NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 11th March 2017
(for more news also see my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrislesliemp)
Philip Hammond’s first full Budget didn’t quite go as well as he planned… Breaking his 2015 manifesto promise not to increase National Insurance contributions – in this case on the self-employed – has stunned many in the media and even on the Conservative backbenches. I reacted to this announcement immediately after the Chancellor made it and gave my speech in response on Wednesday afternoon (you can watch at the link on my facebook page or read at the link here).
But if there are ten key ‘take away’ points, I think they’re the following, which I thought I’d share with you:
- Class 4 NICs on self-employed profits will rise to 11% in 2019, costing a self-employed individual on £27,000 over £30 per month. (Tory MPs are definitely not happy – and I’d expect a u-turn on this before long as I wrote in my New Statesman article specifically on this issue this week).
- Small businesses are hit by a ‘double whammy’ not just from higher NICs, but also a reduction in the Dividend Allowance to £2000 from April 2018, which means less take home income for the self-employed too.
- The Brexit challenge barely raised a mention in the Chancellor’s speech. The OBR say that “when the UK leaves the EU, the trading regime will be less open than before” adding that any new free trade deals with third countries would not be enough to prevent “lower trade intensity”. The Government will also miss their targets on trade and immigration – so it’s no wonder Brexit is airbrushed from the Budget.
- On education, a handful of ‘free schools’ get £1bn over the Budget period, yet all the rest of our schools get just a quarter of that – £260m extra between them – over that same period.
- The Business Rates hot-potato is handed across to local councils, who will have to cope with the administrative nightmare of running a discretionary support fund taking bids from companies in their area.
- The headline £2bn extra for social care is spread over just three years and phased out again by 2020
- DCLG Local Government budget is cut by more than 20% from £8.2bn in 2016-17 down to £6.5bn in 2017-18, and then again down to £5.5bn in the following year. Some of this may be offset by supposedly ‘devolved business rates’ but it’s an incredible shift nevertheless.
- Borrowing is expected to actually RISE from £51.7bn this year to £58bn next year, according to the OBR. They add “The Government does not appear to be on track to meet its stated fiscal objective to ‘return the public finances to balance at the earliest possible date in the next Parliament’. The deficit falls little in 2020-21 and 2021-22, while the ageing population and cost pressures in health are likely to put upward pressure on the deficit in the next Parliament.” (page 6 OBR report).
- GDP growth is expected to moderate this year are rising inflation squeezes living standards and consumer spending (largely flowing from the sterling depreciation since the Brexit referendum). Economy forecast to actually grow less than expected at the Autumn Statement.
- This is set to be the worst decade for pay growth in two centuries of earnings data (according to the Resolution Foundation).
- Nottingham schools are set to be hit by a significant funding squeeze due to a new National Funding Formula. Nottingham schools will face £22 million worth of funding cuts if the plans go ahead, equating to £578 per pupil by 2019, with the city seeing one of the highest levels of cuts outside London. The Department for Education is still consulting on the proposals, and Nottingham City Council is preparing a collective response based on feedback from parents and the public. If you would like to take part in the consultation, you can do so on the Nottingham City Council website here.
- This week Nottingham CityCare Partnership has been rated as ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission. The Partnership runs a range of healthcare services in the city, including the Urgent Care Centre, a Macmillan community specialist nursing and support service and a stop-smoking service. The Urgent Care Centre in particular was praised for the responsive service offered to patients. I’m pleased to see staff recognised for the high quality of care they are offering to patients.
- Nottingham City Council has submitted plans to demolish and rebuild Broadmarsh car park. The car park, which is owned by the Council, will either be demolished and rebuilt or completely refurbished as part of development of the southern gateway. The Council say that the redeveloped car park, which is set to include a new tram stop, will give a welcoming impression to people visiting the city, and the whole southern gateway project (which includes the pedestrianisation of Collin Street) will create 3,000 jobs. I’m obviously keen to see progress on this part of the city’s redevelopment, though I’m also pressing the city council to take care with traffic flow and congestion issues between the east and west parts of the city which could change significantly with the restrictions on Collin Street.
