THE first clear signs of spring are now emerging in our gardens and hedgerows, and for the last time, we had a Spring Budget last week before its move to November.
The Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, delivered his first Budget and there was encouraging news as he announced that our strong economy had delivered better than expected growth and that employment has reached a record high of 31.8 million people.
I was pleased that the chancellor pledged an extra £2billion for social care provision over the next three years, as well as £425million investment in the NHS in the next three years. This will translate into millions of pounds of extra funding for our local services.
The chancellor also announced that investment in technical education for 16 to 19 years will rise to over £500 million. New T-levels for 16 to 19-year-old technical students will be introduced in 15 different subjects, including construction, digital and agriculture. The Government will provide maintenance loans for students at National Colleges and Institutes of Technology, like those available to university students. This is just the sort of support that young people in Swindon need as they choose the right type of course to take. I was very pleased to hear that up to £40million will be invested in skills training for adults too.
The chancellor’s announcement that tax-free child care will provide up to £2,000 a year in childcare support for each child under 12 is welcome progress for working parents here in Swindon, where our council is one of eight local authorities who are working as Early Implementers for the Government’s new ‘30 Hours Free Childcare’ initiative.
Delivered on International Women’s Day, the Budget included a pledge of £20million to support organisations working to combat domestic violence and abuse or supporting victims. As a regular visitor to the Women’s Refuge here in Swindon, I am extremely glad that more funding has been allocated.
Last week, there were more welcome developments for bus passengers in Swindon as Thamesdown Transport announced that they will be investing £2million on new buses and services across the town. This comes on top of the scrapping of the “exact fare” policy that I thought was something of a barrier for many people wanting to easily use local buses.
The firm, which was recently purchased by Go South Coast, is introducing 13 new lower emission single decker buses for its local operations across Swindon and North Wiltshire with free wi-fi and USB charging points for those using smart devices, new lighter coloured flooring to assist partially sighted customers and those suffering dementia, plus a new style of seating for passengers.
It is great to see that Go South Coast have been spending a lot of time talking to both customers and drivers to see how they can improve the service and I am looking forward to meeting their senior management at the end of the month to learn more about their future plans.
A final word about the sad death of my friend and Swindon Conservative Association chairman, Geoff Halls. Geoff worked tirelessly for me, Justin Tomlinson and all Conservative councillors and candidates here in Swindon over many years and he will be sorely missed. His work and support for cricket in Swindon, too, will be long remembered. Thank you, Geoff.