The test of a Budget is how it affects the reality of people’s lives all around this country. I would submit that the reality—[Interruption.]
Order. Look, if somebody wants to go for an early cup of tea, please do so—I am told there are mince pies waiting—but what I will have is the Leader of the Opposition listened to, and quietly, from the Government side, in the same way I expected from the other side of the House.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The reality test of this Budget has to be how it affects ordinary people’s lives. I believe, as the days go ahead and this Budget unravels, the reality will be that a lot of people will be no better off, and the misery that many are in will be continuing.
Pay is now lower than it was in 2010, and wages are now falling again. Economic growth in the first three quarters of this year is the lowest since 2009 and the slowest of the major economies in the G7. It is a record of failure, with a forecast of more to come.
Economic growth has been revised down. Productivity growth has been revised down; business investment, revised down; people’s wages and living standards, revised down. What sort of strong economy is that? What sort of “fit for the future” is that?
You may recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the deficit was due to be eradicated by 2015. Then that moved to 2016; then to 2017; then to 2020. And now we are looking at 2025. The Government are missing their major targets, but the failed and damaging policy of austerity remains.
The number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010. This year, 120,000 children will spend Christmas in temporary accommodation. Three new pilot schemes to look at rough sleeping across the whole country simply does not cut it. We want action now to help those poor people who are forced to sleep on our streets and beg for—[Interruption.]
Order. I think the Whips should know better. Mr Spencer, I am sure you could relax—please, we do not need any more from you. If not, leave the Chamber.
The point I was making is that three new pilot schemes for rough sleepers simply does not cut it. It is a disaster for those people sleeping on our streets and forced to beg for the money for a night shelter. They are looking for action now from Government to give them a roof over their heads.
In some parts of the country, life expectancy is actually beginning to fall. The last Labour Government lifted 1 million children out of poverty—it was an amazing achievement. Under this Government, an extra 1 million children will be plunged into poverty by the end of this Parliament. Some 1.9 million pensioners, or one in six of all pensioners, are living in poverty—the worst rate anywhere in western Europe. So, it is falling pay, slow growth and rising poverty. This is what the Chancellor has the cheek to call a strong economy.
The Chancellor’s predecessor said they would put the burden on
“those with the broadest shoulders”—[Official Report,
Personal debt levels are rising: 8.3 million people are over-indebted. If the Chancellor wants to help people out of debt, he should back Labour’s policy for a real living wage of £10 an hour by 2020. Working-class young people are now leaving university with £57,000-worth of debt because this Government—his Government—trebled tuition fees. The new Government policy is to win over young people by keeping fees at £9,250 per year—more debt for people who want to learn.
But that is just one of the multitudes of injustices presided over by this Government. Another is universal credit, which we called on Ministers to pause and fix. That is the view of this House. It is the verdict of those on the frontline.
Mr Pincher, you shouted out “Keep going,” and the right hon. Gentleman will—but you will be going out of the Chamber.
Order. Silence—that’s the difference. It will be in silence.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Maybe Government Members would like to listen to Martin’s experience. A full-time worker on the minimum wage, he said:
“I get paid four weekly meaning that my pay date is different each month”.
Because, under the universal credit system, he was paid twice in a month and deemed to have earned too much, his universal credit was cut off. He says:
“This led me into rent arrears and I had to use a food bank for the first time in my life”.
That is the humiliation that he and so many others have gone through because of the problems of universal credit. Would it not have been better to pause the whole thing and look at the problems it has caused?
The Chancellor’s solution to a failing system causing more debt is to offer a loan, and a six-week wait, with 20% waiting even longer, simply becomes a five-week wait. This system has been run down by £3 billion of cuts to work allowances, the two-child limit and the perverse and appalling rape clause, and it has caused evictions because housing benefit is not paid direct to the landlord. So I say to the Chancellor again: put this system on hold so it can be fixed and keep 1 million of our children out of poverty.
For years, we have had the rhetoric of a long-term economic plan that never meets its targets when what all too many people are experiencing is long-term economic pain—and hardest hit are disabled people, single parents and women—so it is disappointing that the Chancellor did not back the campaign by my hon. Friend Dawn Butler to end period poverty. He could have done that. Well done her on the campaign; shame on him for not supporting it.
The Conservatives’ manifesto in the last election disappeared off their website after three days, and now some Ministers have put forward some half-decent proposals conspicuously borrowed from the Labour manifesto. Let me tell the Chancellor: as socialists, we are happy to share ideas. The Communities Secretary called for £50 million of borrowing to invest in house building; presumably, the Prime Minister slapped him down for wanting to bankrupt Britain. The Health Secretary has said that the pay cap is over, but where is the money to fund the pay rise?
The Chancellor has not been clear today—not for NHS workers, our police, firefighters, teachers, teaching assistants, bin collectors, tax collectors, or armed forces personnel—so will he listen to Claire? She says:
“My Mum works for the NHS. She goes above and beyond for her patients. Why does the government think it’s ok to under pay, over stress and underappreciate all that work?”
The NHS chief executive says:
“The budget for the NHS next year is well short of what is currently needed”.
From what the Chancellor has said today, it is still going to be well short of what is needed. He said in 2015 that the Government would fund another 5,000 GPs, but in the last year we have had 1,200 fewer GPs—and we have lost community nurses and mental health nurses. The Chancellor promised £10 billion in 2015 and delivered £4.5 billion. So if he does not mind, we will wait for the small print on today’s announcement—but even what he said certainly falls well short of the £6 billion Labour would have delivered from our June manifesto.
Over 1 million of our elderly are not receiving the care they need. Over £6 billion will have been cut from social care budgets by next March. [Interruption.] I hope Andrew Griffiths begins to understand what is like to wait for social care stuck in a hospital bed, with other people having to give up their work to care for them. The uncaring, uncouth attitude of certain Government Members has to be called out—[Interruption.]
That is why social care budgets are so important for so many very desperate people in our country.
Our schools will be 5% worse off by 2019 despite the Conservative manifesto promising that no school would be worse off. Five thousand head teachers from 25 counties wrote to the Chancellor saying:
“we are simply asking for the money that is being taken out of the system to be returned”.
A senior science technician, Robert, wrote to me saying:
“My pay” has been
“reduced by over 30%. I’ve seen massive cuts at my school. Good teachers and support staff leave.”
That is what does for the morale both of teachers and students in school. According to this Government, 5,000 head teachers are wrong, Robert is wrong, the IFS is wrong—everybody is wrong except the Chancellor.
If the Chancellor bothered to listen to what local government is saying, he would know that it has been warning that services for vulnerable children are under more demand than ever, with more children being taken into care and more in desperate need of help and support. Yet councils are labouring with a £2 billion shortfall in the cost of dealing with vulnerable children. Local councils will have lost 80% of their direct funding by 2020. The reality of this across the country is women’s refuges closing, youth centres closing, libraries closing, museums closing, and public facilities understaffed, under-resourced and under-financed—it could be so different—but compassion can cost very little. Just £10 million is needed to establish the child funeral fund campaigned for so brilliantly by my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris. Why could not the Chancellor at least have agreed to fund that?
Under this Government, there are 20,000 fewer police officers, and another 6,000 community support officers and 11,000 fire service staff have been cut as well. You cannot keep communities safe on the cheap. Tammy explains:
“Our police presence has been taken away” from her village
“meaning increasing crime. As a single parent I no longer feel safe in my own village, particularly” at night.
Five and a half million workers earn less than the living wage—1 million more than five years ago. The Chancellor, last Sunday, could not even see 1.4 million people unemployed in this country. There is a crisis of low pay and insecure work affecting one in four women and one in six men, with a record 7.4 million people in working households living in poverty. If we want workers earning better pay and less dependent on in-work benefits, we need strong trade unions—the most effective way of boosting workers’ pay. Instead, this Government weakened trade unions and introduced employment tribunal fees, now scrapped thanks to the victory in the courts by Unison—a trade union representing its members.
Why did not the Chancellor take the opportunity to make two changes to control debt: first, to cap credit card debt, so that nobody pays back more than they borrowed; and secondly, to stop credit card companies increasing people’s credit limit without their say-so? Debt is being racked up because the Government are weak on those who exploit people, such as rail companies hiking fares above inflation year on year, and water companies and energy suppliers. During the general election, the Conservatives promised an energy cap that would benefit
“around 17 million families on standard variable tariffs”, but every bill tells millions of families that the Government have broken that promise.
With £10 billion in housing benefit going into the pockets of private landlords every year, housing is a key factor in driving up the welfare bill. There were not too many words from the Chancellor about excessive rents in the private rented sector. With this Government delivering the worst rate of house building since the 1920s and a quarter of a million fewer council homes, any commitment would be welcome, but we have been here before. The Government promised 200,000 starter homes three years ago; not a single one has been built in those three years. We need a large-scale, publicly funded house building programme, not this Government’s accounting tricks and empty promises. Yes, we back the abolition in stamp duty for first-time buyers—because it was another Labour policy in our manifesto in June, not a Tory one.
This Government’s continual preference for spin over substance means that across this country the words “northern powerhouse” and “midlands engine” are now met with derision. Yorkshire and Humber gets only a 10th of the transport investment per head given to London. Government figures show that every region in the north of England has seen a fall in spending on services since 2012. The midlands, east and west, receives less than 8% of total transport infrastructure investment, compared with the 50% that goes to London. In the east and west midlands, one in four workers is paid less than the living wage—so much for the midlands engine. Re-announced funding for the trans-Pennine rail route will not cut it, and today’s other announcements will not redress the balance.
Combined with counterproductive austerity, this lack of investment has consequences in sluggish growth and shrinking pay packets. Public investment has virtually halved. Under this Government, Britain has the lowest rate of public investment in the G7, but it is now investing in driverless cars, after months of road testing back-seat driving in the Government.
By moving from RPI to CPI indexation on business rates, the Chancellor has adopted another Labour policy, but why do the Government not go further and adopt Labour’s entire business rates pledge, including exempting plant and machinery, and an annual revaluation of business rates?
Nowhere has the Government’s chaos been more evident than over Brexit. Following round after round of fruitless Brexit negotiations, the Brexit Secretary has been shunted out for the Prime Minister, who has got no further. Every major business organisation has written to the Government, telling them to pull their finger out and get on with it. Businesses are delaying crucial investment decisions, and if this Government do not get their act together, those businesses will soon be taking relocation decisions.
Crashing out with no deal and turning Britain into a tax haven would damage people’s jobs and living standards, serving only a wealthy few. It is not as though this Government are not doing their best to protect tax havens and their clients in the meantime. The Paradise papers have again exposed how a super-rich elite is allowed to get away with dodging taxes. This Government have opposed measure after measure in this House—their Tory colleagues have done the same in the European Parliament—to clamp down on the tax havens that facilitate this outrageous leaching from our public purse. Non-paid tax and clever reinvestment to get away with tax hit hospitals, schools and housing, and they hit the poorest and most needy in our society. There is nothing moral about dodging tax; there is everything immoral about evading it.
Too often, it feels as though there is one rule for the super-rich and another for the rest of us. The horrors of Grenfell Tower were a reflection of a system that puts profits before people and that fails to listen to working-class communities. In 2013, the Government received advice in a coroner’s report that sprinklers should be fitted in all high-rise buildings. Today, once again, the Government failed to fund the £1 billion investment needed. The Chancellor says that councils should contact them, but Nottingham and Westminster have done so, and they have been refused; nothing was offered to them. We have the privilege of being Members of Parliament, in a building that is about to be retrofitted with sprinklers to protect us. The message is pretty clear: this Government care more about what happens here than about what happens to people living in high-rise homes, in effect saying that they matter less.
Our country is marked by growing inequality and injustice. We were promised, with lots of hype, a revolutionary Budget, but the reality is that nothing has changed. People were looking for help from this Budget, and they have been let down by a Government who, like the economy that they have presided over, are weak and unstable, and in need of urgent change. They call this a Budget fit for the future; the reality is that they are a Government no longer fit for office.
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to take part in a Budget debate for my first time as Chair of the Treasury Committee. If media reports are to be believed, I am not the only former Education Secretary who is using “long, economicky words” at the moment. At this point in the debate, my predecessor as Chair of the Committee would always congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on making the most difficult speech of the parliamentary year. I am happy to continue that tradition, although much of the Leader of the Opposition’s speech appeared to have been written in advance, and I suspect he will want to look at more of the detail of the Budget and to find more to welcome in the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
Today, it was perhaps the Chancellor who had the hardest task. Beset by demands for more public spending, rising economic uncertainty and downgrades in forecasts, he has taken a common-sense approach that will no doubt displease many on both sides of the Chamber. We have to remember, however, that it is only thanks to seven years of common sense and concerted efforts by Conservative-led Governments to reduce the deficit and restore credibility to the public finances that the UK has the resilience necessary to face the challenges ahead.
The reclassification of housing associations might have given the Chancellor some timely room for manoeuvre, but it does not alter the underlying picture or the risks in the outlook, and those risks could grow. Although the OBR has made a more negative assessment of productivity, it still forecasts a relatively benign Brexit—a smooth adjustment to the new trade arrangement, with no cliff-edge in March 2019. But that cannot be guaranteed, and even though a transitional arrangement that would allow for such a smooth adjustment is manifestly in the interests of both the UK and the EU, it might, of course, not happen. The Treasury Committee will be looking closely at the consequences of failing to reach a deal on transition and expects to make a report to the House in the coming weeks.
Beyond the public finances, household balance sheets are also under pressure. Rising interest rates, high inflation, lower wage growth and a working-age benefits freeze all stand to put pressure on ordinary households. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out two important principles for Conservative-led Governments: first, work should always pay; and, secondly, people should keep more of the money that they earn. I am happy, as I think all Conservative Members are, to support him on those two principles.
The pressures on household finances—the Committee is looking at them as part of our inquiry into household finances—will be exacerbated, particularly for the younger generation, if action is not taken to tackle long-standing problems in the housing market, as my right hon. Friend said. I therefore welcome the measures on housing. He has announced a comprehensive package on skills, land availability and financial incentives to get Britain building. I also welcome the review that will be chaired by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin. We always know there is a problem when my right hon. Friend is sent for to solve it. He will look at the gap between permissions granted and houses built, and why it exists.
I also hugely welcome, as I think all Conservative Members will, the stamp duty cut for first-time buyers. As the Chancellor said, it will make home ownership a reality for more young people. The Committee intends to hear from housing experts as part of our Budget scrutiny, and we will investigate whether the rousing wartime rhetoric of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government matches the reality of what has been announced today.
Of course, pressures on the public finances and on household balance sheets can be alleviated in the long term only if, as the Chancellor said, productivity growth improves. I welcome very much his further investment in the national productivity investment fund, and he was right to emphasise the challenge regarding productivity in the UK, which is now the weakest in the G7. The average UK worker has to slog from 9 until 5 to produce the same value of output that a worker in Germany produces between the hours of 9 and 3. The regional disparities in the UK are even greater, so I welcome what the Chancellor said about more devolution. I do not know where the Leader of the Opposition got the idea that Conservative Members do not take seriously the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine. I can tell him, as a midlands Member of Parliament, that we take them very seriously. We believe in devolution.
There are no easy solutions to the UK’s weak productivity, but we can do two things to help with the productivity puzzle. The first is better infrastructure, including digital infrastructure. The chair of the National Infrastructure Commission told the Treasury Committee recently that the big political divide in infrastructure policy is not between the parties, but between action and inaction. The Chancellor must act on the commission’s recommendations when they are published, and I welcome his commitment today to implement its recommendations on the Oxford-Milton Keynes Corridor. I also welcome the proposal for discounted lending to local authorities so that they can invest in infrastructure.
The second response on productivity is to retain the UK’s historical commitment to openness to trade, investment and migration. Global Britain must be a reality, not just a slogan. The economic case for leaving the EU has always rested—and continues to rest—on openness, and we must not allow the Brexit process to mark the start of a descent into economic nationalism. It is only through productivity growth that households can be weaned off consumer credit without cutting their consumption and reducing their living standards. It is only through productivity growth that the Chancellor has any hope of meeting demands for additional spending—on welfare, social care, prisons, the NHS, public sector pay and Brexit contingency measures—without damaging the Government’s hard-won reputation for fiscal credibility.
For the avoidance of doubt, let us for the thousandth time dismiss the idea that a Brexit-induced fiscal windfall will relieve the pressures on our health service. There are no easy choices and there is no pot of gold under the Brexit rainbow. Those who persist with this myth may win short-term approval from certain quarters of the media, but only at the cost of long-term damage to trust in politics.
On the industrial strategy, the Chancellor is absolutely right to have identified the technology revolution and to say that Britain is at the forefront of it. He is right to identify the need for more young people to learn maths and computer science to a higher level. We have to find a way of exciting everyone in this country—the next generation, and their parents and grandparents—about the technology revolution. We need them to be confident that they have the skills that will meet the demands of the future labour market, rather than frightened by change in the 21st century. This key part of our plan for a fairer Britain will unlock prosperity.
May I pick up the point about education funding? The Government proposed £3 billion of cuts, which was reduced to just under £2 billion, but that means that there is still a £2 billion gap in our education funding system, and the Chancellor said nothing about how schools will cope with that. Does the right hon. Lady agree that there ought to have been some thinking about investment in our schools to prevent the reversal of the progress that has been made?
First, I can say to the hon. Lady—I am pleased to serve with her on the Treasury Committee—that educational standards have actually improved dramatically in this country during the past seven years. I do not recognise her figures. The Secretary of State for Education announced an extra £1.3 billion for schools in July, and this Government are spending more on schools than any previous Government. If the hon. Lady is really concerned, she will want to deal with the debt that this Government are still paying off, given that we spend almost as much as our schools budget on paying debt interest.
The Chancellor announced a number of new tax measures. I was pleased that he said that our tax system can help to protect our environment. That is an important signal to send to those who are particularly concerned about the environment and to the next generation.
I welcome the exemption on the vehicle excise duty supplement for new zero-emission-capable taxis, so I thank the Chancellor for listening to representations. Through the right hon. Lady, may I urge the Chancellor to bring forward that measure so that it will kick in earlier than April 2019, because many such vehicles will be on the road from next month and we will want drivers to be able to take advantage of these new zero-emission-capable and environmentally friendly taxis?
Order. May I just say, because the hon. Gentleman will want to make a separate speech, that if Members make interventions, they should please make them short?
It is also a pleasure to serve with the hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Committee. I am sure that the Chancellor will have has heard what he said. I am also sure that the Chancellor is looking forward to appearing in front of the Committee on
Hidden in the Budget book is the really terrible news that no new money is available for renewables until 2025, but at the same time the Chancellor is giving away yet more tax breaks to oil and gas. How on earth is that compatible with a forward-looking country that is serious about climate change?
This Government have done incredibly well in supporting the renewables industry. The renewable energy industry in the midlands is thriving. Again, however, the Committee may well want to take that up with the Chancellor.
I welcome the move on business rates—the change from RPI to CPI is very welcome—and I particularly welcome the move on the staircase tax, about which the Chancellor was asked when he appeared before the Committee recently. The approach builds on the evidence he gave, and I hope he is right about the cross-party support that the measure will be able to receive.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the changes to business rates will be particularly valuable for shops, restaurants and office premises in outer London, which are squeezed between the bright lights of central London and large out-of-town shopping centres, and for which the fixed cost of business rates is particularly heavy?
That is an excellent point. Of course I agree with my hon. Friend.
I was just coming on to the Chancellor’s measures on taxing digital businesses, which is also very important for bricks-and-mortar retail businesses. Although the change is perhaps modest, an important principle has been established about the taxation of digital businesses that do business in this country. I welcome what the Chancellor has said about tax avoidance and evasion measures. I think he said that we will spend £155 million on HMRC’s revenue-collecting ability in order to collect £2.3 billion. That sounds very encouraging, but the Committee will of course probe those estimates.
I commend my right hon. Friend for continuing the practice of publishing a distributional analysis showing how the Budget affects households in different parts of the income distribution. That analysis, which provides an unprecedented level of transparency about the consequences of the Budget for ordinary people, emerged only as a result of pressure by the Treasury Committee over the previous two Parliaments, and there might be more work for the Committee to do in this one. What is not yet included in the Treasury’s analysis is an assessment of the gender impact of the Budget—an analysis of how much men and women stand to gain or lose from the Chancellor’s decisions. It will not surprise Members to hear the first female Chair of the Treasury Committee saying that my Committee will take written evidence, including from the Women’s Budget Group, on the merits of such an analysis.
Before I conclude, I want to remind the House about the Treasury Committee’s role in scrutinising the OBR and upholding its independence. There is widespread agreement across the House that the creation of the OBR vastly improved the credibility and quality of economic and fiscal forecasting, and empowered Members of Parliament to hold the Government to account on their fiscal policy. However, in this febrile political atmosphere, we must remember that the OBR is still young, so its hard-won reputation could be fatally undermined if the motives and good faith of its leadership are impugned by those who disagree with its findings. The OBR has a powerful line of accountability to Parliament, thanks to the Committee’s statutory veto on the appointment and dismissal of its senior leadership. We will seek assurances that the OBR has done its work without political interference, we will subject its forecasts to critical scrutiny and, if necessary, we will defend its integrity. As I have said, the Committee looks forward to hearing from the Chancellor on the Budget measures, and the economic and fiscal outlook, when he appears before us in two weeks’ time.
The UK faces many challenges. Brexit hangs over this place and the UK like a cloud. Some people think there is a silver lining; others think there will be more rain and fog. It was therefore important that today’s Budget showed that the Government are determined to do more than just negotiate our path out of the EU. I believe the Chancellor has more than achieved that with everything he announced today.
I want to wish the Chancellor all the best. He talks about preparing for the future, but let us look at the reality of the figures contained in the OBR book. We are faced with the United Kingdom falling to the bottom of growth in the G7. When we look at GDP per capita for the years 2019 and 2020, we see that the OBR has reduced its forecasts from 1.7% to 0.7% for 2019 and from 1.9% to 0.7% for 2020. That is what post-Brexit Britain is going to look like—an absolute shredding of growth forecasts for the next three years. The OBR talks about GDP—
No, I will not, because this is the third party speech and the practice is that it is not to be intervened on.
The change in GDP that we will see in the OBR book is a cut to GDP of 2.7%—that is what this Government are presiding over. It is a threat to the wages, living standards and job prospects of people up and down the United Kingdom. This Government should be ashamed of themselves. When we look at the rhetoric of the Budget speech—[Interruption.] Conservative Members are laughing, but we see a fiscal loosening in this Budget of 0.1%. That does not take into account the reality of the risks the people of the UK face.
Let me welcome the removal of VAT on our police and fire services, but remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, together with his friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, he was given the opportunity to support an SNP amendment to the Finance Bill in 2015 that would have removed VAT from Scotland—[Interruption.] I can hear the remarks that are coming from those on the Conservative Benches, but I remind them that the Conservative manifesto supported the establishment of Police Scotland. It was the vindictiveness and nastiness of the Tory Government that imposed VAT on Scotland, which has ripped £140 million out of our frontline services. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Scotland were given the opportunity in the 2015 Finance Bill to act they failed. It is a disgrace that we have had £140 million taken out of frontline spending—
The rules are that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Leader of the Opposition are not to be intervened on, but the courtesies go to the leader of the SNP here. He may wish not to give way, and that is his choice. What I suggest—[Interruption.] Order. He has made it clear that he wants the same courtesies that have been established for others, in which case he will not be giving way. So it will save us a lot of time if people do not keep standing.
Let me return to my point. It is an absolute disgrace that we have had £140 million taken out of frontline spending by a Tory Government ahead of this announcement. VAT should never have been charged to the Scottish police and fire services. The sole blame for that lies with the Conservative Government. [Interruption.]
Order. Mr Kerr, you are a normal, gentle person—a man who comes to Chorley and shows such dignity. I am hoping you will show me some dignity today.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The SNP spoke out, here and in Holyrood, 140 times before the Government finally saw sense. What about the £140 million that has been paid? The Chancellor has confirmed today what we knew all along: that it was a political choice to charge VAT on our emergency services. He has accepted that he was wrong, but I am calling on him and his friends from Scotland on the Tory Benches to make sure that we push for a refund of the VAT that has been paid over the past three years.
