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Budget 2024: Businesses in Wales

Volume 747: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2024

The UK Government are backing our small businesses by raising the VAT threshold, delivering tax reliefs for the creative industries and investing in high-growth industries, such as advanced manufacturing. That is in stark contrast to the Welsh Labour Government’s anti-business agenda; Wales has some of the highest business rates in the whole United Kingdom. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) thinks that having the highest business rates in the United Kingdom is funny.

Sadly, pubs and restaurants are closing at a faster rate in Wales than in any other part of the UK. The measures in the Budget that the Secretary of State mentioned will bring some relief, but does he agree that what is pushing many of these businesses to the wall right now is Welsh Labour’s slashing of business rates support?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The UK Government have made sure that pubs and other small hospitality businesses receive a 75% discount on their business rates. In Wales, that policy has been absolutely slashed, meaning that pubs and small businesses pay thousands of pounds more under the Welsh Labour Government. That is an absolute disgrace.

May I return the Secretary of State to the issue of the Rhondda tunnel? The Chancellor of the Exchequer doled out bits and pieces of money to the constituencies of various Members of Parliament on the Tory at-risk register, but he did not allocate any money to the Rhondda tunnel, despite the Secretary of State having told me personally in the Chamber that we should apply for money from the levelling-up fund. That is all gone, hasn’t it? So where should we now apply for money for the Rhondda tunnel?

There have been three rounds of levelling-up funding. The hon. Gentleman should know that there are growth deals across the length and breadth of Wales, covering every single constituency; that there are special projects being backed in areas such as Newport; and that there is an investment zone and a freeport in Port Talbot. Constituencies the length and breadth of Wales have benefited from the many projects that this Government have put forward. I appreciate his concern for that project in his constituency, and I suggest that he might look at shared prosperity fund money in future.

My right hon. Friend is well aware that the Chancellor has extended business rate relief at the rate of 75% here in England, but of course the Welsh Government are refusing to pass that money on to small businesses in Barry and Cowbridge in my constituency. Does he not think it completely unfair that a business in Bristol or Cornwall will pay a lot less in business rates than a business in Barry or Cowbridge?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It is extraordinary that the Welsh Labour Government, who are receiving this funding in order to support small businesses in Wales, are failing to pass it on. As a result, the average pub in Wales will pay more than £2,000 more in business rates than a pub in England. The Welsh Labour Government must do more to support small businesses in Wales.

The Secretary of State will know that much of our monetary policy, which has an effect on interest rates for Welsh businesses and Welsh households, is decided in Threadneedle Street. Has he met the Governor of the Bank of England recently? If not, will he invite him to Wales to see the impact of his policies on the Welsh economy? Will he hold a meeting with other Welsh MPs, and may I humbly suggest that it be in Blackwood, Newbridge or Risca in my constituency?

The hon. Gentleman will surely be aware that the Bank of England sets interest rates independently, as a result of a policy brought in by the former Labour Government. It has been widely accepted that it is right that the Bank should set interest rates with a view to not what politicians ask it to do, but what the economy demands. As a result of the policies being pursued by this UK Government in conjunction with the Bank of England, inflation has dropped drastically from over 11% to 4%, and I would like to think that interest rates will soon follow.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. This

“Budget will do nothing to deliver a better future for retailers and their customers.”

Those are the words of the British Retail Consortium, whose members face 45,000 incidents of theft and 1,300 incidents of violence and abuse every day. To help keep our Welsh high streets safe, we Labour Members want to fund an extra 13,000 police officers and police community support officers, and extra measures to deal with offenders. Why are the Government failing to tackle the epidemic of shoplifting and its victims, and to take it seriously?

The hon. Lady is right to raise this important issue for retailers, but I remind her that the UK Government have provided for an extra 20,000 police officers across the whole United Kingdom. We have repeatedly brought forward legislation to increase prison sentences and punishments for offenders, but that legislation has often been voted against by members of her political party.

This Government pledged £1 billion to electrify the north Wales main line. We all know that that £1 billion is an uncosted number pulled out of the air. We also now know that phase 1 goes no further than Llandudno. How can the Secretary of State explain that to the people living in Ynys Môn and Gwynedd? Talk of rail electrification just means more of the same for us: slow trains, cancelled services and empty election promises.

The UK Government have already shown a commitment to transport in Wales, spending £390 million on improved rail infrastructure over the last control period. In addition to that, there has been the south Wales metro, which is part of a UK Government-Welsh Government joint-funded growth deal. The Prime Minister was very clear about our commitment to the electrification of the north Wales rail line, and that commitment stands.

The Tory leader in the Senedd opposes moves to tackle the effects of excessive numbers of holiday homes in our communities. He goes on about

“anti-tourism, and anti-English policies being imposed on the Welsh tourism industry”.

Now that the Tory Westminster Government are abolishing tax breaks for holiday lets, would the Secretary of State claim that his Chancellor is anti-tourism?

I would not. My friend in the Senedd has spoken out repeatedly about the Welsh Labour Government’s plans for an overnight tourism tax, which will have a detrimental impact on tourism businesses across Wales. The hon. Lady’s party is in partnership with the Welsh Labour Government, and if she really wants to support the Welsh tourism industry, I suggest she tells it that her Members will vote against Welsh Labour’s Budget, to prevent that tax from coming in.