27 NOV 2017

The budget

I welcome and support the budget. In this briefing I set out a few of the big picture issues it addresses and some that relate to this constituency. The Government is continuing to stick by its fiscal rules and make the public finances more sustainable. The deficit has been reduced by three quarters from a post-war high of 9.9 per cent of GDP in 2009-10 to 2.3 per cent in 2016-17, its lowest level since before the financial crisis. The Government has also properly grasped the scale of the UK's productivity challenge and is making the investments necessary to address it. Borrowing this year will be significantly lower than previously forecast.

The NHS

£6.3 billion of new funding for frontline NHS services and upgrades to NHS buildings and facilities has been announced. In addition, the government will fund pay awards for nurses and other relevant staff such as midwives and paramedics, provided they are part of a deal with the unions to boost productivity.

The NHS is a national issue which affects us all. The government had already endorsed the NHS's Five Year Forward View and funded it with £10 billion for the NHS by 2020-21. However, even with that funding, the health service remains under pressure with more people than expected using NHS services each year. That is why we are now providing the £6.3 billion of new funding as a significant increase to the NHS's budget. This will improve the service that patients receive in A&E, reduce waiting times for treatment after referral, and put the NHS on a stronger, more sustainable footing.

This funding should enable the NHS to:

  • meet the A&E four-hour target during the course of next year
  • make significant inroads into the waiting list and improve performance against waiting times targets
  • upgrade hospitals and other NHS facilities across England

It is worth recalling that in 2016-17 the NHS:

  • saw 2.9 million more A&E patients compared to 2010
  • started cancer treatment for 57,000 more people – giving the UK its highest ever cancer survival rate
  • performed 11.9 million operations and 21.4 million diagnostic tests

The 2016 British Social Attitude Survey showed overall satisfaction with the NHS remained at historically high levels, and the 2017 GP Patient Survey showed almost 85% of respondents rated their overall experience as good.

Air Quality

Action to improve air quality, including a new £220m Clean Air Fund, will be funded by targeted changes to company car tax and to vehicle excise duty for those buying new diesel cars. Drivers of petrol and ULEV cars, those who have already bought a diesel car, and vans and HGVs will not be affected, while all motorists will benefit from the Budget decision to freeze fuel duty.

There have been significant improvements in air quality in recent years, with nitrogen oxide emissions falling 19% between 2010 and 2015, and 69% since 1970. However, air pollution is still at harmful levels in some places including in Watlington and Henley in this constituency. The government published its National Air Quality Plan in July 2017. This required local authorities in England to draw up plans to improve air quality. In this Budget the government goes further with funding for a new Clean Air Fund to help people and businesses adapt and I hope this helps in the work the District Council is already doing.

In order to encourage manufacturers to bring the next-generation of clean diesels to market more quickly, the government is introducing a temporary levy on diesel cars. From April 2018:

new diesel cars will go up one Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) band in their first-year rate the existing Company Car Tax diesel supplement will increase by 1 percentage point

Neither charge will apply to next-generation clean diesel cars that meet the Real Driving Emissions Step 2 standard.

In support of the National Air Quality Plan, the government will use the money raised through these tax changes to pay for a new £220m Clean Air Fund. English local authorities with the most challenging pollution problems will be able to use this fund to support people and businesses to adapt as measures to improve air quality are implemented. This new fund is in addition to the £255m funding for the plan announced in July, and takes the total amount invested in air quality and cleaner transport to £3.2bn since 2010.

The government also wants to see fully self-driving cars, without a human safety operator, on UK roads by 2021. There are trials driving these at Culham Science Park. We will take action to ensure the UK is a world leader in electric cars, including: £200 million government investment, matched by the private sector. This is likely to have the single most major impact on air quality.

Housing

Together with the reforms announced in the Housing White Paper, the Budget puts us on track to raise housing supply to 300,000 per year, on average, by the mid-2020s.

