Last week Mel was the second MP to respond to the Chancellor's Budget after the Leader of the Opposition. His speech to the Commons, via video, is shown above. Below is a local newspaper column he wrote about it.
Last week the Chancellor delivered his budget. It included £40 million of investment in our constituency for a new passenger rail service between Okehampton and Exeter. The first services, running every two hours, should begin this year and then double to every hour in 2022. As well as providing a valuable service to residents in and around Okehampton, this is good news for businesses on Dartmoor who will benefit from increased tourism. It will also be good for our environment. Taking cars off the A30 should reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality for communities such as Tedburn St Mary, Whitestone and Ide.
Nationally, the main headline was a major extension of support for families, jobs and businesses. This includes extending the furlough scheme, new grants and loans for businesses, and further grants for the self-employed. As Chair of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee I have pressed the Chancellor hard on supporting more who have fallen through gaps in previous support measures and I am very pleased that 600,000 newly self-employed workers will now be eligible for self employed grants.
There is support for those on lower incomes with a six-month extension to the £20/week Universal Credit uplift and a £500 one-off payment for other benefit claimants. The minimum wage will increase by 2.2%, giving a full-time worker earning the minimum wage a boost of £400 a year.
A Restart Grant of up to £18,000 will help businesses as they reopen and there will be substantial support for new apprenticeships and training programmes. Businesses rates holidays and a reduction in VAT for the hospitality sector will be extended, and support for the sports, arts and culture sectors will be increased by £700 million.
The Stamp Duty holiday will be extended for another three months and a new mortgage guarantee scheme will begin in April that backs 95% mortgages. This should be a big help to families in Central Devon trying to get on the property ladder.
But the Chancellor was also clear that there needs to be a clear plan for getting on top of the public finances over the longer term. In one of my articles before the budget I highlighted Corporation Tax as one area the Chancellor might target and this was confirmed, with taxes on company profits above £250,000 increasing from 19% to 25%. The burden will fall on the largest and most profitable businesses with 70% of businesses unaffected. Income Tax thresholds are being frozen from April 2021 to April 2026 meaning that as people earn more they will pay some more tax.
The budget was well balanced between avoiding tax rises immediately and yet setting out how the deficit will be dealt with through raising tax over future years. For our constituency a huge plus was the £40 million to get the Okehampton to Exeter rail service up and running. I first started campaigning on this over a decade ago with countless meetings with ministers - some things are worth the wait.