The Chancellor has painted a picture of a strong economy, ready for the impending economic disaster of Brexit. We all have to wonder just what planet he is on. Most workers are seeing a decline in their living standards and have done so since the financial crisis. We are living through the worst decade for wage growth in 210 years. Young people are going to be poorer than their parents. Housing has become unaffordable for many. The austerity economic model has failed millions—the Prime Minister alluded to that when she talked about those “just about managing”. Today’s Budget was an opportunity to address these challenges and make this a Budget for people and prosperity.
The reality is that nothing in this Budget deals with the challenges we face. We face the impending UK exit from Europe. We know that the Government are preparing for a no deal, yet the Chancellor made no mention of how the economy would cope with that. The cliff edge is before us and the Chancellor sits transfixed, unable or incapable of rising to the challenge. No doubt he recognises the economic self-harm that comes with leaving the single market and the customs union, but he has failed to act. Why? It is because the Brexiteers have set the agenda for this Government and the Chancellor is without the authority to challenge the madness. The Chancellor, like his Government, is in office but not in power.
We know that the Prime Minister has to present a financial settlement to the EU27 over the coming days, yet there was no mention of that in the statement—none at all. This Government have to take their head out of the sand and accept that the future indicates the likelihood of significant economic self-harm.
Before the winds of Brexit hit us, the starting position for millions of people is that by then they will have already been struggling with nine years of austerity. The cuts being imposed on public services mean impacts on service delivery, and public service workers in particular are feeling the squeeze. This Budget shows that the Chancellor is either blind to what is going on or is behaving like a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights. Either way, people are going to pay the price for his lack of leadership. [Interruption.] I can see the Chancellor saying, “An extra £2 billion for Scotland”, but let me tell this House the reality: it is a £250 million cut in real terms. That is what the Government here are delivering to the people of Scotland.
This Government used to speak of the empty rhetoric of the “long-term economic plan”, but they have failed to provide a vision and have no plan for delivering prosperity. The long-term economic plan has given way to no plan. Scratch the surface of the economy and we see a structure barely coping with the state of society: a structure that is so unfairly built in the favour of the wealthy that we have created a situation where we have the worst wage growth in 200 years and the IFS tells us that an additional 400,000 children will be in “absolute poverty” within six years due to the benefits cuts that are to come. Let us remind ourselves that there are still £12 billion of welfare cuts to come from this Tory Government.
The case is that working people are paying the price for this Government’s ideological obsession with austerity—and let us make no mistake, it is an ideological obsession. It is a pity that people watching and listening to this cannot see the Conservative Members sitting there laughing while people in our country are paying the price—those Members should be utterly ashamed of themselves. Effective stewardship of our economy has to recognise the importance of fiscal and monetary policy working in tandem to create the circumstances of sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Any disconnect leads to a failure to deliver an economy that works for all, and that is precisely what is happening. A failure to deliver a Budget for prosperity hits all workers, in particular those in the public sector.
In September, the Scottish Government became the first in the UK to announce they will scrap the public sector pay cap, as our nurses, teachers, police officers and firefighters deserve a fair deal for the future. Future pay rises will be based on the cost of living. Today, the Chancellor betrayed public sector workers by refusing to fund a fair pay rise.
It is not just the squeeze on pay that is leaving low earners struggling to get by; the UK Government’s social security cuts are specifically designed to remove the welfare state. The SNP will never accept this ideological attack on the most vulnerable in our society. The damaging and destructive universal credit system must be halted and fixed. I welcome some of the things that we have heard today, but they simply do not go far enough. The cuts to work allowances are still taking place. While young people are pushed into poverty, universal credit is not fit for purpose. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should call a halt to it today and reform the system properly.
We also call on the Chancellor to scrap the two-child policy and the immoral rape clause. According to the IFS, the two-child cap on tax credits will mean about 600,000 three-child families losing £2,500 a year on average and about 300,000 families with four or more children losing a whopping £7,000 a year on average. Most of those families are in work. If we want to make work pay, let us remove the rape clause.
There is nothing in the Budget for the women born in the 1950s who are seeing a rise in their pensionable age of up to six years, without proper notice. That is depriving millions of a pension that they have paid for and that they are entitled to. Time and again, the Government have been asked to slow down the rate of increase in women’s pensionable age. It is increasing at a rate of three months for each calendar month. Either the Chancellor decides to act now to deliver fairness to 1950s women, or he will find that Parliament does it for him. There is a private Member’s Bill that calls for mitigation to be put in place for 1950s women. I say to the Government: recognise the cross-party nature of that Bill and act, or face defeat.
While the Tory attack on benefits pushes more families into poverty, the financial squeeze on household incomes continues as Brexit bites. Today, inflation sits at 3%. Prices are rising at a faster rate than wages. The Resolution Foundation has calculated that inflation of 3% combined with the benefits freeze will impact on 7.3 million children, 2.4 million disabled people and 800,000 people looking for work. There was no answer to that from the Chancellor—there was nothing in the Budget.
Let me tell the Chancellor and those on the Tory Benches what life is like outside the gilded rooms of Whitehall: electricity bills have increased by 9%—[Interruption.] You laugh, when people in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom have seen electricity prices rise by 9%. [Interruption.] You really ought to be ashamed of yourself and I hope that your electorate hold you to account. I refer, by the way, to the hon. Member—the so-called honourable Member—for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant).
The price of children’s clothing has increased by 6.7% and the price of butter by 12%. Bus and coach fares have risen by 13% and train fares by 3.4%. Transport insurance is up by 12.6%, motor vehicle insurance by 13% and travel insurance by 10%. That is the reality for ordinary working people in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
While inflation is making the cost of the weekly shop soar, real wages are falling. There was nothing in the Budget to address that. The rise in inflation and the squeeze on wages are creating a crisis for low-income earners. Between 2010 and 2016, official GDP per employee had risen by 3.5%, yet real wages are 1.1% lower, when adjusted for consumer prices index inflation. If inflation is calculated to include housing costs, real wages are down by 7.2%. That is the economic record of the Tory Government. The collapse of UK productivity growth has driven low growth and stagnant wages.
While many of my constituents and families across the UK are relying on credit cards to put food on the table, a different story is unfolding in the City. Under the Tory Government, boardroom pay has soared. From 2010 to 2016, the average remuneration for FTSE 100 chief executive officers almost doubled. The average remuneration of an executive director has doubled from £1.5 million to £3.1 million.
The inequality goes much deeper. European Commission figures reveal that the UK had the biggest increase in the EU’s gender pay gap in 2015. The difference in average hourly pay between male and female workers jumped from 19.7% in 2014 to 20.8% in 2015. In effect, women are working unpaid for more than two months a year compared with men.
The Government have not only driven thousands into poverty; they have failed to invest in building an inclusive economy fit for future generations. The legacy this Chancellor leaves is an economy that works only for the rich and the reckless. We need a Government that will create the circumstances to deliver inclusive, sustainable economic growth; a Government that will encourage investment, enhance innovation and drive up productivity and living standards; a Government that recognise that monetary and fiscal policy have to work in unison. The focus on monetary policy has driven up house prices and stocks and shares, but failed to drive investment in the real economy.
Back in 2009, quantitative easing was an obvious choice as part of the attempt to restore confidence and growth, provided that it was matched with fiscal measures, such as investing in our infrastructure and building capacity in our economy, with a focus on investment to improve efficiency. There was an opportunity to invest in the economy to kick-start growth and productivity. However, under the steer of this Government, there was investment to benefit the wealthy. In the end, that has done nothing but exacerbate the gap between rich and poor.
Even the Bank of England has recognised the negative effect of this policy. In 2012, it said that although quantitative easing had increased asset prices, it had disproportionately benefited the top 5% of households. Standard & Poor’s argued that—[Interruption.] I see the Chancellor waving his hands, but this is important and something for which he ultimately has to take responsibility. Standard & Poor’s argued last year that inflating asset prices had exacerbated the gap between rich and poor. It found that the wealthiest 10% of households held 56% of all net financial assets in 2008, and that by 2014 the proportion of the nation’s wealth in the hands of the richest 10% had increased to 65%.
It is easy to see why the Tories do not want to change this policy. Reducing inequality has never been one of their aims. The evidence is stark: quantitative easing has mostly benefited those who started with considerable wealth. The FTSE 100 was sitting at 3,805 on
A further £70 billion was invested in QE after the Brexit vote, taking the programme to £435 billion. That is £435 billion that has been put on to our debt, with no plan for how it will be repaid. We could have invested in our infrastructure, for example by dealing with the demand for housing and dampening the rise in house prices at affordable levels. We could have invested in connectivity—in transport and in digital—to allow our citizens and businesses to compete, rather than being caught in the slow lane of transport snarl-ups and fighting to get decent broadband or mobile connectivity. Such investment in our people and infrastructure would have grown the economy and tax receipts, allowing us to cut the deficit. There would have been a payback. The Government could have supported businesses at the same time as supporting people. They cannot tell us that there is no money when they can invest an additional £70 billion in QE at the drop of hat. They must take responsibility and create the circumstances for inclusive growth and prosperity. Of course, taking responsibility is not something that this Government do.
Some £6.9 billion is lost to our schools and hospitals every year because the Government have failed to tackle aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion. I call on them to take tough new action to ensure that the richest in society and the biggest corporations pay the taxes they owe in full. They have chosen to cut public spending while protecting the super-rich—of course, the Tories are the party of the super-rich. If they will not take the action required, they should devolve the powers needed to tackle the issue to the Scottish Parliament.
When I asked the Chancellor last month about any assessment he had made of the interrelationship between monetary and fiscal policy, the answer I got was that monetary policy was the responsibility of the Bank of England. There was no regard for a link between the two. It is left to the Bank of England to shine a light on the failure of the Chancellor to engage in joined-up thinking. In written evidence to the Treasury Committee, the Bank of England admitted that the steep rises in house prices in the decade preceding the crisis, together with a fall in long-term interest rates, has led to
“a sharp rise in intergenerational dispersion of wealth benefiting in particular older people who had already entered the market before prices began to rise.”
The Government have avoided every opportunity to invest in young people. What hope—[Interruption.] The Chancellor says, “Rubbish”. I am afraid I am actually giving him facts from respected institutions, not least the Bank of England. Is the Chancellor really saying that the Bank of England is wrong as well? I think the Bank of England might have something to say about that.
What hope do millennials have to cling on to? Robbed of their housing allowance and lumbered with chronic student debt, this Government have gone out of their way to avoid investing in young people. The intergenerational wealth unfairness is creating the perfect storm for future generations. Research from the Resolution Foundation shows that today’s 27-year-olds are earning the same amount that 27-year-olds did a quarter of a century ago. A typical millennial has actually earned £8,000 less during their twenties than those in the preceding generation.
We have missed chance after chance to invest in inclusive growth opportunities. The Government have been the proverbial one-club golfer relying on monetary measures, but in a vacuum. Even the IFS has warned the Chancellor about his calculations. First of all we had George Osborne proclaim he wanted to balance the books by 2015. That did not happen. Now the current Chancellor wants to eliminate borrowing by the mid-2020s. But with Brexit set to hit the economy, even the IFS has called on him to abandon his fanciful fiscal targets. There is more uncertainty on forecasts now than ever before. The Chancellor himself told the Treasury Committee that a
“cloud of uncertainty is acting as a temporary damper, and we need to remove it as soon as possible”.
Well, there was nothing in the Budget today to remove it.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am in a giving mood. I will give the Chancellor a bit of fundamental economic advice. End the suicidal flirtation with a no-deal scenario, give business something to invest in and work on keeping the UK in the single market. The stupidity and recklessness of some on the Government Front Bench who rode around in that famous red bus has to be the most damaging economic pledge in modern history. They said £350 million a week for the NHS. Well, they are silent on that now. The Foreign Secretary and Environment Secretary should listen up, because here are some home truths about the mess they have created: the Bank of England has confirmed that 75,000 jobs are at risk in the financial sector owing to Brexit; the London School of Economics has revealed that Scotland’s towns and cities could lose up to £30 billion over five years; the Fraser of Allander Institute revealed that Brexit would cost Scotland up to 80,000 jobs and see wages fall by £2,000 a head per year; and now the Chancellor is planning for a no deal—a complete catastrophe which is unfolding on his watch. He knows how devastating such a path would be for the UK economy. He has given Departments £250 million to carry out work in preparation. To put that into context, that would pay for 11,553 new starter nurses, teachers or police officers.
It is not just the spending to fund Brexit that is costing communities, however. Leaving the EU will cut off the financial social funds we have benefited from for so long. This will be devastating for communities where poverty and destitution at the hands of the Tory austerity policies have seen volunteers pick up the pieces. Although as the UK haemorrhages EU funding and the Chancellor proclaims austerity is essential to save, he did manage to find £1 billion for the DUP—quite remarkable. The Chancellor found £1 billion for the Northern Irish Executive to spend on devolved areas, but no additional funds were provided to Scotland or any other part of the UK. Cash for votes—not very honourable at all.
And what use are the Scottish Conservatives, who pledged to work as a bloc to protect Scotland’s interests? That was their chance to shine: a golden opportunity to show they were prepared to put politics aside and stand up for Scotland. But no, party loyalty prevailed and now Scotland is being overlooked in this dodgy deal. This money cannot be processed until the discussions have concluded on the appropriateness of the way in which the UK Government decided to provide the additional financial support. The Barnett formula rules mean that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are entitled to an extra £2.9 billion and £1.67 billion respectively as a result of the deal. Where are the Scottish Tories standing up for that £2.9 billion that Scotland deserves? Where are the calls from the Scottish Tories for this UK Government to match the deal from Northern Ireland? They have been found wanting.
Year after year, the UK Government continue to let down our world-class oil and gas industry in the north-east of Scotland. Two years ago, the Conservatives boasted about the creation of a new oil and gas ambassador, who would
“promote the North Sea around the world and boost inward investment”.
How embarrassing, then, for the Chancellor that the role, two years later, has yet to be filled. It seems that the Chancellor and his Cabinet colleagues have simply forgotten about our North sea industry once again. Despite the Chancellor’s tight grip restraining Scotland’s economic potential, the SNP in Scotland has delivered for our people.
That was definitely not a point of order and the right hon. Lady knows it. She has provided a running commentary all the way through. I think I have heard more than enough for the time being and I want to get to the end of the speech by the leader of the SNP.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
In Scotland, international exports are up 41% between 2007 and 2015. The latest employment figures show that Scotland has higher employment rates and lower unemployment rates than the UK. Youth employment continues to outperform that in the UK. The Scottish Government fulfilled their commitment to reduce youth unemployment by 40% four years ahead of schedule—that is how to make fiscal targets.
But it is not just about the ability of the Scottish Government to deliver an inclusive society that works for all; it is their vision for an economy that benefits all. When the UK Government chose the rape clause, the Scottish Government chose the baby box. When the UK Government trebled tuition fees, the Scottish Government maintained the principle of free tuition for all. When the Conservatives pushed for a dementia tax, the Scottish Government stood by free personal care for the elderly. We know that an economy is not just a tool for inclusive growth, but is central to the social fabric of the society in which we grow up. It is time for an economy that benefits all. End the damaging austerity agenda and stop the catastrophic ideological obsession with a Brexit no deal.
Order. Just to say that we are going over to 10-minute speeches.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. This morning in Cabinet Office questions, the First Secretary of State claimed that the consultation on the contaminated blood scandal had been extended until the end of October this year at the request of the all-party group. That is not correct. In fact, the all-party group had asked for an extension of the original date of the consultation, which was in August 2017. Many people have contacted me, concerned that this is now being used as a reason why progress has not been made on the announcement of a chair and terms of reference, and I wondered if there was a way of correcting the record.
I think the hon. Lady has already achieved that. She has put a correction on the record.
It is a relief to rise after the speech from the SNP spokesman, which was actually longer than the official Opposition’s—and half as riveting.
Budget resolutions tend to be about figures and statements that can be quite dry and which are often leaked before the actual Budget statement, so I am delighted that one of its headline measures—the scrapping of stamp duty on properties up to £300,000—was not leaked. It was an exciting announcement.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way—something that the SNP spokesman was not prepared to do, for whatever reason. Does she agree that the Chancellor’s announcement on stamp duty presents an almighty challenge to the Scottish Government, whose land and buildings transaction tax has been an unmitigated disaster, and does she think that the leader of the SNP in Westminster should go to the First Minister and suggest that the policy be followed in Scotland?
I am sure that SNP Members have heard my hon. Friend’s point and will take it forward—tomorrow, I would imagine.
I wish to address an issue that is very close to my heart—and actually the reason I became a Conservative MP in the first place: home ownership. We have heard today measures that amount to a revolution in housebuilding: the target of 300,000 homes per year and the establishment of Homes England to bring together all the strands needed to meet this target. It will deal with people who land grab, the planning application process and the training of skilled artisans and workmen to build the homes. Homes England will have the authority required to drive forward that degree of home ownership.
It is sometimes easy to forget what home ownership means to many people, and we have not seen measures like these in the UK since the 1970s. I am one of those Members who understands the value of home ownership more than most. I lived in a council house until I was in my late 20s, and I was reminded of this earlier in the year while canvassing in a constituency that was not mine—it was in Luton in Stopsley ward. A lady on whose door I knocked said to me, “Oh, I know you. You’re not standing here, but I couldn’t vote for you anyway because you support home ownership.” I found that quite remarkable, because I was knocking not on a council estate door but on a private, well-appointed home.
It was a seminal moment for me. This lady said to me, “The thing is, Nadine, I’m a trade unionist, and I abhor right to buy and home ownership, because people with mortgages don’t strike.” We then discussed how people, when they buy a home, prioritise their own private capital over and above the social capital. She was a principled lady with strong views, and I never want to diminish somebody else’s point of view—it is just as relevant as mine. She can abhor home ownership as much as I adore it, although the end of our conversation was interesting. I asked her if she was in private rented accommodation, and she told me it was her own home. That was an interesting moment.
That said, I took on board this lady’s points. She said, “You should not be a Conservative. You should be a Labour politician. You come from a council estate. I know your background.” It was very interesting. Indeed, I have witnessed what happens to people when they are given the opportunity to buy their own home. I will describe what it is like not to own a home. So many people are in that position right now. On my estate, every door was painted the same colour—by the council—and the gardens on the ground floors were divided by packing cases and wooden pallets. There were no flowers and what had been gardens had become patches of mud. Life was pretty grey and people worked at the Ford’s factory and nobody had any particular aspiration to do anything else.
When people began to own those council houses, however, it seemed to change overnight. People started to paint their front doors their own colours and express their individuality. The packing cases were ripped up and painted fences would be put in their place. Flowers were planted in the gardens. People started working overtime. The very first car was bought and arrived in our road. My mother, a teacher, was giving almost nightly classes to women knocking on the door for lessons because they wanted to go out to work—I regarded home ownership as a driver of equality for women because it gave them a reason to break free from the kitchen sink and get out to work.
I saw a transformation on the estate because of home ownership. Its benefits include family stability. If a family do not own, they rent, but is the most unstable position for a family to live in, as they have to move perhaps every six months and do not get to live in the kind of properties or areas they want to live in. People who buy their own homes can decide where to live and where to send their children to school.
My hon. Friend is making a typically powerful argument. Does this not drive people to aspire to home ownership? Is she aware that 80% of people who rent want to own their own home?
Absolutely. I was coming to exactly that point. I have spoken to members of staff here, and one of the most startling facts about them is that they have to wait until they are in at least their mid-30s before they can even think of putting their feet on the property ladder. I hope the measures announced today—the abolition of stamp duty and so on—will help them become homeowners.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady, and I have been a longstanding champion of people being able to own their own homes, but has she read what the OBR says about the stamp duty measure—that it will not help first-time buyers but push up prices by far more than people will save?
I share the desire that people be able to purchase their own home. I have a niece who lived in a council flat until two years ago. She chose to purchase that flat before the Scottish Government banned the sale of council houses, which would have denied her home ownership. In purchasing her flat, she saved herself £150 a month.
That is another illustration of how important it is that people can purchase their own homes.
In response to Liz Kendall, I could list the measures announced today: the abolition of stamp duty and the investment of an additional £15 billion in housebuilding, taking the total this Parliament to £44 billion. So it is not just the abolition of stamp duty; other measures are being put in place. People cannot own their own homes if there are not people to build those homes. I also welcome the review of the 270,000 planning permissions in London and why those homes have not been built—and it is not just in London; it is in my constituency and across the country.
Measures are being put in place to help councils build more. It is vital that we have more council homes and that local authorities have the powers to build them. We also need the targets for these urban and brownfield sites that have been lying dormant. We all know the areas—around Heathrow and in outer London. People work in London and want to live and be able to buy in London, rather than having to commute for two hours into London. All this is being looked at, and it will support the many young people in the capital who want to buy but have not been able to do so—and not just in the capital; in my constituency too. The complaint I get more than any other in my mailbox is from young people who want to stay and buy a home in Mid Bedfordshire but cannot and so are forced out.
I know that not everyone in my constituency will welcome my declaration that I want to see more house building, but I absolutely do. We must accept that we have reached a point at which we need to build more homes, and now is the time to do so. Throughout my 12 years in the House, I have been distressed by how little understanding there has been of the psyche of people, and how little emphasis has been placed on their need and desire to live in and purchase their own homes. I am delighted and relieved that that has finally been addressed today.
The Chancellor also announced investment in both road and rail in the east-west arc—the varsity arc, from Cambridge to Oxfordshire—which will go right past my constituency. I am delighted that that will bring high-tech jobs, build skills and infrastructure, and drive growth forward. As the Chancellor said, it means embracing innovation—embracing the future and change—and it is what we will need for a post-Brexit Britain. We need those high-tech jobs and growth corridors, as well as, in the midlands, the west-east link has been needed for so long. That investment is important; it is vital; it is essential for post-Brexit growth.
I think that we will become an island of opportunity, an island of development, an island of investment and growth. As well as the financial measures that are needed for the preparation for Brexit, I welcome all the other measures that have been announced today. I believe that, with the east-west corridor, the midlands growth engine and the northern powerhouse, we will be ready to embrace the post-Brexit world.
It is a privilege to follow Ms Dorries.
I fear that today’s Budget delivers more of the same. It does very little to help people in the everyday economy who are struggling to get by—struggling to get a foot on the housing ladder, to grow their business, or to gain security in work. I shall focus on two aspects of the Budget. I shall deal first with GDP and productivity, and secondly, like the hon. Lady, with housing supply and house prices.
The biggest influence on our standard of living—on whether we can afford to pay the bills, on how we are doing, and on whether our families can get on and do better than the previous generation—is how fast the economy is growing, and in the context of that most important metric, I think we can regard the Budget only as a failure of Government economic policy. For every single year of the forecast period, economic growth has been revised downwards, and that is not from particularly high levels in the first place. There has been a further downward revision since March this year, which is very worrying for many families in all our constituencies. I believe that, by 2022, GDP will be 2.7% lower than was predicted in March, and about 80% of the downgrade is due to lower productivity during that period. Productivity is now expected to be 27% lower than it would have been if it had continued to grow at its pre-crisis levels.
That is incredibly worrying. If we are to compete with countries throughout the world in the years to come, and to do so outside the European Union, we desperately need to boost our productivity, our research and development, our business investment and our investment in infrastructure. However, all the data and all the numbers published today by the Office for Budget Responsibility suggest that we are doing exactly the opposite. We are going in the wrong direction with those most important economic numbers relating to GDP and productivity. Our productivity is already 20% behind that of the United States, Japan and Germany, and we simply cannot afford to have further productivity downgrades.
Of course, downgrades in our GDP and productivity also have a real effect on Government borrowing and debt. Over the forecast period—the next five years—the productivity downgrade adds a staggering £90 billion to our borrowing trajectory. That is incredibly worrying, given its effect on not only living standards, but the public finances. We are simply not able to invest the money that we need to invest in universal credit, infrastructure, our national health service and our schools, because we are not delivering on the requirement for productive, well-paid jobs. The Government must take responsibility for that.
