My week in Westminster was dominated by the delivery of the Budget. This occasion is accompanied by its share of ceremony, theatre and leaks to the press (a matter which I find a depressing feature of news management in modern politics).
The immediate headlines from the Budget featured on the introduction of a so-called ‘Sugar Tax’ which will be levied on the fizzy drinks market and will raise over £500m to be spent on sport in schools. This has led to accusations that the Government is taxing choice but I believe the time has come for intervention on tackling child obesity. Some of the drinks consumed by children contain 13 teaspoons of sugar.
It was the announcement that all secondary schools are to be turned in to Academies by 2022 which caught my attention. This means that these schools will no be longer managed under the County Council but will be responsible for their own budget and services. I am fortunate in that I have an open and constant dialogue with the headteachers who run the five secondary schools in my constituency. Only one of these schools is an Academy so there will be much to consider. I tend to the view that you can call a school a Free School, Local Education School or Academy but what really makes a difference is top leadership and inspirational staffing. Unlike other counties, East Sussex County Council has managed our schools well so I will be looking closely to ensure that our schools are similarly supported when moving to Academy status. I am particularly concerned that only one of my five secondary schools has a 6th Form. If this change allows our best schools to expand then it will be a positive step.
Overall, and despite some much-needed assistance for savers, small businesses and tax-payers, this was not a Budget which was full of headline-grabbing announcements. The underlying theme is that the global economy is a fragile place and, if we want to keep adding jobs to the record numbers in employment, we have to manage our tax and spending policies carefully in order to be prepared for an uncertain world.
After attending the budget, and giving my views to the ITV cameras, I raced off on my crutches to meet one of my primary schools for a Q&A (the seventh school I had met in Parliament this week) and then spoke in a debate about the need for a better service on the coast from Southern. I contemplated during this debate that it is better for Government to focus on the basics that constituents want, such as a decent rail service, before focussing on new initiatives. If the Budget lacked excitement this year then perhaps we will all be the better for it.