Budget: What’s in there that will affect you?

Chancellor Philip Hammond. Picture by Lauren Hurley/PA Wire
Chancellor Philip Hammond. Picture by Lauren Hurley/PA Wire
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Chancellor Philip Hammond today delivered his final Spring Budget, ahead of a switch to the autumn, but what is there that will affect people in Northumberland?

NHS: £100million will go to A&E departments in 2017/18, to help them manage demand ahead of next winter and help patients get to primary care faster. For example, it will provide more on-site GP facilities and more space in A&E units for assessment of patients when they arrive.

There is also a promise of £325million to be invested in a first set of the best local Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs). However, as we reported last month, these plans, which are not well-known to the public, are controversial, representing the biggest shake-up to the NHS in a generation.

The Chancellor also confirmed a new sugar tax in a bid to combat obesity, with Mr Hammond announcing levies of 18p and 24p per litre for sugary drinks.

Social care: £2billion for adult social care over the next three years. Critics say it’s nowhere near enough.

Education: There will be £320million for new free schools as well as £216million invested in school maintenance. Recently, we reported that more than £2,000 per pupil is needed to bring school buildings in Northumberland up to a satisfactory condition – far higher than in many other areas, according to a National Audit Office report.

Mike Parker, director of SCHOOLS NorthEast, said: “Demand for school places, particularly in secondary schools, is rising sharply so additional funding to increase capacity is welcome. The argument that grammar schools is the solution has yet to be proven. In fact, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) found that, in areas where grammar schools are in operation, pupils who do not attend selective schools ‘make less progress in partially-selective and wholly-selective areas than in areas without selection’.

“The fixation on school structure gets in the way of the real issue which is that we need to make sure we’ve got sufficient places at good quality schools across the country.”

He added: “Funding to help rebuild and refurbish existing schools is much-needed. However, it doesn’t fill the operational blackhole in schools across England.” Last week, Northumberland’s secondary and high-school headteachers are raising serious concerns about the dire financial situation they are facing.

New T-levels for 16 to 19-year-old technical students will be introduced from autumn 2019. Students will be able to choose from 15 different routes such as construction, digital or agriculture. The number of hours of training for these students will increase by more than 50 per cent. As part of the course, all students will take part in an industry work placement.

A similar scheme to this saw Northumberland College launch its Career College, a new opportunity for 14 to 19-year-olds that combines academic studies with practical learning and work experience, in September.

Mr Parker said: “Giving vocational qualifications an equal standing to academic ones is a positive step and efforts to streamline the system will make it easier for pupils and parents to make the right choice.

“However, if the Government does not focus on funding 0-16 education adequately, it risks harming the ability of children deciding to achieve these T-level qualifications. We must ensure children don’t miss out on the strong educational grounding that is essential to give them the skills and ability to go on to achieve advanced qualifications – both vocational and academic.”

North East England Chamber of Commerce director of policy, Ross Smith, said: “We welcome the positive news with regard to skills, with the introduction of T-Levels and retraining for older workers. This is a big issue for our economy, which is already showing the fastest increase in productivity in the UK, and we would hope a sizeable proportion of the pilot funding will come here.”

Business rates: Mr Hammond pledged £435million to support businesses affected by the revaluation across three initiatives.

No small business that is coming out of small business rates relief will pay more than £600 more in business rates this year than they did in 2016/17; funding for local authorities will allow them to provide £300million of discretionary relief to provide help to businesses most affected by the revaluation; and, from April, pubs with a rateable value up to £100,000 will be able to claim a £1,000 business rates discount for one year.

North East England Chamber of Commerce director of policy, Ross Smith, said: “There was relatively good news on business rates, with no rowing back on a revaluation that will be generally positive for our region. It was good to hear a commitment to longer-term reform, which is badly needed, though this didn’t go far enough. We also believe that some of the reliefs on offer to those hit by revaluation should be backdated, given that the delay in bringing it in has meant businesses in the North East have effectively been subsidising those further south.”

Ross Murray, president of the CLA, which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses, said: “We believe the Chancellor has listened to us. He is taking action to help those small rural businesses who as a result of the 2017 revaluation no longer qualify for rates relief. The introduction of a cap is not the same as the 100 per cent discount we called for but it is welcome.

“We are keen to see the details of the fund for discretionary relief as it is important this leads to opportunities for rural councils to help the worst-affected rural businesses. However, these interventions are limited and leave thousands of rural businesses facing unaffordable rates hikes from April 1.”

Also, small businesses that have an annual turnover below the VAT registration threshold will have until April 2019 to prepare before Making Tax Digital, which requires the use of digital software to keep tax records and update HMRC quarterly, becomes mandatory.

Personal taxes: The personal tax-free allowance will rise to £11,500 as expected.

The main rate of National Insurance contributions (NICs) for the self-employed will increase, which the Chancellor framed as making it fairer between employed and self-employed people.

Duties: Fuel duty will remain frozen. Charlie Elphicke MP, chairman of the Fair Fuel All-Party Parliamentary Group for motorists and hauliers, said: “The continued fuel duty freeze is welcome news for the hard-working classes of modern Britain. I’m delighted the Chancellor listened to the concerns of drivers and FairFuelUK supporters.”

Road tax is to be frozen for hauliers and HGVs.

No further changes on duties on alcohol and tobacco were announced, but they will rise in line with inflation.