A good Budget – but we can’t rest on our laurels! Ipswich’s Tom Hunt on his first Budget speech as an MP
PUBLISHED: 13:27 13 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:27 13 March 2020
Wednesday’s budget was my first as a new MP and rightly a large part of the Chancellor’s speech was dedicated to our economic response to the coronavirus. The importance of this effort was certainly brought home by the recent news of the first case in Suffolk.
The Chancellor's commitment to provide whatever the NHS needs to cope with coronavirus is reassuring and I won't hesitate to use my position in Parliament to direct these resources to Ipswich if necessary.
A number of weeks ago, I made an inspection of the isolation pods constructed at Ipswich Hospital when it was still unclear how widespread the virus would become. It's a tribute to the forward-thinking and expertise of our NHS staff that these measures were in place so early on.
I'm also keeping a close eye on the situation in Westminster with the first Member of Parliament testing positive for the virus, Nadine Dorries. We haven't yet reached a point where Parliament needs to close. It's important that we are there to represent our constituents at this crucial moment as key legislation on coronavirus passes through the House. Nevertheless, the first case in Parliament is an important reminder of the obligation on all of us to monitor our own health and stick to the guidance set by the NHS.
The Chancellor was also able to balance his speech with other measures for our economy and many of these will be highly positive for Ipswich residents. There were many issues in the Budget where we can clearly see that our campaigns are starting to cut through.
Before the Budget I was clear that the Government must come down on the side of working people when it comes to sharing the tax burden. That's why I had called on the Government for action on business rates to support retailers in our town centre and I pressed in Parliament for a reduction in beer duty to support the local pubs which play a vital role in our town's economy and community.
I'm pleased the Chancellor heard these calls as he outlined plans for a formal review of the business rates scheme this Autumn as well as a complete suspension of business rates for small leisure, retail and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of less than £51,000. He also outlined a freeze in all alcohol duties and an increase in the business rates discount for pubs from £1,000 to £5,000. While this doesn't yet go far enough in my opinion, it's clearly a step in the right direction. When I raised beer duty in Parliament, I told the story of a landlord in Ipswich who told me he felt more like a tax collector than a small business owner. I'm glad that these voices are being heard.
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Road users in Ipswich will also benefit from this budget. I was one of 36 MPs who wrote to the Chancellor urging him to avoid any hike in fuel duty and this has now been answered with fuel duty remaining frozen for another year. I know that many people in our town rely on private vehicles to get around and run their businesses, and they shouldn't be punished for using their cars. Road users will also benefit from £27 billion fund for the Strategic Road Network which will include upgrades to the A14.
Over the last months I've also had the privilege to meet and represent many of the leaseholders in St Francis Tower who have faced exorbitant costs to replace the highly combustible cladding which was on the building.
Public money has been available to replace the type of cladding on Grenfell Tower but not for the equally dangerous type found on St Francis Tower. This was a fundamental issue of fairness which I raised in Parliament where I urged the Government to make funds available for St Francis Tower leaseholders.
I'm glad the Chancellor has responded with a £1 billion fund for the removal of 'all unsafe combustible cladding'. This is a positive sign but I also understand why local leaseholders may not be breathing a sigh of relief just yet.
It's important now that this money gets to them and that the money available is enough to cover every tower block affected around the country. I'll be monitoring the roll-out of this fund very closely.
While it may be a footnote in the Budget for some, I think it's also important to highlight the £2.5 billion allocation the Chancellor made for filling 50 million potholes. The quality of our road surfaces mean more than the risk of a flat tyre.
Our streets are part of our community and they should reflect the sense of pride we have in the place we live. Since my election, I've been on a number of trips across the Town to report where road and pavement repairs are needed.
And we're already seeing progress. As local representatives, we must take responsibility for this. No issue where we can make a difference should be considered too small.
Next week I'll be speaking in the ongoing Budget debate where I intend to focus on funding fairer funding for Suffolk. This has been a good Budget but we can't afford to start resting on our laurels. Whether it's on police, education, health or infrastructure there is more to be done for Ipswich and I'm looking forward to building on our progress so far.