Nadhim Zahawi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and is the MP for Stratford On Avon.
A lot has changed in the two short years since the 2015 Conservative Party Conference. This was a conference where, just months after delivering the first Conservative majority Government for almost two decades, David Cameron stood up and perfectly outlined our goals, motives and ambitions as a party. He called for us to make our country greater still, by identifying and tackling injustices and working hard to build the foundations for a better future. He wanted us to create a “Greater Britain. Where people have greater hope, greater chances, greater security”. It was a recognition while we live in great country, which we all love dearly, we must always strive to make it greater still.
And although so much is changed at the end of 2017 compared to the end of 2015, our party’s ambitions and targets haven’t drifted. Our Prime Minister and Government are different, but the Conservatives are still able to strike a note of optimism that we can have a brighter future, while working to tackle the problems of the present. We saw this confirmed in last week’s Budget, as Phillip Hammond set out our Government’s commitment to this work, and their drive to build a Britain fit for the future.
This was not a radical Budget, and did not use some of the big ideas that colleagues have advocated, including some of suggestions I’ve made in recent columns on this website. However, it was a good Budget. It was a Budget that quietly and competently preserves what is right about our country and starts to zero in on some of the issues we need to fix.
The Chancellor was right to look hard at what more we can do to fix the housing market, in addition to the measures successive Governments have already been taking. It is good news that the Government are looking to up the number of homes being built to 300,000 a year. This is a big increase, but it’s entirely necessary. Fundamentally, building more houses is the only long-term fix to the difficulties so many people are facing in getting onto the ladder. And the abolition of stamp duty for over 80 per cent of first time buyers was particularly welcome. When you have to make so many sacrifices to finally scrape together enough money for a deposit, being faced with an extra stamp duty bill from the taxman just seems unfair. It makes the dream of home ownership seem further away to so many; that measure will be a blessed relief to so many.
I was pleased to hear that the National Living Wage will be increasing again above inflation to £7.83. This change means that workers will be £2,000 better off than when the rate was first introduced. At the same time, the personal allowance rose yet again to £11,850 meaning that compared to 2010, the average basic rate tax payer will be £1,075 better off. Taken together these policies show that our party has done a great job both ensuring that hard working families have been able to take home more pay.
But it is just as important for Hammond to think about how to increase productivity and to ensure that our economy is ready to provide the jobs of the future. Whether that is investing in T-Levels to improve technical education in the UK, investing another £ 2.3 billion in science and innovation taking spending in this area to its highest level in 30 years, or increasing the R&D tax credit to 12 per cent. These steps show that the Government are taking preparing our nation for the future seriously. It is likely that as technology improves and penetrates further into every aspect of our daily lives that the disruption to markets will only increase. We need a workforce who have the capabilities and skills to take advantage of this and properly compete on the global stage. It is great that this Budget identified that this will be key to our future and started to take the steps required.
As our last Prime Minister described, we live in a great country. And as Conservatives we must not only protect that greatness for future generations, but to lay the foundations to make our country greater still. This Budget has rightly received a quietly impressed reception; it’s a quietly impressive Budget. The Chancellor has not suddenly changed who he is; he has carefully analysed the issues we face and plotted out a course of action to build a Britain fit for the future. The measures announced last week will deliver exactly that, and I’ll be proud to walk through the voting lobby with my Conservative colleagues to show our approval.