Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:51 pm on 24th March 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 5:51 pm, 24th March 2011

We have had an important and, in many respects, illuminating debate this afternoon. I will try to refer to all the contributions that have been made, but time is short so it will be difficult for me to take interventions.

We have been talking about two halves of a solution to a problem that itself has two halves. The first half of the problem relates to the economy: the imbalance in jobs and a business model for UK plc that was simply unsustainable in relation to the sectors and its regional impact. The second half of the problem relates to what we can do to tackle the huge problem in the public finances and the structural deficit handed over by the previous Government.

The first point to consider is the broken business model that the previous Government created for UK plc, which was simply unsustainable. First, it was unsustainable in terms of sectors. An uncontrolled boom took place broadly in one sector—financial services—and in one region. During the mid noughties, for every 10 jobs created in the south-east and London, only one was in the private sector and outside financial services, which clearly shows that the previous Government’s model simply was not working. That had a huge cost, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has said. Since 1997 manufacturing has been halved and lost two fifths of its work force, and exports from the UK fell behind the rate of growth seen in the rest of the world. Meanwhile, household debt ballooned. We had a huge property bubble that was worse than the USA’s. As the shadow Chancellor knows very well, he allowed the banking sector to get dramatically out of control. The sectors across the UK economy were totally unbalanced, and we need to change that.

Secondly, the imbalance was regional. There was huge job creation in the south-east, but what about the rest of the country? That shows why we are right to make proposals in the growth review for enterprise zones, and I very much hope that Opposition Members will not allow their political prejudices to get in the way of their local communities being able to ask to be part of the enterprise zones as they are developed.

On the public finances, I listened to John McDonnell, with whom I have previously made common cause on other issues. I have great respect for him and for his consistency, but I must say that on this occasion I disagree with his analysis of what we need to do, which seems to be broadly in line with that of his party. What is their solution in a boom? It is to spend more. What is their solution in a bust? It is to spend more. That simply is not a sustainable way to run an economy. In fact, the previous Government left our country and our people weighed down with public debt after maxing out the nation’s credit card. They eventually decided that they did not support tackling the deficit now. Instead, we hear from the shadow Chancellor today that he wants to do that later. He wants to pass on Labour’s debt to our children and grandchildren, which is totally unacceptable.

Chris Williamson talked about decline, but what does he think happened under the previous Government? He should go and talk to people in manufacturing who saw their own competitiveness decline dramatically.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and my hon. Friend Jesse Norman talked about the utter denial that still exists among the Opposition, about not just the deficit and the public finances, but their thoroughly broken approach to running the UK economy. There was no humility or apology for any of that, as my hon. Friend Michael Fallon said, and the fact that there is no recognition of the problem surely means that there will never be any solution from the Opposition.

Mr McFadden seemed to think that we could suddenly wish away those problems and get over them incredibly quickly, but the challenges that the Labour party left this Government—two parties that have come together to work in the national interest to sort out that huge mess—will take some time to be met. There will be no quick fix, but we have early, immediate and continuing steps to resolve the problems that have been left for the UK economy and for our people.

We took immediate steps in the spending review and in the emergency Budget to lift people out of income tax. Mrs Hodgson seemed quite dismissive of them, but I hope that she will not vote against them when the time comes. We took steps in the spending review to bring public spending back under control, and yesterday we took the next step, which was a Budget for reform and recovery and a growth plan to rebalance our economy and put growth and sector issues back on a sustainable footing.

Opposition Members seemed to suggest that we have not talked to business, but we have actually had more than 1,000 meetings, and if they look through the growth review and “The Plan for Growth” they will see that we have taken well over 100 steps to help businesses throughout Britain. Our message to them is that Britain is open for business.

We will have the most competitive tax system in the G20; we will make sure that Britain is the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business, which, as my hon. Friends the Members for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) and for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) said, is absolutely critical; we will have a more balanced economy by encouraging exports and investment; and we will have a more educated work force, who are the most flexible in Europe. Those are the ingredients for a rebalanced economy that creates sustainable jobs.

Mr Bailey did talk about jobs, but if he is concerned he should read the OBR report to the end, because it clearly says that our plans are projected to create a net 1 million jobs over this Parliament. I hope that Members from all parts of the House will support that. By the time we have finished, we will have a corporation tax rate lower than America’s, France’s and Germany’s, giving us the lowest rate in the G7.

Our second ambition is to make sure that Britain is a great place to start, finance and grow a business. In the World Economic Forum global competitiveness index, we fell from fourth to 12th. The shadow Chancellor breathes out in frustration at me reading out that statistic, but it is absolutely true, and we have had to combat it by abolishing £300 million of regulations and by introducing a moratorium, exempting businesses employing fewer than 10 people from new domestic regulation for the next three years. But, we are going to go further than that. To stimulate growth, we will double entrepreneurs’ relief and help SMEs by extending the small companies business rate relief for an extra year. We are doing our bit to help business, and I wish the Opposition would support that.

We have a whole range of plans to support different sectors, but manufacturing is crucial to rebalancing our economy, as my hon. Friend Jessica Lee and Lorely Burt said. One reason why our economy became so unbalanced, and so regionally unbalanced, was the skew towards financial services, and we have to encourage other parts of our economy to grow, so we will do what we can to help manufacturing in particular.

On enterprise zones, the boom left too many communities behind, and we are determined to ensure that as our economy grows, the communities that can benefit most from that will do so.

Our country should never again have to accept the economic decline that has taken place over the past decade —an irresponsible boom and bust, and an unbalanced economy that overheated and took our country to the brink of bankruptcy. The shadow Chancellor was at the heart of the decisions that were so catastrophic for our country: selling gold, PFI arrangements, structural deficit and catastrophic bank regulation. His utter denial of the role that his Government played in leading our country so near to ruin will leave the British public shocked and utterly bewildered as they watch this debate.

In conclusion, this Government are looking to right the wrongs of the past. Where others have failed, we will succeed.

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Ordered¸ That the debate be resumed on Monday 28 March.