The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about infrastructure, and there was very little in the Budget to address that. Earlier, I mentioned the possibility of rebalancing. In 2012, we were promised an export-led recovery, and the Government announced proudly a target of £1 trillion of exports by 2020. I am all for ambition and for stretching targets, but given the Government’s limited ability to shift the needle on the value of exports by companies, that ambition seemed at best somewhat misplaced and, at worst, even very foolish.
The OBR stated last week that the Government will miss its target by 36%, which is £357 billion, and that net trade will actually be a drag on economic growth for every single year of this Parliament, but there was nothing in this Budget to boost exports. The word “exports” did not even pass the Chancellor’s lips in his statement on Wednesday and it was not mentioned again this morning. Does that mean that the Government have shelved that target? Will Ministers consider providing assistance and encouragement in the form of export vouchers so that firms from Britain can invest and export?
A further way to boost productivity is by investing in skills, and the flagship skills policy of this Government is the target of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, funded through the apprenticeships levy. Now, only 2% of larger firms will pay that, so what will happen to the other 98% of firms, as well as the detail of the levy? We were promised by the Minister for Skills in the run-up to the Budget that all would be revealed, including this new shiny model, in the Chancellor’s Budget statement, but for a Budget billed as putting the next generation first, there was precious little detail about how the apprenticeships levy—only 12 months from its start—will operate in practice. As with exports, the word “apprenticeships” was not even mentioned by the Chancellor.