I look forward to the industrial strategy White Paper, which will, I hope, be published next week, but I must tell the Government that it will have to be a lot better than the Green Paper that we saw earlier in the year, which was incredibly disappointing and simply will not deliver the productivity performance that we need. It is 18 months since the Government’s productivity strategy, and since then every single estimate of productivity has been downward, not upward. What a missed opportunity, and what a failed strategy.
That is a very good point. If we are to ensure that everyone benefits from a growing economy—we just about have growth, but not very much of it—we must have an inclusive economy and an inclusive economic strategy that works for every member of all our communities.
The Government might respond by saying, “It’s okay Labour Members. There is a productivity investment fund worth £7 billion.” “Hurray,” we all say, but the money will not start until 2022-23. Why on earth do we have to wait five years for a productivity investment fund? We all recognise the desperate need to improve our productivity, so why wait five years before putting money and support into doing that? I should have thought that it would be an urgent priority for the Budget, not something that could be kicked down the road for five years.
Let me now deal with the issue of housing. I am afraid that I am much less optimistic about the Government’s plans than the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire, because over the last hour or so, I have been looking at the Office for Budget Responsibility’s “Economic and fiscal outlook”. I know that not everyone likes to listen to experts, but I am one of those people who still think that they are worth listening to. If we believe what the experts at the OBR are saying, all the housing measures—not just the stamp duty measure—in the Budget will increase house prices by 0.3%, and there will be no change in the supply of housing compared with that set out at the March Budget. Notwithstanding all today’s fanfare, the OBR’s verdict, which is on page 53 of its document, is that there will be no change in supply, just an increase in house prices, which is the exact opposite of what we need if we are to ensure that more young people and families can get on to the housing ladder. Although I think we all share that objective, it is not met by the measures that have been announced today.
I understand the hon. Lady’s interpretation of the report and her concern about it, but in areas such as St Albans where the average house price is more than £500,000, young people were helped on to the housing ladder by the previous Chancellor, and the present Chancellor will be helping young people to save some more of their money and put it towards buying their homes. That will be welcomed by many areas with high house prices. Surely the hon. Lady accepts that the stamp duty measure is welcome.
I am not making my own forecasts; I am taking those of the Office for Budget Responsibility. What people in St Albans, Mid Bedfordshire and Leeds West want is affordable housing and the ability to get on to the housing ladder, and that requires stable house prices and an increase in housing supply. According to the OBR, however, there will be no improvement in supply on the basis of the measures announced today, and house prices will be 0.3% higher than they would otherwise have been, so the measures will not have the desired effect. I understand that the hon. Lady wants her constituents to have those opportunities, but it does not sound as though her Chancellor’s Budget will enable them to do so. In fact, I think it will have the opposite effect.
I will make a little more progress, if that is okay.
On page 128 of its document, the OBR says that after the stamp duty changes, on the basis of its analysis, prices paid by first-time buyers will be higher with the relief than without it. Thus, it argues, the main gainers from the policy will be people who already own their properties, not first-time buyers. That is a terrible indictment of these housing policies. If that was supposed to be the Budget’s fanfare announcement, I am afraid that it has ended up being a bit of a damp squib.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is absurd to have a stamp duty limit for first-time buyers of £500,000, which implies they have an income of £150,000?
Yes. The OBR’s earnings forecast shows that that is another impediment to many people getting on the housing ladder. Incomes need to keep pace with the rising cost of living, especially house prices, but the average earnings forecast suggests that it will be harder still for many people to get on the housing ladder.
Does the hon. Lady accept, however, that an injection of 300,000 homes per year—if that target is reached—will stabilise the price of homes at the very least, because supply will be increased in a way that has not happened since the 1970s?
The hon. Lady’s argument is not with me, but with the OBR. It forecasts no increase in housing supply and says that these measures will benefit existing house owners, rather than those trying to get on the housing ladder. That is disappointing.
The plan for an additional 300,000 homes a year is a bit like the national productivity investment fund because the homes are not set to be delivered until the mid-2020s. However, all hon. Members will recognise that we need to build the houses now. We do not have seven or eight years to wait; families and first-time buyers need these homes today.
I will finish with a couple of remarks about Europe because the truth is that the biggest economic announcements for the rest of the year will really be the decision made in the middle of December about whether to move the talks between the European Commission and the UK Government on to trade, and the final agreement between the UK and the EU on future trading relationships. Despite the Government’s announcements today, the most important announcements for all our constituents will be made just a few weeks from now.
I urge the Government, in that time, to reflect on some of the evidence heard in the past couple of weeks by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which I chair. Honda told us that the cost of exporting a car would be about £1,800 more after we leave the EU than it is today, and that that amount far outweighs its profit margins, meaning that investment and jobs in this country are at risk. We also heard evidence from Aston Martin, which said that if it cannot get its vehicles certificated by the Vehicle Certification Agency in this country, it will have to stop production while it seeks such authorisation from the European Union. We took evidence yesterday from the aerospace sector, including Airbus, which said that countries are knocking on its doors and asking it to build aeroplane wings there, and that the risks of friction in trade will have real implications for its businesses and many others.
I urge the Government to do everything they can in the next few weeks to move the talks in Europe to the next level. If they do not, I am afraid that the issues of productivity, house building, earnings and all the other things we have been talking about will be pretty meaningless, because jobs could move overseas and we will not be able to have that free and frictionless trade from which we benefit so much today.
I remind the House of my business interests declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
A few weeks ago, I was strongly criticised by some for saying that we wanted realistically optimistic forecasts. I am delighted that the latest set of official forecasts are more realistically optimistic than the forecasts after the referendum vote, when we were told that we were going to plunge into recession and that the British economy would be badly damaged. I thought that that was completely wrong at the time; I argued strongly against it and am very pleased to be on the winning side. I welcome today’s realistic set of forecasts. Although they are still a tad pessimistic for next year and the year after, they are broadly in the right direction. The reason that they have been downgraded in this way—to which some Labour Members object—is that the OBR now does not think that we can get back the rate of productivity growth we had before the crash, because the rate of productivity growth has been disappointing around the world.
I now find that I am facing extremely distorted interpretations of something I wrote more recently, and would like to assure the House absolutely that I was extremely confident then—as I am now—about the prospects of the British economy. There has been a lot of inward investment in the United Kingdom economy, and those inward investment people were wise. The UK is a great place for people who want to set up a factory, expand a business, develop a new business, take on commercial space and hire a good workforce. [Interruption.] I can see that the Opposition think this is ridiculous, but that has always been my view, and anyone who suggests that that is not my view is simply making it up. I would like to get that very firmly on the record. They should have read the whole article and understood the point I was making, but they were clearly not able to do so.
Can we get productivity up? Well, the Chancellor has made some good proposals in his Budget, but it will take time. It really comes down to education, mentoring and training, and it is about taking our economy on to the next part of the journey. The recovery since the crash of ’09 has been gradual but progressive, and the Government rightly take pride in the success of many British businesses and people in generating 3 million extra jobs and getting many more people into work. The next part of the journey is trying to get people into better paid work. That is about the Government, further education colleges, universities and schools working with young people and people already in work on training programmes so that they get the extra skills to adapt and improve. It is easier to get a better paid job from a job than to get one from unemployment.
I thank my right hon. Friend for building on the apprenticeships scheme that this Government have been championing. They are doing such a good job of getting young people into learning those skills through a different route.
Yes, indeed. I hope that the public sector, as well as the private sector, takes that fully on board, because the Government and local government, with representations and leadership from a range of parties in this House, have a great opportunity to do more to promote, encourage and mentor. As the Chancellor has indicated, we are going to face a major revolution in robots, artificial intelligence and all kinds of applications of the digital economy. Great digital companies are making huge changes that have a big knock-on effect for more traditional businesses. We need to put all our weight behind a Government who wish to understand that revolution and try to ensure that more people are winners from it by changing jobs and developing new skills so that their careers can respond to the huge changes under way.
Quite rightly, a focus of attention for the public sector—in this Budget as in any other—is whether there will be enough money to do a decent job for public services. I, like any Labour MP, want to ensure that my local schools have enough money to pay good teachers and to have enough of them, and that my local hospital and surgeries have enough financial support to do a good job. I see from this Budget that there is a £6 billion overall fiscal relaxation in 2018-19 and a £10 billion relaxation in 2019-20, mainly on the spending side. I am quite sure, from what the Chancellor said, that as some relaxation of pay agreements occurs, money will come forward to meet those bills. It is important that when pay deals are reached, the health service, schools or whoever have the money to be able to meet those requirements. A modest fiscal relaxation like that is eminently affordable.
The current levels of debt or deficit are not alarming. I am pleased that the Government think that the level of debt as a percentage of GDP will come down very shortly, but we need to take into account the fact that the state now owns quite a lot of the debt itself. That makes a bit of difference. The United States of America is now embarking on a programme of cancelling and reducing the debts because it controls both sides of the balance sheet through the Federal Reserve Board.
I want to concentrate a little more on house building and housing. I am pleased that the Government are to have a speedy—and, I hope, thorough—investigation into the issue of how existing planning permissions can be better used and can translate into more homes more quickly. That is very much an issue in the Wokingham borough part of my constituency, where the borough has issued around 11,000 planning permissions for individual homes—more than enough, one would think, to allow the fast build rate required under the agreements in the local plans. There has been considerable delay, however, in bringing forward some of those houses. There is also a wish by others to try to get planning permissions elsewhere and to build outside the areas where the plan would prefer the building to take place. There is a lot to be said for concentrating the areas of building, because then the moneys can be applied in a planned and predictable way to the surgeries, primary schools and extra road capacity that are needed, whereas if inspectors grant permissions in a variety of different places around the borough on account of a slow build rate, far more capital will be required to keep up with the demands, because distance would become an issue for people needing to get to those facilities.
Looking at the national picture on house building, I welcome the idea that we should be able to have five new garden cities. The garden town movement was a fine one, many years ago, and there were some great successes with new towns and new cities in our country. I am not going to start choosing places where the new ones should go, because none of them will be in my constituency as we already have an awful lot of house building and development going on.
From what I heard earlier, the Chancellor never mentioned homes for social rent. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he, too, did not hear them mentioned?
I think that the hon. Lady is wrong; I think he did mention them. That is certainly part of the Government’s plan. It is clearly a comprehensive housing plan that involves homes for rent and homes for purchase.
I would like to see new settlements where a suitable location can be found, and I am pleased to hear that there is already some agreement on the university arc from Cambridge through to Oxford via Milton Keynes, where there are all sorts of exciting opportunities. One of the really good things about the UK economy now is the momentum that is clearly gathering pace in technology investment and technology business set-ups. It is obviously easier to create those opportunities close to the great centres of learning where there is an extremely good workforce to recruit and there may well be entrepreneurs as well. It is excellent that we reinforce success, and I see that part of the country as a major area for development.
I agree with my hon. Friends who have said, in relation to the housing issue, that it is important to promote home ownership. There is clearly a great yearning for more home ownership, and it is one of the big social problems of our day that many people under the age of 35 are unable to afford their first home. I welcome anything that can make the gap a little more bridgeable, and it is excellent that we will be getting rid of stamp duty for most first-time buyers.
First-time buyers in my vast and remote constituency will absolutely welcome the abolition of stamp duty. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with his colleague, Stephen Kerr, who has now left the Chamber, that it is high time that the Scottish Government followed suit and abolished stamp duty north of the border? We do not want any inequality that will disadvantage Scots.
That is fine by me. I have no problem with that, but nor do I have any constituency interest in the matter. It is interesting that Scottish National party Members have not stayed to follow that debate through— [Hon. Members: “There’s one!”] We look forward to Alison Thewliss pledging that her party will cut stamp duty, if she wishes to do so and is capable of making that offer.
The proposal is sensible and welcome. Some are saying that allowing some remission of stamp duty right up to £500,000 is unrealistic, but the earnings multiples now being applied are rather greater than the earnings multiple that Labour Members have suggested. Some relief for people struggling to buy is as necessary in London as it is elsewhere in the country; we need to take into account the much higher prices in London. I speak as someone who does not represent a London seat, but I understand the difficulties involved.
In summary, I welcome the new forecast, which is considerably better than the forecast of just over a year ago. The UK is a great place to invest in, and growth should be fairly steady from here. The productivity plans need rolling out and developing, and much more is going to have to be done, because this is about influencing conduct, behaviour and opportunity in thousands of companies around the country, and about working with educational and training establishments to achieve what we need to bring about. This is, above all, about the Government being open to and conscious of the need to adapt themselves quickly to the huge changes that technology is producing.
I would welcome experiments within the public sector to determine how we can greatly improve public sector productivity in a positive way, by ensuring that people can keep their jobs while enriching those jobs and making them better. Those jobs could then be better rewarded because they were better graded. It would be really good to have some pioneering examples in parts of the public sector, and if the public sector was good at that, it could be a demonstrator for the private sector. I wish the Government every success with that. It should be something that unites the House, which has been in a fairly fractious mood today. We live in hope that, in due course, we will see that this country is on an exciting journey, and joint work to crack the productivity puzzle would be very welcome.
It is a pleasure to follow John Redwood. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast, which was published today, has demonstrated that we are in a downgraded economy. Real wages are down, business investment is down and productivity is downgraded now and far into the future. It is therefore no wonder that growth is down from the Chancellor’s modest forecast in March of this year. He has presented news today of a slowing economy for the next three years—an economy that is forecast to be £65 billion smaller in 2020 than was expected early last year. Aside from setting apart £3 billion to plan for Brexit, which is more than he gave to the NHS, he made no mention of the £40 billion or so divorce payment that is presumably going to be agreed with the EU soon. He used headroom and some reclassification of housing association debt to announce some tinkering, but, fundamentally, nothing has changed with this Budget.
This is the eighth Tory austerity Budget in a row, and it is taking place against a backdrop of an economy in the doldrums. We were told by George Osborne in the first austerity Budget that we all had to make sacrifices in order to eliminate a deficit caused by the global financial crisis. Entirely predictably, that five-year plan failed, so the pain was extended for another five years. Now we are told that the second five-year plan has failed too, so this Chancellor is extending austerity for another five years until 2025. That is already a 10-year delay on what was meant to be a five-year recovery plan. That means 15 years of austerity, cut after cut and pressure on the public services year in, year out, with no end in sight. This austerity policy has a huge human cost that we on this side of the House see daily in our constituency advice surgeries. Homelessness and destitution are on the rise, food bank use is soaring and the benefit system is failing most of those who have to rely on it through no fault of their own.
The Conservative party is in thrall to a right-wing, libertarian ideology. It wants to shrink the size of the state as a deliberate political aim. It wants state expenditure to be as low a percentage of GDP as possible, despite the increasing demands of an ageing population and the need to make our economy fit for the future in rapidly changing times. It expects people to sink or swim, and it is not that not concerned about providing them with any lifeboats—
The right hon. Gentleman has just spoken; he can go off and advise his clients on investing their money abroad.
The Conservative party saw an opportunity to pursue a minimal state agenda in the aftermath of the global financial crash, and it has done so at great cost to many. It made a deliberate choice that cuts to public spending would bear 80% of the cost of eliminating the deficit and that only 20% would be accounted for by tax changes, and we now know that the cuts have fallen disproportionately on the most vulnerable and those least able to look after themselves. The Chancellor’s predecessor liked to claim that we are all in this together, but he cut the top rate of tax for his super-rich friends at the same time as ensuring that public sector workers had a decade of pay freezes and falling real living standards.
Meanwhile, the Government have systematically reduced the social safety net to tatters for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. By 2021, Wirral Council, which is my local authority, will have had its funding cut by 40% since 2010. Efficiency savings cannot cover cuts on that scale, and it is no surprise that that level of cuts has decimated council services such as adult social care, which for a second time was not mentioned in the Budget and saw a 26% cut between 2011 and 2016, meaning that essential social care for the elderly is not available and people in dire need are being left with little or no help. In education, real-terms funding cuts have led to a loss of £149 per pupil and 29 teachers in Wallasey alone. Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is being told to cut £1 billion in the next five years. Merseyside fire and rescue service used to have 40 fire engines to save lives; it now has 28.
That is absolutely right. Merseyside police will have suffered cuts of £183 million by 2021 and is 1,000 officers and 700 support staff down. It is little wonder that crime levels are now the highest in a decade. Madam Deputy Speaker, I could go on, but I think you get the point. Austerity has exacted a brutal cost from the most vulnerable.
This Budget takes place against a backdrop of unparalleled uncertainty and danger for our country because this Government are paralysed by their own disagreements over Brexit. They are unable to resolve their own internal contradictions around the Cabinet table, let alone chart the path to a successful conclusion of the article 50 negotiations in Brussels. We have a Prime Minister who puts the interests of her party above those of her country, and half of the Tory party would rather that we crashed out of the EU without any deal than stay in a moment longer.
Does the hon. Lady not acknowledge that preparing for no deal is an essential ingredient of securing a good deal? Has she ever bought a second-hand car? Did she go in and tell the salesman that she had to leave with a car and yet expect a discount?
I would certainly buy a second-hand car from the right hon. Gentleman.
The Chancellor, who is regarded with the utmost suspicion by the Brextremists on his own side, was warned at the weekend that he had to produce a game-changer of a Budget or his career would be over. They want rid of him because they do not think he is Eurosceptic enough. The Prime Minister has already shown her faith in him by making him disappear for the entire recent general election campaign. After his outing on the Sunday politics shows at the weekend, when he claimed that no one in Britain was unemployed, we can see what they are worried about. It is no wonder that he declined to get in the driverless car that they were going to put him in for a pre-Budget high-tech photo-op.
The Conservative party is responsible for the slowest recovery from recession since the Napoleonic wars and the largest squeeze on living standards since Victorian times, and it is presiding over record levels of wealth inequality. That is not a record to be proud of. The Budget has done nothing to address those abject and fundamental failures. Since the crash, GDP per head has increased by just 2.4%. During the 1990s recession, the comparable figure was 21%. Meanwhile, driven by the significant decline in the value of the pound after the referendum vote, UK inflation rose to 3% in September, which is double the rate in the eurozone. Growth in the UK is anaemic by historical trends and is on a downwards path, as shown by the OBR today.
In real terms, wages are lower now than they were in 2010, and the living standards squeeze has returned as prices are outstripping wage increases once more. The public sector has seen a decade of falling wages, which is causing real hardship. The TUC has calculated that, as a result of the public sector pay freeze, paramedics and NHS dieticians are £3,800 a year worse off since 2010, firefighters are £2,900 a year worse off, and Crown prosecutors in our courts are £4,400 a year worse off. The TUC’s polling shows that 15% of staff in our public services have skipped meals in order to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, in Tory Britain, workers are not only struggling with stagnant or falling pay levels; they are also experiencing a huge increase in job insecurity. One in 10 of the workforce—3.2 million people—now faces insecurity at work, including: 800,000 on zero-hours contracts; 760,000 on non-standard forms of temporary working, including agency and casual work; and 1.7 million in low-paid self-employment, earning below the Government’s modest so-called living wage.
It is little wonder, then, that tax receipts are falling as employers take advantage of tax structures that incentivise less secure forms of employment. It is little wonder that Bank of England figures show that household levels of unsecured consumer debt are rising at their fastest rate since the global financial crash—up by over 10% last year and now higher than they were in 2008. The Budget contained nothing to address any of those important concerns.
However, there are a few people who are doing really well out of the current system. Pay ratios between FTSE 100 CEOs and the rest continue to widen. They are now paid a staggering 160 times more than the average worker. That means they made more money by the first Wednesday of 2017 than the average worker could earn all year. Some 5% of households now own 40% of all the wealth in Britain. Is that really the kind of society we wish to create?
Boosting productivity is the key to economic growth and pay increases, yet over the past decade the UK’s productivity performance has been the worst of all G7 countries. Since 2010 the Government’s failure to invest in infrastructure and in skills has seen our productivity flatlining so that we are now 15% lower than the G7 average. So bad has been this Government’s record on productivity that the OBR has revised down its assumptions about future growth from productivity gains. The UK has the lowest level of investment in the G7. Driven by the Government’s failure to invest, business investment has grown slowly over the past 10 years—by only 5%. That is nowhere near enough to retool our economy and make it fit for the future. Addressing that problem must be at the heart of any Government’s industrial strategy.
This Budget might have been the time when the Chancellor decided to tackle the regional disparity in economic performance, when he took the opportunity to invest in our infrastructure and skills base, and when he finally gave Britain the pay rise it so badly needs. But he did not. This is a Budget of missed opportunities. Once more there is nothing on social care. It is a bits and pieces Budget that fails to rise to the huge challenges that this country faces.
I am pleased to follow Ms Eagle, but her speech shows that the Labour party has learnt nothing about how to run a successful modern economy. The Chancellor referred in his speech to the Labour party increasing our national debt by £500 billion. The easiest thing in the world is to spend more and borrow more, which is precisely the situation the Labour party left us in back in 2010, which is why we have had to have austerity Budgets over the past few years.
Indeed, I recently went to a lunch and met a director of one of our major banks—[Interruption.] Opposition Members ought to listen to this. He said, “Our focus of attention has changed from Brexit. We will cope with whatever politicians throw at us with Brexit, but our focus of attention has changed to political risk: the risk of a Labour Government ruining the economy.”
In contrast, what we saw today was a prudent Budget from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. As my right hon. Friend John Redwood has said, it was a fiscal loosening Budget, but at the same time we have been able to stabilise our national debt and put more money into our public services, particularly the NHS and education, and into infrastructure, and we have been able to deal with some of the tax evasion. I serve on the Public Accounts Committee, so I was particularly pleased to see that its recommendations on VAT fraud have been taken up. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) for their hard work on that.
The recent Government White Paper on housing said that the UK needs to build 250,000 new houses a year. It certainly does, because if one asks the teachers or nurses in the Cotswolds where they live, nine times out of 10 they will say that they do not live in the Cotswolds, and that also applies in other areas of high house prices. Anything that can be done to stabilise the housing market and produce more housing for lower-paid people must be a good thing.
In my parliamentary division, the difficulty is that private builders will not address that proportion of the market where the need is greatest: the bottom and the mid-market. Equally, such is the increase in supply that is required to drive down the price, it is questionable as to whether it would be in the interests of independent builders to secure such a reduction in price. The greatest increase in the market was achieved through public sector building; does my hon. Friend see that as a possibility?
The need to build more houses is about providing houses for those who cannot afford to buy and get on the housing ladder. There are lots of ways to do that in the affordable housing sector, such as affordable rent-to-buy, staircasing and many other methods. That is what we need to pay attention to. I shall say something about the planning system in a moment.
The structure of house ownership has changed in the past 10 years, in which the number of under-45s who own their own homes has dropped by a million. That is something we need to address, so I find it extraordinary that Labour Members should be carping about the welcome announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the stamp duty exemption for first-time buyers for homes under £300,000, with a £500,000 limit in London. They carp about it as if it is somehow going to increase the market for first-time buyers, but the cut in stamp duty is likely to way exceed any consequential increase in house prices, so we should welcome it.
We should also welcome the measures the Government are introducing to build more houses, particularly the use of new town development corporations, which were used successfully by the Conservative Government in the 1980s to create whole new towns such as Milton Keynes. The legislation is still on the statute book. The corporations are partnerships formed among the Government, local authorities, the private sector and the social housing sector to build more houses. They worked in the 1980s and we should use them again, and we should make sure that new town development corporations are able to access more land.
I have two suggestions as to how we should alter the planning system. First, we need to alter the material-start system so that when builders get planning permission it is in all cases for only three years. Secondly, they should always have to build-out a site in its entirety for services. That would stop house builders from sitting on land—land banking—for an unacceptable period and put an end to the practice of house builders using a vacant site as a bargaining tool to gain planning permission on other sites. Those would be important improvements.
