Last night I made a speech responding to the budget. Parliamentary debate about the Chancellor’s budget takes place over several days, and I was chosen to speak in a part of the debate that focussed on how the budget affects Britain’s place in the world. In my speech I highlighted the opportunities that the Chancellor missed to assuage concerns in Bristol West in these uncertain times. You can read or watch my speech below.
On Wednesday, I listened to the Chancellor’s statement and waited for the elephants in the room to be addressed: Brexit, the housing crisis, and infrastructure in the west of England—but I waited in vain. This Budget could have set out a great future for our country, but it did not. Businesses of all sizes in Bristol have told me that, to continue to secure jobs and growth for the region, they need the benefits that we currently get from full membership of the single European market. From the aerospace industry to the financial services sector to traders on the Gloucester Road, Bristol businesses say to me that they face huge uncertainties as our future relationship with the EU is negotiated, and yet the Chancellor said virtually nothing about Brexit in the Budget.
On housing, Bristol’s fantastic Labour mayor, Marvin Rees, and his team are working hard to tackle our city’s homelessness crisis and to get more homes built. Bristol West is in the midst of a housing crisis, which particularly affects young people, with soaring house prices and rents, and yet the Chancellor said nothing about housing.
In her speech last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) described how this Budget fell short on infrastructure in the west country. Bristolians have put up with the inconvenience and cost of railway electrification work, followed by its postponement. We have had all the bother with none of the benefits. Time and again, I have impressed on the Government that we need action, not least to eliminate the dangerous air pollution in our city, and yet the Chancellor said nothing about infrastructure in the west.
However, what the Chancellor did say gave me cause for concern, particularly the proposed rise in national insurance contributions for the self-employed. The Office for National Statistics estimates that there are 12,800 self-employed people in my constituency, which is well above the national and regional averages. That includes freelancers in the technology and creative sectors, taxi drivers and car mechanics, decorators and plumbers, hairdressers and musicians. All earn, on average, 40% less than employees, but now face having to pay more in taxes in an already uncertain economy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) said last week that this Budget shows just how much Bristol was better off under a Labour Government than under these Tories. Then we had new schools and hospitals, Sure Start children’s centres, the education maintenance allowance and tax credits and so much more that has now gone. Under coalition and Tory Governments, we have had cuts to school budgets. Real-terms funding per pupil is set to fall and there will be a total budget cut of £3 billion by 2020—the worst funding cut since the 1970s. There are mounting pressures on the NHS, cuts to local government causing real suffering in social care, and further problems in hospitals when people cannot be discharged. This Chancellor dealt with none of those problems. There was also no mention of mental health issues, which particularly affect young people in my constituency.
I am disappointed. This could have been Budget to prepare our country for the journey ahead, to reassure the people, universities, mayor and businesses of Bristol, and to put Britain’s families, schools and hospitals on a firm financial footing. It could have put minds at rest, and helped us to look outwards to fulfil our potential in the global economy. It could have been a Budget that invested properly in mental health, physical health and social care, that tackled the housing crisis, and that showed we value older people, who have a great deal to offer and deserve to feel secure, and children and young people, who need a decent education.
The Foreign Secretary says that we are not being patriotic, and thinks that we can just snap our fingers and summon up trade deals, but this Budget is not patriotic. Instead, it threatens jobs, growth and the vibrancy of Bristol West. It is a Budget built on oversights and blind spots, which revised down Government estimates for growth and earnings for the next five years. It is a Budget that fails to face up to the issues threatening our nation.
That is not patriotic; that is letting down the country.