Legislation which passes through Parliament is subjected to scrutiny in committees of MPs. This is where the detailed work is carried out. I am on the Finance Bill Committee which meets on a Tuesday and on a Thursday. The committee has seven sessions and then the bill goes on to what is called the Report Stage where all MPs have a chance to debate the bill and vote on it.
So far, we have discussed how long the 50 pence tax rate will last, the cuts in allowances for small businesses and the way the budget favours big business rather than small business. I argued that we need to support small business especially here in Sefton where many people run their own business, are self-employed or work for small businesses. The budget gave big business £4 for every £1 it gave small business and the impact of the rise in VAT hit small businesses hardest, especially when it came to the price of fuel.
Of course the VAT rise hit everyone hard, which is why I supported calls for the VAT rise to be reversed. I also supported Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, who called for a repeat of the one off tax on bankers bonuses. This money could be used to help especially small businesses in the construction industry by helping to build much needed affordable homes to buy or to rent.
The Bill Committee also discussed the duty on alcohol and it gave me the chance to mention Aintree Village and the Blue Anchor pub, which my family enjoy visiting as it has a good play area and is very welcoming. No doubt I will have the chance to mention other pubs in Sefton Central, which are just as welcoming to families.
The Finance Bill is taking up a lot of my time. However, I also have the Education Select Committee. We are in the middle of a review of 14-19 education. We have heard evidence from industry and from academic researchers that Britain has a very good recent record when it comes to maximising the number of young people in education, training or employment up to the age of 19. However, it is clear that we need to get the balance right between academic and vocational qualifications.
There is a shortage of opportunities for work related study and the last government had tried to address this with its diplomas. There is a danger with the scrapping of the diplomas and the Future Jobs Fund that we will see a big rise in the number of young people without relevant qualifications and unable to find jobs. This is already a problem with youth unemployment around 1 million.
In my view, we need to make learning far more relevant to the world or work. This means proper, work placements and courses which prepare young people for what employers need, through practical learning rather than just through learning in the classroom. This applies to vocational courses, but ultimately it means that academic study needs to be made as relevant as possible. The government claims its reforms will achieve this. I am not convinced as the English Baccalaureate, a flagship of those reforms forces young people into a very narrow academic route and this may produce the opposite of what young people and we as a society need.
This country is competing with China, India, Brazil and many developing nations. We will not be able to compete on the basis of low wages and low skills. Developing countries will always be able to pay less than we can and low pay is hardly the way forward to build prosperity in this country. We need high skill, high technology jobs here, especially in Sefton where the cuts mean far fewer public sector jobs. The way to produce those jobs is to have young people who learn skills that are relevant to the world of work and to the economic needs of this area and the country.
I met two people from Crosby who took part in the lobby of parliament by people with disabilities. They told me of the worry they and others have at losing the mobility component of their Disability Living Allowance. They face the prospect of being called for an interview and as both are registered blind, the loss of the allowance would hit them very hard indeed. They agreed with me about the need to get the balance right between paying benefits to those who need them and stopping the benefits culture for those who don’t want to work. But the worry for the people who made the effort to come to London is that many people who genuinely need benefits will be caught out by the efforts to stop those who should not be on benefits. As a final thought on the clamp down on benefits, far more could be raised if the same resources we're put into stopping tax evasion. The answer of course is to make sure both benefits and tax cheats are tackled.