Bedford leaders respond to 2021 budget as chancellor sets out post-COVID recovery plans

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Pound coins and money

Bedford’s leaders have responded to today’s budget with both Labour and the Lib Dems saying it does not address the cost of living crisis.

“Families struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, businesses hit by a supply chain crisis, those who rely on our schools and our hospitals and our police won’t recognise the picture the Chancellor breezily tried to paint in today’s Budget,” said Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston (Labour).

Liberal Democrat Group Leader Councillor, Christine McHugh agreed, adding, “today the Chancellor’s Budget failed to address the cost of living crisis that millions of people face across the country.

“People who work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules deserve a fair deal. Instead, the Chancellor could only offer record high taxes, benefits cuts and no answer to energy bills skyrocketing by the day.

“The greatest betrayal of this budget is the woeful lack of action to help our children recover from the pandemic. The Government’s own catch-up tsar indicated that our children needed an investment of £15 billion to tackle what children have lost out on in the last 18 months.

“Instead, the Chancellor has offered just £1 per school day and has spent more on cutting the price of prosecco than saving our children’s futures.”

3p off a pint

Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out changes today for universal credit, which he says gives low-income families an extra £1,000 a year.

But critics say this does not make up for the loss of £20-a-week top-up cut earlier this year.

In what’s being called an ‘upbeat budget speech’, Mr Sunak said the pandemic had not hit the UK economy as hard as expected.

More money for schools and business rate cuts have been promised, as well as a reduction of 3p off the price of a pint of beer.

Speaking in the Commons this afternoon, the Chancellor said that “employment is up. Investment is growing. Public services are improving. The public finances are stabilising. And wages are rising.

“Today’s Budget delivers a stronger economy for the British people: stronger growth, with the UK recovering faster than our major competitors,” he told MPs

As reported by the BBC, he said unemployment had not hit the levels that were feared at the height of the pandemic.

But, inflation was set to rise further, from 3.1% to 4% over the next year.

“Party of taxation”

But local MP Mr Yasin, was sceptical of the budget’s apparent positive tone, calling the Conservatives a “party of taxation”.

In a statement this afternoon, he said, “every announcement from the Chancellor was about it being the ‘the biggest sum in a decade’ only exposing the fact that the Tories have starved every element of the public sector every year since coming to power.

“After taking £6 billion out of the pockets of some of the poorest people in this country Rishi Sunak is expecting them to cheer today for £2 billion given to compensate. As usual, it was a budget which gave with one hand and took away with the other.

“The bottom line is, there was very little to combat the spectre of rising inflation and the looming cost of living crisis with tax hikes for workers and tax cuts for banks and big business,” he said.

In a seemingly early election campaign pledge, Mr Yasin gave his thoughts on how Labour might have handled a post-pandemic budget.

“A Labour Budget would put working people first to ensure the next generation of quality jobs are created right here, in Britain,” he said.

“We’d tax fairly, we’d spend wisely and after a decade of anaemic growth we’d get Britain’s economy firing on all cylinders to face the big challenges that lie ahead.”

Climate failure

Further criticism from the local Liberal Democrat leader Christine McHugh was aimed at the Chancellor’s lack of environmental issues in the budget.

“Just days before the most important climate conference in a generation, the Chancellor failed to mention the words ‘climate’ or ‘environment’ in his hour-long speech and announced he will cut passenger duty on domestic flights and freeze fuel duty,” she said.

“These are not policies that are consistent with their claim to be a global leader on the environment. We desperately need ambition and commitment to our net-zero goals, so that we can effectively respond to the climate emergency.”

However, Mr Sunak did announce a cut in air passenger duty for internal UK flights, as well as a tax rise on what he described as “ultra long haul” flights.

Key points

Other points from the budget included:

  • A freeze on fuel duty
  • Funding per pupil in England’s schools to be restored to 2010 levels over the next three years
  • To “maintain competitiveness” there will be a 5% cut to the extra corporation tax banks have to pay
  • An extra £2.2bn for courts, prisons and probation services, including £500m to reduce courts backlogs
  • Spending on healthcare will increase by £44bn to over £177bn by the end of this parliament
  • £4.8bn for local government over the next three years for social care
  • £2.6bn for road upgrades across the UK
  • £5bn for cycling, walking and busses improvements across the UK
  • £46bn investment in railways as well as £5.7bn for “London-style transport settlements” in other parts of the UK

Looking at local impact, however, Bedford Borough Mayor Dave Hodgson (Liberal Democrats) commented “We are very disappointed that the Kempston bid has received no investment from the Levelling Up Fund.

“This investment could have been used to boost the economic vitality of the town centre, by regenerating the existing spaces and improving the walking and cycling infrastructure.

“The Borough has also not been granted additional funding via the Ox-Cam Arc bid for alleviating traffic congestion and enhancing sustainable transport, which adds to the disappointment of this budget.”

Conservative Deputy Group Leader, Councillor Roger Rigby said: “The budget will support local families, jobs, schools, business and industry.

“The cost of this country’s Covid-19 support alongside rising world energy prices created an incredibly difficult financial backdrop for the budget but the Chancellor recognised he needed to keep the financial spending taps open.

“We cannot hide from Covid induced inflation and high energy prices but the 6.6% increase in the National Living Wage, improvements to Universal Credit and other targeted support are vital.

“The new money to local schools and further support for businesses in the borough is also very welcome.

“It was suggested to me this was more a Labour budget with a Liberal Democrat sprinkling because it was not the anticipated Conservative austerity budget.

“But, I would describe it as a budget for these difficult times which continues to support our borough’s people and businesses moving slowly out of the pandemic.”

Bedford’s Green councillors have also weighed into the debate.

Councillors Lucy Bywater and Ben Foley (Green Party, Castle), said they believe the Chancellor failed to deliver in key green areas, including crucial funding for home insulation, nature restoration, and green skills.

In a joint statement, they said: “He’s [the chancellor] is so short-sighted in seeing net-zero ambitions as only a cost burden.

“It’s also a real opportunity for skilled jobs, better transport and food, and warmer homes. But Sunak didn’t mention ‘climate’ once in his speech and mentioned the crucial upcoming UK-hosted COP26 global conference just once in passing.

“It doesn’t send out a message that the Government is serious about addressing the climate and ecological crisis. That’s a moral failure exactly when this Government needs to be showing leadership.

“We’re shocked at the 50% cut in air passenger duty for domestic flights, alongside the cancelled planned rise in fuel duty, while confirming investment in new roads, so swelling the increasing trend for making driving and flying cheaper while rail journeys get ever more expensive.

“It’s downright wrong that the far more sustainable method of travel becomes increasingly the least affordable for people. There was actually more attention given to duty on beer, wine and spirits than the climate.

“As Caroline Lucas MP suggested, ‘Perhaps we are all supposed to drown our sorrows as extreme rainfall floods our homes’.”

They added that they also the budget is “a raw deal for young people,” commenting that “the Budget’s increase to the minimum wage does not help those under 23 or those on Universal Credit”.

“There was also no funding mentioned for refugees, despite the previous promises for support for those fleeing Afghanistan and whom Bedford wants to play its part in helping,” they said.

Update: This story was updated on 28 October 2021 at 10:29 am to include a comment from the Bedford Borough Conservative Group, who did not respond to our request for comment until after publication.

Update: This story was updated on 28 October 2021 at 13:38 am to include comments from Green Party Councillors.

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