It is a pleasure to follow Edward Miliband. He made an interesting speech, although I think he missed out one aspect that I will touch on.
I want to refer to the macroeconomic situation. The Government’s priority has been to reduce the deficit and to see debt falling as a percentage of GDP—something with which I completely agree and is definitely the right approach. We also have to recognise that the business cycle does exist, and that we are probably closer to the next recession than we are further from the previous one. We need robust finances to deal with and cope with that, as and when it comes. To a certain extent, the problem was in many respects created by the last Labour Government before the great recession when they were borrowing £40 billion a year at a time they should have been running a balanced budget. Had they actually been doing so, we would now be in surplus.
I support and encourage the Government’s aims because strong finances give a strong platform for the future. Indeed, strong finances require a strong economy. Government policy should be directed towards achieving this—it should be an economy for everyone. I will therefore concentrate on two specific things that I believe can help. First, we need to rebalance the economy and the country, which the right hon. Member for Doncaster North did not mention. The second issue is housing, which he did mention. These areas are interlinked as local government can and should play a key role in both.
The reality in our country is that we have a southern-dominated economy, and we have to acknowledge that there is underperformance by the regions to a certain extent. We do not want to diminish the success of the south—far from it, given its benefit to our economy overall—but we have to recognise that there is an underperformance in other parts of the country.