Autumn Statement
Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister
12:34 pm

Photo of George Osborne

George Osborne (The Chancellor of the Exchequer; Tatton, Conservative)

Britain is on the right track and turning back now would be a disaster. We have much more to do. The deficit has fallen by a quarter in just two years, and today’s figures show that it is forecast to continue to fall. Exports of goods to the major emerging economies, which were pitifully low, have doubled since 2009. Since this coalition Government came to office, 1.2 million new jobs have been created in the private sector. In a world economy where bond investors are fleeing countries that they regard as risky, investment is flowing into UK gilts, instead of flying from them. We have to keep it that way.

Two years ago, Britain was in the danger zone. Now we are seen as one of the safe havens, able to borrow money at lower interest rates than at any time in our history. Today’s forecast shows a £33 billion saving on the debt interest payments that it was predicted we would have to pay two years ago. That is as much as the entire defence budget. That is why in this autumn statement, we show that this coalition Government are confronting the country’s problems, instead of ducking them.

Today we reaffirm our commitment to reducing the deficit, setting out the details of our spending plans for 2015-16 and rolling forward an outline framework into 2017-18. We show our determination to do this fairly, with further savings from bureaucracy, the benefit bills and the better-off. We go on equipping Britain to succeed in the global race by switching from current spending to capital investment in science, roads and education. We offer new support for business and enterprise, so they can create the jobs we need. In everything we do, we will show today that we are on the side of those who want to work hard and get on.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has today produced its latest economic forecast and it is a measure of the constitutional achievement that it is taken for granted that our country’s forecast is now produced independently of the Treasury, free from the political interference of the past. I want to thank Robert Chote, his fellow members of the Budget Responsibility Committee, Steve Nickell and Graham Parker, and all their staff at the OBR for their rigorous approach.

One of the advantages of the creation of the OBR is that we get not only independent forecasts, but an independent explanation for why the forecasts are as they are. For example, if lower growth was the result of the Government’s fiscal policy, it would say so. But it does not. It says that the economy has “performed less strongly” than expected and forecasts growth this year of minus 0.1%, but in its view

“the weaker than expected growth can be more than accounted for by over-optimism regarding net trade”.

The OBR had previously assumed that the eurozone would begin to recover in the second half of this year. Instead, of course, it has continued to contract, which has hit our exports to those markets and the net trade numbers. The eurozone crisis has also, it says, spilled over into “tighter credit conditions” and

“elevated UK bank funding costs”.

In its words, those problems will

“constrain growth for several years to come”.

There are also domestic problems that the OBR refers to. In the report today the contraction in 2008-2009 is now assessed to be deeper than previously thought, with GDP shrinking by a staggering 6.3%, the largest shock to our economy since the second world war. In the OBR’s view, the aftermath of that shock continues to weigh on the productivity of the UK economy, with credit rationing and impaired financial markets potentially impeding the expansion of successful firms. It says:

“GDP growth is now expected to be lower in every year of the forecast period, as credit conditions take longer to normalise and global growth remains weaker than previously expected”.

As a result, the OBR forecasts that the economy will grow by 1.2% next year, 2.0% in 2014, 2.3% in 2015, 2.7% in 2016 and 2.8% in 2017.

So the economy is recovering, and it is recovering more quickly than many of our neighbours. The International Monetary Fund estimates that next year the UK will grow more strongly than either France or Germany. Our credible fiscal policy allows for supportive monetary policy and, with the Bank of England, we are directly addressing the problems of tight credit through the £70 billion funding for lending scheme. In the OBR’s view, that has reduced UK bank funding costs, lowered interest rates in the real economy and will add to the level of real GDP.

One area where the British economy has done much better than forecast is in creating jobs. Since early 2010, the private sector has created 1.2 million new jobs—600,000 more than predicted—and youth unemployment has been falling. The OBR now expects unemployment to peak at 8.3%, instead of 8.7%. That is at a time when the unemployment rate in Spain is 26%, in France it is 11% and across the whole eurozone it is almost 12%. Employment, which is already at a record high, is set to go on rising each year of the forecast. For every one job less in the public sector, two new jobs are expected to be

created in the private sector. Britain now has a greater proportion of its people in work than either the eurozone or the United States of America. More jobs means that the impact of the weaker than forecast GDP on the public finances has been less than some might have expected.

