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Economy: Growth — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 29th January 2013.

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Photo of Lord Deighton Lord Deighton The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury 3:21 pm, 29th January 2013

My Lords, as a newcomer to your Lordships' House, I feel an enormous responsibility in opening this debate on one of the most critical issues for our country: the challenges facing our economy. I value this opportunity to draw on the extensive experience of this Chamber.

The trauma caused by the global financial crisis and the ensuing recession required urgent action. This Government responded with a radical programme of reform, designed both to meet the immediate danger to our public finances and to raise the performance of our economy to ensure our competitiveness in a fast-changing, global environment. This programme has four key components and we are driving forward on each one of them. Let me briefly explain.

The first and principal building block upon which all other policies depend is the return to fiscal stability. In 2010, the UK's budget deficit was forecast to be the biggest in the G20 and in our own peacetime history. This record deficit has been reduced by a quarter over the past two financial years, restoring market confidence in the UK and keeping interest rates lower for families and businesses. We have avoided the predicament of such large economies as Italy and Spain by gripping our deficit problem and securing financing rates close to those of Germany. This credibility has been hard won, but would be easy to lose.

Although recovery is taking longer than any of us would like, principally because of continuing problems in the eurozone, the economy is moving in the right direction. According to the IMF, our growth rates for both 2013 and 2014 are expected to exceed those of France and Germany. More than 1 million private sector jobs have been created since 2010-more than 1 million-with 2012 seeing the largest annual increase in jobs since 1989.

We cannot risk this restored confidence by compromising the disciplined management of our public finances. I anticipate many suggestions for where we may productively invest or spend. However, to retain credibility, as it is not possible to borrow our way out of a debt crisis, any extra spending has to be financed either by other spending cuts or by tax increases. As noble Lords will appreciate, we do not live in a world of easy choices. None the less, to mitigate the impact of the recession on ordinary families, the Government have prioritised reducing the income tax burden on 24 million people and cancelling the planned rise in fuel duty. The remaining three components of the Government's programme are geared towards helping the economy to recover and grow within the framework of fiscal discipline.

The second component of this programme is monetary policy. The Bank of England has maintained a record low level of bank rate and has engaged in significant quantitative easing to stimulate nominal demand. This quantitative easing is estimated by the Bank of England itself to have had a positive impact in terms of reduced gilt yields, higher asset prices and a 1.5% to 2% rise in GDP. Last summer the Government and the Bank of England launched the Funding for Lending scheme, which aims to increase lending to businesses and households by reducing bank funding costs.

The third component involves reforms to our financial system. Many noble Lords present today will have seen the Financial Services Bill receive Royal Assent a few weeks ago. This legislation will strengthen the financial regulatory structure and establish a new system of focused financial services regulators. In addition, the forthcoming Banking Reform Bill will deliver structural measures to reform the banking system and promote stability and competition, including the complex issue of separating retail and investment banking functions. Our aim is to retain a vibrant finance sector, but one structured to avoid the systemic instability that caused the recent crisis.

I will concentrate my remaining remarks on the fourth and final component. That involves a comprehensive package of structural reforms aimed at rebalancing and strengthening the economy for the future, including an ambitious agenda of infrastructure investment. This is at the heart of my new responsibilities in government. These supply side reforms will help British business compete in the global marketplace and will make Britain an even more attractive place to do business. The result will be to draw valuable foreign investment to the UK and drive our competitiveness forward.

Imperative to creating an attractive business environment is the tax landscape. The Government have cut the rate of corporation tax from 28% in 2010 to 21% from April 2014. This is the lowest rate in the G7-significantly lower than in France, Germany and the USA-and will act as a spur for job creation on these shores. Other tax reforms to encourage investment include increasing the annual investment allowance, which will enable firms to invest in new plants and machinery, while increased support through research and development tax credits and legislation for a patent box will give real financial incentives for innovation and creativity. In addition, £600 million has been allocated to the research councils and other projects to drive innovation and science.

Of course, while we want to promote a competitive tax environment for businesses, we must also ensure that multinational companies are paying the right amount of tax. This cannot be done in isolation; therefore we are working closely with the EU and the G20 to improve international tax transparency and identify gaps in the international tax standards.

