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WESTMINSTER DIARIES: The Budget and my new role as Shadow Universities Minister

The budget outlined by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week offers nothing for our NHS heroes, nothing to fix social care, nothing for our schools and nothing to tackle inequality.

And the evidence is damning. Today the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) confirmed the UK has suffered the worst economic damage of any major economy – a contraction in GDP relative to pre-pandemic forecasts of -4.8%. This is double Germany’s damage (-2.5%), nearly triple Japan’s (1.3%) and more than 20 times the size of the US’ (-0.2%). The Chancellor got it wrong. Big time.

But, judging from the Chancellor’s budget, it seems certain it will be you and I – the public – that pays for the Government’s catastrophic mistakes. In Warwick and Leamington, council tax will rise an estimated £94 after the Government’s latest hike and around 4,000 public sector workers will see their pay frozen. The cliff face thousands of people are met with has only been delayed by the begrudging extension of the eviction ban and the Universal Credit £20 uplift, and no long-term solution.

While it is welcome the furlough support scheme has been extended and new grants and loans have been offered, businesses need greater certainty. We need long-term reform of business rates which unnecessarily penalises our struggling small businesses. We also need support for the hospitality industry with the VAT reduction not applying to alcoholic drinks – and a much-needed cut to beer duty also avoided.

The Chancellor failed to mention inequality once during his budget speech, and his contempt for the deep structural problems in our society showed. We needed him to announce a mass council homes building programme to finally solve the housing crisis. We need investment in our manufacturing sector, including support for Coventry’s electric vehicle battery Gigafactory. The budget’s proposals were unambitious on the climate. We need an expansion of hydrogen in our towns and cities, roll out of electric vehicle infrastructure and charging points and money to equip our towns with clean air zones, as outlined in Labour’s Green New Deal.

The real terms cut to nurses’ wages is a disgrace. The increase of a mere £3.50, costing the treasury just £500million, is equivalent to the amount the Chancellor blew on the infamous Eat Out to Help Out Scheme – which was estimated to have contributed to 1/6 of new virus cases in the summer. The figure pales in comparison to the £22billion wasted on a dysfunctional test and trace system or the £300million thrown away on, in many cases, unusable foreign-produced PPE. Nurses and other NHS staff must see a significant wage increase – as must other key workers.

Finally, I am honoured to have been asked to be Labour’s Shadow Universities Minister after my brilliant colleague Emma Hardy decided to step down. There’s much to be done and I’m looking forward to tackling the new brief and working with students, staff and our world leading universities. However, representing Warwick and Leamington remains my primary focus. For my constituents, be assured, my priority always has been and will remain representing you and your interests – whatever they may be.