The hon. Member for Wallasey touched on the Brexit divorce bill—the biggest liability this country faces for the next few years. It has been rumoured that we are going to pay £38 billion, which of course includes our obligations for things such as outstanding budget contributions, financial programmes, agriculture, overseas aid, pensions liabilities and decommissioning liabilities. Nevertheless, as my right hon. Friend Sir Desmond Swayne so rightly said, in a negotiation for a second-hand car, one does not go in and pay an excessive price; the clever negotiator pays the right price—the minimum price that they can get away with. That is what we ought to do with the EU. To put it into perspective, is not just about that £38 billion; it is about our promise of two years of payments after we leave, which is an additional £8 billion a year or £16 billion in total. That takes us up to some £54 billion, which is more than our entire transport budget and almost as much as our entire defence budget. That is what we have to think about with regard to those very large figures.
In 1945 the USA loaned us £2.2 billion—£87 billion in today’s money—as war reparations, and it took us more than 50 years to pay it off. I hope at the very least that we will do two things with this payment, if we actually agree it with the EU. First, it should be paid over a significant number of years. Secondly, it should be linked to our ability to earn money from it—that is, through a trade deal and other deals, which will help us earn and pay it off.
Technology is really important if this country is to remain competitive with our foreign competitors and our productivity is to increase. Thankfully, this country has experienced huge growth in digital innovation. However, we have a shortfall of about 40,000 people with the necessary skills in science, technology, engineering and maths to meet the demands of our economy. My hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation is present. I am delighted to learn that maths is now the most popular subject in our schools, and I am delighted with the extra money to encourage even more children to take maths at A-level. I am glad that the Chancellor announced that our national infrastructure fund will rise from £23 billion to £33 billion, and I am delighted that the main R and D tax credit to enable our firms to invest in even more infrastructure will be maintained. The Chancellor said that a new high-tech company emerges every hour, which is an amazing figure, and that he wants to cut it to every half an hour.
On education, I was pleased to learn earlier this year, having led a long campaign, that primary and secondary school funding will be maintained so that every child in this country gets a budget that increases in real terms every year, and that the secondary school budget would move up to £4,800 per pupil by 2020, which will begin to eliminate the gap between the lowest funded authorities, such as mine in the f40, and the highest funded authorities such as those in the middle of London. Our commitment to spending the extra £1.3 billion that we announced in our election manifesto has given the Cotswold School £450,000 more than they would have got under the old proposals. That is a welcome boost.
The Chancellor had a very welcome announcement for small businesses. There are 5.5 million small businesses in this country and, as he made clear, they are the engine of jobs and growth, so we need to make sure that they prosper. I welcome the fact that, contrary to the leaks about the Budget—thank goodness that leaks are often wrong—we are not going to reduce the VAT threshold, because that would not only introduce more bureaucracy for small businesses, but bring them within the making business digital threshold, which would, at a stroke, introduce even more bureaucracy for them.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the biggest generators of bureaucracy for small businesses, particular those that import and export, will be new customs arrangements if those are introduced?
The PAC has done a lot of work on customs and I am hopeful about new IT and the introduction of the customs declaration service to replace the existing IT service. Customs will experience a huge increase in the number of VAT declarations when we leave the EU, and it has a really difficult job policing goods that are wrongly coming into this country. Customs needs to take that into account.
I have almost come to the end of my speech. On bureaucracy for small businesses, it is essential that we try to keep it down and help them wherever possible. I am particularly pleased, as I am sure are businesses in the Cotswolds, that the small business rate relief will be maintained. Rates can be a real burden for small businesses with premises on which they pay high rents and high rates, particularly in an area such as the Cotswolds. Those that have managed to be taken out of the rates ambit altogether will be very glad to hear that they will not be brought back into it in the coming year, which is what they had feared. Residents and businesses in the large rural area of the Cotswolds will be particularly glad to see the freeze on fuel duty for yet another year; that will help them. Incidentally, I am sure that individuals in the Cotswolds—and, indeed, the entire country—will be really pleased to see the freeze on wine, spirits and cider. I am sure that that will be particularly welcome.
To sum up, this has been a prudent Budget—nothing more than I would expect from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who is doing a great job for this country with his economic stewardship. I am sure that our economy will go from strength to strength, that our education will get better, that there will be more high-tech IT jobs and that there will continue to be a record number of jobs and of apprenticeships.
If the Labour party had anything to cheer about, it would surely be that we are employing a record number of people in this country. I would have thought that it would be particularly pleased at the Chancellor’s announcement that poverty is reducing in this country and that child poverty has reduced by more than 1 million in the past 10 years. [Interruption.] That is what the Chancellor said; I am only repeating it. I know that the Opposition would not like the figures to be correct, but the fact is that they describe what is happening.
Those of us who have been in the House for a number of years feel that this is like groundhog day or déjà vu—we have seen it all before. The difference with this Budget, though, is that after a general election, the Chancellor usually has to dole out the medicine, and the British public who have just voted the Government in have to take it. The difficulty that this Chancellor faces is that he has to please people of all persuasions. I have no doubt that when the right hon. Gentleman fed to the media that he wanted to reduce the VAT threshold for businesses, he was put off when he looked towards his Irish colleagues. I am sure that the freeze came out of not economic prudence, but political necessity.
But the Budget speech was no different from any other we have heard before. It began with a number of lame jokes—I am sorry, but the Chancellor is no comedian; who did not see the joke about cough sweets a mile off?—but this is no laughing matter. The elephant in the room for this and the previous Budget has been Brexit, although the Chancellor dedicated only a few lines to Brexit in his previous Budget. We are now at the most seminal moment in post-war British history—we are leaving the European Union. The Chancellor said early on that the Prime Minister had set out a clear vision—I must be the only one who does not know what that vision looks like. Actually, all we have had is the Chancellor saying that £3 billion is being put towards any consequentials of Brexit.
I would have liked to have heard at least some sort of plan about the single market and the customs union. I would say—I shall diverge a little, if you will allow me, Madam Deputy Speaker—that those of us who are concerned about Brexit have been unfairly attacked as remoaners when we simply want to get the best deal for the country as we leave the EU. Some £3 billion has been put aside for Brexit, but we heard nothing from the Chancellor about £350 million per week for the NHS. Perhaps the Chancellor wants drag the Foreign Secretary here to talk about where that £350 million is, because I have not seen it. While he is at it, perhaps he will talk to the nurses.
I respect the hon. Gentleman as a parliamentarian, but he is wrong about this. He knows that that was a false statement made by the leave side to try to con people into voting leave. There is no point in standing by that claim anymore.
The thing is that we heard nothing in the Budget about Brexit; all we heard is that it will not be dominated by Brexit. Well, I am afraid the Chancellor is wrong: every Budget from here on in will be dominated by the consequence of leaving the European Union.
The Budget went on and on and on. There were terms that the Tories would love. We heard about a strong Government and that we will be resolute in our determination to bring about a strong economy. It took eight pages before we got to the real story of this Budget: quite simply, productivity growth is down and is continuing to fall. The Chancellor is the first since world war two—this is something he should be proud of —who has stood at the Dispatch Box and said that growth will be below 2%. It gets worse: the figure is 1.5% in 2017, 1.4% in 2018, and 1.3% in 2019 and 2020. It will hopefully then pick up to 1.5% and, finally, to 1.6% in 2022. At the same point, debt will be at its highest level ever—and there the Government are being over-optimistic.
If we are not going to talk about Brexit, we should at least talk about the fundamental weakness in our economy: productivity. Productivity has failed to return to pre-crash levels, and it does not look like that is going to happen any time soon. The OBR has revised its estimates of Britain’s long-term productivity gains and economic growth. It claims that this means that Britain’s economy will not bounce back from the financial crisis, and output per worker probably will not recover to its pre-crisis rate of 2.1%.
Our productivity crisis will mean larger budget deficits in future years. A downgrade in productivity, and therefore depressed earnings, will mean that future tax revenues take a serious long-term hit. The downgrade will create a £20 billion black hole in the UK’s public finances, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
We cannot hide this problem anymore. The Government should not be so timid and so scared of their friends from Ireland. We need radical solutions. Things have not worked. We cannot go on all the time with this rhetoric that things are going to improve. We have to take action, and that must happen now.
For me, the most fundamental error the Government have made since they came to power in 2010 is failing to get to grips with the banking system. We need to boost business investment through a network of regional banks. Germany has thousands of banks, including vibrant state-run and co-operative sectors, many focused on lending specifically to small and medium-sized businesses. In Britain, just five banks hold 85% of all current accounts. The Chancellor could learn from the German model by enabling a new generation of mutually owned building societies and savings banks to focus on driving long-term investment, rather than short-term dividends for their shareholders.
Might not the Chancellor also rethink the future of the Royal Bank of Scotland? At the moment, the Government are committed to privatising it at some point in the medium term. Surely taking the opportunity to set a future for RBS as a mutual—the “Royal Building Society of Scotland”, perhaps—might be a better way to encourage competition with the other big four players in the banking market.
My hon. Friend speaks from experience as the chairman of the Co-operative party, and he is absolutely right that we need a thriving co-operative sector in this country. Again, if we want to talk about the past and the reason why we do not have a strong mutual sector in this country, it is because of the raid that the Tory Government of the 1980s allowed on many of these institutions, with the most famous example being Bradford & Bingley. We allowed people to become members, and then turned these institutions into plcs—and look where that got us. We need fundamental reform from this Government.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the worst decisions of the Conservatives in the 1980s was destroying the great regional institutions that were building societies? Great organisations such as the Leeds Permanent and the Halifax building society, which created wealth and retained it in the regions, were destroyed.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. If ever anything tore into the very fabric of British society, it was that. It is terrible when we walk down the street now and see that so many of the famous building societies we grew up with are no longer there. That needs to be changed. We need to start talking about alternative co-operative models. As business finds it more difficult to borrow from traditional areas, we need to talk about the mutual sector, and about having more mutuality in our society and in our businesses, including employee share ownership schemes.
As I am running short of time, I must talk about the NHS. Our nurses do a fantastic job at the frontline. When someone is in need, our nurses are there, but very often this Government have not been there for them. Instead of nurses being given a pay rise, which I think we all agree they deserve, again today we got a very vague statement of “maybe, if and but”. That is not good enough for the most vital service workers in this country. I think, too, about all the people on universal credit. Again, this is all a sop to those who are in need. There should have been an announcement today about pausing universal credit so that it could be looked at and eventually changed. There is no good in plunging our most vulnerable people into abject poverty, but that is what this Government are about. They are very good at warm words.
Of course, every Chancellor’s speech has to end with a flourish, and we saw that today, with Conservative Members waving papers and cheering as the Chancellor announced, in his uninspiring tone, that he was going to abolish stamp duty on houses worth less than £300,000 in order, he said, to help millennials on to the housing ladder. Then minutes afterwards, as has happened in all his speeches—last time it was about national insurance contributions—we get the real story. Hidden away on page 154 of the OBR report is the clear statement that the temporary holiday on stamp duty will increase house prices by 0.3%. [Interruption.] Kwasi Kwarteng is shouting at me. Judging by the OBR’s ability to predict the future, does he honestly think that house prices are going to go up by only 0.3%? I do not think so.
They might come down, the hon. Gentleman says.
The point that the Chancellor is missing is that many of these people cannot afford a deposit to buy a house, so as well as reducing stamp duty, he should have been looking at vehicles for people to save to buy a house. Not many people took up the help to buy ISA, but we need those types of things.
This was a speech where the Chancellor was boxed in. The red box he held up was a symbol of how he was boxed in—by his Government, by Democratic Unionist party Members and by his party. Because of Brexit and this country’s productivity problems, we needed radical reform, but this Government cannot provide that any more. I say to them: stop clinging on to power, and let us go back to the country.
It is a pleasure to follow Chris Evans, although I fear that my speech will take a slightly different view. I draw the House’s attention to my interests in the register.
The Chancellor faced a pretty difficult task today—he was said to be between a rock and a hard place—but this is a sensible and pragmatic Budget. I think he will be well content with that analysis.
I want to start with the midlands, because I represent part of that area. We are very pleased that we now have the second devolution deal. The support for the automobile industry—for driverless and electric cars—is enormously important. You will understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, how much that matters in the west midlands. The midlands is at the centre of this industry. We are leaders in technology, design and production internationally. We very much welcome that support, more of which I think is to be announced later this week.
The £200 million that we receive for cleaning up brownfield land is now being spent, thanks to the vigour and effort of Andy Street, our Mayor. He is doing a very good job. I hope the Treasury will consider providing more funding when that £200 million has been used. The importance of spending money on cleaning up brownfield land is immense, because it means that we do not have to build on the green belt. We should only ever do that as a last resort. We in the west midlands are delighted that we are to be part of a national pilot of Housing First, which is a particular priority of our Mayor, Andy Street. The pilot will allow us decisively to address rough sleeping across the west midlands, and we are determined to do so.
I express my gratitude to the Government for the announcement that resources will be made available for the children’s emergency medicine and paediatric care centre at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Many of us have campaigned for that, and the news is excellent.
If I may, I will take my right hon. Friend back to housing for a moment. Does he agree that the Budget needs to be seen in the round with other Government announcements, particularly the opportunities in the White Paper for local authorities to build once again?
My right hon. Friend makes his point exceedingly eloquently.
I want to underline to the House the fact that free enterprise and open markets have been, and continue to be, the greatest engines of social and economic advancement known to man. We need to stand up for those things more than we have done recently, against the opposing views espoused by the shadow Chancellor and, indeed, by large numbers of young people who were not around to learn some of the pretty basic economic truths that many of us learned in the 1970s and ’80s.
Having said that, capitalism has always required Governments and regulators to set boundaries to human activity and, inevitably, human greed, and that point chimes in very well with the activist views that our Prime Minister has expressed since she took up the job. I want to point briefly to three areas in which I think such regulation of capitalism is of the greatest importance. The first, which we have debated in the House, concerns open ownership registers, particularly for the British overseas territories. That was an initiative of the Cameron Government. We in Britain have imposed such transparency on ourselves, and we need to do so for the overseas territories. Many in this House care deeply about the matter, including my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), and the right hon. Members for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and for Don Valley (Caroline Flint). It is important that the Treasury recognises that point in the Finance Bill, and I very much hope that it will do so.
Energy prices are the second area in which regulation is important. The Government are absolutely right to pursue that, because the current monopolistic situation works against the interests of consumers. The right way to deal with it is by regulation rather than by nationalisation, which is entirely unnecessary because of the regulatory regime.
Other Members have mentioned the third area in which regulation is required, but I will make the point again. A recent study of the annual reports of FTSE 100 companies shows that average pay for chief executives rose from £5 million a head in 2014 to £5.5 million in 2015. I find it offensive and totally unjustifiable that that is 140 times the average salary of their employees. It is noteworthy that only a quarter of FTSE 100 companies pay the voluntary living wage to their employees. The scale of that inequality, which is vastly greater than it was, gives capitalism a bad name. At a time when inequality more generally has fallen, with income inequality at its lowest rate for 30 years, this is something that the Government need to address through regulation.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the OECD identified a relationship between inequality and growth, namely that more inequality means less growth and a smaller cake. Is he also aware that when it is analysed using the Gini coefficient—the normal way of evaluating inequality—inequality in the UK is among the highest and fastest growing in Europe?
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s last point. I will rest on the recently published statistics showing that income inequality is now at a 30-year low in Britain.
My final point, which has already been raised today, is about intergenerational fairness. It is of course absolutely right that housing inequality should be right at the top of the list. We want future generations to have the opportunities that our generation had in terms of not only ownership, but part-ownership and rental. The importance of the decisions announced in the Budget is that they will give a real boost to the creative use of space. There is real encouragement for using brownfield land, which I spoke about earlier, and it is quite right to attack the misuse of land banks. It is also absolutely right to be creative in building new communities, but we need far more imagination. I would like the Government to commit to 1 million new housing starts over the next three years, which is slightly further than they have gone today.
We need to recognise that building new communities and focusing on infrastructure are absolutely at the top of everyone’s agenda. We should look at garden cities, and many people will be delighted at what the Government have said today. In the midlands, we want the Black Country garden city to be developed; so far, it is an idea without much flesh on the bones, and we need far more flesh to be added to those bones. We must build in the right places—progress will become ever more bogged down if we start to attack the green belt, and in my view, it is very important that the Government do not do that—but such building should be the top priority.
When it comes to intergenerational fairness, which everyone agrees is vital, we must not forget that excessive borrowing makes it worse. In the past six months, Germany had a public spending surplus of £8 billion, but we had a deficit of about £26 billion. This will have to be repaid, and it is a cruel and unfair deception on the next generation if we do not make it clear that if our generation does not repay it, theirs will have to do so. Austerity is not optional. It is not a Tory vice; it is fiscal responsibility, and we have to return to living within our means.
My final point on intergenerational fairness is that one of the best investments in future generations is Britain’s contribution to international development. The work Britain is doing, with the commitment made across the House to the 0.7% target, is driving real change in the world—it does a huge amount to help some of the poorest in our world—and contributes directly to making the world a safer and more prosperous place for future generations. It tackles directly the international dangers from climate change, migration, terror, pandemics and protectionism, and the Government should make more of this work. The Government, of which I was proud to be a part some five years ago, have done an immense amount, and such work is very important in addressing intergenerational inequity. In making more of such work, the Government will note that it is very strongly supported by people from across our country who are under 35—a cohort conspicuously absent among Tory voters at the last election.
I want to end by saying how pleased I am to see that the Government have given £1.3 million from the LIBOR fines to ZANE—Zimbabwe a National Emergency—a body that does hugely good work for elderly people in Zimbabwe. On behalf of all those involved with ZANE, I express my gratitude to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for making that very wise decision.
Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many people still wish to take part in today’s debate, and there is limited time, so I will reduce the time limit to eight minutes.
The British economy today faces three key challenges. First, we have low productivity, with the associated wage stagnation that comes with it, and of course the reduced tax receipts. Secondly, we have high public sector debt. We must recognise the constraints that that places on what is possible economically, and be honest about some of the hard choices that need to be made. Thirdly, there is Brexit, which has already been described as the elephant in the room. We see the uncertainty it is creating for businesses and investment in the country, its impact on our economy, and the opportunity cost of all the energy and money being spent on preparing for it that could otherwise be directed elsewhere.
The Chancellor is a serious man. We had significant differences in coalition but in recent months he has appeared to be one of the few voices of reason in the Cabinet on Brexit. He had an unenviable task coming to the House today, given the picture of higher inflation, lower growth, lower productivity and high levels of debt. It really is bleak. The economy will be £45 billion smaller in 2021 than had been projected just in March this year, so his attempts to paint a cheerful vision of the future were rather less successful than his jokes. The truth is, as the Chancellor knows, that this Budget, the next one, the Budget after that and all future Budgets are made all the more difficult because of Brexit and the extreme approach to it that this Government are pursuing. Making it clear that an exit from the single market and the customs union is a red line for the Government—this is aided and abetted by the Labour Front-Bench team—imperils the future of the UK economy, and the Chancellor knows it.
Nicky Morgan rightly said that there is no pot of gold at the end of the Brexit rainbow, although the more appropriate metaphor is that of a thunderstorm. We learned today that the cost of Brexit preparations is not just the £700 million already allocated but a further £3 billion, which is more than the extra money that could be found for the NHS, and that tells its own story. We need to add to that the exit bill, and who knows what that will be—£20 billion, £30 billion, £40 billion? In addition, there is the overall hit to the economy, which the OECD has suggested could be £40 billion. It is no surprise that these figures were not stuck on the side of a bus in the referendum campaign.
To promote the health of our economy we have long needed to use the advantage of low borrowing rates to increase investment in the economy, so I welcome some of the measures set out today to unlock new house building. However, they are not ambitious enough. As ever in Budgets, the devil is in the detail. The headline figure touted was £44 billion, but only £15 billion of that was new and just £6 billion of it was extra for increasing the housing supply. As my hon. Friend Wera Hobhouse said, there was next to no help for extra social housing, which of course is badly needed as part of the mix.
On the NHS, Simon Stevens had asked for £4 billion next year, but the Chancellor’s response does not come close. The new revenue peaks at £1.9 billion next year and then drops to £1.1 billion. As I say, Liberal Democrat Members appreciate that hard choices need to be made, and if we want to resource our NHS and social care properly we need to look at how to find the funds. That is why we have proposed an increase in income tax of one penny in the pound specifically for the NHS and social care. It is worth noting that social care was something the Chancellor did not even think worth mentioning in his remarks.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend has calculated what £350 million a week for the NHS over a year amounts to. I believe the figure is £18 billion. How much is the Chancellor offering?
On social care, we need serious responses and serious cross-party work to find long-term solutions instead of the half-baked policies, cooked up in secret, that the Government offered at the last election. On taxation, there was a missed opportunity not only to increase income tax in the way my party has suggested to fund the NHS, but to increase capital gains tax and corporation tax. Instead of this race to the bottom of trying to get to 17%, we could keep that a competitive rate of 20% and get the additional funding that that would generate.
The Chancellor was right to say that international action is needed to create fairer taxation, but he failed to address the role of the overseas territories. We should require them to comply with UK standards on transparency, or companies registered there should be prevented from doing business in the UK. In the spirit of being transparent, I ought to be transparent about the fact that my husband works for Transparency International UK. In the context of rocketing executive pay, it is impossible to escape the contrasts between the rich, who can hide their assets and avoid tax, those on middle incomes in both the public and private sectors, who are facing real-terms pay cuts, and the poor, many of whom, whether they are working or not, rely on benefits to make ends meet.
Ian Blackford mentioned the £12 billion of cuts to benefits that are still to come—£12 billion of cuts that the Liberal Democrats blocked in the coalition. The rise in the income tax threshold, although welcome, contrasts with the continued freeze in benefits. That was bad enough last year or the year before, but in the face of inflation of 3% it will cause real hardship. We see some changes to universal credit, but the wider problems have been ignored, not least the £3 billion of cuts that were introduced in 2015. Universal credit needs to be paused while the problems are ironed out. There is merit in having a simpler system, but using the new system to make deep cuts fools no one and undermines the important principles that underlie universal credit.
On the environment, I welcome the consideration of new charges on single-use plastics—a Lib Dem idea—but there is precious little else to demonstrate that the Government appreciate the scale of the climate threat we face. They have scrapped rules for zero-carbon homes, cut subsidies for solar and renewable heat, privatised the green investment bank and scrapped the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Today, we saw no new resource for tidal, waste from energy or carbon capture and storage. The Government do not have a strong record on the environment.
On a positive note, I welcome a couple of things in the Budget. I welcome the investment in technology, such as artificial intelligence, driverless cars and geospatial data. I was going to make the point that ethics need to be at the heart of how we proceed, because whether we can do something is not the same as whether we should do something. I was therefore delighted to read on page 45 of the Red Book that the Government intend to establish a centre for data ethics and innovation. That is urgently needed and we should lead the way in that area. On that issue, I say well done to the Government and I look forward to exploring it further with Ministers.
I also welcome the national retraining scheme, in particular the partnership with the CBI and the TUC to make that work, with the focus on digital and construction skills in the first instance. However, I would say, particularly in the context of the automation challenge to our workforce, that we should be looking more at the care sector. There are certain things that robots will not be able to do in the near, or indeed the distant, future. One such thing is caring and human empathy. We also face a demographic time bomb, so we need to be upskilling and investing in the care sector to change it from a low-status profession to one that we recognise as high-skilled. We should therefore ensure that it is properly resourced.
In conclusion, our country faces big challenges and opportunities. There is a bleak economic outlook, low productivity, the threat of climate change, the pace of technological change and the impact of automation on work. Those challenges are enough to keep any Government awake at night. They need attention, innovation and new ideas. Instead, we have a Government obsessed and consumed by Brexit, and they are not even doing that competently. The economic picture outlined by the Chancellor today makes it clearer than ever that we need an exit from Brexit.
