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I am grateful to Mr Kennedy for his comments on fuel, to which I, too, shall refer.
What we have seen is a Budget from a failed Chancellor reaping a growing economic reward that he did not sow—an economy that is improving despite what the Chancellor has done over the past four years. The Chancellor said that the deficit would be gone by the next general election, but there has been a reduction of only a third so far, with a year left. There was talk about pulling rabbits out of a hat, but that is quite a rabbit to pull out, with one year to go and two thirds of the deficit still to reduce. Debt has risen, and the growth that there is in the economy is based on delicate consumer spending—consumers spending their savings or money that they might have saved. Growth was stronger back in May 2010.
In the time available to me, I turn to some of the things that should have been in the Budget. As the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said, what was needed was a fuel cut. FairFuelUK is one of many organisations suggesting that a 3p cut in fuel duty would kick-start businesses. Hauliers and others throughout the country were relying on some sort of cut because for them that is the difference between making a profit or a loss.
Four years on, we have heard many times, and will no doubt continue to hear, Members on the Government Benches referring to what the position would have been if Labour were still in government. What nonsense! What about the fuel duty escalator introduced by the present Minister without Portfolio, Mr Clarke? What would it have been if we had kept that going?
My right hon. Friend Hilary Benn referred to councils’ ability to assemble land. That should indeed have been possible. In my constituency, in the rest of Stoke-on-Trent and in the rest of north Staffordshire I frequently see pieces of land that have been held by one developer sold to another developer, then sold to a third and to a fourth. I think of one piece of land in particular where basic infrastructure—drainage and cabling—was put in, but that was it. Nothing moved after the economic tsunami hit, and the land has been changing hands ever since at higher and higher prices. Now the economy would have to be racing away for there to be any possibility of that land being developed. I can think of example after example where a small number of wealthy developers are sitting on land until they get their own way.
Other points should have been dealt with in the Budget. Businesses, especially in the haulage sector, have been calling for a stable view, six or seven years out, of the duty on biofuel, and ideally a reduction in that duty, so that they can make the investment and put the infrastructure in place for heavy goods vehicles that run far more efficiently on our roads.
Energy-intensive manufacturers such as the ceramic industry in Stoke-on-Trent are losing out as a result of energy speculators trading on the price of gas and speculating that what is happening in Crimea might have a negative impact on prices. Who pays? It is the manufacturers who have to buy their energy, not the speculators buying and selling.
Another of the things not in the Budget was the massive cuts to the finances of Stoke-on-Trent city council, which has been the third hardest hit for three years running. That is likely to continue for a fourth year because of the hit to our local authority, which means that services for real people are being taken away.
Of the things that were in the Budget, I shall concentrate on pensions and the removal of the annuity obligation. Giving people more choice in respect of the money they have worked hard to put aside for their pension is, on the face of it, a good thing, but around 80% of people who already do not shop around for the best annuity are losing out. People who need to buy annuities will find them far more expensive. As for the free and impartial guidance, it is advice that is needed, and who will pay for that advice or guidance? It is another mis-selling scandal being lined up to hit in a few years’ time, and, mark my words, it will come back and hit whichever Government happen to be in office at the time.
Who wins? The financial advisers might win, the Treasury will certainly win in the first few years, and insurance companies will bring out complex new products. Or, as the Pensions Minister suggested, is it Lamborghini salesmen who will benefit from the changes?
Let me end by referring to the economic hit on places such as Stoke-on-Trent from HS2. KPMG accountants identified an £80 million potential loss for Stoke-on-Trent as a result of HS2 if it happens as predicted. No Budget could make up for such massive damage to our economy.