NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Friday 25th November 2016
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On Wednesday the Chancellor delivered the Autumn Statement, which not surprisingly illustrated the looming impact of Britain’s departure from the European Union on public spending, borrowing and the economy. The Office for Budget Responsibility revealed this starkly in the very first paragraph of their report, when they say:
The Government is no longer on course to balance the budget during the current Parliament and has formally dropped this ambition…reflecting weak tax receipts so far this year and a more subdued outlook for economic growth as the UK negotiates a new relationship with the European Union
So over the years ahead, an extra £120billion of borrowing will be added to the national debt when compared with the March forecast – costing taxpayers more in debt servicing and extending a new period of ‘Brexit austerity’ for as far as the eye can see.
It’s why the cuts hitting local councils, transport and social care remain so great – and why the NHS won’t be getting the £350million a week so infamously pledged on the side of the big red bus containing Boris Johnson and the other ‘Leave’ campaigners five months ago.
The Treasury themselves admit on page 9 of the Autumn Statement Green Book that “the downward revision to the outlook for business investment has been more substantial.” In fact, it’s now reckoned to fall by 2.2% this year and fall again next year. This reflects the uncertainty and lack of clarity about whether our exporters can sell goods and services into other European countries tariff free, whether financial services will be even legal to trade at all into Europe after 2019, and whether we will have a chance of negotiating fresh trade agreements to replace our EU membership in time.
So while it is of course necessary for Philip Hammond to borrow for investing in infrastructure as he announced, his room for manoeuvre has been squeezed by the impact of Brexit uncertainty. The stealth tax rise for those with car insurance and other insurance policies will be marked, up from 5% in 2010 to now 12% – which will be a cost borne mostly by those who are just about managing.
Higher inflation next year will be a cost of living challenge to those on lower incomes especially, and the hit to growth – forecast to fall back to just 1.4% next year – will translate into lower wages than might otherwise be expected.
As I said on the BBC1 Question Time programme last night, austerity may be partly self-inflicted following the referendum, but a government clear on its plans and setting an optimistic destination to retain free-flowing trading access with our European partners could overcome this. But as things stand almost everything these Ministers now do – including tax and spending measures – fall under the shadow of their confused approach to Brexit. If they can’t get their act together soon, we must insist on a proper transitional arrangement to smooth the process of exiting the European Union, or delay the triggering of Article 50 until after the summer to give the country more space to get this process right.
Ø The publication of our local NHS Plan for Nottinghamshire could be a worrying omen for some very difficult pressures to come over the next few years. At this stage, all the local NHS and social care providers have come together to answer the Government’s ‘challenge’ to find what they say are efficiency savings, to help the NHS cope with growing numbers and costs. So far it looks like they are planning to remove up to 200 in-patient beds in our hospitals – and also “significantly downsize City Hospital”, dispose of buildings and reduce space at the QMC too. So I want assurances that the quality and availability of care will improve and not diminish. I am worried that mental health services don’t seem to feature as highly in the Sustainability & Transformation Plan as I would expect. And I am concerned that the Government’s Autumn Statement did nothing for the additional resources we need for our NHS and social care services. That’s why I will be engaging with local service providers in detail on these plans as published – and it’s important that they are straight and direct with the public about what they really entail. Click here to see the plans.
Ø Many people are naturally concerned about the City Council proposal affecting the Central Library. I’ve raised these concerns with councillors and they say a new facility (either on the same site or at a new location) will be funded from the redevelopment of the existing site, but I am concerned about what the council plans to do with the books and archived materials stored at Angel Row during the redevelopment. I will be pressing the council to make sure there are alternate provisions available and that there is no loss of service for city residents.
Ø You may remember a few months I visited Nottingham Hospitals Charity and discussed their Helipad Appeal, which was aiming to raise funds for a helipad at QMC. It was announced in the Autumn Statement this week that Nottingham Hospitals Charity have been successful in their bid for £1.3 million of LIBOR-fine funding which, along with money already raised by the charity, means they have now secured the full funding commitment for the helipad. As the Major Trauma Centre for the East Midlands, QMC will benefit hugely from an onsite helipad, saving vital minutes for patients brought in by air ambulance.
