Gareth Thomas MP

From Harrow, For Harrow.

Budget Response 2016

Speech in response to the 2016 Budget on the 21st March 2016

"This Budget does not tackle the still evident fundamental weaknesses in our economy. Despite the lofty rhetoric of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions today, the Budget still says that Whitehall knows best. It takes from the poorest to boost the incomes of the richest, and it will make the challenges facing our public services even more difficult.

In recent years, the weaknesses in our economy have become ever more marked. We remain hugely dependent on financial services and London. The jobs being created are predominantly short term, low paid and with little employment protection. Critically, too many small and medium-sized businesses still cannot get the capital and the lending they need to create jobs and wealth. Unsurprisingly, therefore, our productivity is lower than that of all our biggest competitors.

Among the many specific disappointments with this Budget is that faster progress towards full fiscal devolution was largely notable by its absence. There is little chance, for example, of really tackling the housing crisis in London if the Mayor and Assembly cannot match the tax regime around housing to help meet Londoners’ needs. Full devolution of all property taxes to London and, in time, to other cities and counties in England, is essential.

This Budget offers little for investment in public services, as others, particularly my hon. Friends, have already mentioned. The NHS is struggling to balance its books, with a number of NHS trusts, including those covering my constituency, in what the National Audit Office calls “serious and persistent financial distress”.

Our local hospital, Northwick Park, has had a deficit in every year but one since 2010, and that deficit has steadily risen to almost £30 million last year. It is therefore hardly surprising that Northwick Park has had one of the worst performances of all English hospitals for waiting times in accident and emergency in the past 12 months.

Our clinical commissioning group, from which Northwick Park receives much of its money, receives less funding than any other London area. It, too, is in deficit, and has been since it was set up. By last year, its underlying deficit had risen to some £20.1 million. So it certainly does not look as though the Budget is going to lead to much improvement in the NHS finances nationally or, I suspect, in my area either.

The position of other public services in Harrow is little better. As a result of the new funding formula, many of the schools in my constituency are expecting a budget cut of up to 1.5%, which is the equivalent of an experienced teacher or four teaching assistants, and that is before the vast costs, in time and money, of being forced to become academies. The number of police officers in Harrow has decreased by 137 since 2010; indeed, we have fewer police officers than virtually every other London borough. Our council is being hit by some £83 million-worth of cuts over the next few years, and according to a Library analysis it remains one of the worst-funded local authorities in London. Westminster, Brent, Camden and Islington all get double the revenue support grant funding that Harrow does. Our other neighbours, Barnet and Hillingdon, get between 25% and 50% more than Harrow does. I hope that, even at this late stage, perhaps in the course of the Finance Bill, the Chancellor will recognise the need fully to change tack, to invest more in public services and to do so in a fairer way. My constituents certainly hope so."

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