After eight years of austerity, people in St Helens are today, more than ever, feeling the effects of the swingeing cuts to our schools, our police, our NHS and our local government services. I am afraid to say that nothing announced in this Budget by the Chancellor can undo the impact that those cuts have had on our community and families right across the borough that I represent.
St Helens Council will have lost 71% of its central Government funding by 2020—the equivalent of over £500 for every man, woman and child in our borough. It is just short of two years’ worth of the entire social care budget at a time when almost 5,000 adults in the borough are in need of long-term care and almost 2,000 vulnerable children are in care or need some form of long-term protection. Meanwhile, the number of residents over the age of 90 is set to triple in the next 20 years and the number of those with dementia is set to increase by almost 60% in the next decade.
Unbelievably, the Chancellor said that he was announcing a “funding bonus” for schools to help with the “little extras”. Does he think that teachers and books are “little extras”? Those are what local schools tell me they cannot afford. There have been funding reductions of nearly £400 per pupil in my constituency, equivalent to over 200 teaching posts gone. This Friday, I am attending an emergency meeting at an outstanding primary school to see how we are going to address its deficit of £90,000 this year and £200,000 next year. When we hear those on the Government Benches, it seems that pupils, parents and teachers should be grateful for the £10,000 for the “little extras”.
Although I welcome the Government’s new found interest in renewing our high streets, I will be seeking clarity about how much of that is new money, and how much will be allocated to towns like St Helens and Newton-le-Willows. There must also be clarity from the Government about who is going to pay—it should be Whitehall, not the town hall.
Over the past eight years, the Government have taken billions of pounds from our public services and from the pockets of working people. St Helens and places like it have been disproportionately burdened with those cuts and a reduction in wages and living standards. If the Budget means that even the smallest fraction of some of the money taken is being returned, the Government can rest assured that I will be holding them to account and fighting to make sure that my community gets its fair share.
It is a tough time. There is a lot of uncertainty around Brexit: funding from the European Union has driven regeneration in some of the most deprived communities in Merseyside, but now we face the prospect of north-west economic growth slowing by 12%. In any scenario, my community will be poorer. I want to be clear: I did not come into politics to do anything that would make my constituents poorer, and I am not going to do it now. I accept that we are leaving the European Union, but I do not accept that in doing so we wilfully cause an economic catastrophe that will have a devastating impact on communities and business in the constituency that I represent and cause people who live there untold hardship.
Despite the challenges, we are ambitious. We are home to one of the best and largest chambers of commerce in the country. Our Ambassador programme brings together business leaders from right across the borough. The company Communications Plus in Rainford has won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise. ATG Access, its products made in St Helens, is at this very moment protecting us in this building and protecting many iconic buildings across the world. We have just had an international pharmaceutical company relocate, creating 200 jobs. The Liverpool city region, under Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, is investing in our infrastructure, with a new station at Newton-le-Willows and new road improvements at Windle Island. In sport, we will be a host venue for the Rugby League world cup. Most excitingly, 25 years after a Tory Government closed Parkside colliery in my constituency, we are on the shortlist to be the UK centre for a world-leading train manufacturer and for it to locate its business here. We are also achieving investment and working hard to be a nationally recognised centre for arts and culture. We have a music board, created by UK Music, to help to enhance the £135 million that music already contributes to our regional economy.
To conclude, the community I represent is resilient. It got through the ravages of deindustrialisation under a previous Tory Government. It will survive austerity and it will get through Brexit. Its civic, community and business leaders are proud of its past and ambitious for its future, but we need and we demand the tools from Government. If we have them, there is no limit to what we can achieve.