Finance (No. 2) Bill

Published date : 13 April, 2021
It is a pleasure to speak in support of my colleagues in our opposition to the Finance Bill on Second Reading. This might be the Finance Bill that we have, but it is certainly not the Finance Bill that we need right now. Despite warnings and despite the damage to employment that was caused by previous hard deadlines that the Chancellor set himself on furlough—which turned out not to be such hard deadlines after all—we once again face just such a set of cliff edges with these measures come September.

We face a cliff edge with the ending of the support for the self-employed, the ending of furlough and the non-continuation of the equivalent of the £20 universal credit uplift—a policy that has done so much to get families on low incomes through the pandemic, making sure that food was on the table, bills could be paid and the wolf was kept from the door. We will also face a cliff edge in key elements of the Scottish economy thanks to the removal of the 5% VAT rate for hospitality. As things stand, all these cliff edges will be encountered irrespective of the condition of the economy come September or, indeed, the progress that we continue to make in suppressing the virus.

This Bill fails to get to grips with the big issues of ensuring a green recovery and fails when it comes to dealing with the much-vaunted levelling-up agenda. In the time I have left, I wish to highlight two points of particular interest to my constituents and to wider society across the north-east of Scotland: the recently announced sector deal for the North sea and the levelling-up agenda.

First, lest there be any doubt, the sector deal is absolutely welcome. It has been called for for a long time and I know that the Government and industry have been working together closely to deliver the package. Although it might be a sector deal, whatever else it might be it is emphatically not a fiscal deal. There are big numbers in respect of the amounts of investment money that might potentially come in, but the Government are not putting a huge amount of money on the table to achieve that. It may help—I hope it does—to drive the objectives of a just transition and to boost the skills and retain human capital in the north-east of Scotland, but we need to be prepared for the possibility that further incentivisation might be needed.

Secondly, on levelling up, people who listened to my good friends and colleagues from neighbouring constituencies who represent the Conservative and Unionist party would believe that the levelling-up fund was going to leave not a single pothole unfilled, not a bridge unrepaired and not a single social project unfunded in the north-east of Scotland. Instead, when the prospectus was unveiled, the city of Aberdeen was in level 2 and Aberdeenshire was languishing in the lowest level, level 3, despite the urgent need to address the hit that the oil and gas sector has taken and tackle the impact of Brexit on our exporters. It seems that the post-Brexit power grab on Scotland’s devolved Government has morphed into a cash grab on the north-east of Scotland.

In conclusion, this is the Bill that we have but it is not the Bill that we need. Along with my colleagues, I look forward to exposing more of its shortcomings as we see them, as the Bill progresses.

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