Parliament this week was still reeling from the Autumn Statement made by the Chancellor, George Osborne on Tuesday 28 November. My colleagues from the North East and I have been doing a lot of work to highlight the potentially disastrous impact of continued austerity for the region. Over the coming weeks I will continue to push the government to invest in the North East and create the jobs we need to help the economy recover.
These efforts will need to be redoubled after the announcement this week by the Department for Communities and Local Government stating that Local Authorities are to have their budgets cut yet again.
This looks set to have serious implications for the North East. Local Authorities are one of UK’s largest employers, employing 22,000 people in Durham alone. Continued cut backs to already seriously reduced Local Authority budgets mean that even more jobs may have to be cut on top of the 145,000 redundancies made by England’s 353 councils already this year.
The Government must help create jobs not destroy them. The number of people in County Durham coming off benefits into work has fallen by 6.1 per cent since last year. The more people that are out of work the more we will have to pay in benefits making us less able to pay off the deficit.
This is why my Labour colleagues and I want to see the Government give tax breaks to every small firm which takes on extra workers rather than bureaucratic subsidies. We will also be pushing for a tax on Bankers’ Bonuses which would generate £2 billion which we would use to create 100,000 jobs for young people.
Further cutbacks will also have a noticeable impact on communities in the North East as councils will only be able to provide the bare minimum of services at a time when people, especially families need these services most. This year the Government has taken £1.3 billion from families through freezing working tax credits hugely reducing the income of many families. These cuts come shortly after the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, announced that he has ‘found’ £250 million of taxpayers’ money to pay for weekly bin collections. The Coalition has clearly got its priorities wrong and once again the Coalition’s economic policies are hurting but not working.
This week brought to light startling figures which reveal the enormous number of students in the North East being deterred from applying to university.
It has been a year since the Lib-Dem Tory coalition decided to treble university tuition fees. The impact of this rise has been staggering with a national fall in university applications of 15.1 per cent. However, even more shocking were the figures for the North East which show a 21.4 per cent in the number of applications from young people in the region. This is the greatest fall in the UK and proves that the Coalition’s policies are having a disproportionate and unfair impact on students from some areas more than others.
My Labour colleagues and I will be pushing for the Government to reduce tuition fees and pay for higher education through scrapping the Corporation Tax cut on banks and asking the highest earning 10 per cent of graduates to contribute more through a graduate tax system. This is much fairer and would allow students from poorer backgrounds to attend university without the fear of major debt.
On Wednesday I attended a reception being held by the National Union of Students. At the event I gave out awards for several Students Unions to recognise the work that they have been doing to ensure that they deliver the best possible learning environment for their members. As you would expect there was a lot of discussion at the event about the disastrous impact of the hike in tuition fees. The NUS has done a lot of good research into the likely impacts of the changes for higher education in the country.
On Wednesday I was delighted to speak at the Parliamentary launch of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA)’s New Market Towns initiative in my role as Shadow Planning Minister. The launch was attended by a large audience and I was joined on the panel of speakers by Clive Rand of Barton Willmore and Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the TCPA.
Planning and new planning concepts are increasingly in the spotlight as we attempt to respond to the challenges of the UK’s worsening housing crisis. At a time when it has never been more important, the planning system is in chaos as a result of the Government’s rushed and ill-thought through proposals. This crisis has been made even worse by the Lib Dem-Tory Government’s mishandling of the economy its devastating impact on house building.
Just 22 affordable houses were built in the North East last year. This is an appalling figure and shows that the Lib Dem-Tory coalition are failing to help the thousands of families struggling to get a home. This is an issue which looks set to get worse; the Barker Review of Housing Supply predicted that there will be 209,000 new households created every year until 2026.
In order to deal with this it is vital that alternative and longer-term planning proposals are considered alongside the need to safeguard the environment for future generations. I believe that Garden Cities and New Market Towns should be an important part of any future plans.