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Big boost for Bristol Arena and Enterprise Zone

May 28, 2014

Today I helped start work on the new bridge that will unlock the bend in the River Avon earmarked for Bristol’s new arena. As Communities Minister I also announced £6million for further works and site acquisitions in the Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone.

Many blokes think it would be fun to drive a bulldozer or crane, well today I got in the cab of a huge excavator, ready to dig out the foundations for the new bridge opposite Temple Meads station. Tempting as it was to pull a lever and cover assembled journalists with mud, I let the professional digger driver make the actual hole.  But I’m delighted that work has at last started on this huge site. Seven years ago I took to the airwaves to criticise the South West Regional Development Agency (a Labour govt quango) for pulling the plug on arena plans. The Coalition government is funding the new bridge to the tune of £11.5million. It will be unlike any other bridge over the Avon or the the harbour. It will be Bristol’s first Garden Bridge, tree lined and with places to sit. As well as space for motor vehicles it will have provision for pedestrians and cyclists.

Once the Mayor secures an operator for the Arena work will start on the “island” itself. But the arena will occupy just over a third of the site.  There will also be other businesses and hundreds of new homes.

As well as supervising the digging of a big hole, I also announced an additional £6m government support for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone.  This was part of £23m of funds from my department announced today for four enterprise zones. The Bristol money will help unlock further land and buildings for development in the Cattle Market area of the zone, which will become the new centre of Bristol’s burgeoning creative and media industries.

So two sets of good news for Bristol and further evidence that the Coalition Government is investing in building a stronger economy for Bristol and the country.

 

 

What has the Lib Dem Coalition done for Bristol?

May 21, 2014

After four years of the Liberal Democrats in Coalition Government, there are many positive things to see in Bristol.  The economy is stronger, schools have extra resources for children from poorer backgrounds and various initiatives are underway to build a more sustainable future.  In this blog I’ll consider the economy.

The Bristol city region (the city council area plus South Gloucestershire) has long been the most prosperous city in the country after London and Edinburgh. But the recsession and credit crunch from 2007 -2009 still hit the city hard. Many housing schemes with planning permission froze with builders and apprentices being laid off. By May 2010 unemployment had climbed to 14,023 with both Bristol West and Bristol South constituencies reaching a rate of 5%, below the national average but still devastating for the individuals out of work.

Now four years later, the city economy is growing again. The government’s investment in apprentices has led to thousands of new opportunities for young people.  I have met many of them on visits to Airbus, Rolls Royce and numerous construction sites.  It’s the latter that is most pleasing as construction shrank the most in Labour’s recession years.

House building is gathering pace, good for local jobs but also essential to expand the housing stock to give more people homes and to stem spiralling prices and rents.  A good example is the Wapping Wharf development near the MShed city museum. This site was frozen, with the developer finding it hard to raise the money needed to get site works underway. I told them about the government’s Get Britain Building fund and they were eventually loaned about £12million.  The site is a great example of mixed tenure, with homes for sale, private rent and affordable rent. Over the next year or so the site will be transformed with over 600 new homes.

The government is also backing Bristol with the new Local Enterprise Partnership, focused on the city region economy of Bristol and Bath. In Bristol West we have the Enterprise Zone, centered on Temple Meads. The zone is becoming the focal point for Bristol’s world renowned creative and digital media industry. It will also become home to the long awaited Bristol Arena, which the government is helping on its way with a £10million new bridge over the Avon, with construction starting this month.

The government has also invested in Bristol’s green and sustainable economy.  The Green Deal house retrofitting scheme was piloted in Bristol.  Private rental sector properties are being made more energy efficient in Easton and Horfield.  Last month Danny Alexander came to to Bristol to announce £7million government support that I secured for Bristol Green Capital 2015.

Like the rest of Britain, the Bristol economy has returned to strong growth. Unemployment has been falling for over a year and is now 11,015 – still too many but a lot better than four years ago.  As I’m writing this the day before the local and European Parliament elections it’s worth pointing out that Bristol’s economy has always depended on trade with Europe.  Our international businesses, particularly in aviation, benefit from being in the world’s largest single market. The Liberal Democrats are the only mainstream party to have the guts to argue the case for Britain’s membership of the EU. It’s in Bristol’s interests that we stay in.