There have been three developments that have each had a significant one-off impact on the public finances, and the report we are publishing today shows clearly and transparently the impact of all three. First, there is the transfer of the Royal Mail pension fund to the public sector as part of its privatisation. That produces a one-off reduction in the deficit of £28 billion this year, but it will add to the deficit in the years after.

Secondly, the previous Government had classified Bradford & Bingley and Northern Rock Asset Management as off balance sheet. Today, they are brought on balance sheet, in line with the judgment of the Office for National Statistics. That adds around £70 billion to our national debt and reminds us of the price the country is still paying for the failures of the past.

Thirdly, the Government have decided, with the agreement of the Bank of England, to transfer excess cash held in the asset purchase facility to the Exchequer. This is sensible cash management, and it is in line with the approach of the Bank of Japan and the US Federal Reserve. I welcome the OBR’s verdict that this is, in its words, “more transparent” than the previous approach. I want to make sure that its impact on the figures is also completely transparent, so we have today published the forecasts for the public finances with and without the impact of the APF decision.

When we came to office, the deficit stood at 11.2%—the highest in our peacetime history. It was forecast to be the largest of any major economy in the world. In the past two years, the deficit has fallen by a quarter. Today’s figures show that with or without the APF coupons, the deficit is forecast to fall this year as well, and cash borrowing is forecast to fall too. Last year, the deficit was 7.9%. This year, with the APF coupons, it is forecast to be 6.9%, but that excludes the impact of the Royal Mail pension assets. It is falling and it will continue to fall each and every year, to 6.1% next year, 5.2% the year after, 4.2% in 2015-16, then 2.6%, before reaching 1.6% in 2017-18.

In 2009-10, the country was borrowing £159 billion. This year, we are borrowing £108 billion. That is forecast to fall to £99 billion next year, £88 billion the year after, then £73 billion in 2015-16, and £49 billion and £31 billion in the two years after that. These are the central forecasts published by the OBR, with the asset purchase facility cash transfer included. When the transfer is excluded, as we show in the document, the deficit also falls, from 7.9% last year to 7.7% this year, then 6.9% next year, and it falls in every single year after that—and cash borrowing falls in every year as well.

There are those who have been saying that the deficit was going up this year—indeed, I think I heard it in Prime Minister’s questions—but any way you present these figures, this is not what the OBR forecasts show today. It says that the deficit is coming down—coming down this year and every year of this Parliament. Yes, the deficit is still far too high for comfort—we cannot relax our efforts to make our economy safe—but Britain is heading in the right direction. The road is hard but we are making progress.

Unlike the previous Government’s golden rule, the regime we have set up means that the Chancellor is no longer judge and jury of their own fiscal rules, and today the OBR has assessed us against those rules. First, the fiscal mandate: this is the commitment that we will balance the cyclically adjusted current budget over the coming five years. I can tell the House that the OBR has assessed that we are, in its words, “on course” to meet our fiscal mandate. In other words, we have a better than 50% chance of eliminating the structural current deficit in five years’ time—that part of our borrowing that does not recover automatically as the economy grows. This is true, again, with or without the transfer of the coupons, so we will meet our fiscal mandate. But the OBR assesses in its central forecast that we do not meet the supplementary objective that aims to have debt falling by 2015-16. The point at which debt starts to fall has been delayed by one year, to 2016-17, and the OBR’s central forecast is that net debt will be 74.7% this year, then 76.8% next year, 79% in 2014-15, and 79.9% in 2015-16, before falling to 79.2% in 2016-17 and 77.3% in 2017-18.

In short, the tougher economic conditions mean that while our deficit is forecast to go on falling, instead of taking three years to get our debt falling, it is going to take four. Confronted with this news, some say we should abandon our deficit plan and try to borrow more. They think that by borrowing more, we can borrow less. That would risk higher interest rates, more debt interest payments, and a complete loss of Britain’s fiscal credibility. We are not taking that road to ruin.

