Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:26 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Garston and Halewood 5:26 pm, 14th March 2017

The Budget was more about what the Chancellor did not say than what he did. It is incredible that the consequences of us leaving the EU—the biggest cause of uncertainty and the biggest threat to our economic wellbeing in a generation—got no significant mention at all in the Budget. That fact alone is enough to render the Budget a failure, but it was not the only failure. Most Chancellors at least get to see good headlines the next morning, but not so “Spreadsheet Phil”, as the right hon. Gentleman likes to be known. However, the way in which the Prime Minister, her Chancellor, their close allies, ministerial aides and senior sources have been denouncing each other over the weekend—in the most vituperative terms—show just what his own colleagues think of him breaching a manifesto promise in his Budget.

Apart from the considerable entertainment value of all this briefing and counter-briefing, which shows the dysfunction at the heart of this blundering, fractious and divided Government, I find it astonishing that no one in the entire Cabinet spotted the howling, broken election promise at the heart of the Budget when the Chancellor briefed them on his plans. They have all been whinging to the newspapers that the Chancellor did not flag it up, but they all stood on a manifesto that promised no increase in income tax, national insurance contributions or VAT for the entire five years of this Parliament. They all repeated that ad nauseam during the election campaign, yet none of them noticed. I would not have expected that they had all forgotten about it, but apparently they all managed to put it right out of their minds. It shows just how cynical this Tory Government really are that the entire Cabinet failed to remember their main election tax promise within two years of winning that election. Some 5,400 people in my constituency, some of whom earn less than £17,000, will now have to pay more, and not all of them are self-employed by choice.

I will say a little bit about education because there are real challenges in my constituency. Schools are facing a real squeeze. There are some figures that the Secretary of State did not give us in her opening remarks. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, thanks to the Lib Dem-Tory coalition Government and the current Tory Government, spending per pupil fell by 14% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2015-16, and is due to fall by a further 6.5% between 2015-16 and 2019-20. That is before the new schools funding formula hits many schools with more cuts. In the Liverpool part of my constituency, another £3.6 million will be lost as a result. According to the National Union of Teachers, there will, on average, be a further 10% funding cut by 2020 for schools in my constituency. That is threatening the future of many schools.

A letter I have received from the head and governing body of St Francis Xavier’s College in my constituency spells out the reality of the financial pressures it is under. It cites increases in the salary bill because of unfunded public sector pay awards; higher pensions and higher national insurance contributions; the removal of the education support grant in September this year; the apprenticeship levy, which is payable from April; and losses in per capita sixth-form funding. As a consequence, the college has reduced its leadership team and their salaries and lost 13 staff to voluntary severance, and it has six teaching posts unfilled. It says:

“We are extremely concerned about the potential impact of the forthcoming national funding formula. The impact of this is likely to make it impossible that the college can remain financially stable and this will have a detrimental effect upon the educational provision for pupils in a city which has amongst the highest levels of deprivation in the UK”.

This is a popular, over-subscribed school. I have written to the Secretary of State about the issue, but I have yet to receive a reply. I can assure her that SFX is not the only school in my constituency with these problems.

This situation is a disaster for our schools, but the Budget has made it worse, when it could have made it better. In divisive and unfair measures, the Government have set aside £1 billion to fund new free schools and the Prime Minister’s back-to-the-1950s grammar schools vanity project. They have also agreed to pay school transport costs for poorer pupils, but only those who attend selective schools. Young people who live in Halewood, in my constituency, who can no longer study for academic A-levels without leaving the borough are to get no such help, even though they are from some of the most deprived families in the country, and even though education could help to give them better life chances.

When I asked the Minister responsible for the school system, Lord Nash, what assistance the Government could offer to ensure that Halewood kids can get transport to study A-levels, he said in a recent letter:

“It would be unfair to offer free transport to young people in one area of the Country and not to others.”

Quite, but that is precisely what the Chancellor has just done in his Budget—although only if pupils are attending a divisive selective grammar school. How typically Tory. The Chancellor has offered Halewood kids who want to study A-levels precisely nothing, because he is spending all the money on recreating the Prime Minister’s 1950s grammar school myth.

That is why Labour, in office, banned grammars, put money into rebuilding all our schools, doubled funding per pupil, and employed 36,000 more teachers and 250,000 teaching assistants. After seven years of the Lib Dem-Tories and the Tories, our schools are in crisis again, with class sizes going up, GCSE pass rates going down and teachers fleeing the profession. This Budget has done nothing to stop the rot; instead, it has set about doing even more damage and causing even more division.