I want to start my contribution today with words of gratitude and admiration for the dedication and professionalism of all in our health services at this extremely difficult time.
This is a challenge that none of us would have wanted to face, but it is important that we are united in doing so and that help the NHS to help us by taking the precautionary measures of hand washing through to self-isolation where and when required.
I do certainly congratulate the Chancellor on his determination to take mitigating action against the challenges of COVID-19 in his ambitious Budget.
It is a responsible and reassuring message from the Treasury that they have stepped up promptly and resolutely, echoing the Prime Minister’s assurance that no-one should be penalised for doing the right thing, and delivering unprecedented levels of investment in our public services at this crucial time.
I stood on a platform of delivering more investment into our public services, particularly our NHS and our local bus services.
I welcome the cash increase of £34 billion a year by 2024 for NHS England, with the additional commitment in this Budget of £6 billion of new funding over this Parliament, including for the creation of 50million more GP surgery appointments per year and the addition of 50,000 more nurses to the NHS workforce.
I am particularly pleased that the Budget delivers for the people of Stoke-on-Trent.
The promised investment includes £17.6 million to create three modern wards to improve capacity at the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, better known locally as the Royal Stoke.
Sadly, ongoing discussions are needed about the financial challenges the Royal Stoke faces as a result of a frankly disastrous PFI deal that was left hanging round its neck.
This isn’t a day to be partisan, we all know whose PFI deal that was, and that its iniquity is a constant drain on resources that should be going into front-line services.
The record investment across the health service will undoubtedly ease the pressures on our much-loved NHS, and I will continue to urge a resolution of the PFI legacy at the Royal Stoke as we approach the spending round.
I am a strong believer that the key to delivering best value for taxpayers is to develop and adopt new technologies, whilst ensuring we maintain a free at the point of use, world class health service.
The technologies I mean run from innovative new medical devices, treatments and applications at hospitals and health centres, to smart Apps that maintain an individual’s independence by monitoring their health in their own home.
The current needs for responding to the Coronavirus make the latter particularly pertinent.
Stoke-on-Trent is a world leader in the development of advanced ceramics which have applications across many sectors, including I.T. and digital technology use for health applications with tiny ceramic resistors.
Advanced ceramics are also increasingly in use in prosthetics and I am extremely keen to see the establishment of the Advanced Ceramics Campus at Staffordshire University to encourage the fusion of education, research and public sector innovation with leading private sector partners such as Lucideon.
I recently attended the beginning of the build of the £40 million Catalyst Building at Staffordshire University. This is a fantastic project which will bring together students, apprenticeships, businesses and digital skills.
Skills, training, education
I welcome the £1.5 billion in capital spending to refurbish further education colleges and the commitment of £2.5 billion in a National Skills Fund to improve adult skills.
As it says on page 4 of the Red Book: “The government is committed to giving everyone the opportunity to fulfil their potential, regardless of where they are from.”
In Stoke-on-Trent this could – and should – mean the excellent facilities in local colleges could be used more fully to offer evening courses for local people in work who wish to gain new skills – this is very much part of the levelling up agenda – offering people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to gain qualifications and move up the employment ladder, or indeed look at the possibility of self-employment.
I tried my hand at welding recently at the ACE Academy in my constituency and I was struck with what a positive difference accessible skills training can make at any point in life.
But one of the barriers to access to employment and training opportunities for too many in Stoke-on-Trent has been the issue of public transport.
As the BBC reported only this weekend, Stoke-on-Trent has suffered on the very steepest declines in bus use of any city in the country.
This is despite one in three households in my constituency not having a car, and our rail services having been stripped to the bone not only by Beeching in the last century but by the Strategic Rail Authority this century too.
Exacerbating the problem is the classic problem of “urban splintering”.
Multi-lane road schemes that were supposed to increase economic efficiency have instead worsened transport outcomes for the poorest with physical and psychological barriers in the form of fast traffic, ubiquitous pedestrian barriers and a problem with pavement parking.
I was therefore delighted to hear in the Budget that Stoke-on-Trent has been named – and recorded in the Red Book – as a beneficiary of a share of the latest £117 million in the Transforming Cities Fund, subject to finalising a clear business case for a value-for-money scheme.
Our need is clear, our congestion evident, our public transport deprivation demonstrable – and I look forward to working with the council to get the bid right and make our case.
I am also keen to work with environmental organisations, including the Environment Agency, to see how we can better harness and improve public access to the amazing asset that is the River Trent.
It could enjoy much improved links to the towpaths of the local canal system and other pedestrian and cycling routes to promote active travel and improve air quality.
I will be encouraging and supporting our City Council to bid for a big share of the £400 million brownfield remediation monies announced in the budget for housing.
Already we are seeing the regeneration of our City centre with sites brought back into housing use that have fallen out of industrial use, threatening to be unloved eyesores and creating environmental dangers.
With the help the Government is offering, Stoke-on-Trent is ready, willing and able to provide the sites for the much needed housing we all want to see, on brownfield land, helping us to preserve greenfield sites and green spaces – not least Berry Hill Fields – for future generations.
Our Council Tax base is too low and we need to build it – literally build it – to fund local public services.
Another key commitment in our manifesto was to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.
As well as adding 20,000 police nationally (and recruitment is ongoing for the hundreds of new officers for Staffordshire) the Budget announces welcome additional funding of £35 million for the creation of a Centre of Excellence for Tackling Youth Violence. This is in addition to the £25 million already announced by the Home Office for targeted investment across 2019-20 and 2020-21 to strengthen the law enforcement response to so-called county lines and the £3.6 million of Home Office funding for the national county lines co-ordination centre.
Anything that diverts young people from the tragedy and ruthless wickedness of organised drugs crime, will be a blessing to many of the most vulnerable in our community.
I also welcome the investment in safeguarding those who are at risk because of homelessness, with £643 million extra funding to end Rough Sleeping and tackle homelessness.
Nationally I am delighted to be working with a proactive, can-do, and get-done Government. And in Stoke-on-Trent I am delighted to be working with agencies across the public, private and Third Sectors to address the opportunities we want to explore as a City.
Everyone has a positive attitude to making the most of our shared strong sense of place and community.
Stoke-on-Trent is on the up and I know we have a government that understands how important that is in its own efforts to level up our country.
This budget keeps us on the right path, with opportunities to secure better public services locally. It provides assurance that no matter how difficult the next weeks and months may be because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, this government will pursue the positive agenda that we were sent to this House to deliver.