For small businesses to grow, access to finance is essential. I have already mentioned the Funding for Lending Scheme, which facilitates more bank lending. We have also set up the Business Finance Partnership to improve non-bank lending channels, the Green Investment Bank to accelerate private sector investment in the green economy, and the business bank to bring together all the existing lending schemes under one roof. These are part of a whole array of incentives put in place to support entrepreneurs and small business.

To rebalance our economy, it is also crucial to develop our export markets aggressively and to support those companies with overseas opportunities. Up to £1.5 billion of loans will be made available through direct lending for the purchase of UK exports. In addition, the UKTI programme budget will be increased by £70 million per year, a measure that will help us to deliver services to more SME exporters and will refocus UKTI activities on the highest value opportunities and the key emerging markets. We are reinforcing the success that has recently led to our becoming Germany's chief trading partner and to 2012 setting a record for car manufacturing exports. Rebalancing our economy requires that we support growth in every corner of the UK. In line with the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Heseltine, we will be devolving more spending to local areas.

We are continuing our root and branch reform of the burdensome and costly planning system. We have already cut more than 1,000 pages of planning policy down to just 50. Under our better regulation agenda, we continue to cut red tape in many areas to protect business and society from unnecessary bureaucracy.

Developing our workforce through training and skills is critical to our current and future competitive success. Consequently, we have made sure that our higher education system gives better information about graduate employment prospects, and we have overseen nearly 1 million young people starting apprenticeships.

The final area that I want to address this afternoon and, a key priority, is our economic infrastructure. By modernising the UK's transport, energy, water, waste and digital networks, we will create the right foundation on which businesses can compete and grow efficiently.

Total investment in infrastructure has increased from an average of £29 billion a year between 2005 and 2010, to £33 billion a year between 2010 and 2012. At the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor unveiled a further £5.5 billion of investment including £1.5 billion for our road network. This switch to capital expenditure was financed by reductions in current spending, consistent with our commitment to fiscal discipline.

My focus is on developing and delivering our national infrastructure plan. As I see it we need to do five things. First, get the right projects built that match our sector-by-sector strategy and ensure that these projects are mutually supportive. For example, the conception and delivery of our road and rail networks must be integrated.

Secondly-and I am really familiar with this-we need to build projects on time and on budget. This means that projects must be properly scoped, structured and resourced and rigorously overseen and managed. My Olympic experience over the past seven years has given me clear ideas about what is possible and about how to forge that critical collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Thirdly, we have to make sure that we deliver projects at the lowest possible cost. We are targeting savings of 15% against the current pipeline.

Fourthly, we must maximise the flow of private finance to avoid burdening the public purse, while still considering affordability in the long term for consumers. This may involve new government-sponsored programmes such as the up to £40 billion of infrastructure guarantees -the scheme that supports the Northern Line extension which has unlocked the huge development around Battersea Power Station or the recently re-launched PFI initiative; PF2 as it is now called. Alternatively, it requires us to ensure that the policy environment we create allows for sizeable private investment, which is the challenge that we are currently addressing in the energy sector, where a significant amount of this investment needs to take place.

In addition, the pension infrastructure platform has been established to consolidate the efforts of UK pension funds investing in infrastructure projects. The fifth and final point in this infrastructure plan is that we are conducting an infrastructure delivery review within Whitehall because we need to ensure we have the appropriate scale and range of skills in the Civil Service to deliver these major infrastructure projects.

To sum up, the UK is dealing with the consequences of the most severe economic crisis in our recent history. This is a global phenomenon and our room for manoeuvre is constrained. But, despite this challenging backdrop, I know that we can deliver growth. Our policies to stem the initial deficit crisis that would have otherwise devastated our country have worked. The Government have made great strides in getting spending under control, but that is a continuing battle. We have put in place a series of reforms, all within a disciplined fiscal framework, that will support our economy's recovery and contribute to the rebuilding of the confidence necessary to fuel growth. The financial markets are performing strongly because our strategy is working.

Our focus is now on the effective delivery of these reforms so that they are fully realised in the real economy. I emphasise delivery. My Olympic experience tells me that having a good plan is important, but all that matters in the end is the impact of what you actually deliver on the ground. What this country showed this past summer is that we have the people, the know-how, the creativity, the teamwork and the determination to deliver in a way that can take the world's breath away.

I accepted the invitation of my right honourable friend the Chancellor to join this Government to see whether we could apply some Olympic and Paralympic inspiration to our broader economy. I look forward with relish to that challenge and welcome your advice and support.