It is a real pleasure to follow Jo Swinson; this is the first time in a while that we have debated in the Chamber together.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the Budget. From my ministerial apprenticeship at the Treasury three years ago, I recall the great efforts that the then Chancellor and the entire team made to put the Budget together, particularly as Ministers were lobbied constantly by a whole range of interests. It is, of course, a challenge to balance the needs with the responsibility to keep the public finances in good, sound, solid order. The Treasury should be commended for navigating those pressures and for continuing to put stability at the core of the Budget. Economic stability should rightly stand at the core of every Budget.
It is worth reminding Members, especially those on the Opposition Benches, of the progress that has been made in putting the public finances back in order after the appalling situation in 2010. Back then, the budget deficit exceeded £150 billion—more than our spending on health, education, policing and the armed forces. The level of public spending was financed by borrowing that was totally unsustainable. We know that the Opposition, who are chuntering away, never want to take responsibility for how they mishandled the public finances and love to point the finger of blame elsewhere, but it is a fact that before the financial crisis, the Labour Government racked up an eye-watering level of debt.
The obvious answer is the scale of Labour’s economic mismanagement. The hon. Gentleman will recall that his party’s 2008 Budget planned for a £43 billion deficit, which is more than all the revenues raised in excise duty. That says everything we need to know about Labour’s financial economic management.
Does my right hon. Friend not think that the Opposition have a brass neck to intervene on her in that way? They criticise the Government for not cutting the deficit faster, yet on every single occasion when they have been invited to support the deficit-cutting strategy they have voted against it.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. On many occasions since 2010, the Labour party has not only not supported the Government’s approach on deficit reduction, but failed to vote to support policies to reduce the deficit and bring sound financial economic management back into our public finances. We have come a long way on bringing the deficit down and understanding the reasons why sound financial management matters. We need money to be available to invest in our public services. We need an economy that embraces enterprise, which brings in the tax receipts to pay for hospitals, schools, police and the armed forces. Today’s Budget absolutely recognises that fundamental point.
We have heard criticism in the debate about the NHS. Our NHS is a great institution. It is right that the Chancellor has today committed more public funds— billions—to the NHS. As an Essex Member of Parliament, I am delighted to see new support and capital investment in the NHS. Frankly, for 13 years under Labour, health services in Essex went backwards and suffered from underfunding. My right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell is right to say that Labour Members have a brass neck criticising the work we have been doing and the investment we have made.
One great success since 2010 is the record level of job creation in our economy. Like many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I recall sitting through these debates from 2010 onwards hearing doom and gloom and scaremongering from the Labour party, with outlandish claims about unemployment and recession. As we know, those predictions proved to be completely wrong. In today’s Budget, we heard about greater investment in key sectors going forward. We know we have to think about the future of the labour market. Automation will be coming in, and we need to consider how we can invest in construction and key services.
Can my right hon. Friend recall an occasion when the Labour party talked up the economy, or is it always about more spending, more borrowing, more debt and more benefits and taking the country back to the brink?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have 32 million people in work and unemployment at a record low, and Opposition Members talk our country and our economy down. They seem to have a pathological hatred of enterprise, aspiration and free markets. They call for higher taxes on businesses, which only serve their agenda to tighten controls on the free market, stifle innovation and stop businesses succeeding. As we know, that is exactly what would harm the economy in the long run.
As we have seen in the Budget today, great Conservative Budgets support aspiration, opportunity and freedom. That is why the Conservative party has always been on the side of people who work hard and want to get on in life and own their own home. The Budget makes welcome changes to stamp duty to help people get on the property ladder: 95% of first-time buyers will now benefit and 80% will pay no stamp duty at all. That is the right action to support home ownership and increase supply through the investment announced in the Budget.
I stress to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench the importance of ensuring investment in infrastructure around new housing from private as well as public sources. In Essex, we have been working assiduously to secure investment from the Government in a passing rail loop north of Witham and the upgrading of the A120—critical investments that will promote and support housebuilding in that part of Essex—and also to ensure greater private funding, including from innovative financial products, to reduce the risk to the public purse and to secure more private sector contributions to deliver critical infrastructure.
As we plan for our exit from the EU on
I again welcome the new investment that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in terms of skills, critical sectors and investing in people. There are fantastic opportunities not just for the City of London but for our country, and plenty of reasons to be optimistic when it comes to trading with the rest of the world and growing our economy. We must look outwards rather than inwards. This is a Budget that will facilitate a positive international vision for Britain. That is how we will be judged in the years ahead. It stands in marked contrast to the policies of the Labour party, which wants to tax more and thereby harm our country and our economy. Most importantly, however, this Budget lays the foundations for a Britain fit for the future.
It is a pleasure to follow Priti Patel. She will not be surprised that I take a slightly different view of the decision our country made on Brexit, but nevertheless I thought she gave an interesting speech. I was also interested in the comments of Mr Mitchell about the need to reform capitalism. I thought his proposals rather timid, but they were at least a start in terms of recognising how corporate culture needs to change. I gently encourage him that there are forms of public ownership that he should look at with a little more enthusiasm than his remarks suggested he did. If I have time, I hope to pick up on some of those.
The most striking features of the Budget thus far are the revelations about the cost of Brexit. The OBR’s downgrade of growth forecasts means that for the first time in modern history the official UK GDP growth forecast for every year being forecast is under 2%. The setting aside of an extra £3 billion to fund the cost of Brexit is quite extraordinary. I do not remember anyone in the leave campaign even hinting at such costs. Earlier this month, the Bank of England Governor gave his verdict on the economy, when he said that “Britain would be booming” were it not for the “Brexit effect”. Indeed, with favourable conditions and stronger growth in other parts of the world—sadly, notably in the eurozone—Britain has fallen from the top to the bottom of the league of G7 leading economies in the year since the Brexit vote. Perhaps most strikingly, foreign investment in Britain is 20% lower than the Bank of England forecast before the referendum result.
It is easy, therefore, to be even more concerned than we might have been about the cost of Brexit. The evidence that businesses are now beginning to produce to explain why they are falling back on investment decisions is perhaps not surprising, given that the Cabinet themselves cannot decide what kind of trading relationship they want with our European partners, and the truth is that ordinary households are paying the price. According to a report published this month by the Centre for Economic Performance, the impact of inflation and a weaker pound since the referendum means that the average worker has experienced a real-terms cut of nearly £450 in annual pay, the equivalent of a week’s salary. But, sadly, the Government march on, insisting that we will leave the customs union and the single market, and that no deal may well be an acceptable outcome.
Just recently, we have heard striking evidence from car manufacturers such as Honda about the potential cost of leaving the customs union. For some manufacturers, it will be up to £850,000 a year. Honda estimates that it would take 18 months for it to set up the warehouses and the procedures that it would need if Britain left the customs union, which the Government insist will happen in 17 months’ time. That is genuinely worrying for the future of jobs in this country.
The general election confirmed that there is no mandate for a hard Brexit, so even at this late stage I urge Ministers—and, if I may do so gently, those on my own Front Bench—to explore again soft Brexit options such as membership of the European economic area. Not only would that potentially allow new arrangements in respect of issues of concern to the British people such as judicial authority and freedom of movement, but it would, crucially, provide significant economic certainty for the future.
The second aspect of the Budget that I want to deal with is its failure to tackle the crisis in funding for public services. I found it striking, given the terrorist attacks that our country has experienced this year, that the Chancellor made absolutely no mention of additional funds for the police or, indeed, additional investment in tackling the ongoing threat of terrorism. Harrow has lost 173 police officers since 2010. Violent crime has risen, and knife crime in particular is up by 60%. There have been stabbings in both south Harrow and Harrow town centre, which is something that my constituency has not experienced for a considerable time. The fear of crime is therefore substantially on the increase.
My hon. Friend has mentioned police numbers and the rise in knife crime. The West Midlands has lost more than 2,000 policemen. How can knife crime, and other crimes for that matter, be tackled when a police force is being reduced? A more important point can be made about public services. Instead of telling the police, the fire brigades and the nursing and medical profession what they are doing, why do the Government not pay them a decent wage? Is that not the best way of thanking them for the services that they give?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It worries me that the Government have chosen to do nothing about the real threat of a further loss of 3,000 to 4,000 police officers, which the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has said will happen if there is no increase in the Met police budget. As a consequence of the lack of funding, Harrow will be merged with Barnet and Brent. Barnet’s burglary rates have increased substantially of late, and Brent has a significant gang problem. Many of my constituents understandably fear that police will be taken out of our borough to deal with problems in the two other boroughs, and that crime in Harrow will not be tackled in the way that they might have hoped.
In the national health service, I think it significant that the extra resources that both the King’s Fund and the head of the NHS said were necessary have not been provided. There has been some uplift, and I obviously welcome that, but it is striking that just last year, 2.5 million people waited for more than four hours in accident and emergency departments, compared with the 350,000 when Labour left office, and 4 million people are currently on the waiting list for treatment in an English hospital.
Northwick Park Hospital, which serves my constituency, is the second-busiest trust in London, following the Government’s decision to close the A&E departments at Hammersmith Hospital and Central Middlesex Hospital. In my constituency, we worry that Ealing Hospital’s A&E is also due to close. Our trust ended the last financial year some £60 million in deficit with an underlying deficit of almost £100 million, and it is expected to make savings of £50 million in the current financial year, which the leadership of the trust says is an unprecedented challenge, so hon. Members can understand why my constituents will be deeply worried about the implications of this Budget for their hospital.
Similarly, many schools in my constituency are under considerable financial pressure, having to not fill teaching assistant vacancies and replacing experienced staff who leave with newly qualified teachers. The Budget does nothing to address those problems, and there is nothing on the financial crisis in adult social care or on the increasing crisis facing children’s services.
Lack of time prevents me from picking up the challenge that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield laid down—a debate on how one reforms capitalism—but there might be potential in a series of co-operative and mutual solutions. We particularly need an increase in co-operative housing, and I think that the Royal Bank of Scotland should be converted into a building society. Far more also needs to be done to encourage an increase in energy co-operatives to challenge the dominance of the big six players.
It is a pleasure to follow Gareth Thomas. I certainly agree with his remarks about the role of co-operatives in financial services and other parts of our economy. In fact, he and I have spoken about that previously.
The Chancellor said that this was a Budget “fit for the future”. In many ways, all Budgets are fit for the future because it is the future that we face. Some, of course—including many delivered by the previous Chancellor—had to cure the ills and mistakes of the past. Today, some of the pressure and pain that the economy has had to take is being put right and we are seeing some benefits in a number of ways.
My right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell was right that much is spoken about intergenerational issues, and the worst intergenerational burden we can leave is to load the next generation with the debt of our generation because of our reckless spending. The Leader of the Opposition was so right when he said that it could have been so different; we could have seen a deficit denied, more money spent, more tax raised and little benefit. In reality, our constituents would have borne the brunt of all that. The Chancellor was right to point out that the OBR is independent and gives a view with the best economic forecasting available. But it is also right that all forecasting bears risks. I have only had a quick chance to look at the OBR analysis, but it brings up some interesting points.
Chris Evans mentioned productivity several times, and he is right that it is the central challenge for this economy. In fact, I think that Jo Swinson made the same point. As an economic historian of relatively modern times, I think it is fascinating to note and worth remembering that the previous Administration had to redefine productivity because it was falling so fast under their watch. The OBR makes the point—and this is a disappointment—that although productivity is picking up, it is not reaching pre-crisis levels. That is why people should particularly welcome the schemes for retraining older people contained in the detail of the Red Book, as well as the science, technology, engineering and maths skills training. I particularly welcome the retraining partnership schemes because the participation rate is one of the biggest problems highlighted by the OBR, as we have an increasingly elderly population without the skills to tackle some of the new industries that will so obviously exist. The Chancellor was right to say that much needed to be done on maths and computing if we are to meet the challenges of the future.
There is clearly an awful lot of detail in this Red Book. Chancellors often hope, when they present their Budgets, that people will pick a rabbit out of the hat that will make the headlines so that they do not look at the details. In fact, much of the good stuff is in the detail today. It is worth mentioning, for example, that today’s announcements on universal credit show that the Chancellor has been listening. He is right to say that we have to have a modern welfare system, so that work is always encouraged. One of the real experts, David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents most of the housing associations, has already stated:
“We particularly welcome the changes to Universal Credit, including the advance payments…These changes will make a direct and positive impact to the lives of housing association tenants.”
Whatever the rights and wrongs of universal credit, and the motives behind it, the lack of internet access in my vast and wide-reaching constituency is an immovable obstacle that cuts against the best intentions of the Government. Do the hon. Gentleman and those on the Government Front Bench recognise this massive problem?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is an infrastructure problem, however, and I hope he will have noted a number of announcements on infrastructure today, including the fact that the roll-out of broadband is being accelerated. I absolutely agree that there is a massive problem, and I am very pleased that those on the Government Front Bench are doing something about it. At constituency level, I should also like to welcome the announcement of the Naylor review and the fact that some money will be going to St George’s Mental Health Trust. That will be welcomed in Wimbledon, as will the announcement that Crossrail 2 is proceeding, although we hope that it will do so at a faster pace than the trains.
For a lot of people, the key Budget announcements relate to infrastructure. I was particularly interested in the amount of money the Government are putting into transforming cities, not only by providing local transport but by giving cities and mayors the flexibility to embrace new urban design and incorporate the new industries of the future, and by giving local councils the ability to offer discounted lending. The Government often encourage them to make this lending available to high-value infrastructure projects that will provide extra facilities for local people. It is key that that money should not be ring-fenced for particular projects and that it can be used to allow new urban design ideas to be utilised.
I have recently been a keen contributor to the Housing and Finance Institute’s papers on bringing forward sites in a way that provides not only the necessary housing but all the services that are needed to go with it. Major applications—and sometimes smaller ones—are often frustrated by a lack of provision not only of roads and rail but of electricity and water, for example. A report to which I was pleased to contribute recently landed on the Chancellor’s desk, and it has clearly made an impact. I was pleased to see today that he is establishing Homes England. That detail might have been missed by many, but I suspect that allowing the Government’s major house building and infrastructure directive to have a much wider remit will enable a number of projects to be brought forward more quickly, particularly when combined with some of the other measures in the Red Book. For example, the strategic sites fund will be very welcome, particularly when combined with the announcement on Homes England. There seems to be some grown-up connected thinking going on inside the Treasury, which I welcome. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Stephen Barclay smiles. He is always guilty of this kind of thinking, but it is not always evident to everyone else.
Certain factors are really noticeable to anyone who has done any analysis of the housing market. It is clearly about supply, which everyone talks about, and about the big projects. However, if we look across our constituencies, there will be any number of small sites that are not being brought forward, which is why we have seen the decline of the small builder. The extension of the house building fund, the small sites fund and, probably most importantly, the loan guarantee to small builders are likely to bring forward more sites. That may well be incremental, but every site of 10, 20 or 25 homes adds up, and that is to be welcomed. On a regional level, I also welcome the fact that we have for the first time seen an acceptance that house prices are not the same everywhere in the country, and today’s stamp duty announcement will be particularly welcomed inside London.
My final point relates to the patient capital review. Some of the structures put in place in the past often did not recognise the need for an emphasis on high risk and high growth. If funds are to get advantages, they should be high growth and high risk, and today’s announcement will be a benefit, particularly if it works alongside the private sector to bring forward £7.5 billion into the industries of the future. There is much to welcome in the Budget and, unlike many Budgets, there is much in the detail, so I commend it.
It is a pleasure to follow Stephen Hammond, although I am not sure whether we will find a great deal to agree on. In the run-up to this Budget and during the Chancellor’s speech today, we heard a lot about building a Britain “fit for the future”, but many of my constituents do not share the Chancellor’s confidence that the Government’s proposals will achieve that vision.
I have been in Enfield for more than 20 years, and I have always considered it to be a fantastic place to live and great place to raise a family. However, for too many residents of Enfield North, especially hard-working and hard-pressed families, the past seven years of Tory austerity have led to more insecurity, poorer public services and, in some cases, abject poverty. Child poverty has risen to its highest level since 2010, as I mentioned at Prime Minister’s questions when I pointed out that the IFS and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation predict that an additional 1.2 million children will be pushed into poverty by 2021 on top of the 4 million in 2015-16. That is not a proud record; it is a scandal and a moral issue facing this country and this Government. Enfield is the worst-affected borough in London, with almost one third of children living in poverty. The Chancellor was emphatic that that was being dealt with, but let me tell the House what Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said about today’s Budget:
“this should have been the Budget that ushered in much needed structural reform of Universal Credit to revive the central promise to strengthen the rewards from work and that didn’t happen. Our new analysis finds while effective tax rates may have improved for some families, big falls in family income caused by cuts and changes to Universal Credit have left many worse off overall, overwhelming any gains from increases in the ‘national living wage’, personal tax allowances and help for childcare. Families on universal credit who want to get better off through earnings gained little from today’s Budget.”
I am more inclined to accept what the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group has to say than the Chancellor’s empty words.
The right hon. Lady makes an interesting point. I do not know whether she has had an opportunity to study “Impact on households: distributional analysis to accompany Autumn Budget 2017”, but its analysis shows that
“since 2010, households across all income deciles have seen growth in their disposable incomes, on average”.
That is good news, and I am sure that she would want to welcome it.
If the right hon. Lady sat in my advice surgery and listened to what was said by families in Enfield, where over a third of children live in poverty, she would find that the amount of disposable income that people have is a major problem, and that most families feel that rising costs, particularly due to rent, have wiped out any possible gains.
Almost six in 10 Londoners in poverty live in a working family, so the picture of poverty has changed. Those people are not “scroungers,” as they are sometimes referred to; they are working people who are trying to get on in life. A third of all jobs in Enfield are classed as low paid and are below the London living wage, as recent research by the Trust for London has shown. The Government’s failure to address these issues has meant that many families are unable to just about manage today, let alone build for tomorrow.
Enfield now ranks as the London borough with the fourth highest food bank usage. Last year, 5,974 three-day emergency food supplies were provided to people in Enfield, with 2,434 given to children. The roll-out of universal credit in Enfield, which started this month, will make a bad situation even worse. The Trussell Trust has said that demand for emergency food parcels is 30% higher in areas where universal credit is being implemented. Week in, week out, I see many hard-working families at my constituency advice surgery who are living on or below the breadline.
I want to say a few words about housing. A great many constituents come to see me about problems that are related in some way to housing, particularly those living in the insecure private rented sector. The threat of falling into rent arrears, and of families being put at risk of eviction and long-term debt due to the roll-out of universal credit, has only added to their concerns. Stagnant wages, fast-rising rents and a crisis in housing supply have created a perfect storm in Enfield, which now has the highest eviction rate in the capital. Homelessness acceptances have risen by a staggering 82% over the past two years. Enfield has the second highest number of temporary accommodation placements in London, which puts even more pressure on an already strained housing market. Again, that is not a record of which the Chancellor can be proud.
Today the Chancellor said, “House prices are increasingly out of reach for many”—yes, they are. He continued: “It takes too long to save for a deposit—yes, it does, if someone can save at all—“and rents absorb too high a portion of monthly income”. But the OBR report makes it clear that house prices will rise as a result of the measures announced today. When Wera Hobhouse intervened on John Redwood to ask about houses for social rent, the right hon. Gentleman insisted that the Budget statement referred to that. I listened to the Chancellor’s speech and I have read through the printed copy, but I heard and read nothing about that. He did say that the Government would increase supply “including nearly 350,000 affordable homes”, but the question is: affordable for whom? There is nothing about houses at a social rent. I think that is a disgrace, completely ignoring the desperate need.
A Conservative Member said earlier that we should learn lessons from how bad things were in the 1970s. I was brought up in a council house during the 1970s, and that gave me a tremendous base in my life. We should be proud of that. The Conservative party should learn a lesson from that and treat people with some respect.
I completely agree. I, too, was brought up in a council house, and we were proud of it and considered it the next best thing to owning our own home—we hardly drew a distinction. That is not the case today. Indeed, it is becoming impossible to offer anybody a council house.
I will not give way again, because I need to make some progress.
I want to say a few words about public services. Hard-pressed and hard-working families rely on our public services, but seven years of austerity has stretched them to breaking point. Labour-led Enfield Council has tried its level best to protect families from the immense pressures it is under, but given that its Government grant has been reduced by £93 million, it is now able to do so much less. The extent of the cuts that local authorities are having to make is unsustainable.
I notice that when we talk about social care, the environment, pollution and policing, the answer we get from the Government every time is “local authorities”, but they are slashing local authorities’ budgets on the one hand and then pushing responsibilities on to them on the other. The Government know that that circle cannot be squared—it is an impossible task. They are undermining our public services and undermining our local councils.
Primary and secondary schools in Enfield are due to lose a further £15 million by 2020. Heads will have to cut even more teaching posts, which will affect every child’s ability to achieve their best.
My constituents deserve good-quality health services. Instead, we have seen the Tory Government shutting Chase Farm Hospital’s A&E and maternity units and slashing the number of in-patient beds by more than 400. The other hospital we now use and rely on, North Middlesex, is being put under increasing pressure, with the result that it constantly faces a crisis. The Royal College of General Practitioners has said that Enfield needs 84 more GPs by 2020, but I have little confidence that the Government will provide any.
On policing, in the past seven years we have seen a 70% increase in violent crime in Enfield as well as huge cuts in the number of uniformed officers on our streets. There is a relationship between these two things, but there was no mention of that today whatsoever. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has done everything he possibly can to protect frontline policing, but the Chancellor failed to commit to or even to mention additional funding for London’s police force. This Government are making London less safe for Londoners and tourists—for everybody who lives here—and this in a year in which we have seen five major terrorist attacks. London is less safe under the Tories, and this Budget helps nobody.
This is a Budget that seeks to get a better deal for the least well-off and the lowest paid. It is a Budget that seeks to ensure that the very richest pay a fair share of taxes, to stop tax dodging, and to make sure that multinationals honour their obligations and are forced to do the right thing. This is a Budget that ensures that we prepare for Brexit and for the future of this country, and that makes sure that we embrace that future and get the best out of it for our children and grandchildren. I commend the Chancellor for the level of thought and consideration he put into it and, indeed, for his excellent Budget speech and presentation. He has done a brilliant job and introduced a really positive Budget.
I particularly welcome the allocation of up to £3 billion for preparations for Brexit. That matters at the Dover frontline and the channel ports because we must have a smooth transition to ensure that there is no gridlock, and no holdbacks or queues. Some Members quite like the idea of queues at the channel ports and look forward to everything being a disaster on Brexit day, but not Government Members. I am glad that the Chancellor is making sure that the investment and moneys are available to ensure that we avoid that eventuality. We need to remember that gridlock at Dover will mean gridlock for the entire British economy.
If the midlands engine cannot get essential components, it will conk out. If the northern powerhouse does not get the supplies it needs, it will cease to work. That is why it is so important for each and every one of us to do all we can to ensure that Brexit is a success, and that we get the investment and make the preparations we need to make sure that we undock seamlessly from the European Union and go out into the world to make a success of Britain’s future. And a success it really can be, because let us remember what is coming down the tracks. We are so well placed for the next revolution in automation, for autonomous vehicles and for the fourth industrial revolution. The Leader of the Opposition does not share my view; he wants to tax innovation and to put a stop to the idea that we might create a transition in our economy. He is scared of that prospect, but that is commonly the case. Whenever there is change, revolution and innovation in our economy, people are scared. The Luddites were very scared. People were scared of the industrial revolution and of the revolution in our economy during the 1980s, but each time there was a leap forward and a massive jump in productivity. Our economy moved ahead and Britain became a stronger and more successful world leader.
That is why the Chancellor is absolutely right to set out such a positive vision in the Budget and to reject the Luddite views of Labour Front Benchers. I know that most Labour Back Benchers—who, by the way, ought to be on the Opposition Front Bench—reject those views as well, even though they dare not say so, for fear of deselection and of Labour Front Benchers mobilising the membership, gaining momentum against them and sweeping them away, which I have to say would be a tragedy for our country.
