What a ragbag of complacency and distorted history we have heard. All of us will surely remember that, pre-1997, we were under a Government with problems of massive unemployment, repossessions, companies going bust and people dying as they waited for operations. The reason was that people were not working and paying tax—debt and taxes were going up and public services were being cut. From 1997 to 2008, there was an unprecedented period of economic growth, thanks to a Labour Government’s getting people back to work. People were then paying tax and the money was reinvested in jobs and public services.
In 2008, the sub-prime debt tsunami hit our shores; if it had not been for Mr Obama and my right hon. Friend Mr Brown, who invoked the fiscal stimulus, we would have gone into a world depression instead of a mild recession, which ended in 2010 with the fragile growth inherited by the coalition Government. They then wasted that opportunity by immediately announcing that half a million people in the public services would be sacked. They did not say when or who, so people stopped spending money. Consumer demand went down to the floor and since then growth has stagnated. The result, of course, is that tax revenues have fallen, debt has risen and more people are on the dole.
We hear figures that claim that more people are in jobs, but how are more people in jobs when there has been no increase in production? The simple answer is that people who used to be in full-time jobs now have two part-time jobs. The situation is a complete mess. The amount of infrastructure investment was cut in the first two years of the Government. There are proposals for more infrastructure investment, which I want, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating—we will believe it when it comes.
I want to make a couple of quick comments about my own area. It is my firm contention that Wales should get its fair share of HS2—£1.9 billion. I welcome the electrification to Swansea, which has been mentioned. I am also interested in city regions and more investment in those, and I welcome those thoughts. More investment is needed in the M4 in south Wales, around Newport and Port Talbot, to speed up business, commuter and tourist flows and to spark more investment. I would like to see an evaluation, which has been promised to me by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, of the Severn bridge tolls. If the Government paid for them, would they recover the money from more income tax and lower benefits because of increased jobs? The tolls are simply a tax on trade between Wales and England.
I move swiftly on. As I said in an intervention, we should look further afield to the emerging economies, which are growing at an enormous rate. I appreciate that we do not have the Chinese political system, but we could look closely at the Chinese commitment to, and focus on, investment in research and development. Brazil has; it is investing $5.3 billion in renewable energy and biotech and becoming a world leader. China’s investment has meant that certain US and European companies that used to lead in solar power are being taken out. We need to think strategically about how to invest in both the infrastructure and the innovation agenda.
I make no apology for again mentioning Swansea, where, in a fine example of strategic investment, the European Investment Bank is investing to enable an overall investment of £250 million in a second campus at Swansea university. The university is linked up with industrial partnerships in modern manufacturing, green technology, biotech, and so on—new, cutting-edge, exportable technologies which, interestingly, are the very areas that Brazil and China are looking at.
This is not just a matter of spades in the ground, and roads and railways. I welcome roads and railways, as well as flood defences and the like, but it is also about making rational choices and investing in infrastructure alongside innovation. When we look at the migration of global companies and where they go, it is clear that it is partly about infrastructure, partly about cutting-edge research and development, and partly about markets. We need to get our mix right.
On housing, the Government need to remember that when one looks at the accounts, one needs to look at the balance sheet. If we invest in housing, then clearly we have an asset. Looking at the balance sheet and the net liabilities, we see houses as assets for the future that we need to drive down people’s rents and give them somewhere to live and the stability to work and have jobs. I encourage the Government to look at more innovative housing schemes in the United States whereby a local authority will provide the land and then a property company will come along with a shared equity and spend the money on building houses, half of which will be social housing and the other half private houses. The public sector then ends up with free council houses, an income stream from the private houses, and half the overall equity. This is also supported by pension funds for long-term rental opportunities.
There are enormous opportunities for bringing in outside capital investment from countries with surpluses, be it from oil or trade. Countries such as Qatar are looking to invest in tourism infrastructure and cultural infrastructure so that downstream, when the oil runs out, they will have alternative income streams. We should be creatively looking at that rather then saying, “Oh no, we can’t afford it.” We need to invest to increase our trajectory of economic growth, and that includes things such as schools. It is very sad that the preparatory work done by the previous Government through Building Schools for the Future was dashed, and it is now being looked at again. Investment in hospitals, keeping workers in work and keeping people in good condition, is clearly a good investment as well.
The other key strategic investment is the internet. People running companies in costly and congested London can now consider the possibility of going down a high-speed route on an electrified railway to sunny Swansea and locating there on the internet, outside the cost and congestion, helping us to spread out our economy. This is the strategic approach that we need to take, but we very much need to up our game.