Coalitions versus “Majorities”

May 6, 2014

The first week of May always brings a succession of political anniversaries.  Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of the 2005 general election,of  personal interest to me as my first successful attempt to get into Parliament.  The 1st of May was the anniversary of Tony Blair’s first landslide in 1997.  Today is the anniversary of the 2010 general election, leading to Britain’s first coalition government in living memory.

On Twitter and elsewhere in the media the Labour victories in 1997 and 2005 are described as leading to “majorities” in Parliament of 179 and 66.  O f course, in terms of how people voted they should have been nothing of the sort.  In 1997 Labour’s vote share was 43.2% , hardly meriting a landslide of seats.  A comparison between the 2005 and 2010 general elections is telling. The Conservatives obtained 36.1% of the vote in 2010 but fell short of a majority of seats. In 2005 Labour secured just 35.2% of  the vote but won 355 seats and a comfortable Commons majority.

But the purpose of this article is not to highlight the fraud on the electorate that is our First Past the Post voting system. Rather, it is argue that a Coalition government has more electoral legitimacy and based on the last four years, can be more radical than single party government.

It’s been put to me several times over the last four years that “nobody voted for the Coalition” or that “this government has no mandate for…” Yet it was fairly clear in 2010 that people wished to see Labour ejected from power. They had dropped from 43% to 29% public support over their thirteen years in power.  The parties that formed the Coalition Government between them commanded 59% of the vote.  So the current government had more support, at least at the outset, than any “majority” single party government since 1945.

The Coalition has also been a radical reforming government, rivalling the 1945 and 1979 governments of Attlee and Thatcher.  The Lib-Con Coalition has reformed the personal tax system, schools funding, energy policy and has even achieved some constitutional reform, though not enough to satisfy Liberal Democrats.  The current coalition will have a stronger legacy after five years than the last “majority” government after thirteen.

Let’s compare the records of the Cameron-Clegg and Blair-Brown governments.

First the political and economic backdrop.  Blair came to power in 1997 with an enormous Commons majority, a growing economy and a budget surplus.  A dream scenario for a progressive government, you might think.  The Coalition also has a Commons majority but has to negotiate each policy.  The economy was practically crippled, having collapsed by over 7% in 2008, the biggest contraction of any major country.  The government’s finances were also hobbled, with one pound in every four being spent coming from borrowing rather than taxes. The deficit was worth over 11% of the entire value of the economy. Any government’s nightmare scenario, you might think.

On personal taxation and the gap between rich and poor the Labour government has a dreadful record, if you are a progressive like me.  To help the low paid Chancellor Brown introduced a lower rate of income tax of 10% and then in his last Budget in 2007 abolished it, to finance a general cut in the basic rate of income tax.  He no doubt thought it would be popular ahead of an anticipated Autumn election, once he had succeeded Blair.  I still recall the cheers from Labour MPs.  Only the Liberal Democrats criticised it at the time, though some Labour MPs later spotted the what had happened.  Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, Brown’s closest colleagues, now admit it was a bad decision.  At the other end of the income scale Labour kept the top rate of tax at 40% for all bar the last month of their 13 years.  They also allowed the very wealthy to claim top rate tax relief on £255,000 each year for personal pension contributions.  They slashed capital gains tax from 40% to 18%.  Not very progressive…

The Coalition has implemented the biggest change in the income tax burden since Lawson in 1988, who slashed the top rate of tax.  But the Coalition’s increase in the personal allowance of tax free income from £6,500 to £10,000 will give each tax payer a £700 tax cut in this tax year.  This tax change disproportionally helps the low paid and part time workers.  Adults on the minimum wage have had their tax halved.  A young person has been lifted out of tax altogether. This policy of course, comes from the Lib Dem side of the coalition.  The top rate of tax was 50% for the first three years and will be 45% for the remainder of the five year term.  The amount of pension relief has been slashed from £255,000 to £40,000 and CGT has gone up to 28%.  There’s been a huge effort to combat tax avoidance, with the government leading the world in a concerted effort, as well as tightening rules at home. The most progressive tax regime ever, unless you believe in punitive 1970s higher rates of tax, in some gesture politics emotional spasm.

