Speaking in the first day of the Budget Debate, Andrew Mitchell welcomes transport funding for the west midlands, and outlines the need for funding in Sutton Coldfield for skills, homes and town infrastructure.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me on this first day of the Budget debate. I draw the House’s attention to my interests, which are declared in the register.
I do not think any Finance Minister or Chancellor has faced a more difficult year than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has faced, and he has commanded the House and carried out his duties with exceptional skill and devotion. This extremely good Budget comes at the end of that very difficult year, so I start where my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) left off.
As the Chancellor knows, I have been extremely concerned about the cut to universal credit. I am also conscious that it was a temporary measure designed by the Government to put their arms around people who were very vulnerable as the pandemic got going, but nevertheless any such cut in benefits is a controversial matter. He has been extraordinarily skilled in reducing the taper rate of universal credit, which is an extremely good approach, on which I congratulate him.
I have three brief points. The first point is local and regional, and it concerns the west midlands and, in particular, my constituency of Sutton Coldfield. We are pleased to have £1 billion of transport funding for the west midlands, and that funding has also gone to the Mayor of Greater Manchester. It is backing for the regional mayoral structure, and it is very welcome. Money from the fund will enable Sutton Coldfield to start major work on town centre renewal. The town centre renewal plan is all set, and taxpayers’ money is needed to address some of the transport issues, so I am pleased with this week’s announcement.
Secondly, in the west midlands we also want money from the skills budget, and the Prime Minister singled out Andy Street, our Mayor, for his work on boot camps for digital retraining. That model was pioneered in the west midlands and is now being taken out nationally. This is incredibly important if we are to capture the vital growth that a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends mentioned. The skills agenda is vital. There is money for skills, and we want it in the west midlands.
Thirdly, we want money to ensure that homes for the future are built on brownfield sites and not on the green belt. We are looking for a £200 million accelerator in the west midlands so that we can get houses built and protect the green belt. In my constituency I have one of the biggest house building programmes in the country at Langley, on Sutton Coldfield’s green belt. The scheme was much loved by the Labour Birmingham City Council, and it was quite wrongly waved through by a Conservative Secretary of State. That is done now, and we will get the best we can for the town from that development. We want to see homes built, but we want to see them built in the right places, which is why the brownfield money is so important.
In the royal town of Sutton Coldfield we have four particular priorities: the town centre, the cottage hospital, our royal park and the town hall. They all require, for the development and the aspirations that we have for them, a little bit of taxpayers’ money, and we are glad that on at least one, if not the other three, we have managed to convince the Government and the regional Mayor of the importance of that support. That is my first point.
Secondly, moving from the parochial to the national and, indeed, the international, as we look toward the COP that is coming up shortly it is clear that the Government are doing extremely well on the UK’s climate strategy. The report published last week sets out the importance of our reaching net zero emissions by 2050; how the UK will be powered entirely by clean energy by 2035; the subsidies for replacing domestic boilers; the incentives to switch to electric vehicles, which is incredibly important in the west midlands in respect of Jaguar Land Rover, which will make only electric cars from 2025; the quadrupling of offshore wind; and the significant advances in carbon capture and storage. Of course, the agenda will also unlock 500,000 new jobs, as well as huge private sector investment. Those are important matters on which Britain is leading and clearly setting the right example, which is very good. By contrast, I am keeping my fingers crossed that the Prime Minister’s unique boosterism will pull a rabbit out of a hat for the COP, because as he himself has said the approach to the COP is challenging.
We learned today from the Public Accounts Committee about the waste of £37 billion on NHS Test and Trace; I merely point out to those on the Treasury Bench that the £4 billion that has been cut so damagingly from the international development budget amounts to just 10% of that amount. Of course, it would be churlish of me not to recognise that today the Chancellor asserted his conviction that we must return to the 0.7% target and that we will be able to do so by 2024-25. I am fighting the inner cynic in me when I note that that commitment has been given for a period just after the likely date of the next election. Nevertheless, if the 0.7% is restored by that date, I promise the Chancellor of the Exchequer—if he is still Chancellor and not Prime Minister by then—that if, when he progresses north to his constituency at the end of that week, he can take the time to come to the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, I will buy him the best dinner that the town can provide. It would be an extremely good dinner. I very much regret that that cut was made but I am pleased to hear that the Chancellor puts a priority on this. We in the House must never forget that the development budget not only makes some of the poorest people in the world safer and more prosperous but makes us in Britain, in our constituencies and economic centres, safer and more prosperous.
Will those on the Treasury Bench clarify whether the funding for the special drawing rights that the IMF has issued and for the other measures, particularly the vaccines, will come out of the 0.5% of GNI, as it now is, or be in addition to that? Perhaps a Minister could make clear the position on that at some point.
Thirdly, on value for money, I am conscious that the taxpayer is going to provide an immense amount of money for the NHS catch-up and for social care. When the Government announced what is a very welcome measure indeed in the House, I asked what plans the Treasury had to monitor what taxpayers will get for the additional money; the response from those on the Treasury Bench was not as good as it could have been. I want to see Treasury officials all over this money. It will be hard-earned money provided by taxpayers and we need to demonstrate to them one of the mantras of the Department for International Development, before it was vapourised: that for every hard-earned pound taken off the taxpayer, 100p of value must be delivered on the ground. I hope that the Treasury will make certain that the Departments that spend the extra £12 billion a year raised through national insurance justify every penny of it, so that we can assure our constituents that it really is successful, incremental spending that works to their advantage.