Last week, the Chancellor delivered a budget under very difficult circumstances but it contained a huge number of very welcome announcements which will deliver real life benefits to constituents in Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner. During my contribution to the budget debate I wanted to particularly highlight a couple of the areas I have been championing from Westminster.
The first of these is the support being provided to councils like Harrow and Hillingdon to look after refugees and asylum seekers in line with their statutory obligations, and I am very pleased that council colleagues are indicating that it will be sufficient to ensure we can fulfil our country’s promise to resettle 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan. This includes £468 million in fresh funding to provide subsistence, accommodation and other support to protect vulnerable people seeking asylum and Local Authorities will receive £20,520 for each person they resettle. This means that those families who settle in our communities will not only receive the proper support they need but it will not come at any additional cost to council tax payers, protecting the front line services we rely on.
The second area of Government work I was very pleased to champion was the additional investments in families and early years, with the Chancellor announcing a £300 million package to support our 'Start for Life' offer. During my time as a councillor locally, I have seen the benefits we can bring to all our children through well-organised and properly resourced services such as nursery schools, health visitors, and childminders and it is the essence of ‘levelling up’ that we extend opportunity to all children.
Away from the children’s workforce the Government have also committed to setting up a network of family hubs. The opposition have been critical of this announcement, claiming that this is nothing more than a rebrand of their SureStart centres. Local experience has shown the limitations of SureStart and our local councils have already moved towards a family-hub model which aims to offer broad support to parents and children in their early years to help them go on to thrive.
Moving on from early years and I was also very pleased to hear that the Government are going to continue to provide over £200 million a year for the Holiday Activity and Food Programme. I have been critical of extending Free School Meals in the past for the very reason that they don't reach all the children that need help, such as those children who are below school age and those in the most challenging circumstances. This programme has shown to make a massive difference to some of the most vulnerable children in our communities and I thank the Government for taking the brave step of ensuring we are able to offer something better than just continuing free school meals over the holiday.
Despite the many positive announcements in this budget, it has come at a time when public finances are facing significant challenges owing to the pandemic. While no Conservative politician wants to see tax rises, Conservatives must also have the courage to take the difficult financial decisions to ensure we protect our public finances and balance the books. The challenge now is to ensure this money is spent well and in a way which delivers for tax payers.
You can watch my full contribution to the debate here.