Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this very important debate. It is a pleasure to follow Paula Sherriff, to whom I pay tribute. Given the mark that she has made on this place—I am pretty sure that I speak for the whole House in this regard—she will be more than just an answer in a future pub quiz. It is also a pleasure to follow my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke. He is certainly still a big beast. He was a big beast in the Treasury and he is now turning out to be a bit of a national treasure on the Government Benches.
This Budget puts the next generation first—I have to declare an interest here, as I have three young children—and it continues our long-term plan to reduce the deficit and achieve a surplus, and sets out the long-term solutions to long-term problems to ensure that Britain is in a strong economic position for the future.
Thanks to the work of my constituency neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, Britain is set to be the fastest-growing economy in the G7, with the Office for Budget Responsibility predicting growth rates in excess of 2% for the remainder of this Parliament. [Interruption.] We are still the envy of the European Union, and we are stronger together. The challenges that the country faces are growing: global stock markets have had the worst start to the year for 45 years, prospects for emerging markets have worsened, and the sharp fall in the price of oil and commodities has contributed to lower global growth.
Eight years ago, the UK was one of the worst prepared countries to face the financial crisis. Today, it is one of the best prepared. We have fixed the roof while the sun was shining. Against that backdrop of global uncertainty, this Budget delivers security for hard-working taxpayers. Small businesses are the engine room of our country. They account for 99% of all private sector businesses, employing 15 million people—60% of all private sector employment. The combined annual turnover of SMEs was £1.8 trillion last year, nearly half of all private sector turnover in the United Kingdom.
Along with many small businesses across Weaver Vale, I welcomed the announcement in last week’s statement that business rate relief would be doubled permanently. Businesses with a rateable value of £12,000 and below will receive 100% relief. Some 600,000 small businesses across the country will now pay no business rates whatsoever.