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Westminster Column

Next week should see my Annual Report distributed throughout Royal Sutton Coldfield to all my constituents. In it I try to give a flavour of some of the events and actions that have taken place in my parliamentary year in Sutton Coldfield. I welcome feedback. My central task is always to look after our Royal Town and everyone who lives in it, regardless of their political views.

I should also emphasise that this Annual Report comes to you at no expense whatsoever to the taxpayer. It is paid for by local Conservatives through the Royal Sutton Coldfield Conservative Association.

Last week saw the Budget, which will be the last one delivered during the spring. Following the slight tweak on Wednesday, and change to the initial plans on National Insurance Contributions, it seems to me it is rather a good one for Sutton Coldfield. Although of course the press is gleefully stamping on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s political grave, I think he deserves credit for listening to his Conservative colleagues in Parliament and making the changes which have now improved it.

The recent slight rise in unemployment figures for our Royal Town are most unsatisfactory – particularly in the context of such a strong downward trend in recent years – and underline the importance of ensuring that we focus on training, education and apprenticeship to get people into jobs.

The rise in new businesses and employment opportunities in the West Midlands has been a most welcome feature of the recent past. In order to fully harness the potential of this trend we need to see training and re-skilling opportunities given top priority if the previous downward trend in unemployment across our region is to be renewed.

That is why I welcome the focus of this budget on equipping people of all ages with the skills that they need to get on in the workplace. For young people we have committed to investing an additional £500 million a year in 16-19 year olds, giving them the technical skills that they need to approach the job market in a strong position.

For people who have already embarked on their careers, there is an investment of £40 million to help adults re-train and develop more skills throughout their lives, allowing them to take up new opportunities as they are generated.

The commitment to good schooling will ensure that all of our children are given the best possible base from which to launch themselves into their futures. We have already gone some way to achieving this, with 1.8 million more children taught in good or outstanding schools since 2010. This Budget doubles down on that commitment, announcing an additional £216 million to look after our existing schools over the next three years, and funding for a further 110 new free schools.

I visit different year groups across the schools in Sutton almost every week – I hope this commitment will be well received by all of them, and will help them continue the excellent work that they are doing for the next generation of Suttonians.

I have been vocal in my views about social care provision in Sutton, and will continue to fight our corner to ensure that we receive a good level of service for all my constituents. In this context I welcome the additional grant funding of £2 billion in social care in England over the next few years, and the recognition of the need for more joined-up working on the part of local authorities. I am also pleased that a further £100 million has been made immediately available for projects at A&Es, which will allow them to prepare better for next winter.

Finally, many will appreciate the announcement that the personal allowance will rise for the seventh year in a row – giving a typical basic rate taxpayer an income tax bill of £1000 less than it would have been in 2010, as well as the rise in the higher rate threshold to £45000. The National Living Wage will also be rising to £7.50 in April – a sign of our commitment to making sure that working always pays.

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