Then there are those who say that despite all that has happened in the world this year, we should cut even more now to hit the debt target. That would require £17 billion of extra cuts a year. Let me explain why I have decided not to take this course.

We have always argued that we should let the automatic stabilisers work. We have not argued that we should chase down a cyclical or temporary deterioration in the economy, particularly one that our own independent body says is largely driven by problems abroad. That is also the judgment of the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and the Governor of the Bank of England.

Our aim is to reduce the structural deficit—the permanent hole in our public finances that will not be repaired as the economy recovers. And we are—we have cut the structural deficit by 3 percentage points in the past two years, more than any other G7 country, and it is set to go on being cut at a similar rate in the years ahead. This lower deficit is delivered by our public spending plans and we are going to stick with those plans. Overall, we are not going faster or slower with those plans; the measures I will announce in this autumn statement are fiscally neutral across this Parliament. There is no net rise in taxes today—any taxes increased are offset by taxes cut.

In last year’s autumn statement, we committed the Government to maintain the same pace of consolidation for two further years beyond the end of the current spending review, into 2015 and 2016-17. In this year’s autumn statement, we extend the consolidation for one further year, into 2017-18. The OBR projects that, as a result, the share of national income spent by the state will fall from almost 48% of GDP in 2009-10 to 39.5% by 2017-18. The document shows that total managed expenditure will continue to fall, and will now be £4.6 billion

lower in 2017-18 than if it had been held flat in real terms. No decision to cut spending is ever easy, but those who object must explain whether instead they would have higher taxes, higher borrowing or both.

I also provide further detail of the consolidation plans for 2015-16, the last year of this Parliament. I said two years ago that the correct balance for our fiscal consolidation between spending and tax should be 80:20. I can confirm that by the end of 2015-16, the decisions we announce today mean that we will almost exactly deliver on that 80:20 mix. Total spending will fall in the final year of this Parliament at the same rate as through the current spending review.

I can confirm today that the overall envelope for total managed expenditure will be set at £745 billion. We start with the working assumption that departmental resource totals will continue on the same trajectory as over the current spending review. The detail of departmental spending plans for 2015-16 will be set at a spending review, which will be announced during the first half of next year. What we are doing today is taking steps now to help deliver those spending plans and to go on reducing the deficit in a way that is fair.

This Government have shown that it is possible to restore sanity to the public finances while improving the quality of our public services—crime has fallen, hospital waiting lists are down, school standards are up—and this is with a civil service that is today smaller than at any time since the second world war.

We are today publishing the reports we commissioned from the pay review bodies on market-facing pay. We commit to implementing these reports. This means continuing with national pay arrangements in the NHS and Prison Service, and we will not make changes to the civil service arrangements, either; but the School Teachers Review Body recommends much greater freedom to individual schools to set pay in line with performance, and my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will set out how that will be implemented.

Through the efforts of individual Government Departments and the support of the Chief Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, we have already generated £12 billion of efficiency savings in Whitehall, but we believe there is room to do even more. If all Departments reduced their spending on administration in line with the best-performing Departments, such as Education and Communities and Local Government, another £1 billion could be saved. If all Departments made greater provision of digital services, rationalised their property estates, as some have done, a further £1 billion could be saved. Today, therefore, we are reducing departmental resource budgets by 1% next year and 2% in the year after.

We will continue to seek efficiency savings in the NHS and in our schools, but that money will be recycled to protect spending in these priority areas. Local government budgets are already being held down next year to deliver the freeze in council tax, so we will not seek the additional 1% savings next year, but we will look for the 2% saving the year after. Although the Ministry of Defence is included in these measures, it will be given flexibility on its multi-year budget to ensure that this will not lead to reductions in military manpower or the core defence equipment programme over the Parliament.

A mark of our values as a society is our commitment to the world’s poorest. We made a promise as a country that we would spend 0.7% of our gross national income on international development and I am proud to be part of the first British Government in history who will honour that commitment and honour it as promised next year. We will not, however, spend more than 0.7% so, as we did last year, we will adjust the Department for International Development’s budget to reflect the latest economic forecasts.

