Philip Hammond tells schools who attacked his 'little extras' Budget cash they can hand money back
‘For anybody who feels it’s not worth having, there will be plenty of schools willing to receive the cheque on their behalf’
The chancellor said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the backlash from critics who said the money was peanuts when schools are being forced to lay off staff and cut classes.
He told MPs: “I maintain that, for most secondary schools, receiving a cheque for £50,000 they can spend on an item or items in year will be money worth having.”
And he added: “For anybody who feels it’s not worth having, there will be plenty of schools willing to receive the cheque on their behalf.”
Mr Hammond also rejected a claim that the government was responsible for rising class sizes, insisting they were “decisions to be made by school leaders”.
Instead, he pointed to the £1.3bn pumped into schools in 2017, arguing per-pupil funding was protected, and saying: “The UK is the top spender in the G7 on schools and colleges.”
On the backlash, he told the Commons Treasury Committee: “I am surprised by those comments and disappointed by them.”
The exchange came as Mr Hammond defended the decision to delay the slashing of the maximum bet on highly addictive gambling machines that triggered the resignation of Tracey Crouch, the sports minister.
He insisted the motivation was an attempt to minimise job losses, predicting the new £2 stake for fixed-odds betting terminals would cost a “significant number of jobs” and send betting shops to the wall.
Under fierce questioning, Mr Hammond agreed it would be possible to make the cut by next May, as Ms Crouch wanted.
But he rejected claims that delaying the change until October next year was to avoid blowing a hole in his Budget, insisting: “It’s not about revenue loss.”
The chancellor said the £2 stake “means the machines are going” altogether, because they “won’t generate sufficient revenues”.
“I have absolutely no love for these machines – I think they are terrible things – but the government has to manage this process in an orderly and sensible way,” he said.
On Brexit, Mr Hammond risked angering pro-Brexit Tories by warning the ambition for the UK to have major trade deals in place by 2021 was “fairly generous”.
And he admitted to “a tension” between giving MPs time to examine his forecasts on the impact of any Brexit deal and the government’s desire to force the vote through.
The chancellor also denied abandoning his target of eliminating the UK’s deficit by the middle of the next decade, following his giveaway Budget.
Experts said any suggestion the chancellor still intended to meet his fiscal objective of reaching surplus by the mid-2020s was now “for the birds”.
But Mr Hammond said: “It hasn't been abandoned. I have said, since the autumn of 2016, that I would take a balanced approach.”
The goal of balancing the nation’s books was “within touching distance”, with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasting the deficit will be trimmed to 0.8 per cent of GDP by 2023-24.
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