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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Budget debate

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The following is the speech Meg gave during the Budget debate

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I am pleased to speak in my final Budget debate.

In his Budget speech, the Chancellor said: Future economic success depends on future scientific success”.—[Official Report, 18 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 776.]. I agree entirely, but this Budget does not do enough to unlock the potential of our science, engineering and technology industries, which have the capacity to grow and to invent and develop new products that will create jobs and wealth. Research by EngineeringUK shows that simply filling the demand for new engineering jobs could generate an additional £27 billion a year for the UK economy from 2022.

The Government claim that 80% of jobs created while they have been in power have been in skilled occupations, but the large demand for more skilled people is not being met. We need more engineers. Companies need 182,000 people with relevant engineering skills per year.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I think I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say that we regret that this is my hon. Friend’s last ever speech in a Budget debate. On the need for more engineers and qualified people, will she reflect on the particular need for more women in engineering roles?

Meg Munn: My right hon. Friend may know that I have been banging on about that for years; I will come to it shortly.

There is currently an annual shortfall of about 55,000 skilled workers. The Chancellor’s commitment for financial support for PhD and research Masters degrees will certainly help, but to keep up with demand we need to nearly double the number of engineering graduates. We need action on a much larger scale. We should be slashing tuition fees for engineering courses and providing bursaries to help students with living costs.

The Government tried using a programme to increase the number of skilled women engineers, but it was a complete failure. The employee ownership fund had £10 million to develop women engineers, but just £104,000 has been allocated. Unfortunately, despite me and the Women’s Engineering Society—of which I am a Patron— pressing them, the Government have refused to reinvest the unspent funds into schemes specifically aimed at women.

Public services have been neglected not only in the Budget speech, but in reality. The Chancellor tried to give the impression that the Budget devolves resources to northern cities. He also claimed that the quality of public services has not gone down—it has gone up.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 770.].

However, the reality is that our front-line services have been cut to the bone. The fundamental question is: how they will be funded in the future? The silence from the Government Benches is deafening.

In the next 10 years, there will be a 27% increase in the number of those aged 80 or over in Sheffield. Without a new funding settlement, social care services will be severely affected, with more and more of my constituents unable to receive the preventative, joined-up services they need, and some will receive no support at all.

How much longer are the Government going to spin the Better Care Fund as a fund? They claim that my local authority will receive £37.8 million, but that figure represents the total amount of pooled budget shared with the NHS: they are top-slicing existing resources.

Not surprisingly, decimating social care puts more pressure on the NHS. I am not surprised that Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has rejected the Government’s most recent offer on budget cuts, under which it would have had to find an additional £40 million in savings. Enough is enough.

In recent months, reports of child sexual abuse have been widespread, but a recent Ofsted report concluded that three quarters of councils do not deliver children’s social care to a good enough standard. The Public Accounts Committee has found that there has been little or no improvement in outcomes for children in foster and residential care, nor in how well they are looked after. It highlighted the abject failure of the Department for Education to take any responsibility for driving up standards.

Let us not underestimate the effect of the downward pressures on local authority budgets in contributing to these issues. The College of Social Work has called on the Government to allow real social work to thrive and to invest in the service. It is hugely disappointing that the Government have again failed to make extra funding available to protect children from sexual abuse.

Social workers are often the glue that holds integrated services together. They possess the skills and expertise to lead multi-disciplinary teams and to provide help, care and, where necessary, protection. As such, the profession plays a key role in reducing delayed discharge, bringing mental health services into the mainstream, preventing emergency admissions, and supporting and enabling people to live full, independent lives. By contrast, the Budget will do little or nothing to contribute to these services.

When I was first elected 14 years ago, my constituents were seeing the start of the investment in the public realm that characterised the Labour years—new schools, hospitals and health centres and improved roads all led to better lives. This year, the revenue support grant for my local authority will have been cut by 50% compared with 2010. Local government cannot continue to absorb such pressures. It is no wonder that the people of my city have little time for the Tories.

This Budget did not try to tackle the real issues at local level or to provide solutions to real problems, and it will do little to improve the lives of the constituents whom it has been my privilege to represent for the past 14 years.

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