It looks like our economy is once again defying the naysayers. UK growth has an inexorably upward direction, which is to be encouraged, and debt as a percentage of GDP is down, thanks to the hard work and perseverance of the British people. The deficit is at its lowest level since 2001, and productivity growth has accelerated and is now running ahead of the forecasts made in the spring statement. It is growing at its fastest rate since 2016. In spite of this, however, productivity is still below the average seen in the financial crisis.
We all know that infrastructure is vital to supporting jobs and economic growth and to improving people’s quality of life. That is why I am delighted that this Budget sets aside £28.8 billion for the biggest ever strategic investment in roads, and I want to see our share of that coming to Clacton-on-Sea. This is in addition to the £740 million for the nationwide roll-out of digital infrastructure, which means that by 2021 the Government will be investing £9 billion a year more in infrastructure than they were in 2015. The old saying, “Down good roads wealth flows” still holds true even when those roads are increasingly electronic. While celebrating that achievement, however, I am concerned that there was no new money in the Budget for rail. That is disappointing, because one of the most pressing issues in Clacton is the dreadful rail service there. My constituents want to see a service that is regular, quick and clean.
Let me move on to some of the other issues that the residents of the constituency of Clacton raised with me before the Budget. The introduction of the digital services tax, which I support, has been a prominent issue. As a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, I know that these huge corporations make massive profits, and it is right that they should pay a fair share for our public services. It is wrong that previous Governments did not get a grip on this.
I thank the Chancellor for the ongoing freeze on beer duty—I am probably not alone in that—but I am somewhat disappointed, having joined my constituents in campaigning for a cut in the duty. I recognise that a freeze is better than an increase, but I will continue to lobby for a reduction, in order to protect pubs as vital community centres.
It should be borne in mind that the pub is part of the great British way of life, and a great place to share and enjoy company. Loneliness is one of the burgeoning issues that we face today, and I would argue that the demise of so many of our treasured village pubs across the country has contributed to this blight. People do not have to drink alcohol when they go to pubs—they can drink anything they like—but they are a place to go to. A problem shared is a problem halved. The pubs in Clacton receive plenty of support from me personally, but one man can only do so much! There is certainly much greater scope for the Government to intervene in this sector.