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We will have to see, will we not? That is another forecast. I concede that the Treasury has had the benefit of a slight upgrade to the figures for the last quarter of 2009 but, looking forward, I would not like to place much confidence in what it is saying.
The situation raises questions whether the public debt will come down in the manner that the Government anticipate. We are looking at £167 billion of debt in the current year. That is a very difficult figure for ordinary people-and Members of the House-to get their minds around. It means, if my maths is correct, that the Government are borrowing £317,723 per minute of every day and every night this year. That figure is substantially greater than the average price of a home in this country, and when I give that figure on the doorsteps in my constituency, people find it quite astonishing that we could be borrowing at that level. Of course, it is completely unsustainable and that borrowing must come down.
The Government have come up with very few plans to get that debt under control. That will wait until we have had a general election. Whichever party is in power thereafter will have to take the tough decisions that are necessary if we are to get a grip on the public debt and get the economy moving once more.
The two specific points that I wish to make relate to Budget proposals where the Government have been short on detail, and which they have not described with enough frankness. The first has to do with the freezing of personal income tax allowances. In his Budget speech, the Chancellor did not make a single mention of the measure that will affect more people than any other-freezing personal allowances at £6,475. Some 30 million people will be affected by that. With inflation having hit the somewhat giddy and unedifying heights of 3.7 per cent., there is direct erosion on the value of real, take-home pay for those in work. For all those taxpayers, freezing personal allowances will have a significant impact on their disposable income, yet the measure was not mentioned by the Chancellor.
There was another matter that the Chancellor failed to mention. When referring to fuel duty increases, he said with some pleasure that he would defer the escalator for this coming year, so that the rises will be made in three, equal tranches, and said also that he was therefore reducing the increase scheduled for April to 1p per litre. What he did not disclose is that he will increase duty in April not only by the equivalent of 1p through the escalator, but by a further 1.35p through the elimination of the biofuels duty rebate. When the VAT element is included, that means that petrol prices will go up by a further 2.35 per cent. from the beginning of next week. That, of course, will affect every motorist-all those who rely on vehicles to drive themselves around. As the costs of motoring go up, there will be knock-on effects throughout the economy on the delivery of goods and on commerce. That was more sleight of hand from the Chancellor, and it was regrettable.
The reason why I focus on fuel is the fact that, as my hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman said, since the Government introduced the business rates revaluation, I have been campaigning actively to try to correct some of the anomalies that are clearly apparent in the revaluation methodology that the Government have used-anomalies that they have sought to blame on the assiduity of the Valuation Office Agency. In particular, I have been looking at the retail of petrol at filling stations. One third of the 9,000-odd forecourts trading in this country face an increase in their business rateable value of more than 50 per cent., and 1,500 of them are looking at their rateable values at least doubling. Many of them will face the prospect of ceasing to sell fuel when the increases come through in full, because that will be the logical thing for them to do, economically. Most of them operate with very low margins on the sale of their fuel.
The Government seem to think that because fuel stems from oil and the oil industry is making significant profits, that must flow through the vertical chain and down to the petrol pump. However, I must tell the Ministers present, as I have told other Ministers on the Treasury Bench, that such thinking betrays a lack of understanding of how that market works. As a result, the VOA itself is telling fuel station operators in my constituency that it would be in their economic interest to cease selling fuel, because if they do so the rateable value of the convenience store on their filling station site will then be calculated on the same basis as other retail premises-that is, on the square footage that they occupy, rather than on their turnover. Some operators would see a tenfold reduction in their rates bills.
That increase by the VOA is completely unjustifiable, and I urge Ministers at this very late stage-bills are being sent out with effect from
While I am on business rates revaluations, I cannot finish without bemoaning the fact that many pubs in rural constituencies face colossal increases. The Boyne Arms in my constituency is looking at an almost fivefold increase-from £4,000 to £19,000, with no change in circumstances other than that flawed revaluation methodology.
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