This Budget has shown that the Government’s contention that austerity is over is not correct. Austerity is not over, and it runs deep throughout this Budget.
I want to start in the local sense, for me, with the north Wales growth deal. For the past three years, the Government have promised a growth deal for north Wales, and that has been put in the Red Book, but no money has been delivered. This Budget has delivered a figure of £120 million for the north Wales growth deal. I give that a cautious welcome initially. It will help with the purchase of land and the development of business; with transport and with infrastructure; and with the digital activity—connectivity in terms of a range of issues—that we want to see in north Wales.
Despite that cautious welcome, there are still some challenges with the growth deal. North Wales remains underwhelmed at the amount of resource that is being put towards the deal. On receiving the announcement, the Assembly’s Finance Secretary, Mark Drakeford, said that it falls
“some way short of what we and the people of north Wales have been expecting and working hard towards”.
A business leader in north Wales, Askar Sheibani, who is the chairman of the Deeside business forum and the managing director of a major technical company, has said that this deal will leave the people of north Wales angry:
“We were expecting a lot more than that”.
The work that has been done by my hon. Friend Ian C. Lucas, by Assembly Members, by local government and by business means that we should have received, potentially, £340 million. There have been meetings with the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Mims Davies; I can see Ministers on the Treasury Bench looking closely at what has been said.
We want to know, from a north Wales perspective, what deals have been done with local government to date, what assurances we have got for the National Assembly about match funding for this money, what support we have got for businesses, and what projects, and when, will be put on the ground in the near future with the £120 million. We have come a long way to date, and there has been a lot of co-operation, but we need more support for the future. The cautious welcome will have to remain cautious until we get answers to those questions.
I said that austerity is not over, and it is clear from the Red Book that it is not. Let us look at some of the figures in the Red Book. Let us take, for example, the Home Office. This year’s budget is £10.8 billion; the 2019-20 budget is £10.7 billion. This is at a time when police officer numbers have been cut by 21,000 from when I had the honour of being Policing Minister in 2010; when as my hon. Friend Louise Haigh has pointed out, only today the National Police Chiefs Council is potentially taking the Government to court over £165 million-worth of investment on pensions; and when shoplifting is up by 4%, robbery is up by 11%, theft is up by 6%, violence is up by 13%, and sexual offences are up by 46%. The Government are going to fall back on local taxpayers, yet again, to bail out the funding for policing. The Government themselves should be funding policing.
For the Ministry for Justice, this year’s figure is £6.3 billion and next year’s figure is £6 billion. That is a £300 million reduction in expenditure at a time when prison officers are under stress and attacks on prisoners are increasing—when there is a real challenge in the prison system. For the International Trade Department, at a time when we have the uncertainties that are facing us with Brexit, there is a cut of 25%—not much optimism about doing trade deals there.
Throughout the position set out in the Red Book, there are deep cuts in a range of key budget areas. This is at a time when the Government are also ensuring that almost half of the income tax cuts in the Budget are going to the top 10% of households, and when three quarters of the £12 billion welfare cuts—including the changes announced which are not really going to meet the problems of universal credit—remain Government policy from the 2015 election. Nobody begrudges a tax cut to middle-income doctors, nurses and police professionals, but yet again the Government have not raised the 40% tax rate to 45%. They have cut the bank levy from £2.6 billion to £1.1 billion. They are going to raise £32 billion from council tax this year but £40 billion in three years’ time. They are going to transfer the responsibility for funding to people on the ground rather than having central Government funding.
There are some things to welcome in this Budget, but austerity is still present, hurting my constituents’ incomes and the public services they depend on.