Yesterday, George Osborne delivered a smoke and mirrors spending review that spelt bad news for Dartford. Instead of tacking the key issues facing our community, we got a combination of U turns and further cuts that won’t move Dartford forward – it will simply leave working people worse off and fails to address the big challenges on housing, public services and transport infrastructure that need to be tackled to provide a secure and prosperous future for Dartford.
U Turn on Tax Credits
The Chancellors U-turn on tax credit cuts is good news for the 4,000 working families in Dartford who were facing Christmas knowing their incomes would be cut next year. The U turn is also a huge victory for everyone, including the Labour Party in Dartford, who campaigned against this unfair cut – the Chancellor was forced to listen to the thousands of voices telling him to think again. Although the change of mind is welcome, we will be looking carefully to at the introduction of Universal Credit next year – we don’t want to see the same cuts dressed up in a different way.
Cuts to Council Funding
The Government has announced a reduction of 24 per cent in funding for local government. The news that the grant given to councils is being scrapped means that there is real risk to public services in Dartford as a result of this spending review.
We need to see the detail on the announcement that councils will now be able keep all the income from business rates, but the news that the government are now going to force councils to sell their assets to continue to funding public services is concerning. That cannot be a sustainable approach and is a threat to services the council provides for local residents.
Smoke and Mirrors on Housing
The Chancellor may try to convince us he’s now a champion of housebuilding but the actions of the government tell a very different story. The truth is that the Conservatives have presided over the lowest level of house building in peacetime since the 1920s and the consequence is that local families are being priced out of the housing market in Dartford. First time buyers in Dartford would need to earn at least £50,000 a year to afford one of George Osborne’s ‘starter homes’ – completely undermining his claims to be providing ‘affordable housing’.
The Chancellor had nothing to say to those in Dartford in rented accommodation. There was nothing in the spending review to help those in the private rented sector and the extension of right to buy to housing associations risks further reducing the amount of social housing in Dartford which is already too low.
The government’s announcement of additional funding to develop Ebbsfleet is welcome but there are still real concerns that not enough resources are being put into the extra infrastructure we need to support this development. Residents are concerned that there won't be enough school places, sufficient hospital capacity or that our local road network will be able to cope. The government need to do much more to address these concerns.
Bursaries for Student Nurses Scrapped
The announcement that student nurses will now have their bursaries scrapped and replaced with loans is a particularly pernicious cut. We should be investing in our student nurses – at Darent Valley Hospital as with other hospitals - not saddling them with debt. This news will do nothing to address the severe shortage of trained nurses in our NHS.
No help to Get Dartford Moving
The Chancellor announced that the Department of Transport budget will be cut by 37%. This spells bad news for Dartford. We are already waiting to key infrastructure projects such as the upgrade to the Bean junction to start and we are still no nearer a decision on the location a new Lower Thames Crossing.
Above all, today’s news means that there is huge doubt the government will help ease the traffic chaos and tailbacks we regularly experience on Dartford’s road network. Local people were looking for a plan to Get Dartford Moving – these massive cuts to the transport budget risk Dartford continuing to be stuck in gridlock.