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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:23 pm on 23rd March 2011.

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Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 5:23 pm, 23rd March 2011

We would like to vote, for example, on the bank bonus levy and other components of the Budget. My right hon. Friend Edward Miliband set out today that we will consider areas of growth in “The Plan for Growth” green book. There are areas where we want to work with the Government but also areas where we disagree with what they are doing.

Given the warnings I have mentioned, it is hardly surprising that the independent OBR has today downgraded its growth forecast for 2011 to 1.7% and has revised growth for next year to 2.5%. Let us put that in context. Before the Chancellor’s first Budget last year, the OBR predicted growth in 2011 of 2.6%. That forecast has now been downgraded three times—to 2.3%, 2.1% and today to 1.7%. Every time the Chancellor gets to the Dispatch Box, the OBR has to downgrade its growth forecasts.

The Government will say that the only way to get growth back on track is to reduce the deficit, but we have also seen today that the OBR’s borrowing forecast is expected to be £44.5 billion higher over this Parliament as a result of lower growth and higher unemployment. Despite today’s opportunity to think again, however, the Chancellor will still not accept that plan A is not going to plan.

Although the Chancellor has no plan for growth, his implicit plan B, I think, was looser monetary policy, yet today’s Monetary Policy Committee minutes show a further split over whether to increase rates and yesterday’s inflation data show more pressure for a rate rise. Plan B is looking as forlorn as plan A, with householders likely to see a mortgage rate rise by the summer.

We have heard many times today that the Government cannot change course, but that is a fallacy. Jonathan Portes, the new director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, recently said that that intransigence

“relies on an odd view of market psychology, one that says markets have more confidence in governments that never adjust policy, even when it is sensible…history suggests the opposite: that the real hit to credibility comes from sticking to unsustainable policies”.

He is right. Now is the time—more than ever—for the Government to rethink their plan, which is sapping jobs and growth out of the economy.

We need to begin to build the Britain of the future, because confidence in UK plc requires a belief that we have a competitive economy that productively employs its resources, draws on our strengths across the sectors and regions and invests in science, skills, technology and infrastructure. Today’s Budget, however, does nothing to foster investment or hope. Although I welcome “The Plan for Growth”, which has been published today, and the announcements to relieve us of a further increase in fuel prices and to provide help for first-time buyers, the Chancellor could and should have done more.

Most of all, although the Chancellor has said repeatedly that he will be tough on the banks, page 103 of the Red Book shows that the bank bonus tax brought in £3.5 billion in 2010 whereas the bank levy will bring in just £1.9 billion this year. There is no guarantee that the banks will lend any more to small businesses because the Government agreed gross lending targets and no net lending targets. No wonder the Treasury spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in the Lords, Lord Oakeshott, resigned, saying that if this was tough action, his name was Bob Diamond. The Government have washed their hands of any responsibility to help small businesses, which are being hit hard by the banks’ actions.

There are other areas where the Chancellor could have acted today. We need a plan for green jobs and there is still the potential for Britain to be a world leader, as my hon. Friend Diana Johnson pointed out earlier, in the green technologies of the future, but the market requires certainty and we are losing the initiative to countries that are willing to provide it. We need action, not just words, on the green investment bank, yet today we found out that it will not be fully operational until 2015.

We need regional economic strategies. The regional growth fund is estimated to be 10 times over-subscribed, and with a two-thirds cut to regional economic investment, cities and towns across Britain are missing out on opportunities to grow and diversify their economies. We risk another overheating in London and the south-east while the potential powerhouses of the north of England are being left behind. Although I welcome the enterprise zones, the evidence from the 1980s shows that such approaches move, rather than create, jobs. Of course, the funding for enterprise zones is a fraction of what the regional development agencies had to spend.