I welcome the innovation undertaken to help the least well-off. We have created 3 million jobs since 2010 and massively increased the personal allowance to nearly £12,000. The national living wage also makes a huge difference, and fuel duty—this is a subject close to my heart—has been frozen for years, meaning that since 2010 hard-pressed and hard-working motorists, white van drivers and hauliers have experienced a massive reduction in the effective cost of duty. Each car owner now benefits to the tune of £850 a year. That makes a massive difference to those on an average wage and those who have to drive much further in more remote areas, including in Scotland. I mention Scotland because one SNP Member, Drew Hendry, has kindly decided to remain present for our deliberations. I welcome the fact that the measure will make such a difference to hard-working people.
I also welcome the fact that we are taking firmer action against large businesses that are too often involved in industrial tax avoidance, which is unacceptable. I particularly welcome the work on joint and several liability for online platforms such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba. Those platforms have enabled overseas retailers to game our VAT system and get an unfair competitive advantage over smaller businesses in this country, thereby putting them out of business, by not paying their fair share of taxes. A cross-party campaign, which has included members of the Public Accounts Committee, has fought on the issue for a very long time, and I hugely welcome the measures that were announced today to introduce justice, fairness and a level playing field to our tax system. The Chancellor is to be commended for doing the right thing and making sure that we get revenue so that we have extra cash for our schools and hospitals.
We need to go further with these multinationals. The problem is that too many of them think that they are not subject to this country’s rule of law. They behave as though they are over-mighty medieval barons to whom the laws do not apply. This House should call time on that view. We need to make sure that Amazon, Facebook, Google and so on pay a fair share of taxes in this country. They should be subject to our rule of law. Social media outfits should also be subject to our libel and counter-terrorism laws, as well as laws that protect people and how they are treated. We need to take stronger and firmer measures. They will say, “We are in America. You can’t touch us, ” but to that I say, “We are leaving the European Union. We are taking back control of trade policy, and we can take back control of internet access.” We need to start thinking along those lines.
Does my hon. Friend welcome the extension of powers over online VAT fraud to cover overseas businesses, which is a really important part of bringing multinationals in modern trading areas back into line? It is a very good move.
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. She is absolutely right. We need to make sure that social media outfits and technology companies in general are subject to the rule of law with regard to libel and identity so that we know who people are, and so that fake accounts cannot troll, bully, mistreat or hound people, which is unacceptable. We should never tolerate that. These companies should pay their fair share of tax and be as tough on terror as we are. They should seek to join and support the Government and this country’s authorities in cracking down on terror, crime and the mistreatment of our fellow people. If they are trading here, they need to respect our laws and our values as a country.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there has been a significant rise in anti-Semitic abuse through social media? We should do something about that disgraceful form of abuse, and the Government should act immediately.
I completely agree; the right hon. Lady is absolutely right. This disgusting, vile abuse—racism; anti-Semitism; all kinds of mistreatment of people—has to stop. We need a culture of respect on the internet and we must not tolerate those who will not show respect or treat people fairly on the internet. The situation has gone on for too long and it is unacceptable. It is time for us to bring the rule of law—of this House, Parliament and country—to those on social media and the multinationals that are not playing by the rules that they should.
Like any hon. Member ahead of a major Government event, I have been inundated with correspondence from people about what they did or did not want to see in the Budget—from concerns about beer duty, business rates, fuel duty, green-belt protection and Equitable Life to proposals to make the private rented sector more secure and affordable. Ahead of the Budget I diligently raised every issue I have been contacted about; the Chancellor and his team may have been concerned at having gained a new pen pal in the process.
I think that most people would confess that they did not have high hopes for this Budget, and the Chancellor has not fallen short in that regard. This Budget’s head is buried in the sand when it comes to the enormity of the challenges facing our economy. The downgrading of our growth, productivity and investment protections has implications for ordinary households up and down the country as they continue to face the misery of this cost of living squeeze—not to mention Brexit uncertainty and its looming implications.
I want to focus on a number of issues of particular interest to the north-east. In the Budget today, we finally received confirmation that the Government are minded to devolve funding and power to the north of Tyne areas, ending months of uncertainty. I look forward to seeing the details in the days and weeks ahead.
I also welcome the long awaited announcement of the funding to replace the Tyne and Wear Metro rolling stock, more than a year after the Government received a full business case from the region for that investment. About 40 million passengers use the Metro every year, but the poor reliability of the system has been causing constituents problems on a daily basis. We must have the investment in the new trains by 2021 if the Metro is not to grind to a halt. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that Nexus will be able to go to market this year to meet the timescale necessary, given that, according to the Red Book, the first tranche of funding will not be made available until 2019-20.
To continue my transport-related theme, despite clear commitments from the former Prime Minister and former Chancellor that further devolution to Scotland would not be allowed to disadvantage parts of the UK economically, we are still to receive from the current Chancellor a commitment on how he intends to mitigate the impact on English regional airports of devolving air passenger duty to the Scottish Government. Newcastle International airport is in my constituency and supports 19,000 jobs across the north-east. According to the Government’s own assessment, it will be the airport most affected by the Scottish Government’s plans to cut air passenger duty.
I first raised the issue in Parliament back in February 2016, and I have still not had an answer. “Wait and see” is not good enough on this key, vital infrastructure issue. We know that the Government are struggling to make a decision on anything at the moment, trapped as they are in this post-election Brexit quagmire of their own making.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the ideal solution for this cross-border tension—I speak as an MP who represents a Scottish constituency—is to get rid of air passenger duty altogether across the UK?
Obviously, it is incumbent on the Government to come up with a solution, but I am sure they will take on board the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion.
Combined with the continued uncertainty about the Prime Minister’s ability to deliver a deal that will not have a devastating impact on the UK’s economy, on investment and on our jobs, I fear that this zombie Government threaten to set our economy back decades if they do not rapidly get a grip, particularly for exporting regions such as the north-east. How can we possibly compete for business on a post-Brexit global stage if we struggle to make infrastructure decisions that have been dragging on for years, as on Heathrow and the Tyne and Wear Metro?
How can the Government be serious about rebalancing the economy and creating a northern powerhouse, when countless businesses are still none the wiser as to what that actually means? Indeed, just last week, the north-east chair of the Federation of Small Businesses said:
“Three years on from the first mention of the Northern Powerhouse… it’s still hard to find concrete manifestations of it. With a week to go until the Budget, we’d like to see the Chancellor take some meaningful steps towards getting the show on the road.”
He also said:
“We need cast iron guarantees about EU funding post-Brexit. Firms across the North East are benefitting from EU support to the tune of millions every year. One thing’s for sure, we won’t have a Northern Powerhouse unless that money’s replaced.”
Yet again, though, the Budget does not give the answers businesses need.
The north-east has so much to contribute to UK plc—indeed, it already does contribute—but if we are to achieve our full potential, we need a Chancellor who is on our side, who is prepared to rebalance investment genuinely to support sustainable economic growth and who is able to give businesses the confidence to invest. In highlighting its pre-Budget demands, the North East England chamber of commerce said:
“If the Government is serious about securing the much-heralded prize of closing the gap between London and other regions, there is major work needed to change the distribution of public and private investment, and economic activity in the UK. This is a trend that has built up over several decades. Listening to the calls of businesses in our region is essential to achieve this.”
However, it has become increasingly clear that, in meeting the challenge of reducing unemployment in regions such as the north-east, we must also solve the productivity crisis and tackle the epidemic of low-paid, insecure and low-skilled work that is afflicting our communities. Research published just this year by the TUC highlighted the fact that the north-east has become the UK capital of insecure work: the equivalent of two thirds of the new jobs created in our region in the past five years are without guaranteed pay or normal employment rights. People’s wages are now lower in real terms than they were in 2010. It is little wonder, therefore, that we are seeing household debt rising and more and more children living in poverty.
There is a whole raft of issues I could have covered today, many of which I have raised countless times before and to which we have still not seen any meaningful solution in the Budget this afternoon. There are the hundreds of families across Newcastle who have suffered absolute misery after the universal credit roll-out—I know that we have seen some announcements, but they do not go far enough. There are the thousands of women in the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign who are now in real financial difficulty as a result of the discrimination against them, and there are the local schools that are still struggling to balance their books because of the Government’s real-terms budget cuts.
We also have an NHS and social care system on its knees, with mental health services continuing to deteriorate because their funding is not ring-fenced. Public sector workers are all overstretched and undervalued, and they have seen a significant fall in their living standards as a result of the long-standing 1% pay cap. They need to know that any pay rises will be fully funded.
The issues I could have covered also include constituents who are now feeling the brunt of the £221 million of cuts that Newcastle City Council has had to make since 2010 and the £124 million of cuts imposed on Northumbria police over the same period.
All of that could have been addressed by the Chancellor today if the Government were serious about tackling tax avoidance and dealing with the cost of living crisis. All of that is falling further down the Government’s agenda as the Chancellor sets aside £3 billion to cover the anticipated costs of the Prime Minister’s potential failure to secure a Brexit deal. And all of that is further away from being addressed than ever before, with growth, business investment and productivity forecasts all dramatically downgraded.
Once again, constituents in Newcastle and the wider north-east have been failed by the Budget. The only thing it has succeeded in is living up to the expectation that it would simply not be up to the job.
It is a pleasure to follow Catherine McKinnell, who speaks so passionately about her university town. I hope that despite some of her remarks, some businesses and people in her town will benefit from the measures in the Budget—particularly, for example, the changes on universal credit. I do feel that the Chancellor has listened, and I am sure that he will welcome feedback.
This has been a Budget for change. I particularly welcome some of the changes, such as the additional money that has come in for the Brexit preparations. That is a major change for this country. It is very important to have the £700 million for the immediate preparations, and the £3 billion available as promised for the future, because we have to try to create an environment where we do not have uncertainty about the economic impact. I hope that this money will go towards creating more certainty in that area and the personnel who can provide it.
I welcome the Office for National Statistics report that accompanied the Budget, which said that the public finances have actually performed better than expected. That was probably a welcome relief for the Chancellor. Its forecast for jobs was also welcome. It estimates that employment will increase from 31.7 million in 2016 to 32.7 million in 2022. The announcements of £20 million for further education colleges, the increase in computer science teachers, the maths uplift and the new maths schools, which will build on the apprenticeships and the introduction of the T-level, will equip our young people for those jobs so that they can take advantage of the growth in our businesses.
I welcome the announcement on research and development for business, particularly the investment in driverless cars. That will bring great innovations that will greatly assist not only early adopters of new technology such as driverless cars, but those in our society who are disabled and getting on in age.
In an intervention on Charlie Elphicke, I mentioned online VAT fraud. I welcome the VAT number display provisions announced in the Red Book. I commend my constituent, Richard Allen, who has played a major part in providing information to the Treasury and assisting in improving and tightening up the law in this area so that people who owe money to the Exchequer are held to account in the correct fashion.
The national health service is very important in my area, and I was pleased to see that there is more money for the NHS. I particularly welcome the fact that NHS Aylesbury Vale clinical commissioning group’s bid for eight primary community care hubs has been accepted. That will be a very welcome addition to the health sector in my constituency.
However, some of the changes in the Budget worry me. I therefore turn to the Chancellor’s welcome for the National Infrastructure Commission’s interim report on Cambridge, Milton Keynes and the Oxford corridor, which identifies that a lack of housing and connectivity is putting future success at risk. The report emphasises the joined-up strategies required to link infrastructure and homes, and recommends the construction of an east-west rail project—an Oxford-Cambridge expressway. This will be accompanied by a massive house building programme that could see as many as 150,000 houses coming to Buckinghamshire.
I acknowledge the desperate need for affordable housing—we have all had people in our surgeries saying that their children cannot get houses in their area—and I wholeheartedly support connectivity, but the Government need to step back and view what is happening in Buckinghamshire so that we can have a cohesive approach to the area.
Administratively, we are facing a potential reorganisation of local government. I believe that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is minded to announce something before Christmas. That means that if any changes were made to the structure of local government, they would be implemented before the May 2020 elections. That will take up a great deal of the time and effort of our local authorities, which are already overstretched. At the same time, they have added burdens placed on them by HS2, which is not a minor project and which is using up a lot of resources in the county.
The local enterprise partnerships are not exactly streamlined. We have two: the Buckinghamshire Thames Valley LEP overlaps with the South East Midlands LEP. Although the BTV LEP has already done sterling work on our strategic economic plan, it will have to make some changes if the infrastructure commission’s plan is accepted and put into action.
The environment in the Chilterns is very fragile, but the new proposals are for about 150,000 houses—an estimated population that looks to be bigger than that of Milton Keynes today—and the doubling in size of Milton Keynes. Our environment in Buckinghamshire is of great importance to residents. In the larger picture, it also provides an oasis of tranquillity for the many people who come out to our area of outstanding natural beauty. The fact that it has received a national designation means that it should have the highest level of protection.
The report emphasises connectivity, which was supposedly one of the reasons for HS2. Despite that, there is no connection proposed between the east-west rail link and HS2. I think there should be an immediate review of whether it would be desirable to link the two railways, and, if so, what route changes are required for HS2. The route initially proposed through Milton Keynes would have made such a link possible, and it certainly would have reduced the environmental damage in Buckinghamshire.
Change needs to be managed, and there are too many changes and initiatives coming down the track that will impact in a major way on the county of Buckinghamshire. Unless these matters are co-ordinated, we may face unsustainable burdens that could achieve quite the reverse of the intention behind some of today’s welcome announcements. I would be grateful if the Chancellor met me and other local Members of Parliament in Buckinghamshire to look at how we can maximise the opportunities in this Budget for the country and the county, rather than allowing our local resources to be swamped by unmanageable change. This is a Budget for change, but change needs to be managed effectively to achieve the beneficial outcomes that we all want to see.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. We have heard considerable pessimism from Opposition Members, but I rise to welcome the Chancellor’s statement. In particular, I welcome the increased investment across the United Kingdom, which will bring an additional £660 million of benefit to Northern Ireland. That is much needed, because it has been a difficult few years. Significant budget pressures across all Departments in Northern Ireland, combined with constricted or limited real-terms budget growth year on year, have led to significant challenges. Difficult decisions had to be made, and people and services in Northern Ireland suffered.
I fully support the principle of fiscal responsibility, but austerity has felt punishing to many. It has been particularly acute in Northern Ireland, because we have been struggling to emerge from the decades of underinvestment that resulted from a long period of violence. We have been trying to rebalance our economy, which is still too reliant on the public sector. I welcome the fiscal loosening that is outlined in the Budget. Of course, we would like to see further loosening in the years ahead, and particular reference has been made to pensions and the plight of the WASPI women. In addition, we feel there needs to be some acknowledgement that additional public sector pay award funds should not come from within budgets, putting pressure on frontline services.
In this Budget, there is an emphasis on capital. In Northern Ireland we have huge pressures, particularly in education and health, which require revenue and resource investment, along with capital. I acknowledge that capital is incredibly important in growing our economy and investing in our infrastructure, but resource pressures often impact the most on frontline services. In the years ahead, I hope that we will continue to have very positive conversations about easing those matters. As has been indicated, our public services, particularly health, need significant investment to transform and become truly fit for purpose. I suppose Northern Ireland’s situation is slightly different from that of some areas represented in the House in that we will have a Barnett consequential from this Budget, so there will be flexibility on the prioritisation of those funds—the £660 million.
There are aspects of this Budget that will benefit Northern Ireland in a positive way. For example, Northern Ireland stands ready to play its part in the technological revolution and the drive to make the United Kingdom the true world leader in this area. This is indeed the future, and Northern Ireland has an excellent offering to make. We have a very highly skilled employment base, with low staff turnover, and we have much innovation. Our universities, such as Queen’s University in my constituency of Belfast South, are prepared and determined to play a full part in this digital and tech revolution.
I welcome the fact that the Budget goes some way to acknowledge how difficult the past few years have been for many, including in Northern Ireland. The relaxation of the pay cap, particularly the welcome indications in relation to nurses’ pay, the stamp duty exemption and the increases in the personal allowance and the national living wage will bring much wanted and deeply desired financial support to many who are genuinely struggling.
Such matters apply directly in Northern Ireland, but I want to mention the Barnett consequential and the decisions that need to be made in Northern Ireland in relation to the Budget. It grieves me that there is no Executive in place to examine today’s proposals and make such decisions. We need an Executive to look at what is coming from this Budget, to listen to the people on the ground in Northern Ireland—organisations, those who benefit from public services, businesses that need to grow—and feed that back into and prioritise it for our own Northern Ireland budget.
We in the Democratic Unionist party are doing everything we can to bring government back to Northern Ireland, but we will not and we cannot be held to ransom by narrow and divisive cultural and identity politics. This is a terrible situation in Northern Ireland, and although there has been much talk in the House today about Brexit and its impact, in Northern Ireland we are in the twilight zone: we have a senior civil service in charge of Departments, with no accountability, because we have neither direct rule Ministers nor local Ministers. There is no constitutional or democratic accountability in Northern Ireland for public spending, and there has not been for 10 months. This is an appalling situation, and I urge the Government to step in and do everything they can to support the re-establishment of the Executive or to bring in direct rule Ministers, because this lack of democratic accountability cannot continue.
The hon. Lady is making a very important point about democratic accountability in Northern Ireland. Does she agree with the suggestion made by some that the pay of Members of the Legislative Assembly should be suspended until they manage to get together and form the Executive?
I have only three minutes left, so I will not get into that specific issue, save to say that very many MLAs across Northern Ireland are working hard to try to restore government in Northern Ireland and to deliver for people in very difficult circumstances, but the entirety of Northern Ireland is being held to ransom—health and education are being held to ransom.
This is all the more important in relation to Brexit. I welcome the investment announced in the Budget today for ensuring a sensible and positive Brexit. Such a Brexit will require investment, and it is particularly important for Northern Ireland. However, because of the lack of a Northern Ireland Executive, it is incredibly difficult to make our case and ensure that we get the best possible outcome for Northern Ireland. A lot of nonsense has been spoken about this issue in recent days. In fact, what amounts almost to hysteria has been whipped up about it in the Republic of Ireland. This is vital to our economy. As has been reported today, things will be challenging on growth and productivity, but we are keen to fight for Northern Ireland through all this and get the best possible Brexit.
In conclusion, it is a disgrace that we have no Northern Ireland Finance Committee in place to examine this Budget and no Ministers to make decisions. The people on the ground are suffering, and it is because Sinn Féin is refusing to go back into government. At this time, a budget should be being brought forward for the Northern Ireland Assembly for next year. I was astounded that today, instead of examining this Budget and bringing forward proposals, our erstwhile Finance Minister, who is not in place, is standing outside Queen’s University at a student protest. That is a disgrace, as people are suffering.
I welcome today’s Budget statement and the fiscal loosening indicated within it. We will continue to raise issues of concern to Northern Ireland to ensure that we get the best deal. This is a bad situation, and the Government need to work with us to try to find solutions and deliver for all across all communities in Northern Ireland.
It is a particular pleasure to follow Emma Little Pengelly. Like her, I want to see a devolved Government back in place and making decisions again on spending in Northern Ireland. She is right to say that to have had 10 months without direct accountability to the people of Northern Ireland is unacceptable, and this needs to be moved forward. She is also right to make observations about the role that one or two other parties could be playing, one of which decides not to come here to make its comments on the budgets and spending. It should be providing a constructive way forward so that these decisions can be made in Northern Ireland, because this cannot be put off forever.
I welcome the Budget and the general tenor it set. I want to look in particular at what it means for those living in my constituency, which means starting by examining the impact that raising the basic allowance will have for many families. It is hard to believe that not that long ago, someone earning less than £7,000 a year would have been deemed to be earning enough to start paying income tax, yet now that threshold will be heading up to £11,800, meaning that those on lower pay keep more of what they are earning. Freezing fuel duty has a similar effect, particularly in the Bay; again, that makes quite a difference for those on low incomes, for whom transport will be an increasing cost. This is not just about car drivers; it is about those who use all forms of transport that rely on fuel. The idea that only motorists benefit from this measure is incorrect, so this is very welcome.
Given my Parliamentary Private Secretary role, I am conscious that I have to restrict some of what I say about the housing element of this Budget, but it is right to welcome the huge amount that is being done and that has been announced today. Getting towards 300,000 homes a year will be a great achievement and will make a real difference. Some of the reviews that will be launched are welcome, particularly those examining issues in the planning system.
I welcome the change on stamp duty, which will make it easier for many first-time buyers. One of the nasty surprises people get when they buy their first home, as I did when I bought mine, is that they think they have got the money together to purchase the property, including the deposit, and then suddenly are presented with a lovely bill for several thousand pounds, which they have to pay almost immediately. That puts an instant pressure on people who have already had to save for a higher deposit. I have heard some of the complaints from Opposition Members, but if they feel the way they say they do, there will be a chance for them to divide the House on this matter and to tell their constituents why they oppose this change. They will be able to tell first-time buyers in their constituency why they do not think this is the right idea. It is a bit strange to spend the afternoon in the House of Commons complaining about something and then going away to support it. For me, this measure is absolutely welcome and will make a difference for first-time buyers in Torbay.
Given the age demographics of the Bay, it is welcome to hear of the extra funding for the NHS, and in particular the £350 million to deal with winter pressures. I hope that that can be used in accidents and emergency and to look at some pressures created in each area by its demographics. As I say, Torbay is very much driven by an older population, whereas other areas will have different challenges that will require funding to be put in. There is an ongoing discussion about social care, but that issue will never be resolved in just one Budget. It needs to be part of a long-term discussion, probably on a cross-party basis, to provide a solution, as no one Parliament will be able to resolve it in a way that will give confidence to the public going forward.
The emphasis on productivity and the investment to increase it are welcome. I see the impact that the south Devon link road has had on productivity in Torbay. People no longer spend an hour in peak times trying to get between Newton Abbot and Torquay. That shows the regenerative effect that infrastructure investment can have. I hope that we will see more of it, particularly with the announcement of the £8 billion productivity investment fund.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I enjoyed our time together on the Public Accounts Committee. On the commitment to the south-west, I just say two words to her: Stonehenge tunnel. For decades we have waited and for decades it has not been delivered. Now, £1 billion will go into delivering it and into dualling the whole of the A303. I will judge the Government by what they do, not by what they spin.
I welcome the £2.3 billion for research and development. In the long run, I hope that that will include an institute of technology based around South Devon College in Paignton to deliver the highest levels of skills training in our local community. Torbay is famous for its beaches and tourism industry, but it also has, though slightly more hidden, a vibrant photonics industry that needs more people with skills to come to the area. If training is available on a large scale, businesses will be far more likely to invest in our area, to grow and expand, and to give local people those opportunities. The bid is being prepared literally as we speak and that is very welcome.
There are problems in the Bay to do with alcohol and substance abuse. The Chancellor’s comments about super-strength ciders are therefore welcome. The issue of preloading affects our night-time economy, and that is connected to the fact that some cider is cheaper than mineral water, yet is far stronger than most other things on the market. I think that the Chancellor’s approach is right. It will be interesting to see what happens in Scotland. I am not persuaded by the arguments for minimum pricing, but we will see what practical difference it makes in Scotland and learn from that. We will have an example of whether it works or not.
I welcome the changes to universal credit that have been announced, given that full service will be rolled out in Torbay in May 2018. I look forward to hearing the statement tomorrow, when we will get more detail. Again, it is good to know that the Government have listened, particularly to the comments that were made in last Thursday’s debate in the Chamber.
Torbay is famous for its many small businesses, so people will welcome there being no change to the VAT threshold. That will keep many small businesses out of the administration of VAT. It is also welcome to hear about the action being taken to crack down on online tax avoidance. For me, that is a key issue. It does not make great sense that businesses can avoid tax if they have a very large website, yet there is little that a small business based in a shopping centre in Torbay can do to avoid it. I welcome the other comments the Chancellor made about tax avoidance. We have heard many comments about tax avoidance today, but if these things are so easy to deal with, why were they not dealt with in the past? To be fair, there was a cross-party spirit in my time on the Public Accounts Committee when looking at tax avoidance issues. However, some of the rhetoric we hear in this Chamber does not sit well with the record of some people in this area.
