Rishi Sunak – 2017 Speech on the Budget

The speech made by Rishi Sunak, the Conservative MP for Richmond, in the House of Commons on 9 March 2017.

It is a privilege to speak in this debate. In all the excitement from Fleet Street, it would be easy to forget who yesterday’s Budget is really about, so I will share with the House how many of my constituents will feel about it. Whether it is the schoolboy with a first-rate technical education who will now have the chance of a better job and a solid wage, the small business owner who knows that when she speaks up her Government listen, or the mother who knows there is a Conservative Chancellor at the helm making the difficult decisions so that her children have well-funded public services and a country that lives within its means, for the hard-working people of North Yorkshire this is a Budget that delivers where they need it most.

Norman Lamb

How does that schoolboy or schoolgirl feel about an 8% cut in funding per student by 2020 under this Government?

Rishi Sunak

I am not sure that I recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s figure. The schools budget has been protected, and the Government are rightly consulting on the iniquity in the current funding system which means that constituents in my rural area are worse off to the tune of hundreds of pounds per pupil compared with very similar pupils in other parts of the country. I am delighted that the Government are addressing those iniquities in their consultation.

Seema Malhotra

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rishi Sunak

If the hon. Lady does not mind, I will make some progress and come back to her.

I begin with small businesses. My predecessor, Lord Hague, has a well-documented enthusiasm for beer, so it will come as no surprise to Members that pubs are a cornerstone of my rural constituency’s economy. Following in his footsteps is difficult enough, but it is impossible for me to visit a pub in my constituency without seeing a picture on the wall of William pulling a pint with the landlord. Not only is my constituency home to more than 200 pubs, but I am proud to say that it hosts the Campaign for Real Ale’s 2017 pub of the year: the community-owned George & Dragon in Hudswell. I was delighted to be in Hudswell just last Friday when the landlord Stu Miller, his family and team received their award in the loud company of everybody from the village.

In recent months I, like many other hon. Members, raised concerns that the revaluation of business rates risks penalising such small, enterprising businesses. I am delighted to say that this was the Budget of a Chancellor who, like any good barman, listens to our concerns. For the landlords who run them, the jobs that depend on them and the communities that enjoy them, this Budget’s £1,000 business rate discount will make a real difference to many pubs at a time when money is still tight.

But pubs are not the only rural businesses that the Budget will help. Auction marts and livery yards across North Yorkshire have seen particularly steep rises in their business rates because the idiosyncrasies of such companies are not well understood by officials and because the last revaluation coincided with the disastrous foot and mouth epidemic. Such idiosyncrasies are more than even the most ingenious civil servant could be expected to foresee. Auction marts, livery yards and riding schools are particularly important to the fabric of our rural community, so I thank the Chancellor for the extremely welcome creation of the new £300 million discretionary business rates fund, which will put decision making back in the hands of communities and allow businesses in constituencies such as mine to benefit from the local knowledge of councils in ensuring a smooth transition to the new schedule.

Stephen Doughty

The hon. Gentleman was talking about pubs, and he will know that I am a keen pub goer. Indeed, I was in a pub in his constituency the other day, enjoying a pint with my cousins. What does he have to say to customers in pubs, who are going to face a 3% increase in the price of a pint?

Rishi Sunak

What I say to customers and to the hon. Gentleman is that I am sure that the Minister doing the wind-up will be able to say how much better off customers are from having benefited from several years of freezes in beer duty that would otherwise have been put in place. I am sure they would also like to hear that this Government will be consulting on new duty rates for white cider and still wine to see what more could be done to help customers who drink those alcoholic beverages. Lastly, let me say that I would welcome him back to my constituency any time and will be happy to share a pint with him next time he is there.

Seema Malhotra

I have not yet been to a pub in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but I recognise the benefits for pubs in my constituency. May I extend the question about customers in pubs, many of whom may be self-employed? Have they reflected with him on their concerns about the proposed rise in national insurance?

Rishi Sunak

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that issue. If she will allow me, I will deal with that exact point later in my speech.

