This week has been dominated by the budget. I thought it was balanced and fair, as the Chancellor said, we need to be honest with the country about the impact of Covid on our finances and work to put them back on track. No-one wants to take money away from people or cut services but it has been a huge shock to our economy. The highlight for me was the announcement of the Solent Freeport. This will cover the south of the constituency and the economic modelling suggests that it will create 26,251 direct jobs, 26,281 indirect jobs and £3.6 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA). GVA in Portsmouth and Southampton is 8% below the national average and the IoW is 17% below, so this will help build a better standard of living for our communities.
I am particularly excited by the focus on innovation as we have many big and small companies that are at the cutting edge of key technologies. We need to make sure that our schools and colleges prepare our young people with the skills they need to make the most of the opportunities that the Freeport will bring. I asked a question of the Education Secretary on Monday about the extended school day being used to create time for pupils learning other subjects – you can see it here:
Other announcements from the budget included extending furlough, grants for businesses and keeping VAT low for another few months. It is still tough going for many of our businesses and it has been a great privilege to be in a position where I can point people in the right direction and support them. We will, of course, have to start paying back the debt, but I hope that our economy bounces back faster than the forecasts - there is considerable pent up demand. The focus over the next few years is on jobs and we now have a lifetime skills commitment so people can tap into retraining. The Government has put in £2.5bn into a National Skills Fund to help people to train and get valuable skills. In my role as PPS in the Department of Work and Pensions, I can see all the different schemes that have been put in place for jobs and skills. Work coaches in job centres are allocated to each person trying to get back into work, and it has been a successful programme, but we will have a lot more to do to reduce unemployment caused by Covid.
As usual, I have been talking to local hospitals and CCGs this week, we have regular fortnightly meetings. Covid cases are still high in hospitals but are coming down. The figures for Wave 2 of the pandemic have been so much higher than those for Wave 1 and it has been a very stressful time for all medical staff. I was pleased to hear today that QA in Portsmouth is undertaking a comprehensive health and wellbeing check of all its staff and putting measures in place to support them. I have a doctor daughter and know the impact that Covid has had on their mental health.
Lastly, it was World Book Day on Thursday and I was thrilled to read one of my favourite children’s books to Horndean Infants via Zoom. It was not the same as going into the school but it was lovely to see key worker and vulnerable children in their classes and my story was beamed into each class.
I read ‘The Story of Ferdinand’ by Munro Leaf. It was written in 1936 and still relevant today in many ways although bull fighting is not something that I approve of.
Have a great weekend.