In the medium term these savings across Whitehall will help Departments maintain the right trajectory for the years that follow the spending review and help us to pay off the deficit in future. In the short term, I am switching these current savings into capital—all the money saved in the first two years will be reinvested as part of a £5 billion capital investment in the infrastructure of our country. Despite the fiscal challenges we face, public investment as a share of GDP will be higher on average in this Parliament than it was under the last Labour Government. It is exactly what a Government equipping Britain to compete in the modern global economy should be doing.

We are committing an extra £1 billion to roads, which includes four major new schemes: to upgrade key sections of the Al, bringing the route from London to Newcastle up to motorway standard; to link the A5 with the Ml; to dual the A30 in Cornwall; and to upgrade the M25, which will support the biggest port developments in Europe. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price for campaigning to achieve this.

We have already set out plans this autumn for a huge investment in rail, and my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will set out in the new year plans to take High Speed 2 to the north-west and west Yorkshire. I can today confirm a £1 billion loan and a guarantee to extend the Northern line to Battersea power station and support a new development on a similar scale to the Olympic park.

We are confirming funding and reforms to assist construction of up to 120,000 new homes and delivering on flood defence schemes in more cities. On top of broadband expansion for our countryside and our larger cities, we are funding ultrafast broadband in 12 smaller cities: Brighton and Hove, Cambridge, Coventry, Derby, Oxford, Portsmouth, Salford, York, Newport, Aberdeen, Perth and Derry/Londonderry. In addition to the third of a billion announced this autumn for British science, we are today announcing £600 million more for the UK’s scientific research infrastructure.

Since improving our education system is the best investment in a competitive economy, I am today committing £270 million to fund improvements in further education colleges and £1 billion to expand good schools and build 100 new free schools and academies. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will get their Barnett share of additional capital spending put at the disposal of their devolved Administrations.

On top of the £5 billion of new capital spending in infrastructure and support for business, we are ready to provide guarantees for up to £40 billion more. Today I can announce that projects worth £10 billion have already pre-qualified. We are offering £10 billion-worth of guarantees for housing, too. Our country’s pension funds will launch their new independent infrastructure

investment platform next year as well, and we have today published full details of the replacement for the discredited private finance initiative. Since we can all see now that the public sector was sharing the risk, we will now ensure that we also share in the reward, and I commend my hon. Friend Jesse Norman for his work in this area.

Taken together, this is a revolution in the sources of finance for upgrading Britain’s infrastructure and equipping Britain to win in the global race. Annual average infrastructure investment, which was £29 billion under the last Labour Government, is now £33 billion.

Savings from Whitehall are not enough by themselves to tackle our debts. We need to find other savings, and we need to do so in a way that is fair. Those with the most should contribute the most, and they will, but fairness is also about being fair to the person who leaves home every morning to go out to work and sees that their neighbour is still asleep, living a life on benefits. As well as a tax system where the richest pay their fair share, we have to have a welfare system that is fair to the working people who pay for it.

Let me start with tax. The vast majority of people, rich or otherwise, pay their taxes and make their contribution. However, there are still too many who illegally evade their taxes or use aggressive tax avoidance in order not to pay their fair share. This Government have taken more action against those people than any before us. Prosecutions for tax evasion are up 80%. We will collect £7 billion more a year in tax that is due than the last Government. We are increasing by about 2,500 the number of tax inspectors going after evaders and avoiders. Next year, we will introduce the first ever general anti-abuse rule—something that never happened in the 13 years before we came into office.

Next year, for the first time in our history, money will be flowing from bank accounts in Switzerland to Britain, instead of the other way around. Because of the treaty that we have signed, we expect to receive £5 billion over the next six years from the undisclosed Swiss bank accounts of UK residents. That is the largest tax evasion settlement in British history.

We are taking further steps today. Hundreds of millions of pounds of tax loopholes are being closed with immediate effect, and we are investigating the abusive use of partnerships. HMRC will not have its budget cut over the next two years, unlike other departments. Instead, we will spend £77 million more on fighting tax avoidance, and not just for wealthy individuals.

