On the whole, I think this is a really good budget for Ipswich. Clearly there are two items that are specific to Ipswich and the local area that stand out. Firstly, the £25 million that was announced for the Ipswich Town Deal that will fund 11 projects across the Town. These projects have now been confirmed having previously gone out for public consultation and I look forward to working closely with Dr Dan Poulter and other members of the Town Deal Board to turn these projects into a reality and a positive legacy for the Town.
Having Freeport East confirmed as one of the first freeports in the country was also great news. All in all, around 6,000 of my constituents are either directly or indirectly employed by the Port of Felixstowe and I’m very excited about what the implications of the Port being a freeport could mean for skills, jobs and investment in the area.
More generally however, I was also very pleased to see the significant amount of new support for businesses. Particularly the hospitality sector that has been so badly impacted by the pandemic. The recovery grants and the positive news regarding VAT, business rates and duties may well end up being a lifeline for many.
I signed a few letters ahead of the budget with other MPs. I signed one calling for the £20 increase in Universal Credit to be extended for as long as the pandemic and its effects go on for. I’m pleased it was confirmed today that the increase has been extended for 6 months. I also signed a letter calling for fuel duty to be frozen. I’m pleased that it was confirmed today that it has been frozen for a record 10th consecutive year.
I also believe that the decision to extend the furlough scheme until the autumn is wise. Hopefully by the time it ends, the economy will have had a good few months to really kick off following the end of the restrictions and we can safeguard as many of those jobs as possible.
Clearly, over the coming years the Chancellor is going to have to make a number of tough decisions to repay the huge debts we’ve incurred fighting this pandemic. He made a start today in outlining some of the ways he plans to do this. However, I was pleased that in outlining his approach to increasing Corporation Tax over time he is acutely sensitive to the need to not hit smaller businesses.
On Thursday I sought assurances from the Government that when it comes to freeport bids, the Government would consider the hugely beneficial impact a freeport in Felixstowe would have on some of the most deprived communities in Ipswich.
A freeport would be hugely beneficial for Felixstowe. The port is already responsible for the employment of 6,000 of my constituents whether directly or indirectly and it would be a huge boost for us. When it comes to the government’s levelling up agenda, it is of course important that attention is paid not only to northern towns but also to measures which will help some of the most deprived communities in our town. This should be at the centre of the Government’s thinking when it comes to these freeports.
The Minister informed me that that was precisely the thinking behind these freeports and that it was right that we should be advocating for them on behalf of those who need opportunities and need to benefit from the levelling up agenda. He agreed that the benefits of the Governments free trade agenda should be shared across the country including in Ipswich. It would attract new investors, drive up trade, and create regenerate our communities by creating more jobs and providing better infrastructure.
Amongst other things the Chancellor stated this afternoon that he’s keen to visit the California Social Club once the pandemic is over!
This followed a question I raised in the House of Commons Chamber today about the Ipswich Hospitality. I informed him of the virtual roundtable event I held with the hospitality sector in Ipswich last month. It was a very sobering meeting and I was very sad to hear about the extreme anxiety many feel about the businesses many have poured their whole lives into.
While I welcomed the grant support that the Chancellor announced last week I pointed out that a number of publicans and restaurant owner still fear for the future of their establishments.
I sought assurances from the Chancellor that he would be reflecting on what further support might be provided ahead of the budget specifically regarding the potential extension of the business rates holiday throughout 2021 and also an extension of the support on VAT.
There is light at the end of the tunnel! But when we end up in that better place I want to make sure that all our great pubs, restaurants and social clubs are still with us.
The Chancellor recognised that I seek to champion Ipswich’s fantastic hospitality industry and assured me that he would bare in mind those suggestions on how the Government can look at providing further support. He understands that our hospitality industry is vital for our local communities, employing over two million people nationally and that they have borne the brunt of these restrictions and so deserve our support as we emerge on the other side.
Used a question during the Spending Review today to welcome new measures like the £4 billion Levelling Up Fund for local infrastructure but also underline to the Chancellor how Ipswich must be very much part of the mix when it comes to this funding, alongside the Midlands and the North. These regions are often spoken about when it comes to levelling up the country but our town deserves to be a big part of this conversation as well.
I also welcomed the increase in the schools budget by £7.1 billion by 2022-23 compared to 2019-20 and the plans to rebuild 500 schools over the next decade are important but we have to be clear that children with SEND must get the benefits of this funding as well. And it was good that in response to me the Chancellor was able to confirm that £300 million has been allocated for new school places for children with SEND which is about 4 times as much than was provided to local authorities a year ago.
