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No, I will not give way any more.
This Budget does little or nothing to ameliorate the public service cuts. The cuts to local council budgets in particular are vindictive, gratuitous and counter-productive. The Department for Communities and Local Government budget is set to experience a whopping real-terms reduction of 67.8% over the next four years.
The Chancellor needs to create demand in the economy. My hon. Friend Mr Robinson referred to the importance of the construction industry. Every pound invested in construction generates £2.84 in total economic activity, and 92p of every pound spent on construction is retained in the UK. Every pound invested by the public sector yields a return of 56p to the Exchequer, making it a net investment of just 44p. In spite of those facts, house building is at an all-time low, Building Schools for the Future was scrapped and housing targets have been abolished. The £250 million announced in yesterday’s Budget to support first-time buyers is not enough.
The proposed changes to the planning system, which as the Chancellor said will introduce a presumption in favour of sustainable development, contradict the proposals in the Government’s Localism Bill. What is going on? On the DCLG website, the Minister of State, Greg Clark, who has responsibility for decentralisation, is quoted as saying that the Localism Bill
“will enact new rights allowing local people to shape and influence the places where they live, revolutionising the planning process by passing power down to those who know best about their neighbourhoods.”
A Budget briefing from the UK Contractors Group states that
“it has been much harder to obtain definite information on investment intentions from a number of key public sector clients. Indeed, there appears to be some deliberate attempts to delay decisions and to obfuscate on forward plans. A prime example of this is the future of the school building programme. The Sebastian James review was originally scheduled to report to ministers before Christmas. In March, we are still waiting for the Department for Education to signal its intentions. Equally on energy supply, the industry stands ready to support the enormous amount of investment needed but to deliver this support effectively and efficiently we need a clear understanding of the future programme.”
It goes on to say how the health reforms have caused further confusion.
I turn to the Chancellor’s modest reduction in fuel duty. As other Members have said, it is more than offset by the imposition of the VAT rise. I have been lobbied heavily by small businesses and residents in my constituency, who say that the VAT rise on petrol is hurting and needs to be reversed. It is not acceptable for the Government to argue that they are prevented from doing so by the European Union—that simply will not wash.