Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Column - 29th November 2017

The last week has been a whirl of activity in Parliament, as MPs continue to debate the EU Withdrawal Bill and the Chancellor, Philip Hammond delivered his Autumn Budget. I am working on the detail of the EU Bill as one of the Ministers taking it through the Commons. The debates are detailed and necessary, as befits an historic piece of legislation.

In the Budget, Philip Hammond noted that since the Conservatives took office in 2010, we have brought down the annual deficit by three-quarters and have seen the economy grow substantially, after the Great Recession of 2008. The unemployment rate has fallen to the lowest level since 1975 and there are now over 3 million more people in work since 2010.

As part of the Budget, the Chancellor announced a set of ambitious plans to tackle the housing challenge, including dealing with the issue of empty properties. I am pleased that Local Authorities have been given the power to charge a 100% council tax premium on empty properties. A consultation on barriers to longer tenancies in the private rented sector will also be held.

As part of our manifesto pledge to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027, the Chancellor has announced that a Homeless Taskforce will be set up to help co-ordinate our efforts. The Government is already providing funding to help deal with the issue in Swindon.

One of the biggest challenges facing young first-time buyers as they try to get onto the housing market is the cash required up front. The government has invested £10 billion more into the Help to Buy equity loan to help those saving for a deposit. In addition to this, the Chancellor has announced that Stamp Duty will be cut for first-time buyers. Here in Swindon, this will mean a saving of around £1,159 for the average first-time buyer.

The supply of homes has been increased by more than 1.1 million since 2010, including nearly 350,000 affordable homes. However, we need to do better. Over the next five years, the government will commit a total of at least £44 billion of capital funding, loans and guarantees to support our housing market and boost the supply of skills, resources, and building land.

As previously mentioned in my column, I have been deeply frustrated about the gap in Swindon between the large number of planning consents for housing, and the actual building of new homes in accordance with our Local Plan. These delays undermine confidence in the system, while the wait for new houses continues. I was pleased to see the Chancellor announce that he is establishing an urgent Review to identify the reasons for delay, which are more complex than they may seem.

On Friday, I attended an event in Swindon to mark Carers Rights Day. Very few families won't have had experience of what it is to be a carer, including my own. I have been a keen supporter of carers' issues, campaigning for what became the 2014 Care Act and I continue to work closely with Swindon Carers Centre to campaign for improvements, such as access to respite care.

Finally, Christmas always begins for me with the Old Town Christmas Lights Switch On and on Sunday, I joined hundreds of people in Wood Street to enjoy the event, which was busier than ever. I would like to thank the Old Town Business Association, the performers, local business and organisations and all of the volunteers for working so hard to make it happen.