Joan Walley: ‘We need roadmap to a decent, fair society’


I’ve sat through a lot of Budget day speeches in Parliament.

Gone are the days when women MPs on the Tory benches wore extravagant hats to mark the occasion.

Gone too, at least for the time being, is the prospect of the Chancellor delivering the speech to MPs packed onto the green benches like sardines.

Budget Day 2021 on Wednesday will not be the traditional ceremonial occasion we have become accustomed to. Lockdown has seen to that.

Nonetheless its significance in the light of the economic fallout from the pandemic will set Budget 21 apart.

It will also be the litmus test for whether the Government is serious about the promises it made in the 2019 election campaign about levelling up across the UK.

Whatever the size of the public debt assigned to the pandemic emergency, there’s a growing consensus that a continuation of the unnecessary harsh austerity cutbacks which have blighted our economy for the last 11 years would be counterproductive.

I share the view of those economists who have shown that austerity severely restricts growth and depresses tax revenues which are so urgently needed.



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Apart from extending the furlough scheme, an obvious first decision for the Chancellor will be to extend beyond March the weekly £20 uplift for Universal Credit payments.

I also expect the Chancellor to be persuaded to give proper financial support for people who must self-isolate instead of going to work. The predictable result of this lack of support is that many who have tested positive have ended up being forced to go to work and infecting others.

All those who clapped our front-line workers will want to see a Budget that ends the pay freeze and at the same time restores NHS funding to pre-austerity levels.

Never again can our NHS be left so under resourced and overstretched. The Chancellor has to present a coherent plan to fund our way out of the lockdown.



Joan Walley

Wednesday’s Budget is going to have to be the one which does all of that alongside delivering on our legislative commitments for net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The ‘business as usual’ infrastructure spending which favours fossil fuels over renewables will be a road to ruin for future generations.

The cost of government borrowing has never been lower which means that the opportunities to invest in a dynamic green economy have never been greater.

But that is not the end of it. Right here last Thursday, Stoke-on-Trent councillors put the finishing touches to their own 2021 budget.

These included a 4.99% council tax increase and cuts totalling almost £14 million, all stemming from the Government’s decision to underfund and tie the hands of the very councils responsible for basic local services.

It’s hard to see how extra taxes alongside cuts to drug and alcohol abuse services, toilet facilities, car parking charges at local beauty spots and a reduction in services for people with learning disability will improve health and well-being locally.

It is particularly embarrassing to hear the Conservative council trying to portray spending cuts and job losses as ‘service improvements’.


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How, for example, can restrictions on day centres for vulnerable people or the demolition of public toilets possibly be regarded as improvements?

Could it be that the combination of service cuts, increased charges and a hefty increase in council tax does not chime with fine words from the Prime Minister about levelling up?

Instead of making cuts the council should be insisting that the Government honour its pledges about fair funding for areas like ours.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council can only make real progress in running trusted public services if it receives the necessary resources from central government. The Government has already failed this test.

As we recover slowly from the pandemic the priority for the Government must be to address the issues faced by deprived communities and focus on the inequalities that helped the virus to spread. There is much to be done but only if the political will is there. We have had the roadmap out of lockdown.

When will we get the roadmap to a decent and fair society?



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