Budget Statement - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 4th December 2017.

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My Lords, just under two weeks ago in the other place, the Chancellor set out a Budget to define the UK’s future. It was a Budget which acknowledged the fundamental strengths of the UK economy, responded to immediate challenges and laid the foundations for an economy that is fit for the future. It is a privilege to present this Budget to your Lordships’ House today.

The Budget demonstrated the underlying strength and resilience of the British economy, which has grown over the past year by 1.5% and has now expanded for 19 consecutive quarters. Employment has risen by 3 million since 2010 and is close to a record high, with a near record number of women in work as well. The unemployment rate has fallen as well, to its lowest level since 1975.

This is all very welcome; however, there remain challenges that need to be addressed. In particular, productivity growth remains stubbornly low. Accordingly, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility has revised downwards the outlook for productivity growth across the forecast period. This has a direct impact on its forecast for GDP growth, which the OBR now predicts to be lower in every year of the forecast period compared to that forecast in March this year. As a consequence, business investment is expected to remain subdued, while inflation is set to peak at 3% this quarter before falling back towards the target over the next year. The Budget therefore takes action to support households and businesses in the near term while investing further to improve productivity and drive future growth in the medium to long term.

The Government have made significant progress since 2010 in restoring the public finances to health, but borrowing and debt remain too high. The Government’s fiscal rules take a balanced approach, getting debt falling while continuing to invest in our key public services and keeping taxes low. The OBR reports that, having taken into account the new forecast and the measures presented in this Budget, the Government are on track to meet both their interim fiscal targets during the forecast period. It is in this context that this Budget seeks to address the future challenges and opportunities for the UK, embracing change while providing immediate support for people, businesses and our public services where it is needed most.

This Government have already set in train a series of long-term reforms to deliver real improvements in growth. We have seen more than a quarter of a trillion pounds of public and private investment in our infrastructure since 2010. We are overseeing the biggest rail programme since Victorian times, and we are transforming skills through apprenticeships and the launch of T-levels at the previous Budget.

In this Budget, the Government have taken further steps to increase our long-term prosperity through investing in the skills and infrastructure needed to compete in future. The national productivity investment fund introduced last year will be extended to 2022-23 and funding will be increased to £31 billion. The fund will support an additional £2.3 billion investment in R&D, taking total R&D spend in 2021-22 to £12.5 billion. That is the largest public-sector R&D investment programme over the past 40 years. This will be alongside an increase in the R&D expenditure tax credit from 11% to 12%, an ambition to create the most advanced regulatory environment in the world and further funding to roll out fibre-optic broadband and 5G networks across the UK.

The Government are also committed to using funding from the national productivity investment fund, along with other transport spending, to boost regional infrastructure. Plans include an ambitious strategy to maximise the growth in the Oxford to Cambridge corridor through projects such as the completion of the east-west rail that will connect Oxford to Cambridge by train. The Budget also announced an action plan to unlock £20 billion of new investment in high-growth, innovative businesses in response to the patient capital review.

On skills, the Budget invests £406 million in maths and digital skills to help everybody get the skills they need to succeed in a modern economy. These efforts are complemented by the industrial strategy, which set out a clear plan for how we can boost the productivity and earning power of people throughout the UK and ensure that our country can embrace and be empowered by the excitement of technological change.

We speak about the infrastructure our businesses need to thrive, but we also need to talk about the infrastructure people need to survive. Increasing the supply of housing in the right places supports productivity improvements. It encourages a flexible labour market and enables people to work where they can be most productive, but, more importantly, providing homes is key to building communities and giving families the stability and security they deserve. Yet home ownership has become increasingly unaffordable, with the average house price in England and Wales now almost eight times the average person’s salary, compared to 3.6 times two decades ago. The number of 25 to 34 year-olds owning their own home has dropped from 59% to just 38% over the past 13 years.

So the Budget sets out an ambition to deliver 300,000 homes a year, supported by a comprehensive package of planning reforms and targeted investment. It commits over £15 billion of financial support to boost housing supply over the next five years, bringing the total amount of support to £44 billion over this period. It makes proportionate planning reforms, focused on urban areas where people want to work and live, helping towns grow in the right way while protecting the green belt.

But we also want to take action right now to help young people who are saving for a home, so the Budget permanently reduces the up-front cost of stamp duty for over 95% of first-time buyers who pay it. This is a comprehensive plan that will deliver on the pledge that we have made of ensuring that the dream of home ownership becomes a reality for the next generation once again.

The Budget is committed to ensuring that we have the foundations in place to support growth in the long term, but it also recognises that there are immediate challenges caused by rising prices. So the Budget will boost wages, reduce the cost of living and support businesses by freezing fuel duty, reducing the burden of business rates by a further £2.3 billion, increasing minimum wages and increasing the personal allowance to £11,850, lifting some 1.2 million out of tax altogether.

Finally, I turn to our public services and the taxes we need to pay for them. I take the opportunity to point out that this is the second Budget this year. The investment this Budget provides to core parts of our public services builds on the previous funding that the Government set out, such as the additional £2 billion we invested in social care in the spring Budget. The Budget takes further steps to put the NHS on a strong, sustainable footing, with £6.3 billion of additional funding, of which £3.5 billion will be invested in upgrading NHS buildings and improving care, while £2.8 billion goes towards improving A&E performance, reducing waiting times for patients and treating more people this winter. This is a significant first step towards meeting the Government’s commitment to increase NHS spending by a minimum of £8 billion in real terms by the end of this Parliament.

The Budget also commits an extra £3 billion to prepare for Brexit over the next two years, to make sure the Government are ready on day one of exit.

On welfare, the Government are committed to building a modern welfare state that is sustainable, in which work always pays and claimants are supported to increase their earnings. That is why the Government are continuing to roll out universal credit, which delivers long-overdue reforms to the welfare system. However, the Government recognise the genuine concerns raised in many places, including in your Lordships’ House, about the operational delivery of universal credit. In response, they are introducing a £1.5 billion package of measures to address those concerns.

The Government are clear that everyone must pay their fair share of tax in order to support our vital public services. The actions taken by this Government since 2010 have secured a £160 billion in additional tax revenue that would have otherwise gone unpaid, and brought the UK’s tax gap down to 6%—its lower level ever and one of the lowest in the world. The Budget will continue to collect tax due, with a package of measures that is forecast to raise £4.8 billion by 2022-23.

A sustainable tax system also needs to keep up with developments in the wider economy. The Government recognise that the development of the digital economy creates imbalances between those firms with and those without a physical presence. This is not sustainable. Therefore, the Budget sets out how the UK will ensure that all businesses—both digital and bricks and mortar—operate on a level playing field within the corporate tax system.

In summary, the Budget takes sensible actions in the light of revised forecasts to address the some of the key challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and in doing so, lays the foundations for a prosperous future. It invests sustainably in our public services, while supporting people and businesses and continuing to invest to secure a bright future for Britain. I commend it to your Lordships’ House.