The Chancellor today made some tough but fair decisions to restore economic stability and tackle inflation. Inflation makes everyone poorer, and that is why he reiterated that it should be the Government’s number one priority to get a grip on inflation.
Despite the global economic turbulence and the need for the country to rebalance the books there are no headline tax increases. There is more money for schools and the NHS, and a plan to boost economic growth. Continuing to invest into schools and skills was particularly welcome and I am delighted that North Devon resident and Chancellor of Exeter University, Sir Michael Barber, is to lead a holistic review of education policy.
A great deal has been said in the run up to this statement, that it would be a nightmare before Christmas that would have made even Scrooge wince. But while there has clearly been a tightening of government spending, we are standing by the most vulnerable. We are uprating benefits in line with inflation and keeping the pensions triple lock. The Chancellor mentioned the specific increase to Pension Credit, this is incredibly important as there are still nationally over 20% of people who could be receiving this support who are not claiming it. If you are not sure, please do check whether you are entitled.
We are also capping the increase of social rental prices to 7% and increasing the national living wage by 9.7%. I was disappointed to hear that the proposed investment zones will be centred around University Campuses which will not help in North Devon. I am, however, glad that the next phase of Levelling Up grants will stay in place and we have a good bid in Ilfracombe that would dovetail with the recent Arts Council England support for North Devon Theatres.
As Chair of the All Party Group on Broadband and Digital Connectivity I also welcome the commitment to infrastructure spending, which crucially includes broadband.
I was delighted this week with the visit of the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, to Appledore Shipyard and the contract that Harland and Wolf have won. This is excellent news for our local marine and manufacturing sector. Appledore Dockyard previously built modules for the Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and is well set up to deliver. As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Celtic Sea I warmly welcome this confidence in Appledore and hope with further investment in our port infrastructure they will also be better placed to provide support and maintenance for future Floating Offshore Wind farms, investment into which was again confirmed by the Chancellor this week.
There is also some extra support for our councils and while it is disappointing that social care changes will be delayed, Devon County Council and other authorities had been warning for months that they were just not ready. The additional funding will hopefully help social care in Devon, but we will sadly, also see additional council tax rises.
There will be a £14 billion business rates package to support high streets. The Business Rates Revaluation will go ahead, but over the next five years the Government will provide a generous support package to help the high street and protect businesses from large Rates increases. This support includes a freeze to the Business Rates multiplier, a Transitional Relief Scheme, a Supporting Small Businesses Scheme, and a 75% retail, hospitality and leisure relief, worth up to £110,000 per business.
The Energy Price Guarantee will continue to support everyone for another year. This winter, the price households pay for the energy they use will be capped, so that a typical household will pay £2,500. From April 2023, the price cap will rise so that a typical household will pay £3,000. The Energy Price Guarantee will then end in April 2024.
I am sure there will be many things that households and businesses will have wanted to hear but did not on this occasion. Overall, this statement was fair and reasonable and I look forward to next week and the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill where I plan to support several amendments to help our housing problems.