I am very pleased to be able to participate in this debate, not least to demonstrate how little the Budget will do for the economy of the north-east. We need no further evidence of the failure of the Government’s economic policies than the forecast on growth and GDP outlined by the Office for Budget Responsibility.
In June 2010, the OBR forecast that growth in the UK would be 2.8%. In fact, as we know, it was minus 0.1 %. We have also recently heard that the growth forecast this year, bearing in mind that it is only March, has been cut in half from 1.2% to 0.6%. Given all of that, the Government needed to shake off their complacency and take responsibility for the flatlining economy that they have created. They should introduce measures that would support growth, both nationally and in areas that are suffering most under this incompetent Government, such as County Durham.
The number of job seekers in my Durham constituency has fallen by just 69 in a year, but it is still up by 450 since the general election. Some 25% of those claimants are young people, unable to take their first step on the career ladder. What is equally worrying is the types of jobs that have been created compared with those that have been lost. Information that I have received from the House of Commons Library shows that the new jobs that have been created are predominantly non-skilled or low-skilled. At the same time, the number of jobs in skilled trades and administration is falling—by 2,000 in the last period. That shows a worrying trend of downskilling the north-east economy, just as we need to up our game to compete with emerging economies internationally.
What did the Budget do to rectify that? Absolutely nothing. The North East chamber of commerce said:
“The Government has fallen short of providing the raft of measures that businesses and investors need in order to kick-start growth”.
“George Osborne has missed an opportunity today to enable the North to play its part in leading us out of our economic stagnation.”
We can look at two aspects of that, the first of which is housing in the north-east. Again, we heard a number of lip-service announcements made in the Budget. I am pleased that the Government finally seem to be waking up to the fact that there is a housing crisis, but they appear to be stoking demand for housing, rather than looking at how to increase supply urgently and drastically. The Chancellor—he is probably the only one who thinks this—says that the fundamental overhaul of planning laws is helping homes to be built and businesses to expand. I think that he is wrong on both counts. House building is falling and, as my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn said earlier, so is the speed with which planning decisions are being made. Research from the House of Commons Library confirms that no peacetime Government since the 1920s have presided over fewer housing completions than this Government have over the past two years. And it is getting worse; house starts fell in 2012 by 11% to below 100,000.
It does not get any better when we look at infrastructure. In their first three years, this Tory-led Government have spent £7.7 billion less in capital investment compared with the plans inherited from Labour, and over the course of this Parliament they are set to spend £2.1 billion less on capital investment than would have been spent under Labour’s plans. That has knock-on effects for constituencies such as mine, which are getting practically no investment whatsoever in the basic infrastructure to support either the housing that is urgently needed or the new roads and transport links that are necessary if we are to grow the economy.
It also does not get any better for families in my constituency. The measures in the Budget relating to child care will not come into effect until 2015. Families in my constituency need jobs, growth and hope now.