It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Geraint Davies. I congratulate the new Members on making their excellent speeches, particularly Mhairi Black, who drew on the wise words of the late Member for Chesterfield, who is a political hero of mine, too.
At the weekend in York, I talked to local businesses, our public services and those who support the poorest in our community. There were no cries of “Fantastic!” for the Budget—quite the reverse. Those are the people who will live with the consequences of what the Budget creates.
Three themes stand out from my conversations, but they were all left out by the Chancellor, who is more set on driving down our public services and our public sector workers, who, we must remember, have already had a 15% cut to their pay, than he is set on driving up exports and the prospects of so many who are left to flounder as they are stripped of essential resources to help them get by each week. The first theme was generating productivity and good-quality, high-skilled jobs; the second was strengthening public services; and the third was addressing the shameful inequality in our nation that the cuts to 30 million people will increase, and addressing the staggering nearly £2 trillion of personal debt that is being built up.
Today, I will focus on productivity. Unless we grow our productivity—our base—the long-term poverty in our country will be sustained. It is therefore not an either/or strategy, but both. We need to address inequality and to drive up our economy: investment now for future growth.
Obviously, there was deep concern at what came out last week not just in the Budget, but in the productivity plan, which should fix the foundations to create a more prosperous nation. I took the plan and put it through what I call the York test. I asked how the plan would drive the economy in the city I represent, a northern city that is so much at the centre of rhetoric at the moment.
York has so much potential. It could have high-quality, well-paid jobs, and with the considered interconnectivity of a productivity plan we could recreate the city as an engine in the north. I read in the plan lots of suggestions to bring together experts to write a strategy for productivity. If there are many gaps in the road map, having experts come together can help to grow the economy for the future, but time is wasted as we wait for the plan to be developed.
One of the loudest cries that I hear from my constituents —but it is not in the plan—is the need to address the needs of small businesses in York. They desperately want business rates to be addressed, so that our local entrepreneurs and business leaders can confidently build a sustainable employment strategy in the light of the ridiculously high cost of premises—another issue that must be addressed.