Allowing most people to keep more of their own money, while asking the richest to pay more is the most immediately apparent change the Coalition has introduced, despite the difficult economic backdrop.  But there have been other changes that may have a long enduring positive legacy.  The pupil premium gives schools extra money for each child on free school meals.  Children from poorer families do less well in school and the extra money will help bridge the attainment gap as much of it is spent on personalised support in literacy and numeracy. In my Bristol West constituency some schools have over half the pupils on FSM.  The premium has also been used to enable every child to learn a musical instrument of their choice and for everyone in class to go on school trips.  In a decade I think we could point to the pupil premium doing more for social mobility than any education policy since 1944.

The Coalition has also attempted tackling another long term challenge, man made climate change.  It has set up the world’s first Green Investment Bank.  It is diversifying the electricity supply away from fossil fuels, though wind farms are unpopular with the Conservatives.  The contribution of our homes to carbon emissions is being cut by tougher building regulations for new houses.  Legislation is in place to retro-fit existing houses to reduce energy demand, though the “green deal” is yet to take off.

And what of the economic and fiscal backdrop?  The last Labour government turned a budget surplus into a yawning deficit.  The economy grew and then tanked; Brown did not abolish “boom and bust”.  The Coalition has reduced the deficit from about 11% to 6%.  Despite predictions by Labour of a “double dip” recession and 3 million unemployed the economy has grown, at first falteringly (against a worsening Euro Zone situation) and now strongly, the best in the OECD. Unemployment has fallen for over a year, is now below 7% and in Bristol is below its rate in 2010.

In the 2010 general election both the Tories and Labour said that coalition would lead to weak government.  This government has been anything but weak or indecisive.  It has taken the tough measures to set the economy back on top stable growth and to rescue the public finances.  On tax, education and energy it has been radical.  I could make similar claims for welfare reform, especially in pensions, or in public health and mental health.  Even a fixed term parliament, a seemingly minor constitutional reform, gives any government the time and space to enact a programme and is unlikely to be repealed.

Coalitions have more electoral legitimacy than single party governments.  And thus far, in this novel for Britain experience of coalition government, they can be far more radical and progressive than Labour governing on its own.

 

 

 

Action to control betting shops

April 30, 2014

The remit of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is huge. Ministers are responsible for housing, local economic development, planning policy, parking, local government finance, localism and community integration. Often these issues spark controversy. But all CLG ministers are in complete agreement that there is an urgent need to revitalise the Great British High Street, to bring back the bustling centres of retail and leisure which served their communities so well prior to the financial crash. We want high streets and town centres that encourage people to spend a couple of relaxing hours working their way around the shops and enjoying a coffee or a meal in a restaurant.

 

Following the crash came the recession and many of these outlets that made whiling away a couple of hours on the high streets such an enjoyable experience disappeared. Closures didn’t limit themselves to small independent shops or restaurants either, huge seemingly invincible chains like HMV, Woolworths and Blockbuster also vanished from many high streets.  The internet has also moved spending away from bookshops, something I particularly lament.

 

There was, however, one specific type of retail outlet that seemed not only to survive the recession, but positively blossom throughout it. I am sure you, like me, have noticed the huge increase in betting shops on our high streets. Since 2008, the number of betting shops has surged in the UK. There has been an estimated 25% increase in numbers nationwide, with some areas more affected than others. In the London Borough of Newham, for example, there are now 82 gambling outlets – six per square mile. This has often come at the expense of independent retailers, who play central roles in communities; businesses such as local bakeries, hairdressers and newsagents.  In my constituency of Bristol West new betting shops have opened on Park Street and Gloucester Road, the greatest high street in England.

 

I can hear some of you shifting uneasily in your seats; “It’s a free market”; “It’s only a bit of harmless fun”; “The only other option is the shops lying empty”. All these are perfectly logical arguments; it is a free market, many people only have the occasional flutter and no one wants empty shops. But these establishments aren’t showing up in leafy upper-middle class suburbia. They are flourishing in communities where large sections of the population earn below the average wage, they are dangling false hope in front of people, many of whom are desperate and pocketing the take home pay of families who can’t afford it.

 

During a time of economic recovery, with people’s wages still being squeezed, the Liberal Democrats believe that there should be appropriate planning regulations in place to ensure that local communities have a say over the makeup of their high streets.

 

Councils already have some powers to control the types of premises on high streets through ‘Article 4’ directions.  These allow them to withdraw permitted development rights and refuse planning permission for specific types of premises, such as takeaways, if allowing such development would be harmful to local amenity and the local area. However, Article 4 directions are often seen by councils as difficult to apply and many fear legal challenge, for instance from large pub companies.