The last measure in support of local businesses that I wish to highlight is the £690 million fund available for local authorities to address urban congestion. Congestion is not something one would ordinarily associate with the rural idyll of North Yorkshire’s villages and market towns, but the residents and community of Northallerton are relentlessly frustrated by the level crossing near our vibrant and diverse high street, as its impact on local business is substantial. I have convened meetings of local authorities and Network Rail to discuss plans to alleviate the congestion, and I very much hope the Chancellor’s new fund can help us.

As the Chancellor so rightly pointed out in his Budget speech, supporting our businesses is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If our children are to benefit from the more than 2 million new jobs created since 2010, they will need the right skills. The 2.4 million apprenticeships created in the last Parliament are a momentous achievement, but we must also recognise that although most of us think of apprentices as young people, 16 to 19-year-olds—school leavers—account for less than 10% of the increase in new apprentices. That means that too many school leavers are still sticking with an inappropriate classroom education rather than a first-class technical one. The Chancellor’s announcement of new T-levels is a crucial step in redressing the balance and closing for good the gap between the classroom and the factory floor, for which our economy has paid a high price for too long. I therefore welcome the new half a billion pound investment in increasing training hours, the streamlining of technical qualifications, the provision of high-quality work placements and the introduction of maintenance loans. Taken together, that is a powerful package to help to ensure parity of esteem between technical and academic education.

Yet I also urge Ministers to continue to look carefully at my campaign, supported in the recent industrial strategy, to create a UCAS-style system for apprenticeships. This branded, one-stop-shop portal would not only end the classroom divide between those applying to university and those applying for apprenticeships, but, by bringing everything together in one place, help businesses to connect more easily with young apprentices in schools.

Turning to national insurance, I, like many Conservative Members, have always believed in low taxes as a spur to economic growth, but when a Government inherit a deficit of £100 billion the greatest priority must be returning to sound finances and doing so in a way that is fair. I believe it is right that those who benefit from public services make an appropriate contribution to paying for them, and that is what this Budget’s changes to national insurance will ensure. Sixty per cent. of self-employed workers—those earning less than £16,000—will see a decrease in their national insurance contributions as a result of the removal of the regressive class 2 band. Workers earning up to almost £33,000 will be no worse off when these changes are taken together with the increases to the personal allowance, and for those earning more the average increase in contributions will be a few hundred pounds. It is right to ask: is this fair? I believe that it is.

Historically, different rates of national insurance for the self-employed and the employed reflected significantly different benefits and access to public benefits, but that difference is no longer there. Indeed, changes to the state pension, which is partly funded by national insurance, mean that self-employed workers now benefit from an extra £1,800 annually in pension—this is something they would need to save up to £50,000 for to receive in the private sector. Similarly, self-employed couples starting a family can now benefit from almost £5,000 in tax-free childcare support.

In this House, I always hear calls for investment in public services, such as this Budget has provided for in social care, but those investments need to be paid for. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has estimated that it is losing about £5 billion a year from the increasing trend of self-employment, so it is right that we make small changes to ensure that everybody contributes to the public services and benefits we value. It is important to recognise that even after these changes the tax system will still recognise the particular issues faced by self-employed workers and will favour them in its tax rates and treatment. They will benefit from a lower rate of national insurance than employees; they will still not bear the cost of employers’ national insurance, which is levied at a substantial 13.8%; they will still have the ability to offset losses and gains over years; and they will still benefit from a more generous treatment of tax-deductable expenses. I am also encouraged that in the longer term the Government are committed to looking at the whole issue of the increasing trend towards self-employment, and to ensuring that we reflect those changes in the economy in our tax system and ensure that everybody is treated fairly. This small change is thus necessary to protect the things we value, and it is fair and proportionate.

In conclusion, we have all learned to be a little cautious of economic forecasts, but if the Office for Budget Responsibility is right, the first students to sit their T-levels will do so in a country with 1 million new jobs, double today’s productivity growth and, for the first time in two decades, national debt falling as a percentage of GDP. This Budget, like the ones that came before it, is building a country where our businesses will not have to pay for the profligacy of the past and our children can look forward to a bright future. Nothing could be more important than that, so I commend this Budget to the House.