I’m a natural optimist. We can and must be positive and ambitious for the future of Plymouth. But I was left disappointed by Wednesday’s Budget that saw a Conservative Chancellor out of ideas and making zero mention of investment in our city and next to nothing for the far South West.
So, what does this Budget mean for Plymouth? Let’s start with money for the city’s public services. The Budget offered nothing to ease the crisis in funding caused by the almost £2m a week cut in funding to Plymouth City Council by 2020. That means no more money to help social care services take some of the strain off of the NHS. There was some additional money for the NHS, but the Chair of NHS England has said it is not enough, stating that there will be “a difficult debate about what is possible to deliver to patients”. With Derriford repeatedly on Black Alert, and the Council struggling to fund adult social care, we needed to see much much more.
And for all the recent press about a potential u-turn from the Government and lifting the public sector pay cap which affects so many Plymothians, we saw nothing. Whilst there were some welcome changes on Universal Credit, they did not go far enough. It needs to be paused and fixed before it starts to drive both working and unemployed people in Plymouth into debt and to food banks. On top of this, there was a missed opportunity to reverse cuts which have led to the black hole in the defence budget that sees our marines, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion at threat.
A bright future for Plymouth will be built on the growth of our local businesses and the creation of new high-value and secure jobs in the area. But for these to succeed, what happens nationally really matters. The national economic picture is not pretty. UK growth has been downgraded to below 2% in every forecast year for the first time in modern history. George Cowcher, chief executive of Devon Chamber of Commerce, called the Budget “unexciting and unsurprising”. My view? It’s time to give high potential cities like Plymouth something tangible to get excited about.
The headlines about the Chancellor backing driverless cars are all well and good, but will mean little in reality to a driver stuck in hour-long jams on the Tavistock Road. Whilst other regions received billions on transport infrastructure, the South West was all but forgotten. Committing £30m for a rail link upgrade, as proposed by Luke Pollard MP, would have sent a positive message about Plymouth’s place in the country.
Johnny Mercer, Conservative MP for Plymouth Moor View, declared that he was “delighted” by this woeful Budget, but this was a Budget that made zero mention of Plymouth, and little mention of the far South West. Mr Mercer, yet again, chose to toe the Government line, describing those who questioned this as being “precious”. Mr Mercer should know that the Budget is key in setting the priorities of Government and civil servants. To claim that Plymouth’s omission does not matter is at best naive. At worst, it is complicity, propping up a Government that is leaving people and places behind in our city.