This was Diana Johnson MP's speech today in the House of Commons debate on the Budget Statement by the Chancellor. It can be viewed at http://goo.gl/T35yy9.
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab):
In following the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), it is worth setting the record straight: it was a worldwide banking crisis that caused the recession, not Labour investing in teachers, nurses, doctors and shiny new buildings, as she called them. I think what she meant to say was hospitals and schools. In fact, in 2010, the economy was growing when Labour left Government.
It has been 24 hours since the Chancellor’s Budget statement, and I think it will be remembered not as a Budget for the next generation, but as a Budget of unfairness. That is most starkly emphasised by the £4.2 billion-worth of support taken from disabled people, many of whom cannot work, to give £2.7 billion-worth of support in capital gains tax cuts to wealthier people, many of whom do not need to work.
It is certainly not a Robin Hood Budget, because he was good at hitting his targets. I also note that the Chancellor pledges to fix 214,000 potholes in the next year, but I think that filling the huge one in his deficit plans will take much longer.
The bulk of what I want to say is about the effect of this Budget on my constituents in a city in the north that is apparently a key player in the northern powerhouse, although the Government seem to forget that Hull is part of the northern powerhouse, because they focus mostly on the Manchester area. As someone who has been a Hull MP for 11 years, I know that we have to fight every inch of the way for a fair deal and we often have to make our own luck. After getting only £1 million in the autumn statement, I was pleased that the Budget made available to Hull a more fitting £13 million for its year as city of culture in 2017. That happened only after the issue was raised on numerous occasions in the House and with Ministers, but I am pleased that the lobbying by the three Hull MPs has paid off. Granting the £5 million to renovate Hull’s new theatre will leave a legacy after 2017, which is one of the main city of culture objectives. I also welcome the £1.2 million for the British mercantile marine memorial collection in Hull.
Elsewhere, however, the news is more mixed for people in Hull. Although Labour in particular has championed changes to business rates for small businesses and letting local areas keep business rate revenue, the Government’s approach ends any recognition of the needs of poorer areas—the cause that George Lansbury went to prison for so many years ago. This Government constantly favour wealthy areas that have a stronger local tax base and that have experienced less deep cuts than more deprived areas such as Hull.
Hull, like many other northern cities, is left facing a social care crisis, even with the social care levy that the Government have announced. It worries me greatly that local social care providers and other small businesses in the area are not getting enough help to ensure that the living wage meets its objectives and does not mean job losses in the months ahead.
There is little hope in the Budget for Hull’s policing or NHS services. Today, the Secretary of State for Health is in Hull demanding that the people who work in the NHS in Hull perform better, but taking no responsibility for the disastrous Lansley reforms introduced in the last Parliament. Neither is the Secretary of State taking any responsibility for his mishandling of the junior doctors’ contracts, which is affecting morale and recruitment in an area where it is very difficult to recruit doctors in the first place.
I want to move on to infrastructure investment, which is a vital part of rebalancing the economy, increasing productivity and raising overall UK growth. There is good news, I note, for those in Hertfordshire who want to travel to Surbiton via Chelsea, with the £27 billion for Crossrail 2. Although High Speed 3 between Leeds and Manchester was announced again, our privately financed initiative for rail electrification between Selby and Hull, to get average speeds above 42 mph, has been stuck in the sidings in the Department for Transport’s decision-making process for the last two years. The Department has been studying the business case since September, but time is running out on the proposal if we are to get it by 2021.
Clearly, Hull is not given the same priority as building a £500 million Crossrail station at Canary Wharf or plans for a £175 million Thames garden bridge. With no A63 road upgrade, and even a delay in building the bridge over the A63, Hull faces running city of culture 2017 with not one of the transport improvements that would have assisted in its success. It beggars belief that we cannot even get a bridge built over a road, but we can put a man on the moon. Similarly, I am concerned about the increase in flood insurance premiums. Hull flooded terribly in 2007, and I want to make sure that some of that investment comes to our city.
I want to close by talking about devolution. We heard about the greater Lincolnshire model for devolution yesterday, but we heard nothing about Yorkshire. That is a real pity, because it will divert attention away from the Humber estuary.
On the issue of devolution, only a few months ago the Chancellor said that he would devolve business rates to local authorities. Does my hon. Friend feel that local authorities will lose out as a consequence of the threshold changes?
The poorer areas of the country are going to lose out. The way in which the Government have handled devolution is really sad. They have rushed it through and imposed arbitrary timescales for putting deals forward. The public have not been properly engaged. I have talked to people in Hull who say that they have not been asked for their opinion about what they would like. They also object to the fact that the Government want to impose this one-size-fits all model of an elected Mayor. That may not be suitable for whole swathes of the country, but it is the only option available.
There is a real problem, particularly in my area, with the idea of the greater Lincolnshire model. There is nothing for Yorkshire at the moment, and I think that there will be real problems for Hull. All in all, if we are serious about getting devolution right, we need to go back to the drawing board and think carefully about what suits the needs of different parts of the country, rather than rushing ahead. My constituents will find the Budget wanting, and they will think that it does not really meet the needs of a city such as Hull.