The Budget makes available over £15 billion of new financial support for house building over the next five years, bringing total support for housing to at least £44 billion over this period. It introduces planning reforms to ensure more land is available for housing and that the country is maximising the potential of its towns and cities to build new homes.

The Budget also confirms: an additional £10 billion for the Help to Buy Equity loan announced in October to help 135,000 more people buy new build homes. It will also bring together public and private capital to build five new Garden Towns.

The planning system will protect the Green Belt, at the same time addressing the lack of availability of land in the right places for new homes and ensure the UK makes better use of underused land in towns and cities. To improve land availability for development, the government has begun considering intervention in 15 areas where there is not an up-to-date plan.

The government will continue to support those looking to buy homes now, through Stamp Duty Land Tax and the Help to Buy Equity Loan. It will run a competition to develop innovative solutions that help first time buyers ensure their rental payments are recognised in their mortgage applications. The government will also allow local authorities to increase the council tax premium on empty homes to 100% to make sure homes are kept in use.

We are committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022, and eliminating it by 2027. The government will also provide £20m of funding for schemes to support people at risk of homelessness to access and sustain tenancies in the private rented sector. To support Housing Benefit and Universal Credit claimants living in areas where private rents have been rising fastest, the government will increase some Local Housing Allowance rates by increasing Targeted Affordability Funding by £40m in 2018-19 and £85m in 2019-20. The government will also consult on the barriers to landlords offering more secure tenancies to those tenants who want them.

There is also a deal with Oxfordshire which I hope will provide infrastructure to accompany the houses councils have agreed to build (100,000). The consultation on the housing need figures I announced a little while ago continues but it does not prevent councils agreeing a separate figure for deals such as this. There are a lot of questions still to be answered on this which I am putting to our councils.

Universal Credit

Universal credit represents the biggest modernisation of the welfare state in a generation. It supports those who can work and cares for those who cannot. Already evidence shows that under universal credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the previous system. Once it is fully rolled out it will boost employment by about 250,000.

There have been some concern on the delivery of Universal Credit, which I understand. I am therefore pleased that the Budget announced a £1.5 billion package to address these concerns. From February 2018, the Government will remove the seven-day waiting period so that entitlement to Universal Credit starts on the first day of application. From January 2018 those who need it, and who have an underlying entitlement to Universal Credit, will be able to access up to a month's worth of Universal Credit within five days via an interest-free advance. The period for repaying advances through reduced payments will also be extended from six to twelve months, making it easier for claimants to manage their finances. The Government will also make it possible to apply for an advance online. From April 2018 those already on Housing Benefit will continue to receive their award for the first two weeks of their Universal Credit claim.

Stamp Duty

The Government will permanently raise the price at which a property becomes liable for Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) to £300,000 for first-time buyers to help young people buy their first home.

This is to ensure that this relief also helps first time buyers in very high price areas like Oxfordshire, it will also be available on the first £300,000 of the purchase price of properties up to £500,000, meaning an effective reduction of £5,000. The relief will not apply for purchases of properties worth over £500,000. This measure will ensure a stamp duty cut for 95 per cent of all first-time buyers who pay stamp duty, and will mean no stamp duty at all for 80 per cent of first-time buyers.

Boost for RAF Benson

Under the terms of the budget, a further £36 million of banking fines has been committed over the next 3 years to support Armed Forces and Emergency Services charities and other related good causes. This completes the LIBOR Charity Funding scheme. The successful applicants will receive the funding from April 2018. Oxfordshire Play Association (OPA) will provide community support facilities to Service families at RAF Benson and Dalton Barracks in Oxfordshire and has been awarded £98,535. I am delighted that OPA has won this grant and that it can support children at RAF Benson with good quality play experiences. It is a great support to our Armed Forces and will be much enjoyed.

Other issues

There were, of course, other issues raised in the budget including schools, fuel duty, alcohol duty, the personal allowance, and the National Living Wage. There were also other measures to support business on which I hope to write separately.

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