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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:06 pm on 24th March 2014.

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Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Labour, Barrow and Furness 8:06 pm, 24th March 2014

What a pleasure to follow such a well delivered speech. I only wish that Caroline Nokes had more time so that she could go into more detail about the reaction of pub dwellers in Romsey or Southampton North when she went in and said, “We have an amazing new offer: buy 300 pints and get one free!” I am sure they were absolutely overwhelmed.

We were told that this Budget would be for savers, and yet the Office for Budget Responsibility says that it will be followed by a sharp drop in the savings ratio. It was supposed to be a Budget for exporters, but the OBR predicts that export volume growth will be less than half what is needed by the Chancellor to meet his targets. It was also supposed to a Budget that learned lessons from the past, but estimates of household debt have now been revised up to near the levels they were at before the global crash. This is not a Budget for the long term. They are not a Government who are thinking of the country’s long-term future. They are an Administration doing, I am afraid, what Tory Administrations always do: trying to manufacture a pre-election splurge, whatever the long-term consequences, and rarely, if ever, intervening in a market, regardless of whether that market happens to be working in the interests of the country and its citizens.

This Government came to power and delayed infrastructure decisions. They told skilled manufacturing workers in sectors such as defence that Ministers were only really interested in buying off the shelf from abroad. They may have changed their tune now, but the world is moving so fast and we will rue these years of stagnation. I am afraid that the ambition remains limited and the delivery too often feeble. Where there is investment, there is little sign that the Government are willing to act to lever in the maximum possible benefit to the community.

In my constituency and in those neighbouring it in south and west Cumbria, we are about to see a scale of industrial investment in the area that will exceed that of the 2012 Olympic games. That includes new civil nuclear capacity; GlaxoSmithKline’s first factory in the UK for 40 years; and the work to enable Barrow shipyard to build the next generation of nuclear submarines. All those are extremely welcome and are a result of the consensus that we forged in government, which—thank goodness—at least one of the Government parties is now on board with taking forward.

When we saw big levels of investment in the area during the 1980s, that coincided with a time of growing divisions in our communities—wealth for a few, destitution for many others. The investment came via a Government who celebrated the concept of trickle-down economics. Yes, Barrow grew in the 1980s, but so did hardship and hopelessness. When recession and mass redundancies came to the shipyard on their watch the last time, it was truly devastating. We still bear the scars of those days.

Look at the parallel now, when rising employment sits alongside an explosion of food banks and desperation. With Olympic-scale investment coming our way, the Government should be doing so much more in Cumbria, helping us to ensure that those massive projects can be delivered simultaneously, which is a big challenge in itself, and, equally importantly, that they will lead to sustained jobs, skills and prosperity for as many people as possible. Unfortunately, there is little sign of that so far, and the expertise that would have been best placed to do much of the work—the Northwest regional development agency—is long gone.

Therefore, as the Government parties stand back, we will step in. My hon. Friend Mr Reed and I will work with Cumbria’s local enterprise partnership to bring together the employers, investors, schools, colleges and councils to work our how best to make this succeed for all of us for the long term, and to do better than the last time they were in charge.

The Chancellor needed to up his game on long-term infrastructure planning in this Budget, but there was precious little sign of that. He needed to show that he understood how Governments of all colours had damaged the country with stop-start infrastructure spending. Rather than being determined to micro-manage every mile of road in the Budget statement, a truly radical Chancellor would take have taken infrastructure planning off the political merry-go-round. We need a binding, independent body that can lock in a long-term infrastructure plan, making it much harder for today’s—I am sorry to have to break it to them—transient Ministers to unpick.

Instead, we have had the inevitable re-announcement of the ever-hardy perennial, the prospective garden city in Ebbsfleet, but nothing that will fundamentally solve our housing crisis. This Budget was as great a missed opportunity as much of the past four years has been. The Prime Minister can tweet the rhetoric, but he and his Chancellor are just not up to the job. It will be up to us to put that right.