The test of any Budget is: does it take us closer to where we want to get to in 10 years’ time? It seems to me that one of the most important things to do over the next few years, and one of the dreams that so many Conservative Members have had for so many years, is the dream of a balanced budget. Once again, this appears to be a little bit like the apple of Tantalus. I am concerned about that because I believe, as the fiscal conservative I have always been, that we need to head towards a balanced budget.
Achieving a balanced budget has been delayed, but I am glad that we are still heading in that direction. The OBR says of the Budget policy decisions:
“Taken together they turn the £3.5 billion surplus…forecast for 2023-24 into a £19.8 billion deficit.”
It also says of the balanced budget objective:
“Had there been no fiscal loosening in the Budget, the objective would have been achieved in 2023-24.”
As it is, achieving that objective by 2025-26, it says, “looks challenging”. That is still an important aim. We must bear in mind that debt interest payments each year are about £52 billion and measures in the Budget will increase those payments by about £1 billion in future years. Opposition Members argue for ever more increases in spending, but I argue that it is better to ensure restraint, continue on our current track and aim for a balanced budget sooner rather than later.
We must also think about the kind of country we want to build. We want to build an enterprise powerhouse and a country that supports enterprise, small businesses and the self-employed. That is why it is important to make things easier for small business people and not to sandbag the self-employed with extra taxes and regulations, instead supporting them and ensuring that their enterprise is backed.
We must be the party of home ownership. Home ownership matters. As I said in an intervention, since about 2001, home ownership among people aged 16 to 34 has halved. We need to increase it. Meanwhile, the number of those renting has gone from about 10% to 20%. We must offer our young people better than a life of renting, and give them the chance to get on the home ownership ladder and build up a stock of wealth in a lower-tax country that ensures that hard work is rewarded.