LAST week was a big week on all fronts. A foreign policy review at the beginning of the week, new legislation to tackle the small boats issue, and of course the Spring Budget delivered by the Chancellor last Wednesday.
The Integrated Review Refresh 2023, to give it its official name, looks at the UK’s national security and international policy in the context of a more volatile world. The first duty of any government is to keep its people safe and the country secure, and the most pressing foreign policy priority currently is the threat that Russia’s abhorrent invasion of Ukraine poses to European security.
Of course, we must also refresh our approach to the challenges presented by China and keep an eye on the increasingly aggressive military and economic behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Chancellor set out a strong case for increasing defence spending by £2 billion in the Spring Budget on Wednesday, as we ramp up our national security protections and continue to provide huge quantities of military support for Ukraine’s defence. We led the response on Ukraine, we must continue to do so.
The Chancellor also set out some good domestic policies, building upon the stability he delivered in November last year. For families, fuel duty has been frozen, energy bills will benefit from the current cap (rather than the higher one originally proposed) for a further 3 months, and there will be 30 hours of free childcare for all under 5s. The increased provision means we need to incentivise more people to train and set up businesses as nursery nurses. This needs careful thought and planning to make sure demand can be met.
For businesses the government is incentivising investment, creating 12 new investment zones and fully expensing investment in IT equipment, plant, and machinery. Support for research and development intensive small and medium enterprises is welcome. However, limiting investment allowances to the manufacturing sector is not going to offset the hike in corporation tax for the service sector.
I had hoped to see more for the hospitality and leisure sector – but at least beer duty has been frozen and cask ale in pubs has seen its duty reduced! I have asked the chancellor to look again at the exclusion of pubs, hotels and restaurants from the heavy energy user support package. Fingers crossed!
I am particularly delighted that the Chancellor has listened to the concerns I have raised with him, and that Devon have secured some special wins. Devon County Council will benefit from an additional £9million to repair potholes - thanks to the Chancellor for name checking me in his speech! Teignmouth Arts Action Group (TAAG) community centre has also secured £88,560 from the Community Ownership Fund, allowing them to reinvigorate a crucial community asset.
And over £60 million has been awarded to public swimming pool providers to help with immediate cost pressures and make facilities more energy efficient. The support however needs to be extended to community run pools, and I have raised this with Ministers to see what support can be offered to keep the lights on and the pool heated.
Aside from the budget and the foreign policy refresh, the House also had the second reading of the Illegal Migration Bill, to stop the small boats channel crossings. This legislation is necessary because these individuals are crossing the Channel having been through France. Clearly, if an individual illegally enters the UK via a safe country where they could have claimed asylum, they are not seeking refuge from imminent peril but are picking the UK as a preferred destination over others. Voluntarily making a risky journey from a safe country should not be acceptable queue jumping.
And Dawlish was once again in party mood at Cofton as we celebrated Mayor Lisa Mayne’s year and her many achievements. Much fun - and a successful fund raiser for the Mayor’s three charities!
As always, if you would like to book a surgery appointment (in-person or virtual) or raise a specific issue, please call my office on 01626 368277 or email [email protected] to arrange an appointment.