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There was so much and yet so little in yesterday’s Budget that could be talked about this afternoon, but I will concentrate on the growth section.
The first line of the foreword to the Government’s document, “The Plan for Growth”, states:
“This Plan for Growth is an urgent call for action.”
At last, after almost a year of the coalition Government, they have finally realised that hard-pressed businesses and families up and down this country need an urgent call to action for growth. However, I do not see a call to action for growth in cutting public spending too deep and too fast; the highest unemployment since 1994; the highest youth unemployment since records began, with no plan to get it down; inflation on the march, with the retail prices index at its highest level in 20 years; the largest squeeze on living standards in modern times; increasing VAT to 20%, which puts more pressure on consumer confidence and further compounds business insecurity; a continued lack of liquidity in lending markets through our banks; fuel prices that are out of control; consumer confidence at its lowest level in more than 20 years; and an overwhelming, ideologically driven attack on public services. That is certainly hurting people in my constituency, but it definitely is not working. We have all that, and the real effects of the VAT increase and the public sector job losses are still to feed through to the real economy. This does not seem to me to be a call to action for growth; it is no plan for growth, or perhaps a panic plan for growth.
That point is made clearly by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the independent body set up by the Chancellor, which we debated a few days ago in this Chamber. Even after the Chancellor’s “Budget for growth”, which, to use his words, should add fuel to the economy, the OBR has reduced its growth forecast for this year and next year, as it did last year. It is surely a huge embarrassment for the Chancellor that his Budget for growth actually downgrades growth. It is extraordinary that it does, given the urgent call for growth in the Government’s own document and the Chancellor’s own words that it would be a Budget for growth. This must be a historical first.
The Chancellor has failed to realise that cutting too deep and too fast is damaging our economy. The public and private sectors are inextricably linked. Slow growth and rising unemployment will make it harder to get the deficit down. The move from 2.1% to 1.7% is a reduction. Unemployment has been revised up to 8.2%. As someone said to me at my surgery a few weeks ago, “How can you possibly pay back debt from the dole queue?” They were absolutely right.