Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 23rd March 2006.

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Photo of Paul Goodman Paul Goodman Shadow Minister (Childcare), Treasury 5:24 pm, 23rd March 2006

The hon. Gentleman must be really slow. Of course we support the goal, but we want a timetable, which he did not give us. It is no wonder that when the Prime Minister needs support for real education reform—reform with a Conservative direction of travel—he has to rely on Conservative votes to get it through the House of Commons. The Chancellor will be pleased to hear that if the Prime Minister introduces real NHS reform with the same Conservative direction of travel, he will again be able to rely on our support to get it through, even if he cannot rely on Labour Back Benchers.

As for child care, the House will be aware of rising complaints from private, voluntary and independent providers that the Government are driving them out of business because of the lack of a level playing field in child care, and today I can provide the House with new figures. According to Laing and Buisson's day nursery market report 2006, in the year to January 2006, 40,030 places provided by local authorities opened, but in the same year 17,715 day nursery places provided by the private sector closed, which is very serious. That is the first time that I have seen figures showing a decisive tilt from the private sector to the public sector, and that figure throws into question the Government's commitment to a mixed market in child care. Perhaps the Paymaster General will say what the Budget will do to provide a more level playing field in child care between the public sector and the private sector.

The Budget will do nothing to deliver investment with reform, because we will not have investment with reform while we have a Chancellor who is the roadblock to reform. The vigour, creativity and strength of British business—strength largely achieved despite Government policy, not because of Government policy—are to some degree masking all those moves in the wrong direction. There is so much that is good in the British economy, but the economy could and should be even better. The great challenge presented to the Chancellor and to this Budget was the challenge of 21st-century change. There is no global pension fund waiting to be raided by countries that have run out of incomes to tax by stealth, and there is no international tax credit system waiting to bale out Governments who get into trouble. However, there is a global golden rule—that we must compete to survive—and it is a golden rule that even this Chancellor and this Budget cannot fiddle.

The Budget should and could have put stability first by making the assessment of the Chancellor's fiscal rules independent. It could have sent Britain in the right direction, but it did not do so, because this is an old-fashioned, tax-and-spend Chancellor who has run out of ideas and who is running out of time. Yesterday, he ran away from using his Budget to tackle the crisis in our health service. He is a Chancellor who is preparing himself for the premiership and not preparing Britain for the future. This is a Budget for Brown, not a Budget for Britain.