I draw hon. Members’ attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The Government’s party conference this summer boasted of opportunity, but this week’s Budget smacks of a wasted opportunity. It is a wasted opportunity to present an economy that embraces the challenges and sees them as opportunities for all, and it fails to address the urgent threat of climate change or the chance to reskill for automation. It is a vision lacking in imagination on how to renew our towns beyond rate reductions. There is a much-needed and overdue injection of cash for our NHS, but the King’s Fund and the Health Foundation say that it is still not enough. The party that says, “F— business” on Brexit still gives us FA for FE, with colleges not even mentioned. There is no intervention to move from low-skilled to high-skilled work and no plan for the rise of the robots and the promise of AI and automation. Wages and growth are not moving and public services continue to be ignored. Austerity continues—it does not end—and the Government have no vision for what is next.
There is more money for potholes than for schools—is there a better metaphor for what this Tory decade has become, plugging the holes after years of neglect and being run over? There is yet more evidence of the Government taking councils such as mine in Bury to breaking point, with £100 million ripped from Bury’s local services from 2010 to 2020. That is 80% of the council’s budget gone on their watch.
Just three weeks after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark report highlighting the grave threat of climate change, there was not a single reference to climate change in the Chancellor’s speech. There is nothing on investing in new national industries or renewable energy and the creation of new jobs, and there is nothing to tackle air pollution and the chaos facing commuters in Bury or on plans to switch polluting buses to new, clean-energy vehicles.
The Chancellor’s 1.5% average growth for the next five years will not stand a chance, with or without a Brexit deal. Talk of a Brexit dividend hits the pit of my stomach when I recall what the real job creators in Bury tell me. Of course, some certainty will bring economic relief, but to limit our ambitions for the economy to this, is another wasted opportunity. I join local shopkeepers in welcoming the planned cut in business rates, but the Budget does not do enough to back entrepreneur centres such as Bury. Good economic growth needs these nimble-footed risk takers. We need emerging entrepreneurs getting access to finance so that they can grow with loans that do not put the family home on the line or cost the earth to take out. Many entrepreneurs come home after a day at work and log on to sell, serve or trade once the kids are in bed.
As a country, we have the lowest business investment in the G7, while public sector investment is now £18 billion lower than in 2010. The OBR says that we are facing the biggest wage slump in 200 years. Payday is evermore further away for so many. Costs soar. Homelessness can now be found in towns as well as cities and baby banks for baby clothes are joining food banks.
This wasted opportunity Budget failed to address the urgent crisis facing education. The obnoxious phrase that defines the Budget was the “little extras”. There is nothing to plug a £2 billion-a-year funding shortfall and the 8% real-terms cut in per-pupil funding. Why have the Government got such a blind spot on further education and sixth-form colleges, with spending per student set to return next year to the level that it was 30 years ago?
We know this: we cannot expect a family that is just about managing to get to the end of the month to be served or understood by a Government trying to survive to the end of March. The challenges that we face as a country are imperative, but the answers that we get in this Budget are impotent. This is a wasted opportunity, from a wasted opportunity of a Government.