Ø It was good to catch up with Paul Roberts and Ian Burton this week from the Nottingham Music Service, who aim to provide high quality music making opportunities in Nottingham city. They told me about the Nottingham Music Service charity single, which was released on Thursday. The song, called ‘If Every Child Could’, features children and young people from 29 of the city’s schools, including Bluebell Hill, Djanogly Northgate, Haydn, Nottingham Free School, Our Lady & St Edward, Seely and St Ann’s Well schools from Nottingham East. You can watch the video for the single online here, and it would be great if you could support Nottingham Music Service by downloading the song (available on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon).
Ø Excellent news this week when it was announced that the Nottingham Castle redevelopment project has been awarded £13.9 million of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This goes a long way towards meeting the total £29.4 million cost of the project, which will include the creation of new galleries dedicated to Robin Hood and the story of rebellion in the city. There will also be work to refurbish and restore the gatehouse and caves, as well as a new visitor centre and adventure play area. I’m pleased that this funding has been granted, as it will do a great deal for tourism in the city.
Ø There was an interesting article in today’s Financial Times mapping the changes in recent years to retail property values and rents across the country. The picture below shows how rent values in the southern part of Nottingham city centre have fallen and those in the northern area have risen since 2010. Making sure that business rates and premises are affordable for local shops is really important for ensuring we have a healthy, thriving shopping cluster in the city. The FT also pointed out the massive wealth disparity between Nottingham and London:
“The storefronts that lie between Old Bond Street and Savile Row in central London occupy a neighbourhood so compact that, if you tore it down, you would make way for nothing much bigger than an Ikea furniture store. Yet those 450 or so luxury boutiques and shops are more valuable than all the retail property in Nottingham – and the gap is widening.”
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
Ø The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement was the main event in Parliament this week – and it was good to be able to press Philip Hammond about whether he and other Conservative Ministers would take responsibility for the massive additional debt burden now accumulating as a result of poor decisions, wrong priorities and their lack of plan for Brexit. My remarks in the Autumn Statement are at the link here
Ø On Monday, the Home Secretary was asked an Urgent Question on the leadership, staffing, budget and structure of the independent inquiry into child abuse (IICSA). This followed the resignation of a number of senior lawyers from the IICSA and the withdrawal of a survivors’ group representing 600 victims. The IICSA was set up to look at the extent to which institutions in England and Wales failed to protect children from abuse, and currently has 13 strands of investigation. The Home Secretary did not respond to the Urgent Question herself on Monday. However, the Government stated that the chair of the inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay, had instigated an internal review of the inquiry’s approach to its investigations. The Government expects the outcome of this review soon. This inquiry is on its fourth chair and while it is, of course, an independent inquiry, that does not mean the Home Office can take no responsibility at all.
Ø On Monday, the House of Commons considered the Higher Education and Research Bill. I welcome recent concessions that the Government has made on the Bill. I support changes to allow proper student representation on a proposed new Office for Students (OfS) board and to give the OfS a duty to monitor the financial sustainability of higher education institutions. I also support the Government’s amendment to require that it consider members’ cross-UK experience in appointing a proposed new UK Research and Innovation board. Furthermore, I support the introduction of a transparency duty for university admissions and an alternative student finance model which avoids the use of interest. However, there remain substantial parts of the Bill that need radical improvement and I believe the Government’s changes to date have been too little, too late. The Bill introduces a teaching excellence framework (TEF) to measure teaching quality at universities, which will allow “high-performing” universities to raise tuition fees in line with inflation. I am concerned at the way in which the Government could use the TEF and do not support linking it with tuition fees. I am concerned that the best universities will become more expensive and less accessible, at a time when the proportion of low-income students at many top universities is already falling. I also think that the Government should reverse its decision to replace student maintenance grants with loans and to prevent unfair retrospective changes to student loan repayments.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
How much do you pay for your home contents / buildings insurance? Is your car insurance expensive? Have you got pet insurance cover if you’re a cat or dog owner? The announcement this week that Insurance Premium Tax will rise to 12% is quite a ‘stealthy’ way for the Chancellor to take back some of his ‘giveaways’.
For example, the rise for the average motorist will be around £26 and for the average property insurance around £19, but probably much more for those with higher premiums like young people, elderly drivers, those living in high-crime areas.
I’d be interested if you’ve noticed insurance cost issues in recent years. Should the Government be discouraging people from insuring to protect themselves in this way? Or do you think it’s reasonable enough given that revenues have to be generated one way or the other?