Leader of Sunderland Council blasts Autumn Statement as a “disgrace”

Written by on 22nd November 2023

The leader of Sunderland Council has blasted measures in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement as a “disgrace” and accused the Government of trying to “con the British people.”

Councillor Graeme Miller spoke exclusively to Spark after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced cuts to taxes and reforms to benefits as the Government gave its clearest hint yet that a general election was near.

“This was all about the general election rather than delivering on things. I firmly believe this was a general election autumn statement,” the council leader said.

The Chancellor’s statement included a cut in national insurance for 27 million people, plans for a tougher welfare state, measures to cut national insurance by an average of £350 for self-employed people and frozen alcohol duties until August next year.

Political commentators have speculated that changes to national insurance being brought forward to January 2024 are an indication of a general election before October 2024.

“This was the first roll of the dice in the Tory party trying to con the British people into voting for them because their polling numbers are so low, they face annihilation.

“I don’t believe people will fall for it.”

Cllr Miller, who has been leader of Sunderland council since 2018 and chair of the North East Combined Authority since 2020, was unimpressed by the government’s explanation of the current financial situation of the country.

“I am staggered by the approach of the Prime Minister and the chancellor who talk about fixing problems from when they came in in 2021, but they forget that they were the government.”

While critical of the approach of the government, Cllr Miller was keen to stress that he was “pleased” to see some measures announced by Mr Hunt including the retention of the pensions triple lock, an uplift of universal credit and changes to national insurance.

Sunderland Council. Credit: Alamy

On the measures mentioned the Washington South councillor conceded: “something is better than nothing.”

However, the Sunderland politician believes that the government should have gone further on measures to help people with the ongoing cost of living crisis.

“I am staggered that there was nothing about helping people with the cost of living crisis now because people are struggling now.

“They are talking like none of this is their fault. But all of this is their fault. They are living in the Westminster bubble, believing their own spin.”

On the Office for Budget Responsibility’s lower-than-expected growth forecasts, Cllr Miller said:

“It fundamentally means businesses are less likely to invest [in Sunderland]. It means fewer jobs.

“These [ministers] are meant to be our best people but they’re treating economic growth like a schoolyard row.”

Cllr Miller was scathing of the government’s changes to benefits sanctions, including a plan to force benefits claimants into work or lose their welfare payments.

“That is an absolute disgrace,” he said.

“The fact they are saying there are about 300,000 people who are going to lose all their benefits if they don’t get a job – they will lose access to healthcare.

“At this point, it is the government actively harming citizens,” he said.

“What do you expect will happen if you don’t have any income and all of a sudden there’s no money so you can’t have a house and you can’t have healthcare?”

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