On Monday evening I spoke in the Budget debate following the Chancellor’s statement last Wednesday. The Budget does little to help the people of the City of Durham who have been squeezed by this government’s economic policies and seen their pay fail to grow over successive years, and it fails to address the most pressing issues facing the UK as it moves forward. The full text of my speech is below:
The Chancellor spoke for more than an hour last Wednesday, but he did not mention several of the most pressing issues for my constituents. Particularly notable was the lack of any mention of additional money for social care, despite the Government’s saying in the general election that they would fix social care.
The Care Quality Commission has said the system is at “tipping point”, yet the Government did not allocate any more money to social care through the Budget. Funding an additional amount through council tax is simply not enough. Nor was there any mention of help for the many WASPI women in this country.
The theme of this debate is the UK and the world, which is apt, because the Chancellor was unable to hide how badly the British economy is doing, especially compared with the economies of our global competitors. The most recent OECD forecasts have UK GDP growth as the third lowest out of the 35 member nations. Our productivity is among the lowest, too, and that is stifling our economic growth. In recent years, productivity growth has underperformed every forecast made by the Office for National Statistics and the OBR, and last Wednesday the Chancellor was forced to admit that it has been flatlining for years. The Trades Union Congress put it really well when it said:
“Our workplaces are not fit for the future: UK productivity has flatlined for a decade, and we are ill-equipped to take advantage of new technological developments. Poor quality employment practices, weak enforcement of labour rights and low investment in training leave British companies lagging behind.”
We know what the Government should be doing to tackle the productivity crisis. They need to invest in skills and education, in technology and digital services, and in infrastructure right across the piece—everything from roads to ports to airports and housing. They also need to get companies to invest more in research and development. However, the Budget was weak on several of those issues. It is unclear whether the £20 million announced for further education colleges is new money and we do not know when they will get it.
We all know that apprenticeships are a great way to upskill the workforce, but the Government’s record on them is poor. Statistics from the Department for Education show that there has been a 60% drop in the number of people starting apprenticeships.
Little new money was announced in the Budget for transport and infrastructure, especially in our regions. Most of the money is still concentrated in London and the south-east. Although we do not want to take money away from those areas, we do want the Government to recognise the very real need for additional investment in infrastructure, particularly in the north-east, so that businesses can continue to grow.
We also know that the money that was announced for housing—£7 billion of new funding—is massively short of the £50 billion that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government said was needed. This Budget continues the Government’s failed austerity policy and does nothing for my constituency.