I have the dubious honour of being the final speaker in this debate. [Hon. Members: “No, you’re not.”] There is not much in this Budget to excite me or my constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran. We are no wiser as to when the Ayrshire growth deal will kick off. If warm words were investment we would have made huge progress with this deal, but we need more than warm words and good wishes to improve the lives of those living in the communities crying out for investment, like Saltcoats, Kilbirnie, Stevenston.
We have had some tinkering with universal credit, but nothing like what is needed, nor have any measures been taken, despite repeated demands, to pause and halt this benefit in order to make it fit for purpose. Nothing has been done to end the wage discrimination against young people, and the Government continue to perpetuate the myth of their national living wage when it is clear that the real living wage—the wage that takes into account the actual cost of living—is the right thing for workers. The Tories and the Labour party are still opposing the Scottish Parliament having this authority over wage levels, there is no commitment to end exploitative unpaid work trials and still no support for the Scottish Parliament to have any control over employment law. Such is the terror of Scotland being a beacon of progressive politics in this regard that presumably the logic is, “If we go down, we all go down together.”
We have had much talk today about welfare. The £30 billion of welfare cuts voted through in 2015 by both Labour and the Tories has exacerbated child poverty in my constituency, and yesterday’s Budget did nothing to target child poverty. We have been told by the Resolution Foundation that tax cuts overwhelmingly benefit richer households, with almost half of them set to go to the top 10% of households, yet, disappointingly, we hear that Labour will abstain on that—and that is particularly disappointing given that Labour in Scotland have been throwing up their hands in horror at the SNP Government not raising taxes to yet higher levels.
The Budget did nothing to address the £175 million paid by Police Scotland in VAT bills, coming straight out of frontline policing, at the same time as we have academy schools in England being given special dispensation from paying VAT. Perhaps someone on the Government Benches could explain that anomaly.
We have had nothing for the victims of the HELMS—Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Systems—green deal swindle, which left people with huge debts. We also have communities without their banks, like Kilwinning, Saltcoats and Kilbirnie. The Chancellor has given us no guarantees over the future sale of RBS shares to safeguard the interests of the taxpayer. We have had nothing for the WASPI women, who have been robbed—mugged—of thousands of pounds. We have had nothing on the civil nuclear police officers, who face dramatic and unsustainable changes to their pensions.
The decision in the Budget to press ahead with the pensions cold-calling ban is welcome. However, if the reason for this ban is to protect people from these calls—and I assume it is—I cannot help but wonder at the delay in implementing my own ten-minute rule Bill from 2016, which called for director-level responsibility for nuisance calls. The UK Government support this and have repeatedly said so. They even reprinted the Bill and put it in the name of one of their own Back-Bench MPs, which is ironic given that the Bill tries to deal with scamming, but still no date for implementation has been set.
The delay in reducing the stake for fixed odds betting terminals is appalling, because it is down to pressure exerted by Back-Bench Tory MPs who appear to be in thrall to the bookmaking industry. This is a pressing issue in my constituency because we have 135 of these machines, with local players losing an estimated £5 million on those terminals in 2016 alone, causing untold misery across our communities.
I could go on, but I will end by saying this: this Budget does almost nothing to improve the lives of my constituents and is a massive missed opportunity. I think so and I am sure the majority of my constituents will think so, too. The Chancellor needs to go back to the drawing board.