MP WRITES: No help for town

Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne

Last week we saw the Chancellor, George Osborne, rise to his feet in the House of Commons to deliver his Comprehensive Spending Review.

This is where the Government sets out the spending commitments for the next few years.

The last Comprehensive Spending Review took place a couple of months after the Coalition Government took office in 2010 and set out its plans for spending plans up until the financial year 2014-15.

There was a huge amount of coverage in the media for the Chancellor, including some ridiculous stories about what sort of burger the Chancellor had while finishing off his speech the night before. It was a big old Parliamentary spectacle, and Westminster does love its drama.

The fact is, there was absolutely no need for the Chancellor to deliver plans for 2015-16 now.

The fact that he chose to do so was purely for political purposes, designed to win him political Brownie points for being tough on things like welfare spending.

If anything, the need for a speech now showed the extent of his political failure: in March 2011. He announced that: “we have already asked the British people for what is needed and we do not need to ask for more.”

By cutting sharply and quickly, according to the Chancellor, we would see more rapid recovery.

That simply hasn’t happened: the Chancellor promised to balance the books by the end of this Parliament in 2015.

Last week’s announcement confirmed that cuts will continue through into 2018 – and probably onto 2020.

The debt is not being paid down and the deficit will not be eliminated by 2015, but instead will fall short by that year by some £96 billion.

The upshot of this failed economic policy is that more misery will be heaped onto the hard-pressed in society.

Cuts to public services will see further declines in living standards and pay levels for teachers, firefighters, nurses and council staff. We have had the slowest recovery out of recession for over a century and there doesn’t seem to be much hope that this will end for the foreseeable future.

The key point for me is how does Hartlepool fare from the Chancellor’s announcement?

On the plus side, three schools in the town will see re-building or refurbishment programmes, but that is only putting back – partially – what the Government took out in 2010.

A big concern is a further 10 per cent cut to local government budgets on top of planned cuts of over a quarter within this Parliament.

People will no doubt have their views about what the local council spends its money on and there is always scope to see where further efficiencies can be made, but I fear that Hartlepool Borough Council will find it difficult, if not impossible, to find further cuts without significantly eating into or stopping altogether essential services that the people of the town rely upon.

It’s a credit to town leaders, of all political persuasions, over the last 15 years or so, that they have put education as a key priority.

A good partnership between the council and schools, as well as great teachers and a rising schools budget from central government, has helped to raise standards in Hartlepool’s schools.

The town has in the last decade fared well from a higher than average budget, reflecting our social and economic considerations.

The fact that the Chancellor announced the scrapping of the current school funding formula puts at risk that financial settlement for Hartlepool and I fear that schools – and ultimately the education of our children - in the town will suffer.

This is something I will be pursuing in Parliament.

The Chancellor’s announcement last week will not change things immediately, but it is concerning that he is intent on pursuing for the long run policies that haven’t produced a strong economic recovery or pushed down the deficit.

Ultimately, I think those policies do not help Hartlepool.