It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jim McMahon. My constituents, like his in Oldham, have a sense of disappointment about the Budget’s failure to address many of the challenges that they and others in former coalfield and industrial areas face.

Taxes in the UK are unfairly distributed, penalising our poorest communities. Rather than supporting our fragile regional economies, Government policies and decision making take money and resources out of our communities. Data from the Office for Budget Responsibility show that, despite the headline cut to national insurance, the UK’s tax burden is the highest it has been in 70 years, and that it rises every year of the forecast period. It is true that anyone in my constituency living on the national minimum wage—earning around £20,000—will receive an extra £148.60 a year, or £12.38 per month, from the reduction in national insurance.

However, we need to look at the overall tax burden. Around 40% of that extra income will be lost to the increase in council tax. My council’s website, which gives some examples, says that those living in a band A properties will be charged £61 more next year. Of course, that figure will be much higher once we have added increases to parish police and fire precepts. The problem is compounded in areas that, like mine, have a small council tax base because the majority of properties are in bands A to C. Indeed, the additional money that councils raise will not even cover the rising costs, so we will have to pay more but see services cut.

Durham County Council will receive—I have checked this figure—£130 million less in revenue support in 2024 compared with 2010. Indeed, a survey by the County Councils Network found that 95% of local authorities are increasing council tax by the maximum permitted 5%. In east Durham, that means that our poorest communities are paying the most. Here is an interesting example: a band A property in Easington Colliery faces a council tax bill of £1,671, which is not far short of the Prime Minister’s £1,824 council tax bill for his band H flat in Downing Street. If the Prime Minister were paying council tax on a band H property in Horden in my constituency, his council tax would be £5,157.88. Despite our property prices being significantly below the national average, our poorest communities, and residents in my constituency, are facing council tax bills similar to that of the Prime Minister. Council tax is a new poll tax in all but name.

I often feel like a lone voice advocating for a proportional property tax, but I should not be, because it would benefit 77% of UK households. Proportional property tax is a flat tax—a charge of 0.48%—on a property’s current value. It would effectively be an annual economic stimulus to the regional economies worth £6.5 billion a year, increasing disposable incomes of households in the poorest communities, which do not enjoy the same levels of public and private investment as households in London and the south-east. Services that take up the largest part of Durham County Council’s budget are adult social care and looked-after children. Those are important services, but they should be funded nationally based on a needs assessment.

Those costs should not fall on local taxpayers, particularly as we have seen a rise in some councils and service providers effectively outsourcing those with complex needs by moving their people into our poorest communities. If the Minister is not aware of that issue and wants to understand how councils in the south are gaming the system at the expense of my constituents, I recommend that he reads an article by the Express journalist Zak Garner-Purkis—I do not normally recommend the Express, but he is an excellent journalist.

Far from giving our communities a chance, the Government’s policy, taxation and investment decisions are widening the economic divides in our country through higher taxes and a lack of public investment, which impact on the private sector’s willingness to invest in my constituency. Of course, there would be opportunities if we had the right investment and growth policies. We have large areas with derelict and run-down housing that would be ideal for redevelopment and the creation of decent family homes, but we have a tax and investment system that holds back our regional economies and deprives them of opportunity. We have a Government who refuse to take any steps to address widening economic disparities—I thought that was the whole purpose of levelling up.

There are other national issues that affect my constituency, including the NHS: there are long waits in A&E, and NHS dental provision is collapsing. We have over-subscribed schools, a lack of home-to-school transport, and schools in a poor state of repair—not only those affected by RAAC or asbestos, but some quite new schools built by disreputable construction companies that have fleeced the taxpayer.

The Conservative party has now had 14 years, either in government by itself or in coalition with the Lib Dems and others, to improve the opportunities for constituencies such as mine. However, 14 years on, the problems that our country faces today are just as deep-rooted and extensive as ever. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister say that they are proud of their record. Well, I think my constituents have reached the same conclusion as many others. They say it is time to put that confidence to the test. If this Government have a shred of integrity, we should be going to the polls on Thursday 2 May for a general election. The Chancellor’s Budget has lifted the lid on 14 years of Tory economic failure: taxes are still rising, prices are still going up for consumers, mortgages are going through the roof, and the Chancellor did nothing yesterday that is going to change that. We need a Government that can rebuild Britain. It is time for change. It is time for a general election.

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