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Capital Gains Tax (Rates)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:37 pm on 23rd June 2010.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour, Penistone and Stocksbridge 4:37 pm, 23rd June 2010

As I think I said earlier, equating the national economy to a household budget has already been declared by many respected economists to be ignorance economics. It has been discredited by respected economists throughout the world, including economists of the centre right in the United States who recognise the lessons of the 1930s and recognise that we need investment and public spending to bring back growth and jobs.

However, the question is whether the Budget is needed. According to the new body set up by the Government-the Office for Budget Responsibility, which I think we all support-the economy is in growth. OBR statements make it clear that the previous Government's spending plans were credible and would have reduced the deficit gradually, over a four-year period. I believe, as I think everyone on the Labour Benches believes, that that was a sensible course forward. Therefore, it has to be said that the reason why the Government are pursuing this path is ideological dogma. They are cutting for the sake of cutting, in an ideological drive towards the small state. The language of the TaxPayers Alliance is alive and well in the corridors of power, but it is cloaked in the language of "Needs must".

The prospect of a race to austerity is so worrying that President Obama's Administration in the US have felt it necessary to write to the leaders of the G20 countries urging them to continue with the economic stimulus-something with which, as I have mentioned, many economists agree. Although the help for new start-up companies in the regions and the creation of regional development funds are welcome, those measures will be more than offset by the run-down of the regional development agencies, such as Yorkshire Forward, and the loss of no doubt thousands of public sector jobs. It has been said today in the Financial Times, but let me put it on the record, that the overall impact of the Budget, contrary to statements made yesterday, will be a 60% reduction in capital investment by the Government by 2016.

Let us not think for a minute that this is a Budget for investment. The Government have fallen at the first hurdle on that idea. With the £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, they had the chance to show that they were interested in investing in growth and exports, in state-of-the-art technologies and in UK manufacturing. However, they chose not to do that. The loan would have earned a 3.5% interest rate, and would have involved Westinghouse taking a stake in the company and giving a guarantee of forward orders. It would also have transformed Forgemasters into a major player in the nuclear castings sector. The loan was secured against the company and would have been part of a total package worth around £140 million, with £80 million from the Government on a loan basis.

That would have meant £140 million for Sheffield and UK manufacturing, allowing for the purchase of a 15,000-tonne press capable of making the pressure vessels at the centre of a nuclear power plant. To put things into perspective, the only other company in the world currently making forgings of a sufficient size for the international market is Japan Steel Works, which has recently tripled its capacity in order to make 10 pressure vessels a year. However, 11 new nuclear power stations were commissioned around the world last year, and the pace is accelerating, with 55 reactors in planning at the end of 2009 and more than 30 licence applications under active discussion in the US. Not only that, but with only one company in South Korea and two companies in China now intending to enter the business of making such forgings, any future project for building new nuclear power stations in the UK will have to import pressure vessels.

As my right hon. Friend David Miliband said last week on hearing the announcements, the champagne corks will indeed be popping in Japan and South Korea. The investment was not, as the Deputy Prime Minister would have us believe, set up in the dying days of the previous Government. I would testify anywhere, in any court in the land, that those negotiations had been going on for more than two and a half years, and they went through the most rigorous scrutiny possible. The scheme would not only have given value for money; it would have been of major strategic importance to the economic future of advanced manufacturing in the UK. Again as my right hon. Friend said, pulling the plug on that loan is a piece of gratuitous economic vandalism-but then again, what should one expect from a Tory party that almost completely destroyed steel making in South Yorkshire in the 1980s?

We heard a lot in the previous speech, by Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, about the importance to the economy of an export-led recovery. I completely agree with what he said, so why did his Government not put the money into Sheffield Forgemasters, as that was all about exports, the future of UK manufacturing and the rebalancing of the UK economy? They turned down the chance to help this economy to recover. They failed the challenge on grounds of- [Interruption.] Well, tell me what the grounds were-ideology, dogma, pressure from Sheffield Forgemasters' competitors to say no? We would like to hear about them.

If this is an example of the Government's investment strategy, we should all be worried. For a relatively small loan that carried a commercial rate of interest, the UK would have had a company capable of being at the forefront of the supply chain for the nuclear power industry. It would have created jobs not only in South Yorkshire, but throughout the country. It would have led to high-value exports and secured the future of high-value steelmaking in the UK. Crucially, I know from working with Corus, Forgemasters and Fox Wire in my constituency how important it is for UK steel to stay ahead of the game when it comes to skills and advanced technologies. We cannot compete with China and the rest of the Asian economy on low-value steel casting and steel forging, yet we are giving that advantage to our foreign competitors.

It is also of interest to note that on the day the plug was pulled on the Forgemasters loan, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed the building of a research ship for £75 million. There is nothing wrong with that investment, and I will support it, but the ship will be built in Spain because there are no longer any British yards capable of building it. The Tory Government of the 1980s decided that investment in shipbuilding was a waste of resources.

We should add to all this the fact that this Government have pulled the future jobs fund and slashed university places by 10,000. Mr Ellwood mentioned earlier that he had a relatively elderly constituency. Well, I have a lot of young people in my constituency, and they are worried about whether they will get the places they are looking for in the university system over the next five years or so.

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Richard Wendland
Posted on 24 Jun 2010 4:54 pm (Report this annotation)

Angela Smith appears to have failed to mention that AREVA in France (Le Creusot) is investing in a similar large steel forge facility - and as AREVA design and build the EPR reactors EDF is proposing for the UK, it seems more plausible they would use their own subsidiary to manufacture these components:

In fact a recent World Nuclear Association report suggests that around the world there are plans for seven new 13,000+ tonne heavy forges of similar capacity by 2013. It seems to me this is a much more crowded business than Angela Smith suggests, perhaps the reason why private finance cannot be obtained.