We are economically so very fortunate in North Wiltshire – minimum unemployment (amongst the lowest constituencies in the land); prosperous businesses; high disposable income. We should be glad about that, but never take it for granted. And nor - as the Heads of Malmesbury Secondary and Primary schools reminded Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP when we met him last Wednesday to discuss education funding – should we forget that even in an ostensibly leafy shire area like this, there are still significant pockets of deprivation.
Successful businesses, of course, don’t just happen. They take a huge amount of enterprise and energy. I was torn by the Chancellor’s NIC announcements in the Budget last week. On the one hand, we have to encourage enterprise and risk-takers, and small businesses and the self-employed are at least partly the life-blood of that prosperity. Yet their lower National Insurance Contributions were originally intended to compensate for their lack of state pension, which has now been corrected. And then there is the question of why those who are employed by businesses should be taxed more than, and therefore effectively cross-subsidise, self-employed people who may well be doing an identical job. Nonetheless, I do believe that our Manifesto commitment must be sacrosanct, and I very much welcome the Chancellor’s decision not to proceed with the Class 4 NIC measures set out in the Budget.
Prosperity also needs skills, so I was delighted to welcome Sir James Dyson’s proposed Research and Development and training facility at Hullavington, and the further development of his Design and Engineering College. We are woefully short of engineers, and only determination and enterprise like his will correct it. It was great to visit the £250 million Defence Technical Training College at Lyneham on Thursday morning, and to see the superb training which the Military give our young men and women, and the skills which they can of course use when they go back to civilian life.
That evening, I thoroughly enjoyed handing out the certificates and trophies at the Wiltshire College Apprenticeship Awards, and hearing about the superb efforts which the winners put in to their apprenticeships. It was National Apprenticeship Week, designed to celebrate these youngsters who are the James Dysons of the future.
It was announced recently that a huge investment is to be made by the Government in land-based education at Lackham (as well as rebuilding Wiltshire College’s Salisbury campus.) Farming and forestry, animal husbandry, gamekeeping, equestrian business and other land-based training is something which we in rural Wiltshire can contribute to British society, and I salute the determination and drive of the outstanding principal, Amanda Burnside and her whole team for achieving it.
So we are fortunate in having such fine businesses and prosperity here in North Wiltshire, but in all of these ways, we also make a great contribution to the training and education of our young people and future business leaders both here and across the land.