We want to have the most competitive corporate tax system of any major economy in the world, but we expect those corporate taxes to be paid. We are therefore confirming today that we will put more resources into ensuring that multinational companies pay their proper share of taxes. We are leading the international effort to prevent artificial transfers of profits to tax havens. With Germany and now France, we have asked the OECD to take that work forward and we will make it an important priority of our G8 presidency next year. In total, we expect the action that we are announcing today to increase the amount of money collected from tax evasion and avoidance by a further £2 billion a year.

Fair and necessary as that is, it is not enough by itself to close the deficit. We need to ask more from the better-off. Punitive tax rates do nothing to raise money,

and simply discourage enterprise and investment into Britain. Other countries on our doorstep are trying that approach and paying the price. We are not making that mistake. HMRC data reveal that in the first year of the 50% tax rate, tax revenues from the rich fell by £7 billion and the number of people declaring incomes of over £1 million fell by a half. A tax raid on the rich that raises almost no money is a tax con. We are going to have a top rate of tax that supports enterprise and we are going to raise more money from the rich. Here is a simple fact: the richest will pay a greater share of income tax revenues in every single year of the coalition Government than in any one of the 13 years of the last Labour Government.

However, to make sure that the deficit reduction remains fair, we need to raise more. We have already raised stamp duty on multi-million pound homes and next week we will publish the legislation to stop the richest avoiding stamp duty. But we will not introduce a new tax on property. That would require the revaluation of hundreds of thousands of homes. In my view, it would be intrusive, it would be expensive to levy, it would raise little and the temptation for future Chancellors to bring ever more homes into its net would be irresistible, so we are not having a new homes tax.

In this Parliament, we have already reduced the amount of tax relief that we give to the very largest pension pots. From 2014-15, I will further reduce the lifetime allowance from £1.5 million to £1.25 million, and reduce the annual allowance from £50,000 to £40,000. That will reduce the cost of tax relief to the public purse by an extra £1 billion a year by 2016-17. Ninety-eight per cent. of the people currently approaching retirement have a pension pot worth less than £1.25 million. Indeed, the median pot for such people is just £55,000. Ninety-nine per cent. of pension savers make annual contributions to their pensions of less than £40,000. The average contribution to a pension is just £6,000 a year.

I know that these tax measures will not be welcomed by all—ways to reduce the deficit never are—but we must demonstrate that we are all in this together. When looking for savings, I think that it is fair to look at the tax relief that we give to the top 1%.

I want to help the great majority of savers. That is why we are introducing a generous new single-tier pension, so that people know it always pays to save. That is why I will uprate next April the overall individual savings account limit to £11,520. We will also consult on allowing investments in equity markets for small and medium-sized enterprises, such as the alternative investment market, to be held directly in stocks and shares ISAs to encourage investment in growing businesses.

I have also listened to the concerns from pensioners about draw-down limits. I am today announcing that the Government will raise the capped draw-down limit from 100% to 120%, giving pensioners with such arrangements the option of increasing their incomes.

It is also fair to look at the way in which we uprate benefits and some tax thresholds. The basic state pension has this year gone up by the largest cash amount in its history. Next year, thanks to our triple lock, I confirm that it will rise by 2.5%, which is higher than either earnings or inflation. That takes the level of the full basic state pension to £110.15 a week.

When it comes to working-age welfare, we have already made substantial reforms. We have cut £18 billion a

year from the welfare bill. Benefits are being capped for the first time, so families out of work will not get more than the average family gets for being in work. We have increased efforts to fight welfare fraud. Today, we announce further measures and checks to save more than £1 billion in the next four years by reducing fraud, error and debt in the tax credit system. Next year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will introduce the new universal credit so that it always pays to work. Today, we are setting the key parameters, such as the levels of earning disregards.

We have to acknowledge that over the last five years, those on out-of-work benefits have seen their incomes rise twice as fast as those in work. With pay restraint in businesses and Government, average earnings have risen by about 10% since 2007. Out-of-work benefits have gone up by about 20%. That is not fair to working people who pay the taxes that fund them. Those working in the public services, who have seen their basic pay frozen, will now see it rise by an average of 1%. A similar approach of a 1% rise should apply to those in receipt of benefits. That is fair and it will ensure that we have a welfare system that Britain can afford. We will support the vulnerable, so carers’ benefits and disability benefits, including disability elements of tax credits, will be increased in line with inflation, and we are extending the support for mortgage interest for two more years.

