It is a pleasure to follow Marsha De Cordova. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in today’s debate and to welcome this Budget, which is a positive one for my constituents in Mansfield and Warsop.
It was not a major headline, but I was especially pleased that the Government committed in the Red Book to support communities to make the most of their local assets, including village halls and miners’ welfare facilities, and that the Treasury has listened to my representations on that subject. Only last week in Westminster Hall, I asked the Government to support miners’ welfare facilities and boost funding for their upkeep, particularly for sports facilities. During the debate I spoke of the importance of those facilities for coalfield communities, especially in terms of sports provision, as they exist in areas that generally top the statistics in terms of poor health and inactivity. Help to manage and improve those facilities, which were once the heart of coalfield communities, can bring them back to life and get more people engaged in sport and physical activity, which will save money for our local services and the NHS.
The future high streets fund is a great initiative. Mansfield town centre is a huge local priority of mine, with some brilliant local shops on the high street. I hope that the availability of this funding to support positive and regenerative plans will add further pressure to my calls for Mansfield District Council to pull together a proper plan and vision to regenerate the town centre.
The Chancellor’s commitment to help small shops by cutting business rates by a third for small retailers is also great news for Mansfield. It will mean an annual saving of up to £8,000 for up to 90% of all independent shops, pubs, restaurants and cafés and can help us to fill high street lettings, to give much needed breathing room to small businesses and to assist in bringing people back to the high street. In next year’s comprehensive spending review, I would like to see the Treasury go further and undertake a fundamental reform of business rates. It is a 20th-century tax in the 21st century, and we need to look at it more closely. Those two announcements for town centres are very welcome and will no doubt receive widespread support from my constituents.
The other key issue addressed in the Budget is the cost of living. Thanks to careful management of the economy, we were able to announce that the personal tax allowance threshold will be raised a year early, letting people keep more of the money they earn and helping with the cost of living. Combined with the rise in the national living wage, that means that full-time workers in my Mansfield constituency, where so many people have low incomes, will see over £600 a year more in their pockets. That is so important for normal people who are trying to get by and do right by their families, and I am pleased that this Government have put them at the heart of this Budget.
Nobody should pretend that anything is perfect, so there has to be something that I would have liked to see in the Budget. If I have one criticism of the Budget, it is that, while I have seen examples of where the additional one-off support of £400 million for schools can be utilised in a positive way in my constituency—I can think of several primary schools I have visited that will relish the prospect of kitting out their library properly or investing in new IT for students—we need to focus more on what should always be the No. 1 priority, which is educating our young people for the future. I hope that the comprehensive spending review in the new year will seek to address that. However, it is not always about splashing the cash. There are a number of ways in which we could help. I have put forward proposals to the Treasury on helping schools to reduce their building and maintenance costs, for example.
Plans for investing in our mental health services and social care are good news. I particularly welcome the announcement that the use of PFI for future projects such as hospitals and schools will be abolished. The Labour party agreed nearly 90% of all PFI contracts. King’s Mill Hospital, near my constituency, is one of the most expensive examples in the country, frittering away taxpayers’ money and ultimately making it harder for the NHS trust to manage its budget. It is great news that that will not be allowed to happen again. That is part of Labour’s legacy, along with high unemployment and trapping people on benefits, and this Government are working to address those issues.
Universal credit is a key component of that change. It was positive to hear about the transitional funding to support the migration process and that working people on low wages will get an additional boost through the new money announced by the Chancellor. I thank him for that, as it will be a particular help to people in my constituency.
When we came into government, the country was borrowing over £150 billion a year and unemployment had increased by nearly 500,000. Britain had suffered the deepest recession since the war and we had the second biggest structural deficit of any advanced economy. Now, more people are in full-time work, unemployment is lower in every region of the UK, and wage growth is at its strongest for 10 years and is predicted to keep growing. As a party, we should be focused on cutting taxes, putting that money back in the pockets of hard-working people, and giving them the opportunity to succeed on the basis of their own talent and hard work.
As we leave the EU, we should grasp those opportunities, be proud of our businesses and industries, as the Secretary of State set out, and invest to secure our status as a world leader in so many areas. We must be able to export that leadership to the whole world to ensure the economic growth that Conservative Members know leads to jobs, wage growth and prosperity for the whole of the UK.