As I write, George Osborne has just left No.11 Downing St for the House of Commons to deliver what is his fifth budget. For the sake of Copeland, Cumbria and the rest of the country, I hope that it is his last.
Far from being simply an opportunity for any Chancellor to offer a cosmetic bribe with a penny here or there, the Budget should be the platform from which the government outlines its vision for the country and its future. At this stage, it’s also an opportunity for the country to judge a government and chancellor after five years in office.
After five years, by any measure but particularly with regard to the measures of success that he asked the country to judge him on in 2010, George Osborne’s record is one of failure. Osborne claimed that the deficit would be gone by 2015, but it now stands at £75 billion. On top of this, he’s borrowed over £200 billion more than he planned. We’ve had the slowest economic recovery in a century and wages are down an average of £1600 per year since David Cameron became Prime Minister. The independent Institute of Fiscal Studies calculates that the changes to tax and benefits introduced by Osborne have left working families worse off by an average of £1, 127 per year. We’ve had the bedroom tax forcing people into penury and local government budgets have been slashed.
But it’s not all bad news. If you earn over £150,000 per year, George has cut your taxes. Happy days.
Our plan for Copeland has taken ten years to reach the point at which we now find ourselves: on the verge of unprecedented economic growth and opportunity. The government has largely hindered rather than helped this and action is required from George Osborne in four areas today: on education and skills, health care, infrastructure and local governance.
Our plan for the Energy Coast means that we are about witness investment on an Olympic scale.
We need to see more investment in developing skills for local people and our young people to ensure that we can truly benefit from the work we have put in: I expect to see investment going into nuclear skills and have repeatedly made this call, but our local secondary schools require significant investment after the government withdrew the Building Schools for the Future money – almost £70m – allocated by the last government.
Today, we need to see support for my calls for improvements to the A595: we are building a 21st Century economy, but are stuck with 19th Century infrastructure.
We also need to see radical improvements in local healthcare services. The Cumbrian health economy faces significant challenges and has been hit by consistent cuts. Osborne must give the NHS the resources it needs instead of continuing to pursue real-terms cuts with a smoke and mirrors exercise. And let’s be clear – cuts to social care are cuts to the NHS. Government will have to go some way to replace the money that was taken from the new hospitals projects in Millom, Maryport, Keswick and elsewhere immediately after the last general election, not to mention the massive damage caused by its privatisation agenda.
For Cumbria to fulfill its potential, national government must address the issue of local government. Copeland Borough Council is unsustainable in its current form with current funding. The Chancellor must ensure that local government has the resources it needs to fulfil its functions: local government reform in Cumbria is overdue.
Our best days are ahead of us, and the government should use the budget to back our plans to help us achieve our full potential and become one of the fastest growing regional economies anywhere in the country. Five years of damage is more than enough.