Finally, having spent the weekend talking to Daniel Maddock, who is campaigning around Watcombe on the issue of potholes, it is always good to see the reference in the Red Book to the £45 million that is going into dealing with them. It might sound like a minor issue compared with building a new tunnel under Stonehenge or delivering a major piece of infrastructure, but it is the sort of thing that annoys those who pay their taxes and want to see a service in return.
This is a welcome Budget. It is a Budget that will help people reach their aspirations, a Budget that will help people buy a home, and a Budget that will help Britain move forward and have technology industries and a vibrant private sector as we approach Brexit. It is a Budget that will make Britain fit for the future and it should be supported by the House.
“I can sleep sound at night because I never betrayed the workers”.
It is important that we acknowledge this towering figure of the Labour movement.
A Cabinet source is quoted as saying that this Budget had the worst build-up in history. I do not think he was wrong. I hear a number of Government Members went absolutely bananas about the Budget ahead of today. What is clear to me is that the Budget caps off seven years of abject failure, first by the coalition and now by the Conservative minority Government. Contrary to the warm words we have heard from Conservative and Democratic Unionist party Members, the Budget proves that the Government are out of touch, have no idea about the lives of ordinary people and certainly have no plans to improve them. What we are seeing is an irrational ideology trumping plain common sense. They are driven by a neo-liberal ideology that has proven they are certainly not a Government for the many.
Where is the help for low-paid workers? The measures the Chancellor announced on universal credit were absolutely pathetic. It is also worth making the point that they do not come into effect before Christmas, so people will be left penniless over the Christmas period. Where is the support for public sector workers? Let us remember that public sector workers, such as firefighters and social workers, define a decent society. I did not hear any mention of support for them. Where is the significant investment in infrastructure that this country desperately needs? Where is the boost for health, education and local government? Social care is in crisis and support for vulnerable children is in crisis.
We heard the Chancellor say he would make money available for fire safety, but when local authorities approached the Government for support with retrofitting sprinklers they were refused that support. The IFS estimates that local government funding will fall by 79% by 2020. Ahead of the Budget, the chief executive of the NHS warned that without funding, waiting lists will climb further to 5 million and the 18-week target will be scrapped. Key targets, such as the 62-day cancer treatment target, will also be missed. The extra money announced will not tackle the crisis. Last year saw a 40% cut in the adult skills budget, meaning 1.3 million fewer adult learners. We heard the Chancellor say that he wanted to make the dream of home ownership a reality, but where is the meaningful plan to enable working-class people to buy their own home? Where is the council house building programme?
The former Chancellor George Osborne promised that austerity would wipe out the deficit. Well, we have certainly not achieved that, have we? The failure to do so means that austerity has simply amounted to nothing more than conscious cruelty. They have failed to eliminate the debt, too. The Chancellor said today that debt is peaking. All the Chancellor is doing is fiddling while Britain burns. His fiddling around with housing association debt—taking it off the balance sheet—is really nothing more than a bit of trickery. On any measure, the Government have been a spectacular failure on the deficit. It is a case of rearranging the deck chairs in relation to debt. I wonder whether the Chancellor might have a new job as a deckchair attendant on Brighton beach when he is sacked as Chancellor.
The Chancellor went to say that there are more jobs than ever. The problem, as other hon. Members have said, is that after seven years of austerity productivity is woefully low. Every ONS productivity forecast since 2010 has been wrong, causing it to significantly downgrade its projections. Businesses are simply not investing, because they lack confidence in the economy. The Tory ideology is wrong. The doctrine of neo-liberalism says the state should be rolled back, but it is clear that we need an entrepreneurial state. I wonder if Members of the Government Benches recognise that many technological advances have been made by public sector investment. It is almost as if the Government were indulging in the wilful sabotage of the economy with the cuts to adult skills budget last year, which, as I have already mentioned, have resulted in 1.3 million fewer adult learners. It is little wonder that the growth forecasts are so anaemic.
The previous Chancellor also said that the Government would not balance the books on the backs of the poor, but that is precisely what they have done with the additional £12 billion in social security cuts for working-age people in the pipeline. As we have heard, NHS waiting lists are going to get longer, while the extra funding for the NHS will simply not tackle that very real problem. We have also seen a skewed level of investment around the regions, with the ludicrous spectacle of rail investment in the east midlands running at £91 per head, whereas in London it is running at £746 per head.
We need a different approach. It does not have to be like this. Labour would offer a different approach. We would end the public sector pay cap; pause and fix the universal credit debacle; introduce a real living wage; bring in an energy price cap; bring forward infrastructure developments in every single region of the country; create high-wage, high-productivity jobs; start a large-scale housebuilding programme and introduce rent controls; scrap tuition fees and stop penalising people for getting a higher education; reverse the tax cuts to corporations and the super-rich; clamp down on the disgraceful industrial scale tax avoidance in this country; and reject the Tory’s Brexit cliff edge and the race to the bottom that will turn Britain into a deregulated tax haven.
The Chancellor claimed to be embracing the future, but the truth is the Government are stuck in a Thatcherite past, dogmatic in their commitment to neo-liberalism, despite the fact that it is not working. Ministers will no doubt remember, from their ideological training in their public schools and elite universities, that the market is supposed to distribute wealth like an invisible hand. It is as if the Tories believe in ghosts. This Budget shows that they still believe in the invisible hand of the market. In reality, no such thing exists. They are deluding themselves, blinded by ideology. What Britain needs is the steering hand of an entrepreneurial state. What Britain needs is a Labour Government to provide it.
It is a great privilege to follow all hon. Members who have spoken, including Chris Williamson, although I take issue with his remarks about Derek Robinson, otherwise known as Red Robbo, who I knew from my days campaigning in Birmingham, Northfield. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that a number of ordinary voters swore to me that they would never vote Labour again after what Derek Robinson did to the British car industry in bringing it to its knees. He was instrumental in destroying it.
As a new Member, it is a great privilege to speak in a Budget debate for the first time. I welcome the Budget. Every Government needs to raise money. We, on the Government Benches, are aware that it is not the Government’s money that is being spent; it is people’s money. Taxes must be raised, and the question is how. As we just heard from the hon. Gentleman, who lauded the communist party’s plans, it is a stark choice. In his response to the Chancellor, I did not hear the Leader of the Opposition explain how he would fund any of his proposals. In contrast, our plans are well thought out. We understand businesses and what is needed to support them. That is why the Federation of Small Businesses has welcomed the Budget announcements today. We chose today to raise taxes on private jets and lower them on young families trying to buy their first house.
I was an entrepreneur for 25 years, before coming into this place. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, he understands how difficult it is to get a small business off the ground. I, too, understand that; I have lived and breathed it. That is why I am delighted by the measures in the Budget backing entrepreneurial activity in our country. Such measures have already created about 197,000 jobs in our area since 2010, and 275 new businesses have been created in my constituency, which is testimony to the innovative spirit of the people there. I am also delighted about the 6,310 new apprenticeships that have been created—and those are good jobs. We are on the side of working people, and the Chancellor went further today by introducing a £1,075 pay rise for ordinary working people paying the basic rate of tax. That means that people will be better off after this Budget.
I think this is a Budget that advances our country. It does not recede, which is what some Opposition Members would like to do. Another great Conservative reforming Prime Minister, Robert Peel, said that we must make a choice between advancing and receding. He understood free trade, and that is the direction in which the Conservatives are going.
Corporation tax receipts have increased by £20 billion since 2010, and there are 5.5 million more small businesses. Think how many more schools and hospitals can be funded by the tax receipts that are coming into the Treasury! We have fairer business rates, and I welcome the Chancellor’s decision to remove the staircase tax and reform business rates relief. What would Labour do? It would borrow more, and it totally lacks any coherent narrative. When we came to office in 2010, borrowing stood at £73.26 billion—3.8% of GDP. Now it is down to £49 billion—2.4% of GDP—and the Chancellor has set out how it will fall further. My constituents will welcome that sensible approach to managing the economy. We know that borrowing more does not work. We have already tried that experiment. It crashed the economy, and ordinary working people, such as those in my constituency, paid the price.
I welcome the Chancellor’s focus on the midlands engine. As a midlands MP, I have seen for myself the results of the hard work that he has put into the West Midlands combined authority devolution deal, led by Andy Street, which will benefit us in Redditch. Make no mistake, however: I will be bending the Chancellor’s ear to ensure that Redditch also benefits from, for instance, an institute for technology to harness its skills and make it go further, and an express train from Redditch to Birmingham.
I recognise that there is still a productivity gap between the regions in our country, and between cities and the towns outside them—for example, Redditch. That is why I welcome the £31 billion productivity fund and the increase in research and development funding, which has also been welcomed by the Royal Society. It said:
“This budget sends a clear signal that the Government is focused on the UK’s technological future, and the crucial pipeline of skills needed to ensure that we remain at the forefront of the technological revolution”.
I am delighted that more tech businesses have been started, and that the Chancellor wants to see more still. A tech business is started every half hour. As the founder of a tech business myself, I know that, like me, my former colleagues will welcome the more generous enterprise investment scheme that the Chancellor has announced today.
I have mentioned the taxes that the Government have already raised, and will continue to raise as a result of the Budget measures. I am delighted to see that that money is going into our hospitals: there is £10 billion for the NHS. The Chancellor will not be surprised to learn that I shall be lobbying him, and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, for more money to go to Alexandra Hospital in my constituency. Some funds have already been pledged through the sustainability and transformation plan, and I am delighted that that has been underpinned today. I hope that there will be funds, for which I have been lobbying strenuously, to help the hospital to deal with winter pressures.
Young people in Redditch will welcome the housing measures. I have just received an e-mail from a constituent, Mr Andrew Ball, who is currently buying a small house in the Church Hill ward. He is due to save £280, which is very handy just before Christmas.
There are people who are absolutely delighted about these measures, and I am shocked by some of the negativity that I have heard from Opposition Members. I think that we should be positive and project an outward-looking vision of our country, beyond the four walls of the House and into the outside world.
As I listened to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor delivering his Budget, I was struck once again by the resonance of the words of Robert Peel. We face a choice between fearlessly shaping the future and retreating into the past. It is the choice between an open, innovative society and a closed, narrow one. Shall our motto be “advance” or “recede”? We on the Government Benches make our choice of a country welcoming change and welcoming the future. Therefore, I welcome this Budget.
I always think that it is worth trying to find a few small mercies at the beginning of a Budget analysis, as the Chancellor has gone to the trouble of making an hour-long speech, so there must be a few things in it. I am glad to see some changes—or mitigating factors—with the announcement on universal credit, but it will still have a big impact on many of our constituents, as my hon. Friend Toby Perkins pointed out in his question about the impact on the severely disabled during Prime Minister’s questions.
I am glad that the Budget contains some changes that might help with housing, although Nottingham City Council is concerned that many of the funds announced will involve competitive bidding processes. It is also concerned that the relaxation of the housing revenue account cap may be for only areas of high demand, so it is not clear that it will necessarily cover cities outside London. Of course, the 70% discount on council house sales remains, so even if more stock is built, it may be quickly depleted. I am particularly disappointed that the Chancellor did not mention social care at all. It beggars belief that although there was some discussion of the NHS, the big issue of social care, which is a strategic block for many problems in the NHS, was just disregarded. We need to return to that point in the later days of this debate.
We can step back, think strategically and ask, “What is the story of this Budget?” The answer is in the stark and depressing statistics and figures in the Treasury Red Book, which show an enormous downgrade in economic growth, with dreadful figures for all the years from hereon in. We are waving goodbye to 2% growth, because growth is henceforth below those levels. There is a big downgrade in productivity—the biggest, in fact, since the OBR was created. There is also the big broken promise over the deficit, which now stretches until 2022 and beyond. We were promised on many occasions that we would have a budget surplus, but the chance for that seems long gone. Why is this the case? It is fundamentally because the dark clouds and cold winds of Brexit loom large and are already being felt.
Any analysis of our economic outlook or fiscal prospects cannot possible ignore the Brexit question. The impact on business investment is being felt because uncertainty over trade and tariffs is holding firms back from putting money into things that would otherwise help to create productivity. The lack of productivity has fed into the growth downgrade, which in turn has created a big hole in the forecasts for Treasury revenues, which we need to pay for schools, hospitals, transport schemes and all our other vital public services.
The Bank of England’s decision-maker panel’s expectations for business investment are getting worse, quarter after quarter, looking into the future. We can see the negative effect of the clouds of Brexit on business investment and productivity. Look at the impact of sterling’s devaluation compared with the exchange rate index—it is 17.5% lower than at it was at its peak in November 2015. That has hit all our constituents in their pockets to a significant degree, with the National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimating that it has cost each household around £600. It is already hitting households with reductions in the real available incomes at their disposal.
We still have no idea about a transition status and what might happen after the fabled cliff edge in March 2019. The impact of uncertainty is likely to cast a shadow for many years to come. I hope that we will get some resolution at the European Council meeting before Christmas, but that seems to be quite a tall order.
When we look at what is perhaps the biggest issue—the fiscal impact—we see that £3 billion has been committed for Brexit preparations. What a waste of resources! That money should have been invested in our health service, in our schools and in other public services. In fact, more money has been committed for Brexit preparations in 2019 than has been committed for extra resources for the NHS. If anything sums up the dysfunction of this whole scenario, it is that statistic. And of course this is all before we have even seen the massive divorce bill. The £350 million a week for the NHS that we saw on the side of the big red bus has long gone. The OBR’s forecast document says that the divorce bill could be £67 billion. That is the equivalent of two years-worth of budget deficit rolled together, and presumably it will be added on to the national debt.
Table 1.2 on page 17 of the Treasury’s Red Book shows a triple whammy—the real kick of Brexit’s impact on our public services. It shows an enormous downgrade in revenues. It forecasts £8 billion less in receipts for 2019, £13 billion less for 2020, and £20 billion less for 2021. Those enormous figures really ought to be a wake-up call not only for the Government, but for all Members of Parliament. This fate does not need to be set in stone. The situation can still be avoided. We know that people who were involved in Vote Leave are saying, “Well, it’s all done and dusted. This is the fate of the British economy, and Brexit is going to take us over the cliff,” but there are choices that we in Britain can make. I say to my hon. Friends as much as to the Government that it is our responsibility to avoid the Brexit austerity that is likely to cast a shadow over the decade ahead. That austerity will be the responsibility of us all unless we opt to remain in the single market and the customs union in order to retain the tariff-free trade that we have with our nearest neighbours and to avoid these problems.
I have just looked at table 1.2 on page 17 of the Red Book, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It shows the deficit going down from £58.3 billion to £16.8 billion, but the figures he referred to—£8.4 billion going up to £20.6 billion—relate to the receipts forecast. They do not indicate a reduction in receipts as a result of Brexit.
I am afraid they do show a reduction in receipts. The hon. Gentleman will see in the end column that the budget deficit for 2021 was forecast in the spring to be £16 billion, but today’s Budget now predicts that it will be £30 billion. The level of borrowing is predicted to go up significantly, largely driven by the £20 billion fall in receipts. The figures are quite clear.
The Government could choose not to take resources out of public services now. They could add to the borrowing, but that would have an impact due to extra debt interest. My suspicion, certainly with this Government, is that there will be more fiscal tightening and more austerity in the tail end of the years ahead. When we add up the money being wasted on Brexit preparations and the divorce bill, and take into account the fall in receipts because of low productivity and lower growth forecasts, which in turn are being driven by the dark cloud of Brexit, we realise that this is the real story behind the Budget. However, this need not be the fate of this country if we take certain decisions. I say to hon. Members on both sides of the House: let us not be responsible for this level of austerity in the future. We can choose a different fate, and we need to ensure that we intervene and retain our membership of the single market and customs union.
I am sorry that I have not been in the Chamber for the whole debate, Mr Speaker. I have been at a meeting of the Exiting the European Union Committee debating one of our reports. We have been firmly excising split infinitives, and making sure that apostrophes appear in the right place and that Humble Addresses are preceded by the correct indefinite article. All those important matters took me away from the Chamber.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Leslie, who is always so interesting on such matters, although we disagree very firmly about them. I thought it might be worth looking at how much better the figures are than they were expected to be. In the context of Brexit, we are always told that the end of the world is nigh, the writing is on the wall and all will be terrible, and yet when we look at the Red Book, the figures that we have had so far are better—in spite of the Treasury and others saying that it will all be a disaster. Paragraph 1.36 of the Red Book states:
“Borrowing in 2017-18 is £49.9 billion, £8.4 billion lower than forecast at Spring Budget 2017.”
Why? Because receipts are higher and more money is coming in, which is indicative of the economy’s strengthening. The following page indicates that that is down to spending decisions and tax decisions that have been taken in the Budget.
I have one specific question for Ministers on the Treasury Bench about the Red Book. This may have been raised by my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke, but it is of considerable importance. Page 82, which I think is copied from page 114 of the OBR’s “Economic and fiscal outlook”, states that in 2022-23 there will be a £3.5 billion “own resources” contribution to the European Union. Now, I cannot believe that the wise figures in the OBR or in Her Majesty’s Treasury could have made the schoolboy error of just assuming that money paid out in one year would continue indefinitely, but it misses the point that we will have left the European Union by 2022-23, that the implementation period will have ended, and that the whole concept of “own resources” will have ceased to exist. It is rather like spotting an error in “Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack”, which is very rare, and indicates a failing that I hope will be put right. I hope that we will discover that it was unintended, because if it is intended, that means that we will not in fact be stopping our contributions to the European Union, which would be very strange. To have this described as “own resources” is even more peculiar, because that assumes that we are still members of the EU. I think there is an error there.
To respond to my hon. Friend’s point about the forecasts, they are made by the OBR. The OBR was provided with the Prime Minister’s Florence speech—the basis on which we are negotiating with the EU—and it is up to the OBR to make its own independent forecasts. My hon. Friend will have to speak directly to the OBR about that, but my understanding is that it has used an average of other independent forecasts.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but I do not think that that quite works for the “own resources” figure, because the OBR has made assumptions relating to our net contribution to the European Union and has assumed that those moneys will be spent domestically in the United Kingdom, and that therefore there is no fiscal advantage. However, there is still a £3.5 billion negative income from “own resources”. It is hard to think that the OBR would have taken that from other forecasters, because that is a matter on which the Treasury can give an authoritative view, and it would be odd if the Treasury had not explained that “own resources” will end at the point at which we leave the European Union. They have to, because only member states of the European Union can make “own resources” contributions, for obvious reasons, although I have always disliked the term “own resources”, and I have always been with Margaret Thatcher in that it is our money and we would quite like to keep it, thank you very much.
All that ties in with a point made eloquently by Chris Evans: the key to this Budget has to be Brexit. What we are doing currently is in the context of leaving the European Union, and this Budget is inevitably encompassed by Brexit and by productivity. That is where the challenge lies. The OBR’s gloomy productivity forecasts suggest a reduction in potential output in 2021-22 of 3%. The challenge for the architects of our economic future is how to make Brexit work to ensure that we get a productivity boost.
That is where I was so encouraged by what the Chancellor had to say about this Government being a free trade Government, and that the real opportunity that comes from Brexit is freely opening up our markets to the rest of the world. We must remember that the customs union, in which the hon. Member for Nottingham East is so keen to stay, is actually a protectionist union that stops people in the United Kingdom from buying the cheapest available goods and that, by and large, it protects industries that the UK does not have. The overwhelming majority of the protections under the customs union are for things such as German coffee processors or Spanish orange growers—the types of things that we are not doing. Our industries receive marginal protection from the customs union, but at a very high cost to British consumers—it is thought that the cost for food is 20%, and that the next highest level of tariffs is on clothing and footwear.
The opportunity for the poorest in our society to see their standard of living and real wages rise is quite fundamental. Their weekly, monthly and annual expenditure will be reduced and their real incomes will rise, making funds available for other expenditure, or indeed for saving and reinvesting in British industry. Equally, the loss of cosy protectionism means that we will cease to subsidise inefficient continental businesses. It will also ensure that we concentrate on what we are best at. That ought to lead, of itself, to a boost in productivity. Indeed, that is the lesson of history when we move to free trade and remove not only formal tariffs, but non-tariff barriers.
That, if the correct policies are adopted, is how the £350 million a week can ultimately be provided for the national health service. Figures produced by Professor Patrick Minford and his distinguished team at Cardiff University indicate that there will be a boon of £135 billion between 2020 and 2025, and £40 billion a year after that, which will make it possible to have tax cuts and to fund the health service. It is encouraging that the Chancellor has already started that process and is making more money available for the health service now, because it is important that politicians deliver on the spirit of their promises, as well as on the detailed, pettifogging, nitpicking, small-print elements. It is right that that should be made possible, and having a free trade development of economic policy will be crucial to that, so it was welcome that the Chancellor included it in his Budget statement.
The other issue of greatest importance to voters is that of housing, and here I would encourage the Chancellor to go further. The Government are absolutely right to be supporting more house building, but the key will be reform of the planning system. The thing that makes housing in this country so expensive is the fact that supply is controlled. As the Chancellor rightly said in his Budget statement, actions to help demand are merely likely to push prices up. What we need is to see prices coming down, at least in relation to incomes, and that means not only increasing supply, but increasing the supply of housing that people want to live in.
The one question that I will therefore raise on the Budget is this. The Chancellor said that he would look to ensure that the housing was primarily in an urban setting, but when we ask people what housing they want to live in, 80% say that they want to live in houses with gardens, and that means we will have to build on green fields. It would be wise to review the green belt, because some parts of it are not actually essential to life and the pursuit of happiness. What we really want is a succession of Poundburys across the country, because that is the type of housing that people want to live in, and I think that the Conservative party should be on the side of not only the Prince of Wales, but the people.
It is a pleasure, as always, to follow Mr Rees-Mogg. The challenge facing any Government, and any Budget, is to boost our strengths, tackle our weaknesses and prepare the country for the future. I am afraid that the Government have failed to rise to these challenges, and not just in this inadequate Budget, but through their damaging approach to Brexit. I want to take each of those points in turn.
First, on our economic strengths, we are rightly proud of our world-leading car manufacturers, pharmaceutical and aerospace companies, creative industries, universities and financial services. We want and need those to expand and thrive, create more good-quality jobs and help us fund our vital public services, yet they all face huge uncertainties because of the Government’s determination to pull us out of the single market and the customs union, and not just because of their acceptance that we might leave the EU with no deal and have to fall back on World Trade Organisation rules, but because of the active desire of some Government Members to do so. The risk of new tariffs and custom barriers, of financial services losing their passporting rights, and of restrictions on our trading with the largest market of 500 million consumers on our doorstep is a major cause of the lower than expected levels of business investment, productivity and growth that we heard in the Budget statement. The Government cannot escape that, no matter how much they want to sweep it under the carpet.
It is not only that the Government’s approach to Brexit is risking our economic strengths; they are also failing to address our underlying economic weaknesses. To be clear: many of these weaknesses existed before Brexit and, indeed, before the financial crisis, but I fear that the Government’s approach to Brexit will make them far worse. The fundamental problem is that the British economy is no longer delivering rising earnings for the majority of the population. We are in the longest period of wage stagnation for 150 years. I hugely welcome the high levels of employment, but many of the jobs are insecure and low-paid, and child poverty is rising.
Britain has one of the most geographically unbalanced economies in Europe, with 40% of our economic output coming from London and the south-east. Indeed, those are the only two regions in the country that have seen their economies get back to pre-crisis levels. We are also one of the most unequal economies, not only in income inequality but in wealth inequality which, as the International Monetary Fund says, really matters, because more unequal countries have shorter and weaker periods of growth. For far too long, our economy has been plagued by short-termism, poor productivity and low levels of public and private investment. I am afraid nothing the Chancellor said today indicates that the Government understand the sheer scale of the problem or have a plan to reform our economy—to reform capitalism so that it works for the majority of people in every single part of the country.
That brings me to my final point about preparing the country for the future. We face big challenges alongside that of Brexit: deeper globalisation as emerging economies to the east and south increasingly compete on high-value products and services, not just on basic manufacturing; our ageing population and the implications for pensions, the NHS and social care; technological change, which is opening up huge opportunities for some but risks leaving behind those without the skills they need; and the continuing need to tackle climate change.
