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Surplus Target and Corporation Tax

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 4th July 2016.

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Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Secretary of State 4:27 pm, 4th July 2016

In the past week, I have sought to be realistic with the British people about the economic challenges we now face but to mix that realism with reassurance that we can rise to those challenges. The financial contingency plans that the Governor of the Bank of England and I put in place have proved effective to date. Financial markets have adjusted, but I can report today that, although we remain vigilant, they have shown no signs of disorder. We must now respond to developments in the real economy, which will require a supreme national effort.

First, we must look to support demand and ensure that credit flows freely in our economy. The Governor of the Bank of England said on Friday that

“some monetary policy easing will likely be required over the summer”.

Thanks to the reforms that I introduced, the independent Bank of England has the tools that it needs to act against the cycle and support lending in the economy. The Financial Policy Committee will publish its decisions tomorrow, and we stand ready in the Treasury to act in concert with the Bank of England should more need to be done to support funding for lending.

The second part of our national effort must be to maintain Britain’s fiscal credibility. Eight years ago, people questioned Britain’s ability to pay its way in the world; eight years later, British gilts are seen as a safe haven and funding costs have fallen to record lows. We should maintain the fiscal consolidation measures that we have announced. However, our rules were always explicit that, in the face of what the fiscal charter calls a “significant negative shock”, we should allow the automatic stabilisers to operate, and with the consensus of economic forecasters now lowering the forecast growth for the UK next year—from close to 2% before the referendum to 0.4% now—that is what we will do. We must be realistic that the target for a surplus is unlikely to be achieved in 2019-20. The Office for Budget Responsibility will conduct a formal assessment when it produces a new independent forecast in the autumn, and then we will have a clear idea of what additional measures are required to maintain fiscal credibility.

Thirdly, we need to broadcast loud and clear the message that Britain remains the best place in the world to do business. In the past six years, we have reduced Britain’s corporation tax rate from 28% to 20% today, and 17% in the future. I did that at the same time as taking difficult decisions elsewhere to balance the books. In my view, the strongest signal we could send to the world that Britain, after the referendum, is open to the world and ready to do business would be to cut corporation tax still further. We should aim for a rate of 15% and preferably lower, because if we are pro-business, we are pro-jobs, pro-living standards and pro-working people.

Fourthly, the referendum result revealed a deep-seated feeling of disfranchisement in too many of our communities, especially in the midlands and the north of England. As I said in Manchester on Friday, the northern powerhouse is the right response and we need to redouble our efforts with elected mayors and new transport infrastructure. In my view, once both parties have determined who their leader should be, we should then get on and build a new runway in the south-east of England, because we cannot be open to the world if we cannot fly there.

Fifthly and finally, while we must seek with our European neighbours the best possible terms of trade in goods and services, including financial services, now is the time also to redouble our efforts to promote trade with the rest of the world. I have spoken to my US counterparts. Later this month, I will be travelling to China to build on that important new partnership.

To conclude, this is a blueprint to meet our economic challenge. Nothing positive will come from looking back in anger. We must lift our eyes to the horizon ahead and make the best of what is to come.