That is why I am so pleased that the Coalition Government is today embracing Lib Dem policy and empowering local councillors to decide whether or not to give approval to additional gambling venues in their community. At our 2013 Autumn Conference in Glasgow, Lib Dem activists approved a motion proposed by Cllr Jon Ball from Ealing, giving councils the power to limit the number of betting shops in their area.

I became the Lib Dem Minister at DCLG after the 2013 conference season and have been discussing with Coalition colleagues how to bring this policy into effect.  The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have supported Nick Boles and myself in finding a solution to the growth of betting shops, a subject raised with us by MPs from across the Commons.

The problem is that the planning use class A2 for Financial and Professional services is so broad that it includes everything from banks to estate agents, credit unions to betting shops.  So we have decided that all other uses will be stripped out of the class, leaving behind betting shops.  This means that councillors will be able to insist on a planning application to shift from another retail use.

This will put more power into the hands of local people to decide how to shape their high streets.  The Coalition has an excellent record on helping the high street, not just through planning but also financial assistance and leadership right across government. I’m pleased to play my part in this sea change in policy, which will support all the great high streets in Bristol and across the country.

 

NOTE – the government has also acted today on the related problem of fixed odds betting terminals.  The full announcement can be read here https://www.gov.uk/government/news/gambling-protections-and-controls-published

 

Government £7 million boost for Bristol Green Capital

April 25, 2014

My Liberal Democrat government colleague Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury,came to Bristol today to announce £7million government grant support for Bristol Green Capital 2015. I lobbied colleagues in the Treasury and Department of Energy & Climate Change for the money and the scale of the award will make a huge difference to the programme of work next year. It should also act as a powerful lever for further financial support from business.

The preparations for the project are now off to a flying start. But it’s important to acknowledge that a huge amount of partnership working has got us this far.  The decision to bid for the status was made by my Lib Dem colleagues when we ran Bristol City Council. The bids to the European Union have been supported by a fantastic coalition of Bristol businesses and campaign groups. Political support has come at all levels, not just from myself but also the Deputy Prime Minister (who recorded a multiple-language video as part of the pitch) and Graham Watson MEP. Now that we’ve won the status for 2015 I hope everyone in Bristol gets behind the project.

I think the status will bring huge benefits to the city but it is vital that all Bristolians, in every community, feel the benefit next year and enjoy the legacy in years ahead. In particular I want everyone to know how they can reduce their energy bills, helping household budgets, better health outcomes and a lower carbon footprint for Bristol. People will also benefit if the low carbon industry develops to an even greater extent, leading to more jobs.

Green Capital 2015 will place Bristol at the centre of European debate on how to tackle climate change and live more sustainable lives. It’s a huge opportunity for our city and I look forward to all the events and activities that lie ahead.

 

Remembering Srebrenica

April 17, 2014

Peering out of the plane window as we descended into Sarajevo I could see the large detached houses with low pitched roofs that are a feature of the Bosnian countryside. Images flashed back into my mind of houses like these on fire.

My vivid memory was from twenty two years ago, when the full horror of the Bosnian civil war was beamed into our living rooms every night for three years. Sarajevo was under siege.  The ghastly phrase “ethnic cleansing” became part of the language of war zone reporting. Such scenes were taking place in modern Europe, a half century after the continent had last been convulsed in a war where civilians were the main casualties. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 it seemed that at last west and east Europe were past the age of dictators and would enjoy peace, democracy and prosperity. But as Yugoslavia unravelled into its ethnic components, I was angry that the promise of a new Europe was slipping away as the EU, NATO and the UN seemed impotent in the face of well armed aggression, in particular from the Serbs who had seized most of the Yuogoslav federal army’s hardware.

Now I was visiting Bosnia for the first time, not as an angry young politician, but as a government minister, leading a delegation of young community leaders most of whom were infants in the 1990s with no contemporary memory of the civil war.  Our visit was organised by the charity, Remembering Srebrenica. The massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 when 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by the Bosnian Serb army is recognised as an act of genocide, along with other post 1945 killing fields in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur. The government is funding the charity to enable over 700 young British community leaders to visit Bosnia to reflect on how advanced countries can so easily slip into barbarism and also to make a pledge to enhance community relations in our very diverse 21st century Britain.

