I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Budget debate.
We have heard much in contributions from both sides of the House about the level of the housing supply and the building that is going on. I am happy to report that in Milton Keynes we are getting on with it. We have 28,000 housing permissions in place and the Government have intervened to unlock some of the developments that have been gummed up in the system for too long, thanks in part to our friend the great crested newt—which, for an endangered species, seems to appear with remarkable frequency whenever there is a planning application. Those housing developments are not part of the hated regional spatial strategy, but are now part of a locally decided and locally managed strategy, which is just one component of our successful growth strategy—not the old, blunt housing targets, but economic growth alongside housing growth and infrastructure planning.
I warmly welcome the measures in the Budget and earlier announcements that will underpin and enhance Milton Keynes’s position as the part of the country that will lead in the rebuilding our economy. All right hon. and hon. Members will want claim that their home area is the best and is leading the country, but I can cite three recent independent surveys that confirm that Milton Keynes is leading the way. In November, the Experian company ranked Milton Keynes as No. 1 in a survey of towns that will lead growth in this country. In each of the next four years, annual employment will grow by 2% and output will grow by 3%, and this is sustainable and balanced growth, not just in the retail and service sectors but in manufacturing and high-tech industries as well.
“businesses should be encouraged to capitalise on the expected upturn in consumer spending and opportunities created by local infrastructure investment.”
Finally, just the other week the business location index—part of the inward investment guide to England—ranked Milton Keynes as the best place in Britain to do business, based on its scoring highly on economic, human resources, environmental and infrastructure indicators.
Companies House records show that more than 2,000 new businesses started up in Milton Keynes in the last year, up 10% on the year before. Our inward investment is booming. Milton Keynes is already home to 700 international companies, and that is growing. We have a winning formula that is based on our local factors and the UK’s competitive tax strategy. Our strong position will be underpinned and enhanced by the policies announced in the Budget and other measures. The city deal and the Heseltine proposal for a single pot of money to decentralise decision making will help, boosting our infrastructure, particularly with the east-west rail project, which will link Milton Keynes to Oxford and, ultimately, Cambridge and is forecast to generate 12,000 jobs in the local region.
Our apprenticeship schemes are doing well. We have already doubled the number of apprenticeships locally to 2,000—that will increase further—and not just in traditional sectors, but in accountancy, law and manufacturing. That will develop our skills base for the future and make us even more attractive to inward investors. Finally, the policies to help people buy their first home and go further up the housing ladder will ensure that our housing strategy is linked to what we need locally. Of course there are many challenges ahead, but Milton Keynes is doing well. This Budget gives us the tools to get on with the job.
Let me finish by referring to the contribution from George Galloway. He criticised the Government for talking about sowing seeds in frozen weather. A horticulturalist will tell us that it is not only possible to sow seeds on frozen ground, but often desirable, because that can lead to the healthiest growth.