Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:11 pm on 8th March 2017.

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Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Economy) 2:11 pm, 8th March 2017

That is precisely the point. The choices are that we grow and we take exports seriously, or we do what Tory Governments have always done, which is to sell off the family silver.

Growth is forecast to be based on heroic levels of business investment after the uncertainty of Brexit ends this year. It will be propped up by household consumption with a commensurate rise in household indebtedness, central Government investment, which I welcome, and fixed investment in private dwellings, but with house prices forecast to rise at two or three times the rise of inflation. The Budget report seems to make merit of that: people will feel wealthy, it says. We know what happens when prices fall, and we know what the impact is on youngsters trying to get on the property ladder. On household debt in particular, the Chancellor should have been much more aware of the concerns that, even after excluding mortgage payments, household debt has now reached record levels. This is not a balanced recovery.

However, it is the issue of trade that is most worrying. The figures are clear. The last full year for which we have figures—2015—saw a current account deficit of £80 billion, and a deficit in the trade in goods of £120 billion. At least the Chancellor did not repeat the claims of his predecessor that we could double exports by the end of this decade to £1 trillion. Perhaps he should enlighten the Secretary of State for International Trade, who still thinks that it is sensible to keep the target even though he does not believe that it can be met. This is not all the fault of this Chancellor. Many of these failings have been embedded in the UK economy for decades. It is not just about exports, but about support for innovation, which I welcome, and manufacturing as well as boosting productivity across the board.

We should have had specific plans today—the Chancellor has had enough time in office—for substantial GDP growth, not the less than 2% in every year for the forecast period, which is lower than the pre-crisis trend. We should have had measures to boost productivity. In Scotland, productivity is 4% higher than the 2007 level, compared with next to nothing in the UK. We should have had targeted support for high-growth export-focused small and medium-sized enterprises. The Chancellor should have taken more businesses out of business rates entirely in England rather than offering just a bit more help for a short period of time.

I welcome what the Chancellor said about education. If we tackle the attainment gap, we can get inclusive growth. We will not get inclusive growth if people are struggling to put food on the table because the welfare cap is squeezing people’s real incomes.