Labour had the worst results for an Opposition party in more than 30 years and were reduced to third place in Scotland. And Labour Members think that that is a good set of results! As far as we are concerned, if they want to carry on in this parallel universe that suits us just fine. Meanwhile, we are going to get on with governing the country, improving the economy and reforming our society.
The Government have made huge progress in the past six years. We inherited one of the weakest economies in the advanced world, which had had one of the biggest crashes. It is now one of the fastest-growing economies in the advanced world. We inherited an economy in which millions of people risked losing their job, and hundreds of thousands had. We now have a record number of people in work. We reduced the budget deficit. Our commitment to the northern powerhouse has seen investment projects in the region increase by 120% in the past two years. The verdict of the IMF in its recent examination of the British economy is clear:
“The UK’s recent economic performance has been strong, and considerable progress has been achieved in addressing underlying vulnerabilities.”
It said growth was robust and that
“the unemployment rate has fallen substantially, employment has reached an historic high, the fiscal deficit has been reduced, and financial sector resilience has increased.”
That is the independent verdict of the IMF. In the past, article IVs have been critical of the British economy; now they celebrate what we have achieved.
Many challenges remain, of course, and that is what the economic reforms in the Queen’s Speech will address. There is the immediate crisis in the global steel industry. My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has just outlined to the House all our efforts to secure jobs here at home. There is a long-term challenge facing western societies of how we increase productivity growth. Improvements in productivity drive lasting improvements in living standards. That is a challenge for all countries. Indeed, the latest figures today from the United States show that productivity is set to fall this year for the first time in 30 years.