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Short-term indicators of growth are volatile. Quarterly growth was 0.2% in the first quarter of this year, but this followed strong growth of 0.7% in the quarter before. The underlying economy is robust, thanks to record employment levels. Although a recent rise in inflation, caused mainly by the depreciation of sterling last year, may temporarily dampen consumer spending—today’s inflation figure for June is a little lower at 2.6%—there are signs from surveys of business that export orders and business investment intentions are up.
I call the Chair of the Select Committee on the Treasury, Nicky Morgan.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Would the Chancellor not agree that a growing economy is necessary to pay for our essential public services? The Office for Budget Responsibility’s “Fiscal risks report”, which has already been referred to, says that
“governments should expect nasty fiscal surprises from time to time”—
I am not referring to the shadow Chancellor there—and “plan accordingly”, but this Government also have to manage the uncertainties posed by Brexit. Should not a responsible Government not worsen uncertainties and risks by the decisions that they take?
Let me first congratulate my right hon. Friend; it was remiss of me not to do so in my first answer. I very much welcome her to her role on the Treasury Committee, and I look forward to being grilled or toasted by her, or whatever the correct expression is. She is of course exactly right: the only way to build resilience into the economy is to have strong public finances, and the only way to have a sustainably growing standard of living is to have rising productivity over the medium and long term, and that is what the Government’s policy is focused towards.
These are obviously still worrying times for many in north-east Scotland, with the continued low oil price still causing concern, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the strength of the United Kingdom’s economy, now the second highest growing in the G7, has enabled this Government to provide over £2.6 billion of support to the industry, securing jobs in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine?
Yes. The UK oil and gas sector has made a huge contribution to the UK economy, having paid over £330 billion in total in production taxes to date, and supporting over 300,000 jobs. In the next phase of the life of the North sea basin, as many fields come towards the end of their life, we are working with the industry to ensure that we extract every drop of oil and gas that it is economic to extract, that we enable decommissioning, and enable end-of-life fields to be operated in the most effective way.
Much of the growth is due to the fact that we are spending more on imports, due to the low cost of the pound. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that our trade in goods deficit has risen by £2.6 billion over the past quarter and now stands at a staggering £34.4 billion. Does not the extra cost of imports have an impact on the cost of our exports and affect our productivity?
As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know, the short-run effect of a depreciation in sterling would be expected to be a decline in our trade balance performance as we suck in more expensive imports, in sterling terms. But over time the economy will adjust—there are signs that this is happening now—with exporters increasing their output to take advantage of weaker sterling and their greater competitiveness in international markets, and indeed not just exporters, but those who would substitute imported products with domestically produced products, which is often the best way forward for smaller companies.
One of the ways of reducing the deficit is by increasing economic growth, rather than increasing taxes or reducing spending. What steps is the Chancellor taking to produce economic growth, and how are his efforts being affected by those who continually talk the economy down and predict dire effects from Brexit, even though their predictions to date have been proved wrong?
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right; those who talk the economy and its prospects down are not doing the country any favours. It is not about borrowing more or taxing more; it is about growing our economy faster and increasing productivity so that we can have sustainable jobs and economic growth that produces the taxation to support our public services as well as rising living standards for our population.