However, most working-age benefits, including jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance and income support, will be uprated by 1% for the next three years. We will also uprate elements of child tax credit and working tax credit by 1% for the next three years, although previously planned freezes will go ahead. Local housing allowance rates, which are a central component of housing benefit, will be uprated in line with the existing policy next April and we will then cap increases at 1% in the two years after that. For that measure, 30% of the savings will be used to exempt from the new cap those areas with the highest rent increases. The earning disregards for universal credit will also be uprated by 1% for two years from April 2014. Child benefit is currently frozen. It, too, will now rise by 1% for two years from April 2014.

Let me be clear: uprating benefits at 1% means that people get more cash, but less than the rate of inflation. Taken together, we will save £3.7 billion in 2015-16 and deliver permanent savings each and every year from our country’s welfare bill. To bring all those decisions on many benefits over many years together, we will introduce primary legislation in Parliament in the welfare uprating Bill. I hope that it will command support from both sides of the House.

We will apply a similar approach to uprating some of our tax thresholds to that that we are applying to welfare. The higher rate threshold will be increased by 1% in the tax years 2014-15 and 2015-16. So the income at which people start paying the 40% rate will go up from £41,450 to £41,865 and then to £42,285. I want to be completely clear with people: this is an increase; in fact, it is the first cash increase in the higher rate threshold in this Parliament, but it is not an increase in line with inflation, so it will raise £1 billion of revenue

by 2015-16. Again, there are no easy ways to reduce the deficit, but from year to year, no one will pay a penny more in income tax.

In the same way, the capital gains tax annual exempt amount will be increased by 1% over the same period, reaching £11,100. The inheritance tax nil-band rate, which has been frozen since 2009 at £325,000, will be increased by 1% in 2015-16 to £329,000. Taken with the welfare uprating decisions, that is a fair approach to paying off Britain’s debts.

However, dealing with those debts is only one part of making Britain fit to compete in the global race. Countries like ours risk being out-smarted, outworked and out-competed by the new emerging economies. We asked Michael Heseltine to report on how to make the Government work better for business and enterprise. I think that it is fair to say that his answer has captured the imagination of all political parties.

We will respond formally in the spring, but here is what we will do now. First, Government spending should be aligned with the priorities of the local business community. We will provide new money to support the local enterprise partnerships, and from April 2015, the Government will place more of the funding that currently goes to local transport, housing, skills and getting people back to work into a single pot that LEPs can bid for. Details will be set out in the spending review. Before then, we are putting more money into the regional growth fund, which is helping businesses create half a million new jobs.

Secondly, as Lord Heseltine also recommends, we will support industries and technologies where Britain has a clear advantage. With the support of my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, we will extend our global lead in aerospace and support the supply chains of advanced manufacturing. We are also taking big steps today to support British companies that export to new emerging markets in Asia, Africa and the Americas. I am increasing the funding for UK Trade & Investment by more than 25% a year, so that it can help more firms build the capacity of overseas British chambers and maintain our country’s position as the No. 1 destination in Europe for foreign investment. We are also launching a new £1.5 billion export finance facility to support the purchase of British exports.

Thirdly, we are addressing credit problems for companies. We are creating a new business bank, and today we have confirmed that we are providing it with £1 billion of extra capital, which will lever in private lending to help small and medium-sized firms and bring together existing schemes.

Fourthly, we are going to cut business taxes still further. Let me explain how. The temporary doubling of the small business rate relief scheme helps more than half a million small firms, with 350,000 paying no rates at all. The previous Government were going to end it in September 2011; we have already extended it to next April, and, today, I extend it by a further year, to April 2014. We also confirm today the tax relief for our employee shareholder scheme.

The Energy Bill provides certainty and support for billions of pounds of investment in renewable energy. Today, we publish our gas strategy to ensure that we make the best use of lower-cost gas power, including new sources of gas under the land. We are consulting on

new tax incentives for shale gas and announcing the creation of a single office so that regulation is safe but simple. We do not want British families and businesses to be left behind as gas prices tumble on the other side of the Atlantic.

