Economy: Government Policies — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:57 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Conservative 2:57 pm, 24th March 2011

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, for bringing forward this debate at an important time for our country. I, too, wish to pay tribute to the maiden speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, and the noble Lord, Lord Hussain. One touched on the issue of youth engagement and youth employment, and the other on community cohesion and fighting extremism-issues which, I can assure both noble Lords, resonate with your Lordships' House.

The Budget just delivered in the other place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor was about sustaining confidence in the markets; it was about demonstrating a willingness to continue to make difficult decisions to tackle the burden of debt; it was about implementing measures which are not governed by short-term headlines but aimed at long-term growth. I believe it achieves all three. Indeed, the influential ITEM Club has already alluded to the fact that the Government have achieved the aims of both controlling expenditure and increasing revenues.

It was interesting to follow a former City Minister after hearing him respond, in part, to my noble friend Lord Risby, who asked, "What is the alternative?". I noted that he said that the Conservative Party and the coalition Government believe in small government. We do. What is the alternative-big government? We have had enough of that already.

At the height of this global economic downturn, I wish to focus on the City of London and its crucial role. Financial services account for a 10 per cent share of UK GDP-more than in many other major economies. On employment, UK financial services across the country employ more than 1 million people, with 3,000 people employed in financial services in more than 62 constituencies in the UK. Financial services generated a trade surplus of more than £36 billion in 2010, and the tax take of UK financial services amounted to £53.4 billion in the year 2009-10, accounting for approximately 11 per cent of the UK tax receipt. As regards UK GDP, we can see that the contribution that the UK makes with its financial services sector is greater than that of both France and Germany. At a time when the coalition Government are rightly making difficult decisions on expenditure, with the vital contribution made by the financial services industry to the Exchequer, even as the effects of the crisis wade across institutions in the City, the industry has demonstrated resilience in these challenging global economic conditions.

We need to ensure as a Government that we work with firms operating across the financial and professional services to see that the UK remains as a good place in which to invest and work towards creating a sounder environment for growth. Indeed, I welcome recent statements from the City in the preamble to the Budget about firms that have said that they would stay the course and remain in London. They recognise that steps were necessary in regulating certain markets and they see the need to address wider economic conditions. That means that they need to be part of the solution. We should move forward and stop blaming banks. The coalition does not blame banks, as was said earlier by noble Lords opposite, although we do hold the previous Government to account. But it is not about blaming banks; it is about working with banks.

Indeed, I am reminded of my early years. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, talked about credit scoring now becoming the core activity for banks-and banks need to look at that again. I am reminded of my own career. When I started and I walked into my first job as a lending officer within a bank, I was told, "Tariq, what you need to apply is Campari and ice". As a teetotaller and a young trainee, I thought that was a rather strange acronym to put forward. It was a matter of looking at each small business, its character and ability and means to pay. We need to get banks focused on that style of lending. Therefore it is right that the current Government are working with the banks to ensure that we create the right conditions for small businesses and large corporates to prosper. We can take the example of Goldman Sachs and the programme for 10,000 small businesses, with free business and education courses. SMEs are reliant on bank lending, yet debt capital markets are another option. We need to work hard in ensuring that we remove some of the hurdles and barriers to diversify the financing sources for SMEs.

We are seeing new actions announced in the Budget, with reforms to the enterprise initiative scheme; raising income tax relief to 30 per cent from April; and the big society bank, dealing with the need to increase civil organisations financing through social finance intermediaries. On bank financing, there will be £190 billion in new credit for businesses and £76 billion to be allocated to the SMEs. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, allude earlier to those SMEs that have no collateral and those businesses that have no track record. The review and the extension of the enterprise finance guarantee in new lending, which should raise more than £2 billion in this Parliament, is also to be welcomed. Then there is the business growth fund for established SMEs with high growth potential. The UK banks have increased their contribution, bringing the total size of the fund to £2.5 billion. That is due for launch in May 2011. Then we will be working with the BBA to restore bank business relationships, which may have faltered, and to improve standards with lending and business mentoring. That demonstrates the willingness of this coalition Government to work with banks to deliver the solutions our economy and our country needs.

It is my belief that this Budget tackles the debt legacy left by the Labour Government. We have heard a string of Labour spokesmen offering us advice, but as my noble friend Lord Risby said, the only advice they can offer is that we are doing all of this too quickly. No alternative is offered. The approach of the coalition Government, with George Osborne as Chancellor, does not carry the support of the Benches opposite but it carries the support of institutions such as the IMF, the OECD and the IFS. It is a Budget of growth, focused on the long term and on the recovery of our economy and our country.