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It is a privilege to speak in this debate not just because it follows a sensible and wise Budget but because I have been able to benefit from the wisdom of a number of retiring Members. I am talking about my hon. Friend Mr Walter, my right hon. Friend Annette Brooke, my hon. Friends the Members for Dudley South (Chris Kelly), for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) and, not least, for Northampton South (Mr Binley). It is a true privilege to follow some great speeches with some very wise words. Indeed, Grahame M. Morris also delivered a great speech. I would love to disagree with him on every single point that he raised, and probably will do in my speech, but he is such a nice man that it is very difficult to do that.
It is also good to see Front Benchers wearing their team colours. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom and my next door neighbour, is adorned with a jacket that is the Northampton Saints strip. I know that the shadow Minister, Mr Wright, would be wearing his Hartlepool kit if he had the opportunity. I have heard him speak before, so I know it would not be as the mascot.
I listened to the speeches from the shadow Chancellor and others, and I really wanted to follow a Labour Member I did not like, because there is a brilliant Shakespearian insult that I wanted to use:
“O, he is as tedious
As a tired horse, a railing wife;
Worse than a smoky house: I had rather live
With cheese and garlic in a windmill”.
But unfortunately I followed the hon. Member for Easington, so I could not use any of that.
It is a pleasure to stand here today, only a week before Dissolution, and reflect upon the Chancellor’s remarkable economic achievement in picking Britain’s economy up off its knees after it was left in tatters by the Labour party. I would like to focus today on the businesses up and down the county without which this economic recovery would not have been possible. They are the meat on the bone of our long-term economic plan. It is they who have helped to get record numbers of people into employment, they who they have helped grow our economy by 2.6% in the past year alone, and they who have taken the risks to help Britain succeed, now and in the future.
The economic news is good not only at a national level, but in my constituency of Daventry. Unemployment there is now running at the extraordinarily low rate of around 1%, with only 600 constituents on jobseeker’s allowance, which is down 42% since a year ago. Youth unemployment is down 40% since 2010, and long-term unemployment has been halved. Those figures are quite miraculous. They are a testament both to those who work in the jobcentre and help find work for my unemployed constituents and to the businesses in my constituency that created the jobs in the first place.
In fact, the midlands are having quite an economic renaissance. We are seeing a job created there every 10 minutes, with employment rising faster there over the past than even in London. Those are amazing statistics, especially when we consider that 80% of the jobs being created are full time and in high-skilled occupations. Over the past two years, Daventry has seen 1,700 people begin apprenticeships. I am proud of the legacy that we will be able to look back on in that area. The Prime
Minister has outlined his ambition to see 3 million apprenticeships in the next Parliament, and I know that in only a few weeks’ time that ambition will start to become a reality when the British people rightly vote Conservative across the country and deliver a Conservative Government.
Another proud achievement of this Government has been the creation of and support for university technical colleges, one of which is in my constituency. There are now 40 UTCs thanks to this Government, and there are more to come. Daventry university technical college, under the wise stewardship of Dave Edmondson, is performing great things. With the Daventry international rail freight terminal in my constituency, the UTC focuses on sustainable and related new technologies in engineering, construction and environmental sustainability. That reflects the growing demand for well-qualified technical specialists in my constituency. It is now building the skills sets of students going through the UTC so that they can walk into jobs that are right on their doorstep.
There are many good points that got only a brief mention in the Budget statement. I echo yesterday’s statement from the Federation of Small Businesses, which said that giving stand-alone guidance for research and development tax credits for small businesses will
“drive further investment by innovative companies”.
In fact, I recently met a representative of an accounting firm who works with small businesses in order to discuss tax credits. Jane Ollis, managing director of RIFT, pointed out that in 2013 only 13,000 of the millions of small businesses in the UK claimed back the cash they were entitled to from the Government under research and development tax credits, so there is a lot of work to be done in that area. If a business has spent time and resources carrying out new product development, or if it is working on some innovative solutions, it should be able to reduce its tax bill or secure a cash injection of up to 25% of what it has spent. RIFT has identified that the average R and D tax refund claimed back from HMRC is £55,000, which is an invaluable injection of cash for any small business.
We have also taken 360,000 small businesses out of business rates over this Parliament by extending small business rate relief. We have thrown our weight behind businesses by cutting corporation tax, which in two weeks’ time will fall to 20%, the joint lowest rate in the G20 and a far cry from the legacy of the previous Labour Government—it stood at 28% in 2010. Now, we will go further. Realising that business rates have not kept pace with the needs of the modern economy, the Chancellor has announced a review of the structure of this system. That is welcomed by everybody in business.
“Average household incomes have just about regained their pre-recession levels. They are finally rising and probably will be higher in 2015 than they were in 2010, and possibly higher than their 2009 peak.”
Families are, on average, about £900 a year better off under this Government.
On my next point, I should declare an interest. I do not receive any payment but I am the chairman of two regional theatres and a cinema. Arts, heritage and sport have received a great deal of money from this Government
—£300 million extra in the past four years, compared with the preceding four years, because the Government changed the funding formula with the lottery. This is opposed by the Labour party, which has still not decided whether it would go back to the funding system that it previously operated, meaning a huge cut for the arts. I hope the hon. Member for Hartlepool will pick up this point and say how arts would be funded in the future.
We must never forget Labour’s great recession, its mismanagement of the economy and its economic illiteracy. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor fail to disguise their disdain for business, trotting out the same tired lines and failed policies, such as rent controls, threatening businessmen who criticise their policies, proposing punitive taxes on wealth creators and refusing to commit to deregulation. I have copious amounts of photographs of many Opposition Members, including the one who is, I believe, next to speak, standing next to a huge ice cube, trumpeting their proposed energy price freeze, only to abandon it as energy prices are decreased by market forces. This literal political meltdown shows their utter incompetence. They have no economic plan, let alone a long-term one like the Conservative party and this Government.