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It is a pleasure to follow Mike Kane, a near neighbour of mine. I was pleased to hear his upbeat assessment of Airport City in Manchester; I share that assessment and look forward to working with him, just as I did with his esteemed predecessor, whom many of us in this House admired and respected.
It is important that this Budget has further underlined the Government’s commitment to putting our public finances back in order. It has also highlighted the action that is being taken to address cost of living challenges, including the increase in the personal allowance to £10,500. Government Members have pointed out repeatedly that the Chancellor has gone further in this Budget by taking bold, radical steps, the better to support the aspirations of savers and pensioners. Those steps have been welcomed by many of the constituents in Macclesfield I have spoken to over the weekend, and they are popular across the country because they give power to the people. That is not something that Citizen Smith said in the 1970s; it is the Conservative way, the right way, and we welcome this approach.
Another positive theme in the Budget is the continuing action that is being taken to deliver sustainable economic growth after the boom and bust of the Labour years. The evidence is clear to see in the 2.75% growth forecast for this year and the 2.4% growth forecast for 2015. In addition, we have the 1.7 million jobs that have been created. Perhaps Labour Members could remind us who said that just could not be done—where is Ed Balls when you need him?
I welcome the positive progress that has been made, but clearly more needs to be done to take forward our long-term economic plan and our growth agenda, and that is what I want to say more about this evening. It is refreshing and good to see that the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce also warmly welcome this Budget. With so much new news in the Budget, it might be easy to overlook the fact that the Government have dramatically reduced corporation tax. It has fallen from 28% under the previous Government to 21% this April, and is set to fall further with a cut to 20% in 2015-16—that is the joint lowest rate in the G20.
On the employment allowance, it is crucial that we get to a lower tax environment, so that businesses have the confidence to invest, and the desire and appetite to take on more workers. I am pleased that the growth we are seeing is spread across all the regions—just about—as that is vital in our task of rebalancing the economy. In recent months, we have had positive reports about what is going on in our local economy in north-east Cheshire. In November, AstraZeneca invested £120 million in its packaging and manufacturing site in Macclesfield. The recent announcement of the sale of AstraZeneca’s Alderley Park plant to Manchester Science Parks is crucial to ensuring that there is a sustainable future at the site, which has been a centre of innovation, research and discovery for decades. This new approach means that there will be further innovation and success in decades to come. So although AstraZeneca may have decided to take its research and development facilities to Cambridge, I am pleased to be working with the company and with the Alderley Park taskforce to make sure there is a lasting legacy. The Chancellor, as a local Member of Parliament, is also championing that important start we are making. With the new owners, our aim and ambition locally is to make sure that we create a counterweight to Cambridge up in the north-west. Who knows, AstraZeneca may live to regret the day it decided to relocate—I hope it does, as that is certainly our plan.
That case study demonstrates again that the state cannot and should not seek to rebalance the economy on its own. Government Members know that making areas dependent on public sector jobs is not a panacea, despite the protestations of Paul Blomfield, who is no longer in his place. The Government are right to focus on getting the economic fundamentals in place so that businesses across the regions can thrive and flourish, without the excessive competition in the labour markets from public bodies.
The Government also recognise that they have a crucial role to play in investing in infrastructure. Connectivity will be the key to rebalancing the economy, and this is not just about HS2, which I am pleased to hear will now have a hub station in Crewe six years earlier than planned; in the north-west, there are ambitious plans for the Atlantic gateway, the northern hub and, let us not forget, further rail electrification, with 800 miles planned by 2019, compared with just the nine miles put in place during the Labour years in government.
The bidding process for the £2 billion growth deal fund, involving business-led local enterprise partnerships across the country, will be another catalyst for change. I am sure I am not the only Member seeking to draw attention to major projects in their area, but in Cheshire and Warrington we are supporting an innovative cross-border science corridor, which builds on initial progress we are making at Alderley Park. So let the competition begin—just let us not forget our science corridor in Cheshire to move things forward. I support this Budget and the contribution that this Government’s long-term economic plan is making to the economy in this country.