Robin Walker, Worcester's MP, has written this week to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, ahead of next week's important Autumn Statement on the economy.
In particular, he focused on the need to cut fuel duty, to support small businesses through simplification and improvement of the business rates system, and support for youth employment and apprenticeships. Robin began his letter by congratulating the Chancellor on figures that showed he was on track to meet his deficit reduction targets.
"I absolutely accept the need for continued fiscal rigour and the lessons of recent events in Europe show the massive cost of setting this aside. It would be unforgiveable to sacrifice a situation where we have some of the lowest costs of borrowing anywhere in the continent and I congratulate you on what you have managed to achieve so far."
"However business confidence is a concern, high youth unemployment is dominating the headlines and, although Worcester is faring better than some areas with a net reduction in the claimant count for under 25s of just over 100 in the last two months, this is being felt across the country. Youth unemployment in Worcester is now just slightly lower than it was at the time of the General Election, but I would like to see it a lot lower."
The high cost of fuel is a major concern to people in Worcester and across the country and Robin Walker has been a strong campaigner for a reduction in fuel duty to help families and households, as well as support businesses and in turn help the economy in difficult times. Robin voted for a cut in fuel duty in a recent backbench debate in the House of Commons, which itself had been prompted by a public petition.
In Robin's letter to the Chancellor, he mentioned that recent calculations by the AA suggest that the Government could actually be losing revenue as a result of higher fuel costs. He said that the Chancellor's cancellation of the previous Labour government's proposed 5p duty rise in March was welcome but further cuts in fuel duty must be considered - particularly for diesel, which is the preferred fuel of the transport industry.
Business rates are another area of huge concern for small businesses in Worcester and elsewhere in the country. Robin said:
"I have cases in Worcester of businesses that are taking on some more staff and would like to take on many more but do not feel they can afford the step up to premises that pay the full business rate. It should be possible for councils as they take over business rates to use their powers of discretion and discounting to provide a more tapered scheme or to provide short term finance to help expanding businesses. I would also like to see a commitment to fuller reform of the valuations system and the end to the five-yearly review."
Robin supports the Federation of Small Businesses' request for reform of the National Insurance holiday scheme and the extension of very welcome government schemes for work trials and apprenticeships, however recognises that it will not be possible as they have requested, to make differential rates of VAT for the construction and tourism industries. He pointed out that tourism should not need such support in a year in which Britain hosts the Olympics and we have the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Robin also said:
"I am interested in the CBI's ideas of a scheme to support employment, such as where the Government gives a small subsidy to people in work rather than pay out of work benefits. This should in my view be targeted at people who are harder to employ, people with disabilities and the unemployed over-50, rather than youth unemployment, which is better served through apprenticeships and work placement schemes."
Robin also made the case for potential renewal of the boiler scrappage scheme, which has been supported by the Heating and Hot Water Insdustry Council, of which Worcester Bosch is a member.
"The scheme launched by the previous government appears to have been self-financing through VAT receipts. If a similar scheme could be introduced at the right time, I believe this could have a very positive impact on stimulating investment, encouraging carbon reduction and helping people deal with higher energy costs."