Listening to the speech by Austin Mitchell was a bit like getting a lecture from the captain who crashed the ship on the subject of how well the emergency services conducted the salvage operation.
No one will believe Labour Members. When the Labour Government were in office, they ran up deficits in the good years while the economy was still growing, but Labour has now suddenly become the hawkish guardian of the balanced budget. It has become the party that shuns deficit and debt, saying that if it had been in power, none of this would have happened. We all remember the shimmer of growth that the last Government thought they had created after the banking crisis, but it was merely an artificial stimulus that they had not budgeted to continue. The money was not there, and Labour would have had to take the difficult decisions on spending, a fact that it consistently and conveniently chooses to ignore.
Looking at the Budget today, we can now see the benefits of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s long-term strategy. We can also see coming to fruition many of the smaller initiatives and policies to increase investment in the economy, including from overseas, and to back entrepreneurs and growth in the regions. I want to talk about some of those policies today.
I shall start by talking about my own constituency, however, as have all the previous speakers in the debate. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby closed his speech with the word “hope”, and there is now undoubtedly much more hope in my constituency and the local economy in east Kent, based on the policies of this Government. We have seen substantial and consistent falls in unemployment, and that has been backed up today by further falls in the unemployment figures. The unemployment rate is now nearly half what it was at the peak of the recession. That means that there are typically 1,000 fewer people out of work each month than during the recession, which is a remarkable turnaround.
My area, like those of other hon. Members, has also seen substantial falls in youth unemployment. We have to remember that youth unemployment had become a problem in the British economy that was counter-cyclical. It ran through good years and bad, and seemed to be a problem to which there was no answer. However, we are now seeing solid, consistent falls in the youth unemployment figures too. That has certainly been backed up by the Government’s investment in the apprenticeship programme. In my constituency, we now have nearly double the number of young people entering and starting an apprenticeship—learning and earning—and entering the workplace. People were missing out on those opportunities in the past. That change is certainly having a dramatic impact.
These changes are not happening by accident. They are being supported by the Government’s policy of cutting taxes on business, and by the investment in east Kent and other regions through the Government’s regional growth fund. Tens of millions of pounds has been awarded to local businesses. That money has been spent and it has created new jobs in businesses that were wondering, five years ago, where growth was going to come from and how they were going to get support from the banks. Those businesses have now invested in themselves and they are employing more people. They are looking forward to the future. That is the change we have brought about.
That local growth, which has certainly taken place in east Kent, is backed up by good and big infrastructure, which is why I continue to support the Chancellor’s commitment to infrastructure, to improving the economy of the north and to investing in the northern powerhouse. There is no doubt that the economy of east Kent is being accelerated by the infrastructure of high-speed rail, which is bringing more investment and more jobs into our communities. Other communities in the UK will benefit from that commitment and that investment, too. Putting money aside for big infrastructure projects of that nature is long-term decision making and planning at its best.
There is also no doubt that the creative economy has been one of Britain’s great success stories for a number of years, particularly the past five years. Exports from Britain’s creative industries are growing at a rate of more than 11%, and their job creation rates are faster than those of the rest of the economy. The gross value added of the creative industries in the British economy is growing as a proportion of the size of the economy as well. That has been supported by decisions such as the investment in the production tax credits for TV drama, for children’s programmes and for animation. I am pleased that that investment is being continued into other sectors of the creative economy, particularly theatre and orchestras. By backing Britain’s productive and creative talent we are not only supporting the underlying strength of the industry, but bringing more revenues into the Treasury. That shows that if we cut the right taxes and provide the right incentive and support, we bring in more revenue for the Treasury and create more growth in the economy. There is no better example of that than there is in the creative industries.
The creative industries are a very important part of the regeneration and growth in towns such as Folkestone, but we see this all around the country: in Manchester we see the fastest growing media city in Europe; film and TV production are a key part of the growth of Belfast and the Titanic quarter; we have the video games industry in cities such as Dundee and many different locations around the country; and we see the growth and importance of creative industries in the regeneration in Digbeth and Birmingham. Right around the country we can see that growth in place, supported by the skills, ingenuity and creativity of the British people, and backed up by the Government and their policies.
Tech city in London is a global centre. After Silicon Valley it is arguably the global centre of tech industries, and it certainly backs up the commitment the Chancellor made at the start of this Parliament that London should be the European centre for creative and digital industries—it certainly is that. The enterprise and investment schemes that this Government put in place have been a key driver in the growth and success stories of many of those small businesses. The continuation of those policies makes London and makes the UK one of the best places in which to invest and start a business in this fast-growing, dynamic sector of the economy.
I particularly welcome what the Chancellor had to say about ultrafast broadband and the commitment to try to bring investment in that, starting with some of the harder-to-reach communities. Members representing areas that are both rural and urban will all have pockets in their constituencies that are hard to reach with superfast broadband. In questions a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister set out that the key challenge would be, once 95% of homes have superfast broadband, reaching the extra 5%. Today, the Chancellor set out a bold strategy and vision for how we can reach that final 5%. Delivering ultrafast broadband by satellite into hard-to-reach communities is an excellent way of doing that. We know that that broadband and the internet are not just a “nice to have” service, but an essential tool for homes and businesses, particularly those in rural areas. It enables people to trade, market and sell their goods anywhere in the world from the place where they live and work—it is a necessary tool. That commitment to the future investment in that vital piece of infrastructure is very welcome.
Finally, I wish to discuss what the Chancellor said about consulting on a review of business rates. Many people would agree that that is the right step to take. The nature of the economy has changed substantially; it is no longer based on just the square footage of a building. The nature of someone’s work, be they a tech entrepreneur or a traditional manufacturing company, can be very different, as can the revenues they generate. I just ask the Treasury to consider one thing when conducting that review: the role that business incubation units play in supporting micro-businesses and tech start-up businesses. We see that all around the country. We have seen a successful incubator running in Folkestone—it is called the Workshop—and new incubator spaces are being created. In most of the tech hubs around the country we see incubators as a key part of supporting new business growth. It will be interesting to look at whether business rate reductions or exemptions for genuine incubator spaces for very new start-ups and fledgling companies would incentivise the creation of more space. Equally, we could consider whether companies that have an excess of office space could give up some of it to support an incubator unit and, in return, offset that against their business rates or receive a reduction in their business rates. That would be a very low-cost way of supporting micro-businesses in the start-up economy. I would be interested to see that considered when the Government lead their review of business rates.
There is no doubt that this was a Budget to support the growth in the economy, and to give hope to anyone who is saving, working, or starting a business and looking to get on. It sets out a clear strategy for the next five years.