Sunderland MP welcomes free meals news as Wearside considers impact of Autumn Statement

Sharon Hodgson MP
Sharon Hodgson MP

A Wearside MP has welcomed news that infants schools will continue to provide free meals.

Shadow Children’s Minister and MP for Washington and Sunderland West Sharon Hodgson has campaigned to retain funding for free meals, which Chancellor George Osborne confirmed in his spending review yesterday, along with the scrapping of controversial plans to cut tax credits.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird.

“Cuts to tax credits should never have been brought forward in the first place, but I am pleased the pressures applied by the Labour Party and the ordinary working people of this country have paid off,” said Mrs Hogdson.

“Our campaign to secure continued funding for universal infant free school meals was also successful, with the Chancellor announcing it will not be cut. This is hugely welcomed. However, I will be making sure that the Government sticks to and builds upon this policy.”

Her comments on tax credits were echoed by Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, but she added: “There is much in this Autumn Statement that will deeply concern people in Sunderland.

“On the deficit, borrowing will be higher in the next three years than the Chancellor previously predicted.

Our campaign to secure continued funding for universal infant free school meals was also successful, with the Chancellor announcing it will not be cut. This is hugely welcomed, however I will be making sure that the Government sticks to and builds upon this policy, which does so much good for children up and down the country.

Sharon Hodgson

“At every stage he has missed his own deficit targets, and in doing so has placed a greater debt burden on future generations.

“It is now clear the more the Chancellor mentions the Northern Powerhouse, the less he has to say about it. The North East, the only region to consistently produce a trade surplus, should be leading our economic recovery, but these plans for our region won’t get off the ground in the face of enormous cuts at departments including Transport and Business, as well as the deep cuts to local authorities.”

Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson welcomed the news on tax credits but said: “Unfortunately, many families will still be hit by cuts to their tax credits when it is combined with Universal Credit later in this Parliament.

“The Chancellor also failed to address the inequality in spending on infrastructure in our region compared with more affluent parts of the country.

“This is despite figures showing that businesses in our region are driving the export-led economy that ministers only talk about.”

Enterprise zone plan

Sunderland is set to benefit from another North East Enterprise Zone (EZ), similar to the one near Nissan.

George Osborne confirmed that the North East LEP’s bid for a second EZ had been successful.

Businesses located within EZs benefit from a number of key advantages designed to drive their growth, including business rate discounts for up to five years or tax savings via enhanced capital allowances for businesses investing in plant and machinery.

Like the current EZ, the new one will be split across several sites, from Northumberland to Durham, including Sunderland.

Helen Golightly, chief operating officer at the North East LEP, said: “Enterprise Zones provide us with a strong offer to business to locate and develop in the North East,” she said.

“We are committed to supporting business to grow and are delighted to be given the opportunity to build on the success of our first Enterprise Zone. The second EZ will help us deliver the strategic economic plan and deliver more and better jobs for the region.”

North East LEP chairman Paul Woolston said he was delighted at the news, adding: “EZs will play a key role in supporting the creation of more high-quality jobs and attracting further private sector investment into the North East.”

Elsewhere, there was a mixed reaction to yesterday’s Spending Review from unions and business leaders.

£8million for schools

Government plans to level the playing field on school funding could be worth almost £8million a year to Sunderland, says the region’s education network.

The Chancellor plans to introduce a National Funding Formula for schools to replace the current Dedicated School Grants payment system.

SCHOOLS NorthEast says funding all school pupil places in the region at current national levels would be worth almost an extra £200 per pupil for Sunderland schools – equivalent to £7,875,280 in total.

‘U-turn on police cuts’

Northumbria and Durham Police and Crime Commissioners Vera Baird and Ron Hogg welcomed news feared police budget cuts had not materialised.

“This is a remarkable U-turn,” said Vera Baird.

“A concerted campaign by police and by Police and Crime Commissioners of both major political parties, heavily supported by the public, has made George Osborne quickly come to terms with the post-Paris reality.

Mr Hogg welcomed the news but added: “The police cannot work alone. They must work in partnership with communities and other organisations, particularly local authorities.

“The Chancellor has announced major changes to the way that councils are funded and we will need to work together to understand the implications for our communities.”