We are going to help our construction industry, too. The previous Government abolished empty property relief, and, as excellent work done by my hon. Friends the Members for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) and others shows, that has blighted development in our towns and cities. The proposal from my colleagues that we create a long grace period before newly completed buildings have to pay empty property rates is sensible, and we will introduce it next October.

The previous Government also planned to increase the small companies tax rate to 22%. We have cut it to 20%. However, I would like to help small and medium-sized firms more, and I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle) and for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) for their thoughts on that matter. Starting on 1 January, and for the next two years, I will increase tenfold the annual investment allowance in plant and machinery. Instead of £25,000-worth of investment being eligible for 100% relief, £250,000-worth of investment will now qualify. That capital allowance will cover the total annual investment undertaken by 99% of all the business in Britain. It is a huge boost to all those who run a business and who aspire to grow, expand and create jobs.

I want Britain to have the most competitive business tax regime of any major economy in the world. I have already cut the main core rate of corporation tax from 28% to 24%, and it is set to fall further to 22%. That has helped British companies and frankly left other countries scrambling to keep up. They will have to try harder, for I am today cutting the main corporation tax rate again by a further 1%. In America, the rate is 40%; in France, it is 33%; in Germany, it is 29%. From April 2014, the corporation tax rate in Britain will stand at 21%. That is the lowest rate of any major western economy. It is an advert for our country that says, “Come here; invest here; create jobs here; Britain is open for business.”

We will not pass the benefit of that reduced rate on to banks, and to ensure that we meet our revenue commitments, the bank levy rate will be increased to 0.130% next year. Making banks contribute more is part of our major reforms to the banking system.

We also have to be on the side of those who want to work hard and get on. I know how difficult many families have found the cost of living. In dealing with the deficit, we have had to save money. However, whenever we have been able to help, we have. We have helped councils freeze council tax for two years running, and we are helping them freeze it again next year. We have put a cap on rail fare rises for the next two years, so commuters are not punished for travelling to work. We are forcing energy companies to move families on to the lowest tariffs for their gas and electricity bills.

We have also helped motorists with the cost of petrol. We have cancelled the last Government’s escalator, and I am moving inflation-only rises to September. Fuel is 10p per litre cheaper than it would have been if we had stuck to Labour’s tax plans, and I want to keep it that way, as I know do my colleagues, like my hon. Friend Robert Halfon. There is a 3p

per litre rise planned for this January. Now, some have suggested that we delay it until April. I disagree. I suggest we cancel it altogether. There will be no 3p fuel tax rise this January. That is real help with the cost of living for families as they fill up their cars across the country, and it will help businesses, too. It means that, under this Government, we will have had no increase in petrol taxes for nearly two and a half years. In fact, they have been cut.

We have also helped working people by increasing the amount that they can earn before paying any income tax. When the coalition Government came to office, the personal tax allowance stood at just £6,475; next April, it is set to rise to £9,205.

Twenty-four million taxpayers have seen their income tax cut; 2 million of the lowest-paid have been taken out of tax altogether. Because of the difficult decisions we have taken today, we can go even further. From next April, the personal allowance will rise by a further £235. That means a total increase next year of £1,335—the highest cash increase ever. People will be able to earn £9,440 before paying any income tax at all. This is a direct boost to the incomes of people working hard to provide for their families. It is £47 extra in cash next year. In total, it is a £267 cash increase next year. People working full time on the minimum wage will have seen their income tax bill cut in half, and we are within touching distance of the £10,000 personal allowance. And at this time, I propose to extend the benefits of this further increase to higher rate taxpayers. That decision will stand alongside the decision I have had to take on uprating, meaning that, in real terms, a typical higher rate taxpayer will be better off next year and no worse off in total by the year after.

Today we have helped working people, but I do not want to distract from the tough economic situation we face in the world. The public know there are no miracle cures; just the hard work of dealing with our deficit and ensuring Britain wins the global race. That work is under way. The deficit is down. Borrowing is down. Jobs are being created. It is a hard road, but we are making progress, and in everything we do, we are helping those who want to work hard and get on.

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