This week's BEIS Committee heard from the Trades Union Congress, the Employment Lawyers Association, the New Economics Foundation and other groups on current employment and tax law. This evidence session was part of our future world of work series and you can watch it by clicking on the link at the top of this page.
Today I met with Clydesdale Bank to discuss the closure of their branch in South Queensferry. As this is the last bank in the town, local residents, including a number of disabled and elderly individuals, have concerns about their ability to access basic banking facilities. A representative from Clydesdale Bank has assured me that residents of South Queensferry will still be able to access the majority of banking services through the Post Office located in the Scotmid supermarket. While this is not an ideal solution, especially as the supermarket is halfway up a steep hill, it is part of a trend across the UK of bank branch closures. As we move towards greater use of internet banking this is likely to happen more and more. It is perhaps time for the Government to consider looking at this problem as we do not want to see elderly and vulnerable citizens left isolated from vital services as banks cut costs and move functions online.
Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management
This week's major business news in Edinburgh is the proposed merger between Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life. These two companies are representative of the strength of the Scottish financial sector and I hope that the proposed merger will lead to an organisation that can use its increased scale to reach new heights. However, as with any merger there is a risk of job losses as companies seek to improve their efficiencies and save money on replicated functions. Having spoken to representatives from both AAM and Standard Life this week, I am re-assured that the number of job losses mentioned in the media are greatly exaggerated. However, I will keep a close eye on this situation as it would be detrimental to Edinburgh and Scotland if this new company went for excessive job cuts as a way to improve profitability in the future.
On Wednesday the Woman Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) marched on Westminster, to send a message to the Conservative Government. These women, born in the 1950s, have had their pension entitlement date moved with almost no notice. This unfair change could be mitigated by the Government yet they have shown no interest in doing so. As welfare cuts that hit the poorest in society start to hit home and economic growth has not made any dent in the national debt or deficit, the Government does not believe it can go back on this change because of the cost. I disagree. While putting in place transitional arrangements would be expensive, it is the right thing to do and the Government must act. Sadly I could not make it along to the protest myself as I had to attend the funeral of a family friend, but I will do what I can to make the Government listen to the WASPI women over the coming weeks and months.
Also this Wednesday the Chancellor delivered his first, and last, Spring Budget. The headline news was the change to National Insurance contributions for the self-employed yet the main issue that should have been focused on was the confirmation of welfare cuts for the poorest members of society. As noted by Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the cuts to ESA and Tax Credits that are arriving in April will have a much greater impact on people's income than a two pence increase in NICs for the self-employed. It is estimated that 600,000 low income, three child families will be £2,500 a year worse off and some with four children will be as much as £7,000 a year worse off. These changes will save £5 billion, but will do untold damage to the poorest in society. Sadly the press have focused on the National Insurance contributions change, instead of the wider issues in the budget.