- The new Deputy Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police has been appointed. Rachel Barber will join the force in April from South Yorkshire Police, where she had held a number of operational roles. Rachel will take over from the outgoing Deputy, Simon Torr, who is due to retire in May.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- Formal notification of the proposed merger of Sky and 21st Century Fox was lodged with the European Commission on Friday 3 March and on Monday the Culture Secretary made a statement. I share many of the concerns about the proposed deal that have been expressed both inside and outside of Parliament. The Secretary of State said that she was minded to intervene on media plurality grounds. The bid would put an even greater amount of UK media power in one person’s hands and I believe Ofcom should look at the whole group of companies in assessing whether the Sky takeover would threaten media plurality. The Culture Secretary noted that she is concerned about the nature of a number of breaches of broadcasting standards by 21st Century Fox, as well as the behaviour and corporate governance failures of News Corporation in the past. She was rightly pressed to ensure that part two of the Leveson inquiry goes ahead so that the past behaviour and corporate governance failures of News International are investigated and looked into.
- On Tuesday, the House of Commons considered the Children and Social Work Bill which impacts the provision of children’s services, and the responsibilities that local authorities owe children in care. It includes the creation of a new social work regulator. I supported a cross-party amendment to the Bill which sought to force the Government to take up offers from local councils to accept more unaccompanied children fleeing conflicts. Since the Government announced that the Dubs scheme would be closed, local councils across the country have said that they can do more. The amendment was about consulting local councils on their capacity. I was disappointed that this amendment was not added to the Bill. I was pleased, however, that following pressure from both inside and outside of Parliament the Bill was amended to put age-appropriate relationships education on a statutory footing. I believe this is a very important step forward. The Bill passed its Third Reading and has returned to the House of Lords for further consideration.
- On Monday in Home Office questions I pressed the Home Secretary on the vitally important cooperation Britain has with other police forces and justice systems across the continent via the European Arrest Warrant, which could disappear if the Brexit negotiations go wrong. The Home Secretary confirmed to me that the Government wants to retain the system as a ‘priority’ in the negotiations. So we’ll see what happens.
- I am deeply concerned about the United Nations warning this weekend about what could be the largest famine to hit the world since the second world war across parts of Africa especially in South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. Millions of people are adversely affected and I will do what I can to join calls for the UK to press other nations to come together with the resources required to address this awful situation.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Monday will be a big day in Parliament – with the return of two amendments inserted into the EU Withdrawal Bill, first on the rights for EU Nationals to remain in the UK, and second a legal requirement for MPs to have a final (‘meaningful’) vote on whatever the outcome of the negotiations brings, whether that’s a new free trade deal or ‘no deal’. I’d like to thank the very many people who’ve written to me this week urging me to continue pushing for Parliament to keep check on the Prime Minister throughout the process, rather than leave it entirely to her. I will be voting in favour of both these Lords amendments, especially as the retention of a Parliamentary vote at the end of the process is the same as my Amendment 110 on which some Conservative MPs joined me back in February.
I realise that I find myself writing a lot about the Brexit process in these MP Updates – and my apologies if I sometimes sound like a ‘broken record’! – but these are such crucial decisions I feel duty bound to keep you updated with what’s happening. I’d be interested to know if you feel you have enough information about what’s happening? Do you feel that you have a sense of what is coming next in the negotiation process? Are you happy to leave it to the Prime Minister alone, or do you think we need Parliament to keep involved? I am closely involved in the Brexit discussions in the Commons, especially in my role on the International Trade Select Committee, and will do whatever I can to keep Britain as an outward-facing country willing to make alliances and pacts, rather than isolating ourselves and pulling up the drawbridge. I wrote about aspects of this in my Guardian article on Monday at the link here.