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To listen to some of the speeches of Labour Members one would think that the debate about the prosperity of hard-working families and individuals is somehow totally separate from the debate about reducing the deficit and getting our country’s finances back into balance. The two, of course, are intrinsically linked. We cannot have long-lasting peace and prosperity for our people unless we live within our means. The Government are no different from any business, any family or any household in that regard.
In his opening remarks, the shadow Chancellor wanted to take us back to the period in the run-up to the last Budget. The forecasts coming from the City of London about British Government debt and the state of our economy spoke of a dire situation. I am not talking about only forecasting companies and organisations, some of which were criticised earlier, but organisations that have skin in the game, so to speak, whose job is to advise investors.
The managing director of one such company, PIMCO, which is one of the world’s largest fund management companies and also the employer of the shadow Chancellor’s brother, said in the run-up to the last Budget that British Government debt was
“resting on a bed of nitroglycerine”.
He published a chart of a “ring of fire” in which Britain appeared alongside other countries such as Ireland, Portugal and Mexico that have terrible problems with their debts. That situation, however, has been transformed by this Government’s policies. Everyone in this country should be glad about that; we will reap the rewards from that change in the future.
Household debt has been mentioned. Anyone looking at the Red Book can see that levels of household debt rose continuously during the 13 years of the last Government. That problem was driven by unsustainable levels of credit, with which this Government have had to deal, as it was an underlying problem in our economy.
Income tax has also been touched on. Like all Government Members, I welcome steps to take the poorest people and families out of income tax altogether. More than 1 million people have been taken out of it. We all know that one of the greatest stealth taxes pushed by the last Government was the failure to keep the income tax thresholds moving in line with inflation, so millions of people were paying taxes at higher rates and levels than they otherwise might have done. This Government have done something to address that.
I want to say a little about the plan for growth. Like many other Members, I take a keen interest in the enterprise zones proposed in the Budget. My part of east Kent contains pockets of considerable deprivation in national terms as well as in comparison with the rest of the south-east of England. Along with colleagues, I will use my local enterprise partnership to lobby for the creation of an enterprise zone in our area.
One of the aspects of enterprise zones that interests me most is that areas will keep the uplift in business rates generated by the zones to reinvest in their communities. A White Paper on local growth published last year by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills proposed giving councils more powers and more incentives to generate greater business activity in their areas, and to keep that business rate uplift to reinvest in their communities. Local authorities throughout the country, whether or not they end up being part of enterprise zones, may be able to develop their own business plans for local growth. There is the potential for mini and micro enterprise zones in every area, or even on every high street, in the country.
I also welcome the announcement of incentives for local authorities and planning bodies to promote growth and increased business activity in their areas. During Question Time this morning, I asked the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change whether that announcement would apply to the national policy statement on energy, on which the Department is currently consulting. Nuclear power stations are deemed to be part of the national infrastructure rather than a matter for local authorities, but they can provide considerable economic benefits, and I have been campaigning for a new nuclear power station at Dungeness in my constituency. There is considerable economic deprivation in that part of Kent, which is part of an economic zone that also includes Pfizer’s Sandwich plant. The establishment of a new power station at Dungeness would boost the local economy and create thousands of high-skilled jobs, and if it can be achieved through the measures in the Budget, it will be greatly welcomed by my constituents.
The Budget also contains measures to boost the creative economy. The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, of which I am a member, has been considering the funding of the arts and heritage, and our report will be published next week. It was completed before the Budget statement. I am particularly encouraged by the measures to incentivise private giving through legacies and gift aid, which will benefit charities to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. I believe all Members will welcome that. The Budget also provides for breaks for smaller businesses in the creative sector. A number of Members have referred to the measures to increase investment in small businesses. Many creative and high-tech businesses, such as those involved in the digital economy, are small and entrepreneurial. My hon. Friend Mr Gyimah spoke eloquently about the benefits that the Budget provides for such businesses.
I also note from their paper “The Plan for Growth” that the Government intend to relax the restrictions on the performance of live music, especially in smaller venues. There has been considerable debate in the music industry about the restrictions introduced by the last Government in the Licensing Act 2003, which made it harder for people to organise live events by imposing more regulation and costs. The Government will introduce measures to make the position easier not just for live musical performances but for theatre and cinema, and I think we can all welcome those as well.
This was a Budget for growth, featuring a series of bold plans not only to make some of the poorest people in the country wealthier by reducing their income taxes, but to increase investment in smaller companies and the micro-economy to benefit people and businesses throughout the country and particularly in my constituency.