Yesterday's shocking news from Brussels is an unwelcome reminder about the constant threat that terrorism poses to all of us. The work of our security and intelligence services in helping to keep us safe has never been more important and I am about to start work on the new Investigatory Powers Bill as it goes through the Commons. I will write further about this in a future article.
There was very sad news about the thirteen fatalities following a dreadful bus crash in Spain this weekend. We learned that amongst those injured was a Swindon student. I am sure that all our best wishes are with her and her family.
It was a pleasure to go to some excellent events in Swindon over the last few days, which were all testament to some of the very positive things happening in our town. On Saturday, I went to a concert at Steam Museum in aid of Combat Stress, a charity that does so much for our armed forces and their families. It was wonderful to hear the Swindon Male Voice Choir and the Band of Coldstream Guards perform in unison. Earlier in the day, I was also able to attend the Wiltshire Heat of the Magistrates Court Mock Trial Competition, which enables local secondary school pupils to learn about the legal system. It was good to see students from Nova Hreod and Highworth Warneford take part in the Mock Trials; not only is it an opportunity for students to develop confidence and communication skills but the competition, organised by the Citizenship Foundation, is an invaluable way of teaching young people about their rights and responsibilities.
The unveiling of Swindon Heritage's first ever blue plaque was a memorable event. The plaque, marking the birthplace of pioneering Swindon suffragette Edith New, was installed at 24 North Street, Old Town, and was unveiled by Tamara Dugdale, Edith’s great-niece. It was fun to see a parade of suitably dressed Suffragettes too!
In the past week, there has been a lot of fuss in some parts of the media about personalities at Westminster. As usual, the details got buried. What was important was that we had a Budget that made some important and welcome commitments on future education funding for Swindon schools, welcome changes to business rates meaning an end to them for many small businesses and reductions for others and also the reduction of income tax for thousands of Swindon workers.
A key priority of mine has always been to take the lowest paid workers out of income tax, so the rise to £11,500 in the Personal Allowance from next April means that a typical basic rate taxpayer will be paying over £1,000 less income tax than when we first came into government. The higher rate threshold will also increase to £45,000, a tax cut of over £400, helping nurses, midwives, police officers and teachers who have ended up paying the higher rate.
Younger people will now be given even more financial security thanks to a new lifetime ISA. Those under 40 will no longer have to choose between saving for their first home, or saving for retirement – the government will now give you money so that you can do both. The ISA limit has also been increased from just over £15,000 to £20,000 for everyone.
The Chancellor’s announcement of a freeze on fuel duty for the sixth year in a row is good news for drivers, saving them an average £75 a year. Small businesses with a van will save around £270 a year. This allows consumers to benefit from the recent slide in oil prices.
I also welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement of a new sugar levy on the soft drinks industry so they reduce the sugar content of their product. They money raised from this will benefit school children in South Swindon by doubling sports funding in primary schools and funding longer school days for children in secondary schools, which will offer pupils a wider range of activities, including extra sport.
In uncertain times and against a worsening global economic outlook, this is Budget delivers the financial security of lower taxes; invests in education; reduces the deficit and achieves a surplus. But most importantly, this a budget that protects the next generation here in South Swindon and puts them first.
The recent intense debate about reform of welfare benefits has been light on detail and long on sound it's. As someone who has taken a long running interest in disability issues, and continue to be involved in the debate, I have always been committed to ensuring that our system targets support to those in greatest need whilst ensuring that people are not trapped in a position where work does not pay. The new Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb is a very welcome appointment and I completely agree with his statement 'Behind every statistic is a human being and perhaps sometimes in government we forget that'. Alongside him will be our Disabilities Minister and fellow Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson, who continues to work extremely hard with disability charities and other groups. They will work in the months and years ahead to ensure that the move to Universal Credit, supported by all main parties, is fair and effective.