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I have answered the question; I do not want to pursue it.
Were the private promoters able to take the project forward, we would be delighted, because as a commercial project it has many attractions. However, the Government could not commit large amounts of money to such a project.
The shadow Chancellor made a series of challenges, which I will take systematically. He asked why we, and I personally, have endorsed austerity policies and especially quick cuts; he asked about the issues around fairness and value added tax, with which I will deal; and he asked about the important economic question of how we get growth emerging from a period of austerity, and I will try to answer that. First, however, let me explain why I changed my mind-for I did change my mind-about the necessity for early action on the budget deficit. Let me describe the sequence of events, because I think that it is quite important.
As the shadow Chancellor knows, because he was still Chancellor then, when the election took place there was, in the background, a major sovereign debt crisis in Europe. The day after the election, when there was a hung Parliament, the then Prime Minister suggested to me, I think for reasons for courtesy, that I talk to some senior officials in the Government and the governor of the central bank about the existing situation, in order to obtain their assessments of what was going on. I did so. The leader of my party talked to the governor, and I have talked to him since.
The advice that I received, uncompromising and unequivocal, was that the incoming Government, whoever they were-we did not know who they would be at the time-would have to act immediately and decisively on the budget deficit, because there was a serious threat to this country. I took that advice, but was left with a nagging question. The former Chancellor was presumably receiving the same advice. What would he have done? Was he proposing to disregard it? The line of policy that he is developing now suggests that he would have liked to disregard it, but was he going to do so, or was he going to be responsible, accept the advice and act on it? Because he is a responsible and serious man, I think he would have accepted it.
We now know, because the figures are becoming clear, that in the current financial year, when, as the shadow Chancellor said, the economy was fragile, he was introducing a fiscal tightening of £23 billion. The new Government have introduced a tightening of £6 billion. The last Government did not announce that fiscal tightening-it emerged in the small print from the Institute for Fiscal Studies-but the shadow Chancellor did it, and he clearly did it with good reason. The problem was that it was never clear what the Government were doing, it was done in a very chaotic way, and some Ministers-including Lord Mandelson, my predecessor-plainly wanted to support the Chancellor and to act in the public interest, and got on with those cuts. When I entered the Department, people such as further education lecturers and scientists were being made redundant as a result of the measures that had already been initiated by the Government in response to the crisis that they knew existed.
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