Economic forecasts, business rates and post office re-openings

Parliamentary business has been fairly light over the past two weeks, but that will change this week with the Budget debate. As ever seems to be the case, much has been trailed in advance. Tax receipts are £13Bn higher than forecast at this time last year. This tells us a couple of things; the economy is in good shape, reflected in low unemployment figures and wage growth, rising exports and Brexit resilience far higher than the doomsayers would have you believe. Secondly that forecasts are rarely to be trusted. If you were to ask a dozen economists for a forecast, you’d get 13 different answers with none of them proving correct. The lesson here is not to believe the constant stream of negativity that we’re fed on an almost daily basis.

I look forward to fuel duty being frozen for the 9th year, infrastructure spending particularly on roads, new money for mental health support in schools, help by way of business rate reductions to smaller businesses and additional funding for the Universal Credit system. At the heart of UC is to make work pay in all circumstances, I am hoping that some of the rougher edges of the system, notably the withdrawal rate, can be amended. Currently an additional £1 of earnings can lead to a loss of 63p of UC as well as a tax and National Insurance charge. This is too high and can be a disincentive to work, particularly if travel fares and additional child costs are taken into account.

It was a pleasure to open two new Post Office counters, one in Newington Road, Ramsgate and one in Broadstairs, replacing services that had been lost. With traditional banks closing branches across the country, Post Office services become ever more important for banking transactions as well as providing more traditional postal services.

With the capital cost of solar panels reducing significantly, electricity so produced by this source is finally in reach of more traditional methods of energy production such as coal and gas. There has been a perversity in the business rates system in that businesses doing the right thing and investing in solar panels to produce electricity for their own use, often on the roof of their warehouse for instance, suffered a business rate revaluation (upwards) reflecting the enhanced value of their premises. However, such businesses feeding the electricity produced into the national grid do not. Confused – so was I, so I raised this with the Energy Minister in Parliament who gave an assurance that this differing treatment would be addressed.

MPs have the opportunity of proposing a ‘Guest Beer’ to be sold in the House of Commons. I was therefore pleased that I could invite Mike Beaumont from the Four Candles, Broadstairs to Strangers Bar to enjoy his locally brewed ‘East Kent Bitter’ which is the guest ale to be enjoyed on a cross party basis over the next couple of weeks.

I hope to see many of you at the Ageless Thanet Festival to be held at St. George’s School, Broadstairs between 10am and 3pm this coming Sunday 4th November. I will be on hand with my caseworkers to offer an on the spot MP surgery. Somewhat worrying with it being for the over 50s that I now qualify to attend!