I agree entirely that they have that endorsement, and the Prime Minister’s Twitter feed today suggests that all of those sectors are engaged in lobbying activity.
Being geographically more remote adds to household bills and business costs. The cost of fuel, for example, is a particular pressure, with Northern Ireland consumers facing the highest petrol and diesel prices in the UK and some of the highest in Europe. This impacts on households, business and our international competitiveness, so I welcome the cancellation of the fuel duty increase that was planned for September. The cost of energy generation more widely is also greater in Northern Ireland and the exemption from the carbon price floor is a welcome measure for energy producers and consumers alike.
Regrettably, the Chancellor offered no good news on another significant cost of our peripherality—air passenger duty. I recognise the previous work done to devolve APD for direct long-haul flights from Northern Ireland, but if we are to support essential connectivity, reduce business costs and grow our inbound and outbound tourism sectors, both of which contribute significantly to the Northern Ireland and UK economy, the Treasury needs to look at the issue again. A recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has been referenced by Henry Smith, indicated that reducing or abolishing APD could stimulate growth and lead to the raising of more revenue, rather than less. The Treasury appears to have dismissed that analysis, but I urge it to do its own study on the impact of APD on growth.
There are many other issues that I would like to raise, but little further time to do so. In conclusion, talk of creating an aspiration nation is a good thing but, at a time when unemployment figures in Northern Ireland are at their highest for 15 years, taking action that will match aspiration with real opportunity is much more important. I remain to be convinced that this Budget will do that for the people whom I represent.