As ever with the Finance Bill, the Public Gallery is packed to the rafters.
Unusually, the shadow Chancellor is in the Chamber during my speech, which gives me the opportunity to pass on a bit of advice. This is also an opportunity—not for the first time, the second time or the third time, but for the fourth time—for the Government to recognise the advice I have given the House and that they have accepted. It started with the pasty tax, and the Bakewell pudding and other puddings were saved when the Government listened to the advice I provided. This time, it is the £1,000 threshold for taxation on interest. I proposed that for a different reason. I did not try to pretend that it was in some way an incentive for saving, as the Government are vainly attempting to do; I suggested that it was rather sensible, because so many people every year have the irritation of trying to work out miniscule amounts of interest for their tax returns.
That idea has been accepted, and I therefore have a fifth proposal ready and waiting for the Chancellor—I am sure he is listening—to improve future Budgets. This time, the Chancellor is keen on city regions. That is one of the few things he is doing on which I am not totally in disagreement with him. The Sheffield city region is moving ahead appropriately with the support of Bassetlaw council, among others. It would be sensible, in the near future, for the Government to devolve arts and sports funding to city regions, as I have already proposed. But to my mind, they should go a lot further.
Broadband is one of the key weaknesses in our infrastructure. I would like the delivery of broadband to be devolved to city regions during the next year, so that areas such as mine can get ahead of the game, and city regions can, as well; they will need to, because one of this Government’s great failures is that when it comes to broadband we are lagging behind too much of the world. We should be leaders, but we are not. It is false comfort that the Government give every year about progress, which is far too slow.
I was in Japan last week, and had the opportunity for a bit of a Skype using the superfast broadband available throughout that country. It gives a connectivity that we do not have in this country. It would be appropriate for broadband delivery to be devolved to the city region level. I hope that idea will be accepted by the Chancellor, because he says he is in favour of being a world leader in superfast broadband.
I will throw in a second idea, about housing delivery. City regions are having to agree targets on housing with Government. I would like to see those targets tied to a borrowing potential so that that housing can be delivered. We should allow a borrowing potential that is directly linked to the agreed housing target for city regions. Those two ideas would allow city regions such as Sheffield to develop superfast broadband ahead of many parts of the world and to get housing delivery moving.
As I have said previously—this has not been adopted yet by my own Front-Bench team, but I am sure it will be—when we talk about housing, the key demand in my area is for bungalows, and prefabricated bungalows are now coming on-stream, with the biggest producer anywhere in the country. Why bungalows? Because the Government ridiculously attempted to use the bedroom tax to force a lot of people out of large three-bedroom houses, because they were single elderly pensioners. We should offer them a cheap-to-heat modern bungalow. Many people would rent them willingly, and others would buy them. The demand would be huge. If we devolved that power away from central Government, housing delivery, which, again, is said to be a key Government priority, would be dramatically faster.
I put that idea forward optimistically, knowing that, as was the case with the community infrastructure levy, the pensions drawdown, the pasty tax and the interest on savings, my idea will be adopted. Of course it need not be attributed to me—none of the others were; the Government can take entire and total credit for it.
My advice to the Labour Front Bench and shadow Chancellor would be to hone in on this Government’s key fundamental weaknesses, and we should stick repeatedly to four key themes. The first is inequality, which has already been well articulated. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the country does not like that. That is why there was such a huge reaction to the Prime Minister and the issue of offshoring. People do not like the idea that the rich are getting so much richer and the poor are getting poorer; that is not a British value. The Labour party should hone in on that, because it is about economic policy.
Secondly, the Government have a huge dilemma because they are not delivering on productivity. For the skills agenda in this country we have bandied about apprenticeships as if they are anything and everything, including 80,000 hairdressing apprenticeships that never become jobs, through to 60,000 at McDonald’s—