Ben Everitt MP: The Chancellor must not let a cliff-edge ending ruin the good work of the Stamp Duty holiday

17 Feb

Ben Everitt is the MP for Milton Keynes North.

Whatever the reason might be for a home move – a new job, downsizing, more room for a growing family – it’s a decision that no one takes lightly.

The home moving process is fraught and emotional at the best of times. Families calculate budgets minutely, and finances are often stretched and squeezed in what is undoubtedly an incredibly stressful time for all involved.

Never has this been more clear than now, with the deadline of the Stamp Duty holiday creating a cliff edge for movers, and the risk of further costs, delays, and chains collapsing.

Rishi Sunak’s decision to provide a Stamp Duty holiday during the peak of the pandemic was brilliant. It has helped countless families to be able to move home. It was the right measure brought in at the right time to get the housing market moving, and it worked. It’s significantly stimulated the economy, with an almost 33 per cent increase in the amount of home moves made possible in December 2020 than the previous year.

However, the end of the Stamp Duty holiday is fast-approaching, bringing with it a can of worms for the property market and home movers alike, and a difficult decision for the Chancellor as he once again prepares to reach down the back of the sofa at Number 11.

It’s always the case with successful policies that we can find a way of viewing them as a victim of their own success. This one’s no different. In setting a defined deadline, there’s now a cliff-edge that risks undermining the benefits for which the Stamp Duty holiday was created. The holiday has undoubtedly achieved its aim of stimulating the market, but it also created enormous bottlenecks in the system as capacity within the property industry was stretched to the limit.

This crisis will mean that 325,000 home-movers could be at risk of losing out on the Stamp Duty savings through no fault of their own, according to data from TwentyCi. For many hard-working families on low and middle incomes, an unexpected bill of up to £15,000 would render the much dreamed-for house move impossible. This will be devastating for buyers who put time, effort, and emotional investment into moving home.

For many, this additional cost and stress will prove too much, and their dream home just may not be possible. The latest figures show over a quarter of home buyers would pull out of purchases if they missed out on Stamp Duty savings. The effect of this will be widespread chaos and delays, as transaction chains collapse throughout the market. They say you can’t put a price on dreams, but the estimated loss of value from the housing market in dropped transactions is £3.4 billion.

There’s also the timing to consider. The Stamp Duty holiday is due to end along with a whole raft of other Covid-related support measures. On average, UK home-movers spend £4,000 in painting, decorating, and general renovations in the year they move home. These trades have been kept alive by the Stamp Duty holiday. Tens of thousands of redundancies and bankruptcies avoided. Small local businesses, the backbone of our economy, saved.

If we phase out business and job support at the same time as ending the Stamp Duty holiday we risk a double whammy for local tradespeople and SMEs. While the forgone receipts to the Exchequer for SDLT are indeed greater than the receipts from the additional trade, the real value of the policy has been in sustaining the jobs and businesses. We need to do everything we can to keep people in work and keep businesses going at this crucial point. Investment in jobs now will pay off in the medium and long term.

The Treasury has rightly made much of its commitment to get the economy moving again as we turn to a 2021 recovery. Ensuring the housing market is thriving is central to this. To continue to boost our economy, we need to help the housing market, not burden it with a dangerous cliff edge.

This is why I would ask the Chancellor to consider the merits of a short extension of the holiday until we are through the most acute phase of this crisis. This would allow the industry time to rebuild capacity, process the backlog of work smoothly, and realise the benefits of the demand this successful policy has generated.

The Stamp Duty holiday has succeeded in revitalising the home moving sector and as a key plank of the Government’s plan for jobs – it would be foolish to taint its legacy by hampering home movers when we should be helping them most.

Ben Everitt: Why the plan for a new technical university in Milton Keynes offers a fresh model for higher education

16 Sep

Ben Everitt is the MP for Milton Keynes North.

We have world class universities in this country, which provide some of the highest calibre graduates around. We must maintain and protect our best institutions. But speaking to businesses in my constituency, they tell me that what they want isn’t always graduates. It’s workers with technical skills, an understanding of the industry they want to work in, and who are ready to work in teams and who can communicate.

That’s why this Government is right to be taking a hard look at the system of higher and further education in this country. It isn’t ‘anti university’ to be asking whether the current system provides the best opportunity for those going through it, for the businesses who will employ them, and for the taxpayer. It’s making an argument for a world class higher and further education system for everyone, in a wider variety of forms.

And when we think about what that looks like, we don’t have far to go. We should take inspiration from one of this Conservative Government’s proudest achievements – Free Schools. These schools, often set up in the poorest areas of the country by innovative teachers and heads, were distinctive not just because they were new, but because they offered something different.

Like the best businesses, they spotted a gap in the market and they provided a solution to fill it. And many of them – such as Michaela Community School, run by the outstanding Katharine Birbalsingh – have been successful precisely because they have maintained this focus over time, rather than doing everything.

We have some of that in higher education, but not enough. In my constituency, for example, the Open University does a brilliant job because it focuses on a specific remit – providing flexible distance learning to those who don’t want to, or aren’t able to, undertake traditional three year full time undergraduate degrees. To adapt the Steve Jobs maxim, it does not try to do everything – it does one thing, and does it well. But we need more innovation from the higher education sector, not more of the same.

It’s why I’m such a strong supporter, alongside my fellow Milton Keynes MP Iain Stewart, of the new proposed technical university in my constituency, Milton Keynes University (MK:U). This institution, modelled on the best technical universities in Germany and the United States, has identified a clear gap, which is the shortage of digital and STEM skills in the economy throughout Milton Keynes. I’m privileged in my constituency to sit in the middle of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc – a zone of immense prosperity and economic growth that is home to world class businesses and innovation.

But what Milton Keynes needs is people who can work in these businesses – and who have qualifications that are industry ready. And that’s what MK:U will deliver. By 2021, MK:U plans to be delivering degree apprenticeships in the critical shortage areas of data science, cyber security, digital technology, and management. By 2024, when the university is fully on stream, it will continue to deliver at least half of its provision via degree apprenticeships.

It will also work closely with the new South Central Institute of Technology to deliver high quality technical qualifications at what are called Level 4 and 5 – above the level of school qualifications, but quicker to achieve and more industry-focussed than traditional degrees.

The reason I’m so confident in the success of MK:U is that the team there have been overwhelmed by interest from businesses. Over a hundred major employers, who between them employ over 700,000 people in the UK alone, are backing MK:U, including top-level support from Arriva, Bosch, BT, Capita, Grant Thornton, Network Rail, PwC, Sainsburys, and Santander – who specifically cited MK:U as a key element in its decision to locate its new £150 million Digital Hub in Milton Keynes, and has committed £10 million capital funding and £20 million of in-kind support, to MK:U.

MK:U is backed by Cranfield, the world recognised postgraduate university with a long track record in scientific and business research, and another example of an institution that knows what it does and does it well. Like Cranfield, and like the OU, MK:U will keep to its mission. It won’t offer a wide range of liberal arts and humanities degrees. It won’t chase faddish new disciplines and courses merely to attract students. It will focus on driving prosperity in the Arc, and for the UK more widely.

I know that Ministers in the Education and Communities departments, and in the Treasury are studying the proposal closely as we approach the Spending Review. It has the potential to make a real difference – and to provide a model that other, ‘Free’, universities could follow too.