I will make some progress; I am sure that I can let the hon. Lady in a bit later. The priorities of the Budget are primarily to reduce the deficit; rebalance the economy, which was left out of kilter by the Labour Government, with an over-concentration on financial services, the housing market and public expenditure; reform public services; and grow, via initiatives such as the green investment bank, green expertise, knowledge, skills and jobs. If I may give a plug, yesterday a collaboration was announced between Peterborough city council and Cranfield university on a centre for renewable energy and biofuels, to be based in Peterborough.
We need to move towards a high-wage, low-taxation economy with less pressure on household incomes, and the Budget provides a road map for that. No one denies that we have had to make some very tough decisions in the comprehensive spending review and in last year’s emergency Budget. There were real-terms cuts in departmental expenditure; the cut to departmental expenditure will be, on average, 11%. However, we should remember that between 1998 and 2010, there was a real-terms increase in budgets in each Department of anything between 2% and 8%. The fiscal tightening between now and 2015-16 will mean that we have to reduce public expenditure and put taxes up, with capital gains tax, tobacco, fuel, the bank levy, consumer prices indexation and child benefit affected. Contrary to received wisdom among Opposition Members, the richest 2% will be hit hardest by the tax benefit and other changes.
What choice do we have? Labour’s poisonous legacy and debt millstone left us with simply no alternative. In 2010-11, we had to borrow about £140 billion—perhaps around £10 billion less than expected. Only Ireland has a bigger cyclically adjusted deficit. Labour ran a structural deficit some seven years before the banking crisis in 2007-08, and we entered the financial crisis with the largest structural deficit in the G7. The national debt doubled between 1997 and 2010. In May last year, we were at significant risk of a downgrading in our international credit rating, with a catastrophic impact on public services, business and consumer confidence, a long period of stagflation, and a contraction in the economy.