Budget 2016: What does it mean for West Berkshire?
New proposals include sugar tax and radical overhaul for schools
A Sugar Tax, cuts to corporation tax, lower than expected growth rates and a radical overhaul of all primary and secondary schools across the country.
Those were some of the key changes outlined today (Wednesday) when Chancellor George Osbourne delivered his Budget 2016.
And in West Berkshire, people have been quick to voice their opinions on the chancellor’s eighth budget.
Primary school head teachers have blasted one measure which will force every school in England to become an academy by 2022, severing their ties with the local authority.
The chairman of the Primary Heads Association for West Berkshire Paul Field said the plans would damage schooling across the district.
He told Newbury Weekly News: “Academies are not wanted by primary heads in West Berkshire.
“We do want to be free to make decisions that will benefit our schools, we do accept the need to change and we actively support the building of collaborative partnerships.
“There is, however, no evidence that supports the idea that academies are good for all schools.
“There is evidence that the risk of financial mismanagement increases, accountability decreases and conditions for hard working, committed people in schools worsen.
“We do not want to be portrayed as nay-sayers who are afraid of change and just want to maintain some kind of cosy existence in the past.
“We are far more ambitious for our children than this government and could achieve so much if politicians stepped away, stopped meddling and allowed evidence based professionalism to lead improvement.”
Mr Field has now penned an open letter on behalf of West Berkshire primary school heads calling out the government plans and saying it is “not in our name.”
Unions have also come out against the new measure and Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Forcing all schools to become academies will do little, if anything, to improve the quality of education.
“Many schools want to keep their links with local authorities and not be forced into academy trusts. Evidence shows improved standards are not guaranteed and financial problems can occur.”
Meanwhile, rail infrastructure has been promised a boost and Newbury MP Richard Benyon took to Twitter to announce that Newbury rail station would benefit from a share of £7m in infrastructure improvements.
He said: "Page 72 of Budget Red Book: £7m to improve rail station facilities at (Redhill) NEWBURY (and High Wycombe)."
There was also some good news for motorists, too, with fuel duty to be frozen once again.
Quentin Willson, of FairFuel UK said: “Freezing duty for a fifth year is hugely significant.
“The Treasury now has five years of evidence to prove that keeping fuel duty low has helped improve GDP, stimulate economic activity and actually improve tax receipts.
“The Chancellor knows that low transport costs have had an enormous economic benefit to the UK over the last five years.”
Corporation Tax is also set to be cut to 17 per cent by 2020 which the CEO of Entrepreneurial Spark Jim Duffy argued would have a “transformational effect” on new businesses.
He said: “Additional small business relief will ensure more small businesses pay no rates at all, which is to be applauded as we encourage people to start their own businesses and create wealth.
“Removing VAT loopholes for international e-commerce businesses will help the UKs digital firms be much more competitive.”
Other measures include a levy on the soft drinks industry, longer opening hours for a quarter of secondary schools, and more newly elected mayors for towns and cities in the south of England.
Responding to the proposed Sugar Tax, Baroness Shelia Hollins, BMA Board of Science Chair, said: “The chancellor’s decision to introduce a new levy on excessive sugar in soft drinks is a welcome step forward and a move called for in the BMA’s recent Food for Thought report.
"This is an important initiative that could help to begin to address the obesity crisis among young children, although the delay in introducing it for two years is disappointing.
“More needs to be done to invest in proper preventive measures that protect people’s lives and the public’s resources. The implementation of minimum alcohol unit pricing is still also badly needed given the billions spent on the impact of excessive alcohol consumption.”
Baroness Hollins added, however, that it was "disgraceful" that the NHS had not been promised extra funding and warned it was "buckling under the pressure from rising patient demand, falling resources and staff shortages."
She added:“The political rhetoric does not match the reality on the ground of an NHS in crisis. The government’s funding promises have simply not materialised.”
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