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Richmond Park News: 5 March 2021

I was very disappointed this week to hear Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak's budget plans for next year. The Chancellor appears to be concentrating all of his efforts in specific areas of the country rather than investing in new sources of wealth and future jobs. This Budget ignores the real needs of our economy, both for the immediate challenges of the pandemic and for the future.

We badly need reformed business rates to level the playing field for high street retailers competing with online retailers. We must lower the barriers to entry for retail and other small businesses if we are to save our town centres and support our communities.

We know that we need to transition away from carbon-emitting industries if we are to achieve net zero, and must grasp the nettle of investment in green jobs. There is real opportunity for growth there, but the private sector is waiting for Government policy to set a direction. The Chancellor could have set that direction this week with promises to invest in green technology or a bold new plan for retrofitting to replace the Green Homes Grant, but he did not.

As the Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Business and Industrial Strategy, I spoke about these matters in greater detail in the Budget debate in the House of Commons yesterday. You can see the text of my speech here, or watch a video of it here.

The Chancellor also declined to offer any support to self-employed people who were excluded from the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. Once again, they have been unfairly left to fend for themselves.

This was also the moment to offer NHS workers a long-overdue substantial pay rise. The miserly 1% increase offered is an insult to the dedication shown and the sacrifices made by healthcare workers this year. It goes firmly against the wishes of the majority of Britons, who favour a much higher pay rise for nurses and other frontline staff. Our healthcare workers have done all they could this year to protect us as far as possible from Covid-19 -- work made harder by Government mismanagement of the crisis. To snub them at this point shows appalling ingratitude to them as well as insensitivity to the public will.

The Budget also once again ignores the pressing issue of social care reform - an even more urgent issue now than a year ago. We know that a well-functioning care service is essential to keeping the NHS running well, to say nothing of giving older people the decent and dignified lives they deserve. The Prime Minister pledged to address this as a priority, and I am sorry to see that he is declining to do so.

The Chancellor has also failed to give nurseries and early years providers certainty about their futures, and to deliver much-needed extra funding for schools and nurseries to help meet the additional costs of being open safely during the pandemic. The free school meals holiday scheme has also not been made permanent, as it should have been. I am most disappointed by this lack of support for the schools, teachers and carers who have done all they could to help children and vulnerable adults through this difficult year.


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