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Dartford Forgotten In A Tory Budget With No Answers

From our gridlock crisis, funding social care or supporting small business, todays' Conservative budget offered no help and no vision for Dartford.

There was, once again, no announcement about if and where a new Lower Thames Crossing will be built. Despite the signals coming from Tory ranks earlier this week that an announcement was imminent, Dartford residents are still waiting. It’s simply unacceptable that year after the government were given a clear recommendation by their own experts that a new crossing east of Gravesend should be built, the Transport Secretary is still dithering over the decision. Dartford needs the government to end the uncertainty and make that decision now.

Given the chronic traffic congestion and resulting air pollution that continues to blight our town, we hoped the Chancellor would invest in getting Dartford moving. Once again, Dartford was overlooked by the Conservative government. There was no commitment of funding to ease congestion on Dartford's roads – although the Chancellor was willing to announce £90m for the north of England and £23m for the Midlands to tackle congestion ‘pinch points’.  Maybe Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Phillip Hammond might wish to visit Dartford to see our ‘pinch points’ for themselves. Dartford should have been included in the package of investment announced today. Coming after the extraordinary revelation that pollution levels around the Dartford Crossing have been wrongly excluded from government air quality assessments, this is another sign that Dartford's air quality crisis isn’t being taken seriously by the Conservatives.

At the 2015 election, the Conservatives promised not to raise national insurance. Today they broke that promise. The Tories national insurance increase on the self-employed will hit around 10% of Dartford’s workforce. This is a tax on growth and our local economy. For towns like Dartford, growing with entrepreneurial talent, its a Tory tax on ambition. The government should be looking at how we can encourage small businesses and start ups so that Dartford can become a ‘go to’ place for those with ambitions and ideas to start their own business. Instead, the Conservatives have delivered a tax on growth to SMEs and the self-employed in our town.

The Chancellors announcements on Social Care fell way short of what was needed. The Tories cut £4.6bn from social care budgets in the last parliament. The extra money announced today doesn’t even begin to address the funding gap and the care crisis. And there was no clarity at all about how this was going to be paid for. The chancellor’s U-turn on rising business rates masks a growing black hole in local council finances. Local government nationwide is facing a 63% real terms cut to core government funding in the period 2010-2020.. The last grant settlement provided to Dartford Council by a Labour government amounted to £7.5m. By 2019/20 that grant will have reduced to zero. If we were looking to today’s budget for clarity on how business rate retention will actually work to fund local public services, we were once again, sorely disappointed.

This was a budget that was bad for the council, delivered nothing for the country and had no answers to the challenges facing our community in Dartford.

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