I spoke in the debate following the Budget today to raise a number of issues, including: the lack of financial support for those excluded from UK Government financial support schemes; the need for action to reverse the chronic lack of Tory Government investment in rail in South East Wales as highlighted in the Burns review; the UK Government’s decision not to uplift legacy benefits for the 5211 households in Newport East; funding for Wales; and support for our steel industry.
Here’s my speech in full:
As always with Tory Budgets, the devil will be in the detail. As the Leader of the Opposition rightly pointed out, what was announced today is the Chancellor papering over the cracks, not rebuilding our foundations. It is not a long-term plan to tackle the deep-seated problems of insecurity and inequality that this Government have presided over.
We have become used to Tory pledges of so-called new funding for Wales unravelling as soon as they are made. We saw that in January, when the Chancellor trumpeted an additional £227 million for Wales, only for the Secretary of State for Wales to have to admit within hours that it was not new money at all but funding repackaged and reannounced.
On the shared prosperity fund, we still do not know today whether the Government will make good on their promise to the Welsh people that we will receive not a penny less than we would have received in crucial EU structural funding. The Government’s plan to cut out the Welsh Government and run funds themselves is not respecting the devolution settlement. We need this Government to work with, not against, the Welsh Government and put those funds to best use, where they are needed most.
This comes at a time when this Tory Government would do well to learn from the example of Wales. The Welsh Government have provided the most generous support package for business and workers in the UK. In contrast, this Government have excluded 3 million people from support schemes for nearly a year. Moves to help the newly self-employed are welcome, but why has it taken a year to hear the loud pleas of those left out? As ExcludedUK has said, when the Chancellor promises to do “‘whatever it takes to support British people and businesses’”, that is “the phrase that sticks most in the craw of many”.
Nor is there any credible plan to ease the burden of debt in so many businesses, which will hamper growth.
I hoped to hear today some good news on rail infrastructure funding, which is so important in south-east Wales. Wales accounts for 11% of the UK network but, under this Government, gets only 2% of rail investment. This chronic underinvestment was specifically identified by Lord Burns and the South East Wales Transport Commission’s recent report as something for this Government to fix, with work on the South Wales relief lines crucial, and new stations for Magor, Llanwern and Somerton as part of the plan. This Government appear to be ignoring their own responsibility to do this.
There can be no post-pandemic economic recovery without a strong and healthy UK steel industry, but distinct measures to benefit the steel industry were thin on the ground today. While the Chancellor has belatedly extended the £20 uplift in universal credit, this will only last until September. That means that the threat of losing £1,000 a year will still hang over 6 million families, just as the extension to furlough ends. Is this what the Chancellor meant in his statement by “going long to help”? What about those on legacy benefits—where is the support for them? There is still no news on scrapping the six-month rule for those who are terminally ill.
In Newport East, we have many people working in the public sector, and I know that, in a Labour Budget, key workers would have been at the centre, along with a bold and ambitious plan to help our young people. As the Leader of the Opposition said, there are few silver linings today from a Government who have presided over the worst economic crisis of any major economy.