More high quality special school places is something I’ve been calling for since my election, and I’ve seen first-hand how these places make a huge difference to youngsters through my involvement as a Governor at the new Sir Bobby Robson school in Ipswich. A further special school on Woodbridge Road in Ipswich is due to open in 2022 for young people with speech and language difficulties which is highly positive. But that being said, I know there are still children in Ipswich who would benefit from a place at a special school but can’t get one and we must go further. And I’ll be looking very closely at how Ipswich can benefit from this increased funding for new places the Chancellor spoke about.
It is the case that special school places to cost more, but it’s the right thing to do and we’ll all benefit as a society if children with SEND are able to achieve their full potential.
Back in May, the landlords of the Arcade Tavern pub got in touch with me to highlight the despicable behaviour of their insurance company. I raised in Parliament today how this insurer is refusing to pay out on the Arcade Tavern’s insurance against notifiable diseases by blaming the Government for the pub’s loss of income rather than Covid-19. And using technicalities in the contract’s wording to get out of paying.
This has left the Arcade Tavern facing the double burden of this pandemic while also having to fight for the money they’re entitled to. I’ve already written to the Chancellor and the insurance company in question about this case, but so far nothing has budged and it was appropriate to call out what’s happened to the Arcade Tavern in the Chamber today, and urge the Government to look very unfavourably on insurers who don’t honour their contracts. This mustn’t go without consequence when the pressure on pubs and other businesses in Ipswich has never been greater.
The Arcade Tavern is one of my favourite pubs in Ipswich and it’s not right they’re having to fight for this money when they did the responsible thing by taking out insurance. This case does have all the hallmarks of the small business being stitched up by the bigger one, and the Business Minister was right to describe it as incredibly concerning. I’ll be sharing the letters I’ve received from the Arcade Tavern directly with the Minister so this case can be looked into directly. I won’t let this drop.
The Chancellor announced a number of welcome measures today for businesses and people with jobs that have been affected by additional social distancing restrictions:
💷 A more generous Job Support Scheme with employers contributing significantly less.
💷 Cash grants for hospitality and leisure businesses in Tier 2 – worth up to £2,100 a month and backdated to August.
💷 A doubling of the self-employment grant from 20% to 40% of self-employed people’s profits.
Much of this support is targeted at areas in Tier 2 which have much higher rates of Covid-19 than Ipswich does but hopefully it will be reassuring for businesses that, as of today, a far more generous support package will be available if the worst comes to the worst and Ipswich is moved to Tier 2 further down the line. However Tier 2 is a long way off for Ipswich and clearly I hope we never get to the point where Tier 2 is necessary.
I’ve been calling for a flexible and localised approach to protecting lives, livelihoods and liberties through this pandemic and it’s good this support package reflects that. It’s also right that these measures support businesses which remain open but are impacted by additional restrictions alongside support that is available for businesses which have had to close.
After his statement, I asked the Chancellor about supporting pubs through the winter by allowing them to use grants to help them purchase equipment like heaters and gazebos which would allow people to continue to eat, drink and socialise outdoors. Clearly in Tier 2, where groups of up to 6 from different households can only socialise outside, having this equipment available is absolutely critical. Even in places in Tier 1 like Ipswich, where social distancing is in place, this is an important way pubs can use the space available to them to welcome more customers.
We need to think carefully about how we can support businesses, including in Ipswich’s hospitality sector, to stay open as much as possible. On the other hand it’s clear that the Labour Party’s approach of shutting Ipswich’s pubs and restaurants down completely, despite the low levels of Covid-19 in our town, would be a hammer blow to them and put the livelihoods of many who work in the sector at risk.
I’ll continue to follow all aspects of Chancellor’s announcement today and what it means for pubs and other businesses in Ipswich.
Got an important question in virtually today about the return of Ipswich Town Fans to Portman Road. I visited the stadium last week where the club had been ready to welcome back 1,000 fans to a test event before the Government announced a nationwide postponement of fans returning.
I made the point to Jacob Rees-Mogg that this blanket decision is a disappointment for Ipswich when we have a relatively low rate of Covid-19 and our local club is confident it can welcome back a small number of fans safely. The club is an iconic feature in our town but it’s struggling and we need to get to a place where lockdown measures take local factors like this into account.
I’ll keep doing everything I can to support Ipswich Town through the challenges it’s facing