I am glad that the Chancellor announced measures to encourage more young people to take A-level maths, along with investment in artificial intelligence and driverless cars, but where was the plan to transform skills in this country? Where was the plan to invest in early years so that every child starts school ready to learn? When children from the poorest parts of my constituency start school 20 months behind where they should be, they play catch-up for the rest of their lives. Where was the plan to help the 5 million adults without basic skills who will never cope with the changes brought by technology and globalisation?
The Chancellor said that there will be £2.8 billion extra for the NHS over the next three years. That is pathetically inadequate! It is less than the £3 billion being spent on preparing for Brexit. There was nothing in the Budget for social care, to give older and disabled people and their families, who are desperately struggling to cope, the help and support that they need.
All that brings me back to Brexit. The single most important thing we learned from the Budget is that there will be slower growth every year for five years. That means there will be £65 billion less than we thought just a year ago to spend on transforming this country and the life chances of the people we represent. On any economic test, the forecasts are a disaster, and the Government have only themselves to blame.
Order. May I just advise the House of the situation in which we find ourselves? One hon. Member has most courteously agreed to speak on another day. Other colleagues, I know, are fully seized of the importance of their speaking today, and possibly very fully in view of the many important points that they have to make. I completely understand that, but the fact is that eight people wish to speak, and if they are to do so by 7 o’clock they can do the arithmetic for themselves. That is the reality of the matter. It is no good people complaining at the Whip when the Whip reports unwelcome news. People have to recognise the responsibility they have, and if there are lots of interventions the time left is shorter. It is as simple as that—end of subject.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Speaker. I will try to curtail my remarks with that in mind. I know that many Members want to contribute to this debate.
It is a pleasure to follow Liz Kendall. Rather like the comment of my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg about Mr Leslie, I may not agree with what the hon. Lady says, but she speaks with passion and verve and I understand her direction of travel. I do not want to embarrass her or her colleague, but I contrast that with what the Leader of the Opposition said earlier, which reminded me of a modern artist—a lot of noise and colour, but no discernible theme.
Every Member on both sides of the House wants good public services. They want them to be well supported and to deliver for our constituents. Like Emma Little Pengelly and others, I welcome the slight fiscal loosening over the next two to three years as recognition of the needs of our public sector. I am not going to prejudge independent pay reviews but—who knows?—perhaps that will give extra leeway in that direction as well. That is right and appropriate, but it is also right that it is executed in the context of a broader, macro-plan for bringing our national debt under control.
According to my back-of-an-envelope forecasts, we will reduce our deficit to its 2001 level, when the Labour party was in government. That was the last year in which it had very sensibly allowed its fiscal envelope to be dictated by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke. From next year, our total debt as a percentage of GDP will begin to decline—a signal point in our resolving the fiscal hole of historic proportions that we inherited. Reducing that deficit is not glamorous or popular, but it is necessary. It is necessary to build up resilience to future shocks; for our annual interest payments, which are about 50% of what we spend every year on the NHS; and on the grounds of simple fairness to future generations.
To maintain that progress of debt reduction and to sustain our investment in the public services that we all cherish, the Chancellor is absolutely right to focus on our productivity puzzle. I respect the OBR’s economic forecasts, which have been referred to frequently this afternoon. Personally I feel more optimistic as to the pace of growth. They are forecasts: they go up and they go down. That is in the nature of forecasting. As the OBR itself says:
“The outlook for potential…productivity is the most important, yet most uncertain, element of” productivity output growth. The OBR is, of course, right on both counts. That is why I applaud the Chancellor’s robust stance on embracing the new technologies, harnessing the UK’s lead in innovation and building up our productivity growth.
We have an excellent record on employment, both in my Horsham constituency and nationally, with 1,000 jobs a day being created since 2010. Our challenge as a country—it is also a challenge globally, but it is particularly acute in the UK—is to ensure that those employees receive the investment, education, infrastructure and support that will allow us to drive our productivity and enhance further economic growth.
I welcome those measures in the Budget that are directly aimed at long-term improvements in our productivity, including targeting the new technologies, a further £2.3 billion for R and D, and a further enhancement to the R and D tax credit, helping to lift R and D investment to our target of 2.4% of GDP. As someone who sees the UK as a liberal country open to the world, I am delighted by the approach laid out in the Red Book for attracting and retaining the best scientific talent from anywhere in the world to work and flourish here in the UK.
On education, to which the hon. Member for Leicester West referred, I warmly welcome the new approaches. Horsham boasts excellent schools that place huge importance on STEM subjects, and voluntary organisations such as HackHorsham provide extra resources to young people who want to embrace those new technologies.
Order. I interrupt my former constituency chairman to say that I know the hon. Gentleman extremely well and he speaks in his mellifluous tone with great eloquence. He is capable of doing so at any length, short or long, but I know that, being a courteous fellow, he will want to have regard to the simmering temperature of Ian C. Lucas, who is to follow him, and other colleagues who also wish to contribute. Therefore, I think I speak with some confidence in saying that his peroration is nigh.
I take the hint, Mr Speaker, and I promise I will be brief. Education—I welcome it, and I certainly welcome the infrastructure spend on transport and housing. This is a wide Budget with a lot to commend it; it addresses the problems of the past while setting out the foundations for the future. I am sorry that I am not able to entertain the House at any greater length, but it is perfectly fair that others should have their shout. With that, I commend the Budget.
I am grateful to Jeremy Quin for his courtesy in allowing those of us who have been here since 11.30 to speak.
I want to talk about regional policy. My speaking time is restricted, but I am glad that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is here as I want to raise a particular issue to do with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in my constituency of Wrexham; it is directly connected to regional policy. There was a time when the Conservative party talked about rebalancing the economy and there seemed to be a commitment to something called the northern powerhouse. I recall attending a meeting a couple of years ago with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord O’Neill, who both talked with enthusiasm about investing in the north of England.
I have had some time to read the Red Book while I have been waiting to speak. There is a large section about investment in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor—one of the most affluent areas of the United Kingdom. I believe in an economy that serves the whole of this country. I want to tell the Chief Secretary to the Treasury about another corridor, which exists between Manchester and Holyhead and contains some of the world-leading companies in the UK, including Airbus, JCB and the Wylfa 2 nuclear project.
The private sector is investing in that area of the country. Virgin Media is investing in a superfast broadband network in my constituency of Wrexham, and a company announced last week that it was moving there, creating 250 jobs. They have confidence in the area. Unbelievably, the Government are moving the local HMRC office in Wrexham to central Cardiff. The only HMRC office in Wales will be in the centre of the city of Cardiff—the most expensive place in Wales. How any sane Government can pursue such a regional policy is completely beyond me. It is not only wrong in terms of regional policy, but it is taking wealth away from another part of Wales.
Any sensible Government would do the exact opposite. The Welsh Government, who are sensible, are setting up a development bank for Wales in Wrexham as opposed to Cardiff. I would like the Chief Secretary to go away and rethink what I think is the worst, most incomprehensible decision that any Government Department has made during my 16 years in the House. The Government need to reflect on whether they really believe in the United Kingdom and in investment in our regions and nations. Every indication that I have seen is that they do not support investment in infrastructure in the regions and nations of the United Kingdom.
In three separate Budgets, north Wales has been told that the plans for the north Wales growth deal are in hand—this is the hat-trick Budget. We have yet to see a penny piece of UK Government investment in north Wales transport infrastructure, including our rail network, for which the Government have had responsibility since 2010. They ought to be ashamed. It is about time they pulled their finger out. They need to do things differently.
So much for Euro-Phil’s “Fudge it Budget”. He talked about embracing the future of global Britain, but there was virtually no mention of Brexit. We know that he will be in contempt if he does not reveal the 58 sector reports to the House, but he did not mention them at all in his Budget speech.
Even before the Budget, we saw the Government increase debt as a proportion of GDP, from 45% to 90%—it has doubled since 2010. Our debt is now £1.8 trillion—£30,000 per person, or two and a half years of expenditure. Under Labour, of course, we saw growth of 40% over the 10 years to 2008 and before the banking crisis. That sets the context of how appalling the past has been under the Tories.
We have seen hopeless productivity and hopeless growth. We saw a policy of quantitative easing, which basically pumped money in and inflated asset values. Anyone who has a house or any asset is richer, and the poor, without assets, are poorer. We know from the OECD that growth is related to inequality. If there is more inequality, there is less growth. We know from European studies using the normal methodology of the Gini coefficient that inequality has grown fastest and to the highest level in the UK.
We know from the United Nations, for example, that cuts have hit the disabled harder than anyone else—disproportionately, grotesquely —and their rights have been abused. The UN has asked us to change the way we deliver universal credit. And so on and so on—it is absolutely appalling.
Turning to Brexit, nobody on the Government side has mentioned the £40 billion divorce Bill—it will end up being in the region of £1,000 per person. People have talked about free trade, but Brexit is the biggest withdrawal from free trade in UK history. We are turning our back on the biggest and most established marketplace in the world. We hope to have a relationship with other markets, but they are coalescing in their own trade agreements. We are likely to pay massive tariffs to the EU and under the World Trade Organisation. Given that most of our exports are services, we will pay even more on those.
We are seeing depreciation reduce everyone’s assets and wages by between 10% and 15% at a stroke. We have inflation eating away at people’s household income, whether that is through housing, food or energy prices. We have seen our growth basically at the bottom among the G7, and we are now seeing skills leaving the country and going back to other parts of Europe, such as Poland, as we get restricted market access and disinvestment. The prospects for Britain are appalling.
Obviously, I welcome a few things. I introduced the Clean Air Bill today—31 years ago, Tony Benn was the last person to introduce a private Member’s Bill on a Budget day—so I welcome some of the things about clean air. But it is unfortunate that there is not an increase in diesel duty that could be hypothecated to pay for electric buses in all our city centres, for instance. I also welcome the initiative on taxes.
I would have liked to see a focus on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon and green energy, because 80% of fossil fuels cannot be exploited if we are to avoid irreversible climate change. I would also have liked to see electrification and connectivity on the Swansea Metro for my constituents.
Unfortunately, we now face a future in which we are going to be forced into the groping hands of Donald Trump and into trade relationships. We are going to be on the back foot, and we are going to have to accept what we are given. I do fear for the future.
I solemnly believe that the British people, who did, on the margin, give an advisory mandate for leaving Europe, should be given the final say in 2018 as to whether what they are getting now represents what they understood in 2016 that they would get. I will leave my remarks there.
I would like to start by again reminding the House that the Bristol economy is a net contributor to the Treasury of £10 billion annually. Once again, I ask, what do we get for it? I have looked in the Red Book for the south-west, and it is not there—there are a few paltry comments. Once again, we are short-changed by this Government.
I have heard about high employment levels, but in Bristol they mask the reality that there are too many low-paid jobs. Some 18% of workers in my constituency earn less than the voluntary living wage. Young people are the least likely in the country to go to university, and our people are ending up on the lowest level of apprenticeships. We have 20% of our people living with a life-limiting disability. This is a scandalous loss of human potential.
I do concede that there are some small signs of hope in today’s Budget as regards housing. I welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to house building, as this is crucial for my constituency. However, with house inflation at 14% in Bristol, the cut in stamp duty will not be of much help. I look forward to hearing whether Bristol is regarded as an area of high affordability pressure and therefore whether the council will be able to borrow more to build much needed council houses to rent in future.
We have young people in Bristol South ready to build these houses to feed the supply chain, but we desperately need an opportunity to train them. The wage differential for housing construction apprenticeships is good compared with others, but most of our young people do not get on to good apprenticeships. Last November, City of Bristol College was awarded pipeline status to get a construction centre in my constituency. When the previous skills Minister, Robert Halfon, visited with me earlier this year, I pointed out to him the site where it can be built, but the local enterprise partnership has still not invested the money. There is no coherence in the Department for Education on capital money and investment. The Chancellor needs to stop wasting taxpayers’ money and invest it where it is needed.
We have heard a lot this week about the pledge on automated driverless cars and other headline-grabbing sectors that the Government declare a priority: contrast that with the £500 million for technical qualifications. I have supported apprenticeship schemes for a long time in this House, but the ambitious, arbitrary targets and the focus on new starts as a measure of success have meant an emphasis on quantity over quality. I remind the Chancellor of the 61% decline in new apprenticeship starts in just the past few months since the levy started. Without further significant investment, the Government’s target will not be met. It was not good enough today simply to refer to the levy as something he is going to keep an eye on.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to technical education as part of an attempt to fill the skills gap, but again, there is no money in this for further education—a bare £20 million. I am acutely aware there have been huge delays in rolling out this programme. I fear that T-levels will face similar implementation problems as apprenticeships, and we are losing critical time. If the issues stem from a lack of funding, then I would have expected to see something more in this Budget. Instead, my local college is facing cuts from £9.7 million to £5.4 million since 2013, and, crucially, participation rates have halved. Two and half thousand adults ceased to be eligible for Government subsidy for their learning—more wasted human potential. We already have the lowest higher education attainment results of any constituency in the country. This disadvantage starts in early years and in schools. There are £1.9 million of school cuts coming across Bristol, and the below-inflation funding formula next year will represent a further per pupil funding decrease.
I would like to say a few words about health. Last year, the Public Health Committee and the Health Committee nailed the lie that the NHS got what it asked for last time. Let us not get into this again next time. Of course new money is welcome, but it is not sufficient to do the job that the Government have asked the NHS to do. It is also absolutely scandalous that we have heard nothing today about the silent misery for families who are living with the social care crisis. Since becoming an MP, I have not heard a single Tory defend the Lansley reforms. The destruction caused by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is apparent to us all, with no one locally in charge to do anything about it.
It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Karin Smyth and to speak in this Budget debate.
The outlook for the economy is bleak, with the worst five-year forecast of GDP since the Office for Budget Responsibility was set up, against the backdrop of the drop in sterling and the increase in inflation. As the Chancellor stood up to speak, the cost of Brexit was clear—in excess of £3 billion. Let’s put that on the side of a bus!
Hornsey and Wood Green has been starved of funding over the past seven years. The capacity of our community to educate, house and care for our citizens, as well as keep them safe, has deteriorated and is set to decline further. While London remains, seemingly, a vibrant economy, there is a yawning gap between the haves and have-nots. My hon. Friend Ian C. Lucas spoke of his concerns about his region, but there can be inequality within a region as well: in London, we often walk the same streets but inhabit different worlds. Wages are flat, household debt is up, and transport and infrastructure continue to stall, with negative effects on industry and workers alike.
People in three particular housing tenures—those who hope to buy, private sector renters and those who are languishing on social housing lists—are in desperate housing need. Disappointingly, the rough sleeping initiative in the Chancellor’s speech did not include tackling rough sleeping in the capital. I think we all noticed this morning, as we charged in for our meetings and the Budget debate, that there were two homeless men asleep outside the door of the House of Commons. That is what Labour Members want to tackle, but I fear that when we come to the Budget debate next year, there may even be more homeless people lying in sleeping bags outside the doors of the House of Commons.
While London remains one of the top destinations for business and international talent, transport and infrastructure continue to stall, and it is time we all woke up to that. The Borough of Haringey has seen a 40% real-terms reduction in funding since 2010, resulting in £160 million of savings, which have affected disabled people, basic municipal services and children with special educational needs, and have generally had a depressing effect on the local economy. That worrying trend is set to continue, with another £20 million of savings to be found in the finances of one London borough.
A dangerous cocktail of growing demand, cost and inflation combined with funding cuts is putting unsustainable pressure on local government finances. Core funding from central Government is set to have fallen 63% in real terms over the decade to 2019-20. I tell children when I go into schools, “It’s like your mum gives you £1 one day, but only 30p the next. That’s how it is to manage a council these days.” People in Hornsey and Wood Green know the situation well. We have a desperate shortage of housing, but we are also concerned about health.
I am sure the hon. Lady will want to introduce some balance into her speech, because she is very fair-minded. Which does she welcome more: the substantial extra money for the NHS, the substantial investment in transport infrastructure or the cut in stamp duty for millions? Which of those does she think is the most important?
Instead of wasting all these billions on the whole Brexit shambles, I would rather we had more than £1 billion for the NHS. I am afraid that £1 billion is less than what Simon Stevens says we need.
In my constituency, 37 out of 37 schools will have experienced a 6% fall in funding per pupil between 2015-16 and 2019-20. Headteachers, classroom teachers and teaching assistants are all calling for desperately needed change. Police funding cuts barely got a mention, but it looks as though the Home Office will have to swallow a £400 million cut to the police. I was out in the affluent suburb of Highgate on Monday morning, speaking to terrified mothers who had had things stolen from them by youngsters who had ridden up on mopeds and used hammers to smash the windows of the café in which they were sitting; that has happened four times since the café moved into the high street. We are facing a crime wave in London, and it needs to be addressed.
I want briefly to mention the cut of £797 million, or £510 per person, in health funding in the north central London area. Many Members will be aware that there are huge pressures, particularly in mental health, and cuts on that scale will have a huge effect on very vulnerable people with serious mental health problems.
Finally, I welcome elements of the change in approach to small business taxation, but we must go further. As our population continues to grow and people work in different ways, including in small business, we need to be ever mindful of supporting them.
I will try to rush through my speech as quickly as I possibly can. We in the SNP called for a Budget that put people and prosperity at its heart. I am afraid that we have not seen that, and the Chancellor’s tinkering around the edges will not cut it.
We have heard nothing today about renewable energy. Despite Ministers’ recent warm words, years on from George Osborne’s betrayal over Peterhead there is still nothing on carbon capture and storage, which are vital for the future. There was very little on oil and gas. Although we welcome, at long last, the move on transferrable tax history, nowhere to be seen is the oil and gas ambassador that was promised. This is a phantom appointment—two years in the waiting—but such an ambassador could have been doing good for the North sea industry.
There was no acknowledgment of the monumental error of judgment that is the Hinkley C nuclear investment. The Public Accounts Committee said yesterday that there were “grave strategic errors”, and that no thought was given to consumers before becoming locked into a 35-year deal. That follows the National Audit Office’s judgment that this was “risky and expensive”. With a strike price twice the cost of new offshore, consumers will be paying the price. As the Public Accounts Committee said, the poor have been hit the hardest. This is not a Budget for people, let alone for prosperity.
We did find out that £3.7 billion will be spent on the Brexit process. Let us take that and spend it on the NHS instead. There was nothing for the rural businesses that will be affected, and nothing to end the uncertainty. We could have heard about support for our farmers, who urgently need a clear explanation of the nature and timetable of the process for guaranteeing all EU funding programmes—and not just to 2020, but for the period beyond. There was nothing to deal with the skills and labour shortages that are now being caused by the Brexit shambles and uncertainty. There was nothing about the crisis that Brexit is causing for our NHS, or for the fish processing, food and drink or tourism sectors—to name just a few—because we do not yet know what is happening with our EU nationals, and we are already seeing people leaving those industries.
Much was made earlier about technology, but there was nothing about broadband. No increase in ambition has been shown in this Budget to match the 100% coverage to every premises promised in Scotland. Broadband is a reserved matter, but if this had been left to the UK Government, only 21% of the highlands would have had access to fibre. It took the Scottish Government to step up with £400 million to bring that figure up to 84% and be on track toward 100%. While I am on Scotland, the £2.9 billion cut we have seen is not assuaged by the £2 billion announced today. By the way, £1.1 billion of that is in the form of financial transactions that have to be repaid to the UK Treasury, and it is over three years. That means there is a real-terms cut of £239 million.
Where was the movement on the WASPI campaign? These women have been waiting far too long to get something from the Chancellor to sort out this issue. He said that
“we are all in politics to make people’s lives better”.
He had a big opportunity to do that today, but he missed it. He could have halted universal credit and started the process of fixing it. For four years, since the pilot in my constituency in 2013, we have been telling the UK Government the things they could do to sort it out. I welcome the small steps, but let us not get dazzled because they are not going to change much. The £1.5 billion intervention that has been announced sounds good, but if we look at the Blue Book, we can see that it means £20 million this year and it goes up to 2023. Freezing alcohol duty is good, but the amount to deal with all that harm is less than the cost of freezing alcohol duty. The reduction of one week to five weeks is also welcome in that it is at least something, but again, it will be of little help to many. Some 25% of claimants are already waiting longer, and the cuts are pushing people into crisis.
The Chancellor could have reduced rent arrear burdens, and helped councils and housing societies, by decoupling housing benefit, which would have helped enormously. He could have helped to ease such burdens. As the Women’s Budget Group has pointed out, employed individuals claiming universal credit will be £1,200 a year worse off by April 2021, and 57% of that is due to a cut in the in-work allowance. His failure to halt universal credit means that he has done nothing to help families waiting for months without payments, and nothing to sort out the systemic failures. He has done nothing to help the disabled, and he has given no help or guarantees to those facing eviction or those with no money this Christmas.
Finally, the Chancellor has made no attempt to remove the cruellest features, such as the wait for cancer patients or the terminally ill. Today he could have done something that would cost absolutely nothing: he could have removed the new universal credit requirement for self-certification for people facing terminal illness. This is not a Budget for people, nor for prosperity.
I am pleased to follow Drew Hendry and to take part in the Budget debate today. The British economy has two problems, the first of which is low productivity growth. A worker in France or Germany can go home on a Thursday night having produced X number of things and a British worker would have to continue until Friday night to have made the same amount of stuff. The second problem is the high level of uncertainty at the moment. As hon. Members probably know, the pound fell again after the Chancellor sat down.
The forecasts show that the situation is not getting better: GDP growth is down; productivity growth is down so far that in year 1 there is no productivity growth; and we will have £40 billion less to spend and/or to have in tax cuts at the end of the forecast period than we thought we would have this time last year. As a consequence, the forecasts are also showing average earnings falling. What did the Chancellor do to tackle this productivity problem? Obviously, it is a long-run problem and there are no instant solutions—nobody would be foolish enough to think that there were—but one thing that is worth noting is that the productivity problem has a regional dimension. The Institute for Public Policy Research has found that productivity outside the south-east is 44% lower than it is elsewhere. So when hon. Members talk about investing in the regions, we see that this is a matter of not just social justice, but economic efficiency. At the moment, the north-east gets £220 per head spent on transport, whereas London gets £1,940—almost 10 times as much. Why do the Government not re-order their investment projects and do HS3, linking Newcastle to Liverpool, before HS2?
When we look at what was in the Budget for the north-east, we see that we are talking about tiny sums: the figure for the north of Tyne devolution deal was £20 million a year; the money for the Tyne and Wear Metro will not be released until 2022, which is five years from now; the only new money for the Redcar steelworks was £5 million; and the Tees valley is being offered something that has no price tag at all—it is being invited to “enter discussions”! This is the situation for not just the north-east, as Midland Connect is getting £6 million. However, the London business rate retention, which is being piloted, is going to give London £7.5 billion. As for the stamp duty cut, the average house price in my constituency is £106,000, so people are not going to benefit from that cut. So this is another £650 million that is going to go to the wealthy parts of the country.
The second aspect of all this is skills. My constituency has an excellent further education college, Bishop Auckland College, which plays a vital role, but between 2009 and 2015 further education has been cut by 27% and adult education has been cut by 50%. The Chancellor announced extra money, but at £60 million it is 2% more—that is tiny compared with the massive cuts we have had. Brexit and the public’s desire to control immigration mean we must start investing more in our skills. There are regional disparities in this area, too. Of course people do not have jobs for life, but if we are to help them through this transition we must do more for adult education. The Association of Colleges produced a manifesto that contained some very sensible things. It said we should spend another £200 per student on 16 to 19-year-olds; that we should extend child benefit to people who are in further education, just as we do for people who are doing A-levels; and that we should spend some money on public transport for young people. In my constituency, a young person on a young saver’s ticket going from Cockfield to Bishop Auckland has a weekly bill of £31 and a young person going from Bishop Auckland to Darlington for their education has a bill of £45 a week. Those are substantial numbers.
The most disappointing thing is that the Chancellor has not won more battles on Brexit and has not been able to see off those people who want a cliff edge from
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Andrew Stephenson.)
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.