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My budget response

Date: 05.11.21 | in: Uncategorised

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi).Toggle showing location ofColumn 844

Let me start by talking about the impact of the Budget on Leeds, and particularly Leeds City Council, which has seen a £328 million real-terms cut in its budget compared with 2010, the last year of the Labour Government. That is £328 million cut from frontline services for the people of our city. I was pleased when the Chancellor announced an increase in local transport funding for Leeds and West Yorkshire, but on closer inspection, it is clear that the money that is promised will do very little to plug the funding black hole created by 11 years of Conservative cuts.

For Leeds, the Chancellor’s statement was marked more by what was not said than by what was. There was no mention of the integrated rail plan for the north, now 10 months overdue, and no mention of the infrastructure needed to connect our towns and cities. Unsurprisingly, my call to electrify the Leeds to Harrogate rail line, which has been announced twice and revoked twice by successive Conservative Governments and which I would describe as a golden opportunity to level up communities up and down the line between Leeds and Harrogate and up to York, to get the city moving and get workers into jobs, was missing yet again.

The claim that there will be a real-terms rise in core spending power is interesting. After a decade of slash-and-burn austerity, Leeds—like many other towns and cities, as we have heard—is in desperate need of funding at least on a par in real terms with what we saw in 2010. However, the Chancellor has been very light on details. There is barely any indication of how much new money councils will receive for services, or how much will be given to cover the deficit caused by a decade of Tory rule.

That is compounded by the fact that councils could not furlough their workers during covid. Those workers worked on the frontline, with no additional funding, because of the cost pressures that councils were under. There are now significant cost pressures on Leeds City Council, and a further loss in frontline workers. Frontline workers who worked to save lives during covid are being repaid by cuts, which means that their jobs will go.

I would also like to comment on the lack of announcements regarding tourism and hospitality. Tourism to the UK is down 97% compared with before the pandemic and is the second-worst-hit sector in terms of unemployment, yet the Chancellor did not mention tourism once in the Budget—not once. Time and again, I have stood in this House and asked the Chancellor why his business rates relief scheme fails to extend to huge parts of our tourism industry. Last Wednesday, I came in hope of hearing something different. My hopes were dashed. The Chancellor has not listened to the industry. Thousands of businesses, and millions of workers whose livelihoods are at stake, were not being supported that day.

I was hopeful that the Chancellor would change the reductive eligibility criteria for business rates support, criteria that deny crucial support to tourism businesses without physical customer premises. I was hopeful that travel agents, coach operators, fairground operators, language schools, tour guides and event organisers—groups that the pandemic and Government restrictions have absolutely devastated—would finally receive some good news. The continuation of the business rates relief scheme, albeit at a reduced rate of 50%, provides a degree of reassurance to some businesses, but the fact is that 600 English language schools, 900 tour operators, 2,125 coach operators, 300 event organisers—I could go on and on—will continue to be denied support. The Toggle showing location ofColumn 845implosion of international tourism made those businesses vulnerable, far too many to the point of collapse, and the Government failed to provide them with vital support.

It is not just business rates, however. The Chancellor’s Budget failed to make any mention of retaining the current VAT rate for tourism and hospitality businesses in the UK, an ignorant oversight which serves only to compound the struggles that the tourism industry and holidaymakers in the UK are currently enduring. It is also about climate action. Supporting domestic tourism means fewer people flying longer distances. Make no mistake, the cut to air passenger duty on domestic flights is not about supporting British tourism or British tourists. It is not ordinary people who take unnecessary short-haul flights in the UK, but business executives and occasionally the Prime Minister, who, it transpires, is flying back from COP26 in Glasgow to London, rather than taking the train like the rest of us.

The Government claimed to support business, promised to deliver recovery and committed to net zero emissions, but—I apologise for what is now a tired cliché—actions speak louder than words.

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