The 2016 Budget will be remembered for its unravelling over the weekend and a cabinet minister’s resignation.
The Chancellor announced a cut of £1 billion a year to benefits for disabled people, only to scrap it just five days later under pressure from Labour. The cuts to Personal Independence Payments would have left 1,106 disabled people £3,500 worse off each year in Wakefield. Yet in the same budget the Chancellor handed out tax breaks to the top 5 per cent of taxpayers. Wrong choices, wrong priorities.
We will not stand by and let the most vulnerable bear the brunt of Tory austerity and we welcome the government u-turn. There was another success in the budget for Labour on the tampon tax. Under pressure from Paula Sherriff MP, the Chancellor announced that the unfair VAT charged on sanitary products would be dropped.
The government also backed down on its attempt to raise VAT on solar panels. They have already put 18,000 jobs at risk in the renewables industry, leaving British businesses to pay the price of their failure.
But there was bad news for local councils. The Chancellor exempted 600,000 businesses from paying business rates, at a cost of £7 billion. But with no clarity about whether, and how, the Treasury will compensate local councils, this is another cut to council services by the back door. There was little to welcome for our transport network, either. There was talk of a new high-speed railway for the north, linking Leeds with Manchester. But the Chancellor actually announced a study into the feasibility of running faster trains through Victorian-era tunnels on the Leeds-Manchester line.
Last week, I spoke in a Parliament debate against the decision to close Wakefield Magistrates’ Court. The closure will result in more failed cases as victims and witnesses will have to go to Leeds. It will waste police time getting officers to courts, and it will be more difficult for Wakefield Express reporters to report court issues if they have to travel. It takes local justice away from the areas in which crimes are committed.
The Budget was typical of David Cameron’s government - missed targets on growth, productivity and investment, hand-outs for the rich, cuts to the poor and disabled, a £4 billion black hole, and policies that failed to survive the weekend. His raft of court closures is the latest sign that when it comes to northern cities that he just doesn’t get it.