I welcome this Budget. It is the positive Budget our country needs as we look to the future after leaving the EU.
The Budget sends a positive message to hard-working people by raising the living wage, raising the tax threshold and putting extra money into universal credit. We are putting extra money into people’s pockets every month, which will be welcomed across the country.
It is also a positive Budget for business. The Federation of Small Businesses said, rightly, that it is the most pro-small business Budget for many years. There are many measures to help businesses across the country, particularly small businesses. The measures to help with business rates on the high street are welcome. The two main towns of my constituency, St Austell and Newquay, have real challenges in filling units to achieve a thriving high street, so the measures to reduce the business rates burden on those shops are hugely welcome and will go a long way to starting to address some of the challenges we face.
I thank the Chancellor for his decision to exempt public toilets from business rates, on which I have personally campaigned for six years. Back in 2012, I was the cabinet member on Cornwall Council with responsibility for public toilets, and I spent a year travelling Cornwall to visit far too many of them. Back then it struck me as ridiculous that we were charging business rates on public toilets; it was a real barrier to many small parish councils being able to keep those toilets open. It is very welcome that, after six years of pressing the issue, we have the right decision. This measure will go a long way to support tourism in Cornwall.
I also welcome the commitment in the Red Book to improve and increase the resilience of the railway line at Dawlish. I am sure many Members will remember the awful scenes in 2014 when the line on the south coast of Devon was washed away. We have done a lot of work, and the Government have already spent a lot of money to improve resilience, but we need to do a proper job. It is a welcome commitment in the Red Book that the Government will move forward with that next year.
We need now to press Network Rail to come up with a deliverable plan, and ensure that it gets properly funded and is delivered as soon as possible, because that railway link is vital to the Cornish economy. A lot of positive things are going on in Cornwall right now, but we need to make sure our transport connectivity is resilient and sustainable and continues to operate properly.
I wish to mention a couple of things that are happening in Cornwall, or potentially happening there, and that I hope the Government will continue to take note of. I have mentioned the opportunity of the spaceport in Cornwall in this Chamber today, but I want to really make the case, as it will be a huge boost to the Cornish economy. We welcome the measures the Government are taking to support the space industry. I believe Cornwall is very well positioned to play a major part in achieving the Government’s space ambitions. Our recently confirmed partnership between Spaceport Cornwall and Virgin Orbit puts us in a good place to deliver the horizontal capability we need to see developed.
Large deposits of lithium have also been discovered in Cornwall. With the growing demand for that metal for batteries, it is very much not only in Cornwall’s interest, to revive our mining industry, but in the national interest to secure a domestic supply of this very important metal. I urge the Government to continue to support these emerging industries in Cornwall so that we can make sure that the potential is realised.
I want to finish by mentioning one thing I was disappointed about in the Budget: the increase in air passenger duty. At a time when we should be giving a clear message to the rest of the world that Britain is competitive on the global stage, raising APD is a disappointing step. I plead with the Treasury to hold APD and not increase it any more in the future to make sure that we are competitive and that Britain is very much able to operate on the world stage.