Our three day visit started with a talk from the Director of the International Commission for Missing Persons. The ICMP was set up to deal with one of the grisly consequences of ethnic cleansing, a countryside pocketed with mass graves of unidentified bodies. As we soon learned, the bodies still being discovered are actually partial remains. The victims from those burned out villages, mainly men shot in the back of the head, were initially buried in mass graves. But soon after, in a desperate attempt to conceal the extent of their war crimes, the Serb soldiers dug up the pits with excavators , breaking up the bodies in the process and then scattering the remains over several sites many miles apart.

The full horror of this was revealed the next day (last Thursday) when we travelled to the ICMP’s mortuary and lab in Tuzla. In a chilled room, on shelves that resembled an archive or filing store, were bags of different sizes. Each bag contained unique remains, separated from each other by DNA testing. But these were not cadavers, rather they were skulls, femurs or just pieces of a rib cage.

In the lab we saw how the ICMP extracts DNA from the bones and then tries to make a match with the database of blood samples taken from Bosnians who are missing a family member.  So far, over 6,000 matches have been made. Forensic science thus gives some closure to grieving relatives and also adds to the evidence of war crimes.

The Tuzla part of the trip was horrific, but the war was still to me something that I had studied in the media, books and now with what later generations would see as grisly archaeology. History would come alive when we travelled to Srebrenica, on the border with Serbia.  Outwardly, it’s an unremarkable small town. But its name will surely be infamous in European history for many years. There we met survivors of the massacre that took place in July 1995.

First we met the Mayor, Camil Durakovic. Now in his mid thirties, he was just 16 when Serb forces surrounded his mainly Muslim town. He was the youngest member of the “death march” of men who fled into the mountains and forests to escape to the safe haven of Tuzla.  Srebrenica itself should have been safe, as there were Dutch UN peacekeepers nearby. But in one of the most shameless episodes in the history of that organisation, they cooperated with the Serb forced evacuation of the town. Camil told me that only one of his school class mates survived.

We then visited the memorial at Potocari, a mile or so up the road, opposite the battery  factory that had been the base of the Dutch soldiers, where many civilians had fled, hoping for protection. The field has 8,372 white marble columns, in the traditional Islamic design of gravestones. There is also a frieze, with each of the names of the victims.  Our guide was Hasan Hasanovic. His story was particularly upsetting, as he had lost both his father and his twin brother, Husein. He introduced us to one of the most remarkable group of people I have met in my life, the Srebrenica Mothers. Most are widows as well as grieving mothers. We sat and listened in stunned silence as they told their stories. One woman had lost fifty five relatives.  Almost twenty years on the anger was still burning and the grief palpable. They still seek justice and recognition from the rest of the world.  The encounter will probably be the longest lasting memory of the delegation.

The next morning we met the spiritual and political leaders of the Bosnian Muslims. The Grand Mufti of Sarajevo told us that the Serbs were really victims too, as they have to live with the knowledge of the war crimes that many of them had committed or condoned.   I spoke with the President, Bakir Izetbegovic (son of the leader who was a familiar presence on TV twenty years ago) about British government support for Bosnian membership of the EU and NATO.  I believe that this is the political hope for the future. Slovenia and Croatia are already members of the EU.  Two years ago I was in Macedonia, helping with their EU accession preparations. Serbia is also likely to be a member soon. Then the European family of nations can live up to the promise of the removal of the Iron Curtain. While this Easter we watch events in Ukraine, another cocktail of languages, religions and painful memories, let’s hope diplomacy triumphs.

Finally, what have we learned? On the wall of the photograph display in Sarajevo about Srebrenica is the quote attributed to my Bristol MP predecessor Edmund Burke, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We can certainly reflect on that while looking at Ukraine or, on a more ghastly scale, Syria. But soon I will meet up with my new young friends from the delegation, to discuss what we can do to make our own towns and cities more cohesive and happy places to live.

 

What has the Budget done for Bristol?

March 31, 2014

The 2014 Budget came amidst some promising economic news. Economic growth is the strongest in the European Union and one of the most impressive in the world. Inflation is down to 1.7% – the lowest level in five years. UK income inequality is at its lowest level since 1986. In Bristol West, unemployment was down 11.4% at the end of 2013 compared to May 2010. Nationally there are now 1.26 million more people in work than when the Coalition Government took office. This is all good news, but there is obviously still a way to go.

A number of the core components of this year’s Budget had a very distinctive Lib Dem feel about them. Listening to the Chancellor’s speech there were some obvious yellow lines that would not have been present without the Lib Dems in government.

