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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:29 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Education) 4:29 pm, 24th March 2011

Although we all acknowledge that we will have to work longer because we are living longer, I do not think that anyone in this Chamber would want still to be working when they are 80.

At the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference last week the Deputy Prime Minister referred to the 75p increase in 1999 as an indignity, so I wonder how he views the 92p increase announced yesterday. Family income is vital to our growth prospects, as squeezing household budgets means less consumer spending, which in turn means lost profits and jobs in the sectors that depend on it.

How will growth be encouraged in Sunderland and the north-east? We heard yesterday that 21 local enterprise zones will be created and that one of them will be in the north-east local enterprise partnership on Tyneside. Seeing as we have an LEP for the whole north-east, leaving aside Tees valley, which is being given its own LEP and enterprise zone, why can we not have an enterprise zone that covered a wider area or more areas within the north-east enterprise zone, such as Wearside, in which Sunderland sits, which has both the need and potential, which are two criteria?

I was interested to read today in my local paper, the Sunderland Echo, that the Chancellor may have made an error in announcing that the local enterprise zone was going to be in Tyneside, because the location of the zone has not yet been decided. The Energy Secretary spoke to the Echo on that point and said that there was going to be a zone in the north-east local enterprise partnership area, and that the north-east LEP would help to choose where it was. He may need to go back to school and re-take his English baccalaureate—perhaps he does not have one—in geography, however, because Tyneside and the north-east are two very different areas.

That aside, we all know that if the Government were serious about stimulating the private sector they would never have abolished One North East or slashed funding for regional development. The Chancellor said that he wanted his Government to be the greenest ever, and he told us that funding for the green investment bank would be increased, in turn increasing the amount that it could leverage from private sources. I will not complain about any measures to increase investment in the low-carbon sector, particularly when that investment is going to help companies to innovate and create jobs in the north-east, but the Government could and should be doing so much more. Germany and China are taking action right now to stimulate green growth, so surely it is in this country’s economic interests to do the same and attract businesses before they locate to the countries that are taking action.

I also have concerns about the much heralded renewable heat incentive. A business man with a small to medium-sized enterprise in my constituency wrote to me to make the point that, had the scheme started next month, it had the potential to provide a big boost to the solar thermal sector. As it is, it will not start until October next year, and at a much reduced level to that which was expected. So, in effect, and even with the premium payment, the whole industry is on hold for 18 months, because who would invest now when they could get an incentive to do so in the next 18 months? That does not help the renewable energy sector; it puts the industry in limbo, and it puts jobs and innovation at risk.

My constituents may be pleased that the Chancellor has taken some action on fuel duty, however—an issue that many of them have contacted me about in the past few weeks. Cutting the duty on fuel by a penny will have made for some good headlines, and we all know that he needs those, but he failed to tell my constituents watching yesterday that a 1p cut in duty will not make up for the 3p VAT increase that he introduced at the beginning of the year. Again, he gives with one hand and takes much more away with the other.

There is so much more that I wanted to raise, but I will do so another time. Like so many of this Tory-led Government’s policies, this Budget is for the few, not the many. The bottom line is that this so-called Budget for growth has caused the Office for Budget Responsibility to revise down growth predictions; it had failed before it was even printed. The Chancellor spoke for an hour yesterday, but he provided almost nothing from which my constituents could draw any comfort. So, on behalf of those constituents, in particular the young and the struggling families, I urge him and his ministerial colleagues to listen seriously to the concerns that hon. Members have raised today.