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I will not give way; I want to make some progress.
Let us consider stamp duty. Two and a half years ago, we set out a policy to remove the obligation to pay stamp duty from nine out of 10 first-time buyers by raising the threshold to £250,000. Yet in last week's Budget, a pale imitation of our policy was announced: it is limited to only two years. We can debate the merits of its being temporary, but how telling that the sister policy used to fund it-an increase in stamp duty at the upper end-is permanent. Once it is laid bare, the Budget gives struggling first-time buyers a guaranteed tax rise in two years, and some home owners, particularly those in London, will suffer an immediate, painful and permanent tax increase.
The continuing increases in stamp duty as a result of fiscal drag overlay the increases on page 71 of the Red Book. Combined, the policies mean that the tax burden on home owners grows heavier every day. Is that the way to stimulate growth in our economy? Is a punitive fiscal regime, which serves uncontrolled public spending, really the way to get our economy moving? Our sharp decline in the global league of competitiveness suggests not. The monolithic, state-heavy approach is denying us the dynamism and flexibility we need to compete with other economies. It is holding our country back-some parts even more than others as the gap between south and north has widened. That has happened despite £17 billion being spent on regional development agencies.
That prompts the question whether RDAs, as currently constituted, are the best, most effective and most efficient way of supporting local economies. Could we do better? We can and we must. We therefore believe that RDAs should be replaced with local enterprise partnerships through a series of important changes. Local enterprise partnerships will focus exclusively on delivering business growth and job creation. They will be accountable and take the form of genuine partnerships between local businesses, large and small, and local councils.
Let us consider the geography of local enterprise partnerships. In many parts of the country, the geography of regions is arbitrary and makes no economic sense. We need a more grown-up, flexible approach so that local economic partnerships reflect natural economic boundaries and shared interests.
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