FIERCE debate has broken out in Coventry in the wake of the Chancellor’s latest Budget.
In the first wholly Conservative budget in more than 18 years, George Osborne announced “a Budget that puts security first…a Budget for working people” that will see greater investment in business, cuts to tax credits for large families, and a new National Living Wage.
But while some see the merits of the new measures, many are arguing the ‘true blue’ plans are another example of the ‘nasty party’ favouring the wealthy.
Meeting straight after the Budget was announced, Coventry’s business leaders met to discuss its affects on the local community.
Describing it as ‘bold and balanced’, the group welcomed the Chancellor’s plans to encourage more apprenticeships and cut the rate of corporation tax from the current 20 per cent to 18 per cent by 2020.
Speaking about the proposals, chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, Louise Bennett said: “It was a budget where had to balance politics with a need to continue the country’s economic recovery and to provide business with the stimulus it needs to invest and create jobs.”
But, while the Chamber said the Budget was a message to the rest of the world that Britain was ‘open for business’, members noted that Osborne’s mention of the Midlands ‘engine room of growth’ was greatly overshadowed by his plans for the Northern Powerhouse.
Ms Bennett added: “He also talked about ‘elected mayors’ once again and from our feedback from business, there isn’t the stomach for a mayor as part of the West Midlands Combined Authority.
“We will see how this plays out and, also, ensure the views of businesses on our patch are heard loud and clear as this process progresses.”
The Chamber went on to praise the Chancellor’s continued funding for universities as the ‘jewel in the crown for the economy’ – a fact that has been fiercely refuted by students across the country.
With the announcement that the Student Maintenance Grant – a non-repayable fund for students from low-income households to cover daily expenditures – will be scrapped and replaced by loans, many are arguing it is a move that further ‘locks’ young people from poorer backgrounds out of higher education.
President of the Student’s Union at Warwick University, Cat Turhan, described the move as ‘hugely disappointing’ to the half a million students for whom the grants provide a ‘vital means of support’.
She added: “Given the punitive measures taken against those under the age of 25 elsewhere in the Budget, this essentially amounts to yet another attack on young people.
“Students are currently expected to earn much less after University than the rhetoric on this subject suggests, and in actuality many may find themselves ultimately unable to reach the repayment threshold.
“Replacing these grants with loans simply saddles students with yet more debt, while acting as another deterrent for those from low-income backgrounds looking to take up further study.”
A leading academic echoed Ms Turhan, arguing that the Government were looking at the ‘wrong end of the problem’ and that it was a ‘very political Budget by a very canny Chancellor.’
Professor Chris Warhurst, Director of the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick, said businesses would be forced to make up for shortfalls and hardships to families made by Government plans to freeze and then cut tax credits.
And while it may take weeks or months for the nature of the Budget’s cuts, the future of lives in the ‘Midlands Powerhouse’ are set to undergo some changes.