In last week’s Budget debates, I made the case for a fairer distribution of funding across the country for public expenditure. I focused in particular on the deficit in funding experienced in rural areas such as his constituency of Mid Worcestershire, especially with regard to education and health.
Whilst I asserted that the community spirit and problem-solving instincts of the people of Worcestershire make the county one of the best places to live in the country, I argued that the perception of rural areas as leafy idylls has allowed funding disparities to go unchallenged for too long. I made this point by referring to the fact that weekly wages in Worcestershire are £39 below average yet per pupil secondary school funding in his constituency is as much as £3,000 per year lower than in many parts of London.
In addition to this, the South Worcestershire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group gets more than £100 less per patient than average and as much as £500 less per patient than urban areas in the northwest. I concluded that fair funding is essential to a fair society and argued that areas like Worcestershire – areas in which people actually earn less than average – are due their fair share of education and health funding. I added that there is a clear link between school funding and social mobility and said that it is a core responsibility of government to create an environment in which children can reach their full potential – and providing a good education for all is key to achieving that. I added that me and most of my constituents are supportive of increases in overall spending on schools - even if this means a small increase in taxation.
The point I made is one that I have been making throughout my time in Parliament. Worcestershire and other rural areas simply do not get their fair share of public funding and that means less to spend on resources in schools and less to spend on medicines and treatments.
I will continue to bang this drum until public funding arrangements are equitable. We have seen good progress with a fairer school funding formula and £29.6 million of targeted funding for Worcestershire’s acute hospitals. This should only be the beginning of a longer and more substantive process towards bridging the rural-urban funding divide and ensuring that everyone in the country, no matter where they are born, has access to the same standard of services and the same opportunities.
The full transcript of the speech is below and a clip of some segments is above:
"There is a lot to praise in this Budget. I and my constituents particularly welcome the confirmation of the additional funding for the NHS and the additional money for social care, infrastructure, broadband, schools and defence, as well as of course the changes to business rates. I appreciate the fact that the Chancellor acknowledged my own representations on VAT, and given that I have 107 pubs in my constituency—about 35 more than the average—I particularly welcome the freeze on beer and spirits duty, as do my constituents.
The fact that the Chancellor was able to do all these things, announcing about £100 billion of additional spending over a five-year period, without increasing taxes—in fact, reducing them—is a remarkable achievement, and he deserves considerable praise. Although my constituents have been telling me for months—in fact, for years—that if it was necessary to increase tax, they would be willing for that to happen, I am glad that it has not happened.
This is not just about the total amount of money being spent; it is about where and how it is spent. I believe we have considerable further work to do on this, because if the money is not spent in a balanced way, areas of the country suffer. My area of the country is not getting its fair share of public expenditure. We are now seeing this in the fact that my constituency was ranked 522nd out of 533 in the latest social mobility index by constituency
One key is education and education funding. There are few more important things in politics than enabling our children to reach their full potential, and education is the key route to doing so. It is my personal ambition to focus on that in Parliament. I am from a relatively modest background. My dad—my Labour-voting, trade unionist dad, by the way—worked in a factory and my Mum was on the tills at Asda, and I went to a comprehensive school. I was the first person from my school to go to Oxford, and the first person in my family to go to university. Social mobility is therefore key for me, and it is very important.
We know that education is not all about money, but it plays such an important role. It is no accident that the top-funded places in the country—they are mainly in London—also have the highest social mobility and, conversely, that the lowest funded areas are the lowest for social mobility. There is clearly a strong link. In my constituency, average funding for secondary schools is £4,875. It is one of the lowest figures in the country, and it is £500 below the average school. It is also £3,000 per pupil per year less than in Hackney and £2,000 per pupil per year less than in Islington. Yet average incomes in my constituency, at £404, are £39 below the national average. That is also £150 less than in the shadow Home Secretary’s constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington, so this is not just related to income.
This is unfair, and I am glad that the Government are taking action and, with the fairer funding formula, ensuring that we will make changes. I applaud the fact that we will do so as fast and in as easy a way as we can, and like my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), who is no longer in his place, I support significant increases in education funding. If that means increases in tax, I will support that and my constituents will support it. It is that important.
My area of Worcestershire is also suffering in other ways, such as in clinical commissioning group spending.
The average CCG spending is £1,254, but the figure in Worcestershire is £1,138. There are areas of the country where average spending per person is up to £1,670. Again, my constituents are losing out to the tune of £500 per person per year vis-à-vis other areas. I do not resent the fact that other areas of the country are getting considerably more public expenditure than my constituents; I am just very jealous, and I want to make sure that my constituents get their fair share.
On infrastructure, whether broadband or road building, the midlands in particular—the area I represent—is underfunded compared with London and the south-east, which get so much funding. I am glad to see that that will change. There are announcements in the Budget for considerable increases in transport infrastructure spend. For example, I hope that the A46 will benefit.
I do not want to give the impression that it is all doom and gloom in my constituency, because it is frequently mentioned, after all, as one of the most desirable places in the country in which to live. It is obviously not because we are overfunded through public expenditure, but because the people in my constituency work hard. They are self-reliant, and if there is a problem, they look first in the mirror and try to resolve it themselves. It is unfair if my constituents have to delve into their own pockets to pay for things that are provided in other parts of the country through public expenditure. We need a balance, and a rebalancing, in where public money goes. In conclusion, I am arguing today not for special treatment for my constituents, but for fair and equal treatment, which I will do everything I can to deliver."