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I, too, thank the Chancellor for delivering a solid a Budget statement in very challenging times. His achievement is reflected in the fact that the official Opposition party ran out of speakers well over half an hour ago, so little was there to say in response.
The Chancellor had three primary tasks today: first, to provide immediate support to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the people in our constituencies while the impact of this pandemic continues to be felt so sharply; secondly, to lay a framework for rebuilding and the recovery as part of the road map to reopening; and thirdly, to level up—to rebalance our economy away from over-reliance on a small number of sectors in a relatively small part of the country. He achieved that in today’s Budget, seemingly leaving the Leader of the Opposition with very little left to say—although, being the Leader of the Opposition, that did not seem to prevent him from taking a long time to demonstrate the fact.
The immediate support for people’s jobs and livelihoods is clear. The extension to the job retention scheme will help 5,300 of my constituents in Dudley South, and I am pleased to see that the support offered to self-employed workers is being extended to cover some of the more recent entries into that part of the labour market.
As we start to reopen and rebuild, the support that has been put in place for so many of the parts of the economy that have been hit hardest by lockdown and the pandemic, particularly retail and hospitality—the restart grants; the freeze on VAT for hospitality and tourism; the freeze on duties, cancelling the index-linked duty rises; and the extension of the business rates holiday—is extremely important for major employers in our constituencies.
Finally, on levelling up, the Leader of the Opposition spoke about the last 10 years. Actually, under the last Labour Government, Dudley’s gross value added relative to the rest of the country fell from 78% in 1997 to a really quite woeful 64% in 2010. Since 2013, we have started to address that, and it has started to increase; in the five years before this pandemic, salaries in Dudley rose more quickly than anywhere else in the country. I am pleased that Dudley has been identified as a priority area for the UK renewal fund and the levelling up fund, investing in our people and our infrastructure.