It is a great pleasure to follow Mr McFadden.
I had the dubious pleasure of reporting on nearly 20 Budgets and countless pre-Budget reports in my time as a journalist. Gordon Brown used to stand at the Dispatch Box with his clunking fist and talk about golden rules, fiscal balance and investing for the long term, and the horror show was always in the Red Book. As a journalist, I knew that to see what was in the Budget I had to look in the Red Book.
For days now, journalists across the country have been poring over the Red Book looking for holes similar to those they have found in many other Budgets over the years, but they have failed to do so because the Chancellor has adopted what I would call—pardon the pun—retail policies to address some of the major issues that people in this country face. For example, in 2015 my constituency was the only place in the country with increased footfall in the town centre on the year before, but that was reversed in 2016-17. Our main shopping centre, the Touchwood shopping centre, is now having to invest in the night-time economy, and for the first time I am starting to see empty shops on the high street, so the change in business rates is hugely welcome.
Another of my local high streets, in Shirley—a long, 1960s, straight-line, very old-fashioned high street—is being redeveloped through the intermingling of community resource and people living and being brought into the local area. For example, we have extra care living and other such developments, as we look to a future that is designed not specifically around retail, but around how the high street interacts with our lives. The retail fund of £675 million is therefore hugely welcome.
Edward Miliband made a mainly good speech, which was perhaps too focused on social housing. We need to look at housing in the round. We have to increase the supply of housing in this country. For years, housing has been distended, which in many respects has damaged our economy. That will happen even more now that house prices are so high, because houses have become so unattainable. We therefore need to increase supply.
We have to admit that a deficit of 82% is still too high. It leaves us less able to face a global recession, but we made a decision in 2010 that we would basically try to follow a middle way. We get out of that through productivity—the other way would be inflation, which none of us wants. Productivity is the only way in the long term, and the Budget develops that.