Last week’s budget was one unlike any other I can remember in my lifetime. Even former Labour MPs such as Frank Field were tweeting it was the best budget in their 42 years in politics. While finding cross-party unity for national budgets is always welcome it should not hide that the challenge ahead is significant.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in March 2020 stated he would do 'whatever it takes’ to see the country through the pandemic. After thirteen long months his policies have helped millions of individuals and businesses alike and above all kept the economy going and the country moving. In previous years such measures of lockdown would have crippled and collapsed national economies in a matter of weeks.
However, his attention has now turned (and rightly so) to restoring our public finances to a responsible level, paying down the debt without having to cut public finances and helping to reopen and restart businesses while creating new jobs and training opportunities for old and young alike. This is undoubtedly a tall order but one that was spelt out with great clarity, honesty and understanding in last week’s budget.
The Chancellor needed to level with the British public to detail the impact Covid has had on our coffers, whilst also showing there is a way forward and we can regain an economic foothold while remaining fiscally responsible. Within the budget, there is much to be welcomed here in South Devon.
Firstly, tourism and hospitality businesses can expect further grace periods of VAT at 5% until the end of September 2021, followed by a further six months at 12.5% until March 2022, as well as a business rate holiday extension. A cut worth nearly £5bn and 6bn respectively, but perhaps more importantly a huge opportunity for tourism and hospitality businesses here in South Devon to be provided with the breathing space to recover and repair their finances and face the future with greater certainty. Both extensions are campaigns I am proud to have led in Westminster and grateful to have secured.
Secondly, the new ‘Restart Programme’ designed to help the unemployed back to work. By doubling the number of work coaches, continuing the Kickstart Scheme, and providing fully funded Level 3 qualification training through the Prime Minister’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee. There can be little doubt the necessary steps are being taken to mitigate the impact of unemployment and to create new opportunities for those who have lost their jobs or who are entering the job market for the very first time.
Finally, as we unlock, reopening businesses that have been shut for weeks on end is likely to be a challenge. Reawakening our dormant highstreets requires support and the new ‘Restart Grant’ will offer non-essential businesses grants of up to £6,000 per premise. Those larger businesses such as in the tourism and leisure sectors will be able to apply for grants up to £18,000.
These three areas alone will see the majority of our tourism and hospitality businesses supported, our highstreets reopened, and our workforce assisted back into employment or helped to retrain. Such steps are exactly the right course to help repair our local and national economy and to take advantage of the projected growth we are likely to see over 2021 and 2022.
As has often be said, ‘good crisis management is about being quick with the facts and slow with the blame.’ The Chancellor has produced a budget based on the facts and one that will help to reignite the British economy.