Francis Maude: Funeral will be watched the world over

The deadline for this column means I’m unable to write about Baroness Thatcher’s funeral. What I can say for sure is that years of planning went into the event – not least by the lady herself.

Readers will know by now that I chaired the organising committee – I was fortunate to work with a good group of people who put their energy into an event that will be watched and commented on the world over.

The police and the armed forces personnel due to play a role in the day itself have also done a great job, not least during the rehearsal in the wee small hours of Monday morning.

There have been a couple of important announcements this week which I thought readers would be interested in.

The first was the introduction in four London boroughs of the cap on benefit. Benefits will be limited to £500 a week – or £26,000 a year – for couples and those with children and at £350 a week for single people. It will be rolled out across the rest of the country from July.

It’s all about restoring fairness to the welfare state – high claims are no longer possible and people will have a real incentive to find work. Of course, those claiming, for example, disability benefits or a War Widow’s or War Widower’s Pension are exempt and the cap won’t be applied to households that receive Working Tax Credit.

It was also announced this week that we have accepted the independent Low Pay Commission’s recommendations for this year’s adult and youth National Minimum Wage rates – we’ve increased them across the board.

The only recommendation not accepted was that of freezing the rate paid to apprentices – we’ve decided to increase it too.

Apprenticeships are crucial to achieving our goal to support a stronger economy. We’re also working on a series of new measures to ensure employers pay the rate that apprentices are entitled to – we won’t tolerate non-compliance as it simply isn’t fair.

For obvious reasons it has been a particularly busy time for me in Westminster of late. It will feel very good to jump on a train and see the streets of London turn into the fields of Sussex as I embark on a day of visits and meetings in and around Horsham on Friday.

Among other things, I’m looking forward to visiting a local business, Millais and Worth schools and holding my usual advice surgery.

I’ll report back next week.