At last year’s Budget the Lib Dems were able to deliver on our manifesto pledge to increase the personal Income Tax allowance to £10,000 – this will start on 6 April 2014. That was a great victory, as I acknowledged at the time when I was the party’s Treasury Spokesman. The headline for this year’s Budget is yet another increase in the personal tax allowance secured by the Lib Dems, raising it to £10,500 from April 2015. This is a huge benefit to millions of low paid and part time workers.

So far the Lib Dem rise in personal Income Tax allowance has seen 2.7 million people removed from Income Tax completely, and another 24.5 million people receiving a cut in their tax bill. In Bristol alone this is 17,570 people removed from Income Tax and 173,100 benefitting from a tax cut. These impressive numbers are set to increase again in April 2015, with the typical basic rate taxpayer being £800 better off thanks to the Lib Dems delivering on this key election promise.

Apprenticeships are another key policy that we have been pushing hard on, and the Budget delivered more good news. In both 2014-15 and 2015-16, £85 million will be provided to extend the Apprenticeship Grants for Employers scheme (AGE), funding over 100,000 additional incentive payments for employers who take on young apprentices. There will also be £20 million of funding to support employer investment at the top end of apprenticeships degree and masters level apprenticeships.

While there is a high demand from young people to do an apprenticeship, not enough employers are coming forward and offering them. This extra funding will encourage more employers to offer apprenticeship places to help meet that demand from young people. These places are vitally important to our continued economic recovery, with the National Audit Office estimating that for every £1 spent on apprenticeships the wider economy benefits by £18. I am proud we have been able to create over 1.6 million new apprenticeships and am delighted that we are continuing our drive to offer the best opportunities to young people. I have made many visits to Bristol businesses that are expanding the number of apprentices.

There is good news on pensions, too, with radical changes announced that will offer more options to people over how they use their pension savings. My Lib Dem colleague Steve Webb, the Pensions Minister, has worked tirelessly to ensure that security in retirement remains a central part of this government’s pension reforms.

The new changes being brought in provide greater choice for those retiring this year, allowing people aged 55 or over with defined contribution pension savings to withdraw these savings (subject to their marginal tax rate). To go along with the increased choice people have, the Government is ensuring that everyone approaching retirement receives free and impartial face-to-face guidance. Thanks to the Lib Dems in government, pensioners now have more flexibility than ever over their own finances.

As you may be aware, in the 2013 Budget we announced the Help to Buy Equity Loan scheme in order to provide £3.7 billion of investment in England and to support up to 74,000 home buyers of new build properties by 2015-16. In the first 10 months of the scheme, over 25,000 people reserved a new build home and 89% of these are first-time buyers. Every home built under the scheme is a new-build home, so not only is this helping first-time buyers afford to get on a foot on the property ladder, but it is providing an effective catalyst for house building right across the country. The scheme will undoubtedly help stimulate new house building in Bristol, for instance at Wapping Wharf, which I have visited twice in the last six months to see this large site take shape.

There was also good news for drivers and other road users (on top of the freeze in fuel duty) in the form of extra funds for pothole repairs. Over £180 million will be divided between councils to help repair roads, with Bristol receiving around £340,000.

The Chancellor also announced that all the regulatory hurdles had been cleared for tax relief to be given to the film, television and computer games industries.  This follows his confirmation to me last year that relief would be given to the makers of “high end” tv drama, childrens tv and animation.  This will be a huge boost to Bristol film makers such as world famous Aardman Animations as well as the thousands of people who work in the creative industries cluster that is developing between Bristol and Cardiff.

I am pleased to see  Lib Dems, as part of the Coalition, delivering a whole host of positive policies to further boost the economic recovery we are seeing today. But this Budget is as much about what we have been able to block as it is about what we have been able to announce. The Conservatives would have slashed welfare spending, for instance by removing housing benefit from the under 25s.  We did not allow this to happen. We understand that welfare spending has to be brought under control and we are doing this through the welfare cap, which will ensure that money is spent efficiently, but we are also insisting that this is not done at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society.

I am committed to delivering a stronger economy, set on a path of sustainable growth.  I also want to balance the nation’s books so that we only spend what we raise in taxes.  But I am determined that sound finances will not be at the expense of the poor and that the recovery gives everyone a chance to make their way in life.

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