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May I join in the expression of condolence to Hilary Benn and say how sad I was to hear his news?
I want to welcome the Budget and reflect for a moment on the Chancellor’s considerable achievement. Fortified by a coalition and stronger for it, with the most appalling legacy left by the last Government, he has managed to turn things around so that our country is now well on the path to better days, with a growing economy, a remarkable number of new jobs emerging and an exciting future about which we can all be optimistic —in particular, I hope, our young people, many of whom are having a tough time of it.
I want especially to mention the Chancellor’s wise decision to freeze fuel duty, which is now 20p lower than it would have been under a Labour Government. Together with a well judged freeze in the council tax, on which I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, that will make a real difference to hard-pressed families in Mid Sussex and elsewhere. I want particularly to congratulate the Chancellor on the welcome plans that have been set out for supporting exports, science and innovation, and of course on the game-changing package of support for savers and pensioners, which has undoubtedly commanded the broadest support possible, and rightly so.
I hope that people now realise—I truly think that they do—the profound difference between the wilful, almost grotesque irresponsibility of the last Labour Government and the steely, genuine determination of the current Administration to get on top of the serious difficulties with a long-term economic plan whose success is now quite clear for all to see. However, the new networked world in which we in this country have to make our way, and for which it must be said we are ill prepared, is manifesting every day a global flow of ideas, innovations, new collaborative possibilities and new market opportunities, not only here but all over the world. To be frank, if we get it right, the world should be our oyster.
There are plenty of businesses and people who understand that. They understand that by tapping into the global flow of new ideas and opportunities, they can become the key to something that we badly need in this country: far greater productivity. It is nowhere near good enough here, and it is the key to growth and increasing prosperity.
All of that will inevitably, and sadly, involve seismic change. I congratulate the Government on the announcement in the Budget of £42 million for the new Alan Turing institute and £74 million for the cell therapy manufacturing centre and the graphene innovation centre, all of which will greatly increase our chances of helping to export our way out of financial difficulties by accessing the fastest-growing markets around the world, particularly in the life sciences, agricultural products, science, medicine, energy and of course services.
My great anxiety is how our country will cope as we try to respond to changes in technology, globalisation and markets that have, in a very short time, made the decently waged, medium-skilled job increasingly unavailable. That is very serious for an economic model such as that in our country, and it is my firm belief that in not too short a time, most of the decently paid jobs will inevitably be those where high skills are at a premium.
I applaud the work of my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as they try to answer those challenges, but we must now acquire a new level of political imagination, a combination of further, large education reforms, and an unprecedented collaboration among schools, businesses, universities and the Government, to change fundamentally how people are trained, and enable them to keep on training and learning throughout their working life. That will require major tax reforms and for us to consider in a more careful manner—I say this very deliberately—some of the immigration changes that are under way, in the interests of our economic growth.
Those ideas need to come from across the political spectrum. They will not be the prerogative of any one party, and there will need to be a willingness to meet people half way. We need to attract and enable the kind of talent to come to this country that can constantly spin off new ideas and start-ups, which are undoubtedly already the cause of most new, good jobs. It makes perfect sense: if we are to have more employees, we need more employers. Although that huge transformation, driven by the networked world and all that it involves, takes place—