion by 2021.

What Teessiders really needed from this Budget was support on the big challenges we face: infrastructure, industry, and skills to give our local economy the boost it needs. Despite the difficulties of the past few years, I strongly believe that our region is on the cusp of a new industrial renaissance. A high degree of investment and development is coming to the region, including the petrochemicals site at Wilton and the former SSI site. Sirius Minerals and MGT Power are both investing in Redcar and Cleveland. However, that investment, and the opportunities that come with it, will not benefit local people unless there is a skills revolution and we get the necessary technical education to capitalise on future industrial opportunities.

The Chancellor did not face up to the challenges facing our country or our workforce. He did not take action to address the unfairness that is holding back areas such as mine. The north-east continues to lose out on regional investment, funding for infrastructure, and investment in education and skills to develop the industries of the future. The Budget made no mention of the north of England, of the so-called northern powerhouse or, indeed, of the industrial strategy, as pointed out by my hon. Friend and neighbour Mr Wright.

What is more, the future of Teesside’s economic resilience will depend upon the success of our small and medium-sized businesses. Many small local businesses have been in touch with me about the huge impact of the Government’s business rates revaluation. The Chancellor’s measures to soften the burden are welcome, but there will still be a rise for most. Moreover, the area’s self-employed workers will not have been happy to learn that their national insurance contributions will rise, despite a manifesto promise by the Tories not to increase them. Many ex-steelworkers went self-employed after the closures, with Government funding actively encouraging them, and now many will be hit by the rise. The wrong priorities were at the heart of this Budget. It was a paper-thin, miserable, brittle Budget that came after seven years of crippling economic failure and austerity. I heard no vision in it for a post-Brexit Britain or for the Tees valley.