The news yesterday of a swingeing £693 rise in the energy price cap will be very alarming to people in Stretford and Urmston. What with rising food and petrol prices, a forthcoming hike in national insurance, and an increase in interest rates announced by the Bank of England, many face a cost of living crisis. The chancellor of the exchequer attempted to lessen the impact, with an announcement of a discount of £200 on energy bills this year, and a £150 council tax rebate for those in band A-D properties. But that will still leave most households hundreds of pounds worse off, and the cost of the discount will be seen in higher prices in future years.
Labour had proposed a windfall tax on energy companies, and cutting VAT on energy bills, which would have meant those on the lowest incomes would have seen virtually no increase in their energy bills this year. But we were ignored. I know this will be a real worry to many families – if you’re struggling to meet your bills, or know someone who is, please take a look at the information I’ve published on my website about where you can get help and information.
The government published its long-promised ‘Levelling Up’ plans this week, and the secretary of state, Michael Gove, arrived in parliament on Wednesday to tell us about them. The document is a massive 297 pages long, purporting to cover everything from more grassroots football pitches to more civil service jobs being transferred outside London to a new national register of private landlords. All fine as far as it goes, but with no new funding, it all sounds pretty meaningless, and won’t make up for the £27 million of funding that Labour calculates the government has cut from Trafford since 2018.
I particularly asked Michael Gove about the ‘national youth guarantee’ included in the document, which is supposed to ensure every young person can have access to out of school activities and opportunities for volunteering. I know many constituents are concerned about the loss of youth facilities, and have commented to me about how this leaves young people with nowhere to hang out together safely. Way back in 2019, the government promised £500 million for youth facilities, but it was only finally a few weeks ago that bids were invited for the first £10 million of funding – with no sign of when we’ll hear about the remaining £490 million. At this rate, it will be a long, long time until the youth ‘guarantee’ amounts to much for our young people.
Thursday saw me spend a long afternoon in the chamber, first in a debate about children’s education and mental health, as they recover from the effects of covid on their learning and wellbeing, and then on the code of conduct that MPs are required to follow. There was quite a lot of cross-party consensus in both debates – there’s an old adage that when MPs agree on policy, you should probably be worried, but in fact these were thoughtful debates, and I was very pleased to be able to participate in them. But what a contrast with this week’s disgraceful prime minister’s questions. A new low from Boris Johnson has shocked even some of his longstanding and closest advisers into resigning.
Finally, a quick update on the clean air zone (CAZ), which I know many constituents continue to be concerned about. Mayor Andy Burnham has formally requested the government to delay the proposals for the CAZ that were due to come into effect in May (read more about this here), and Greater Manchester MPs hope to meet Andy soon to discuss how we can work together to support him. We all want to tackle air pollution, but the current plans are neither reasonable nor workable. The government must withdraw its current direction to GM, and issue one that’s fair to people and businesses.