Budgets provide the Government of the day with the opportunity to demonstrate their vision and long-term ambitions and aspirations for the economy, the citizens of our country and our communities and businesses. As the noble Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, frequently said in his time in government, to govern is to choose. Setting a Budget is about exactly that—making responsible choices and decisions in the long-term national economic interest. Several Members have touched on some of the commendable steps taken, so my remarks will focus on where we have more to do.
In particular, we need to focus on the strong and unyielding case, particularly given what we hear from the Opposition Benches, for economic liberalisation and long-term monetary and fiscal competence. That includes the promotion of economic freedoms, led by pioneering policies on tax reform and simplification of the tax system—for example, by integrating income tax and national insurance into a single tax, to reduce complexity and bring parity between the employed and the self-employed. That would enable the Government to lower the tax burden further, so that people can keep more of the money they earn.
We have heard about home ownership. We need reform of property taxes, including stamp duty, to promote and support home ownership. We need to provide tax freedoms for local councils, so that they can compete and become engines of regional economic growth and competition, rather than centralise regional and local spending decisions in Whitehall, as we have seen for decade after decade.
We need to support our communities through a devolution revolution, so that regional leaders and organisations—ranging from business organisations such as the Essex chambers of commerce in my constituency and restructured business-facing local enterprise partnerships with a remit more relevant to their geography—are empowered to do more on economic growth. We must empower our police, fire and crime commissioners and regional transport boards to deliver the lower Thames crossing and enhance road improvements across our constituencies and our region. We must give those regional leaders the ability to deliver for people, communities and businesses.
We need to focus on outcomes, such as more police through localised budgets and accountable local police leadership; support for new economic corridors, such as the A12 in my constituency and the A120—essential roads that need investment if we are going to continue to meet the growing demands of the regional and national economy; and localising skills provision, which we do not speak about enough, so that it is led by businesses and not bureaucratic local government schemes that often replicate some of the unproductive aspects of Whitehall government.
On top of that, we cannot be complacent with the economy, which means the public finances as well, either now or in the long term. We are still borrowing large amounts of money each year, and deficit reduction must remain a core part of sound financial management. National debt now exceeds £1.8 trillion, which is the equivalent of 83% of our GDP.
As we look to the future, alongside a long-term ambition for the British economy, we need a long-term plan which demonstrates that the UK will have many opportunities for economic growth and progress once we leave the European Union. That means Brexit being accompanied by radically pro-growth, pro-enterprise economic policies that liberalise and empower not only communities but businesses and new industries to flourish and grow in the United Kingdom. We are competing with some of the brightest and the best in the world, and we now see an emerging middle class in some of the fastest growing non-western economies supplanting the established western middle class as the engine of economic growth across the world.
We need to focus much more on not only the short-term but the long-term policies that unleash our potential to grow and thrive. As Conservatives, that means promoting economic liberty, trust in people and local decision makers, addressing gaps in prosperity by boosting economic freedoms and applying fiscal discipline, so that we can give Britain and the British people a fair chance, through their own efforts, of economic security for themselves and their families, which this Budget goes some way to doing.