Brooks Newmark: The Government’s long-term economic plan is working, Chancellor has reduced spending, the deficit, taxes and unemployment.
Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who is a powerful advocate for his region of the United Kingdom. He raised many important points. It has not been a balanced recovery; he is absolutely right. The south has done a little bit better than perhaps Northern Ireland and some of the areas of the north. However, as the Chancellor pointed out during his speech, recoveries are never linear. Sometimes some regions grow faster than others. Sometimes we get recoveries that are slow and then there is a U-bend and suddenly the recovery accelerates a little more. I suspect that what we are seeing now is a little bit of the J-curve—we have had a much slower recovery than we expected, but it is now moving much faster, as we have seen from the Red Book.
Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I wanted to intervene on the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) but he was reaching his conclusion. Is it not a cause for positive reflection that job creation in Northern Ireland at the end of last year was growing at its fastest rate for more than 20 years? That shows that there has been growth throughout the United Kingdom.
Mr Newmark: My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for East Antrim are both right. The hon. Gentleman’s point was that at the beginning things were a little slower than he would have liked for his constituents, but as he said—this is my point—recoveries are never linear. In the past five years, we have seen slower growth than we would have liked, but we have far more accelerated growth through 2014-15, and certainly beyond to 2016-17 and 2018-19. That is good news.
In 2010, in Labour’s great recession, we faced economic meltdown. As UK plc, we were literally teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. What we needed at that time was an emergency Budget. The Chancellor, working with our coalition partners—I give credit to the Lib Dems—came up with a long-term economic plan. In producing that long-term economic plan, we had to deal with one important issue: the structural deficit. The deficit, which was running at roughly 10.2% of GDP, needed to be dealt with. We particularly needed to deal not just with the general deficit but with the structural deficit, which was an enormous problem in terms of our ability to achieve sustainable borrowing.
That was the challenge posed by the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey). He wanted an unsustainable deficit of 10%-plus. Perhaps he meant 12%; perhaps he wanted more borrowing. I do not know what direction of travel he would have liked to take, but if we had gone in that direction, we would have been in France’s position today.
Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in Northern Ireland the construction industry is still having difficulties? Many of our major construction companies and the people working for them are having to come to the mainland to get contracts rather than staying in Northern Ireland. We need to encourage that industry.
Mr Newmark: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In introducing things such as the increased investment allowance—it was £25,000 and went up to £250,000—the Government have done a lot to help to turbo-charge investment. I shall come to the rate of investment and investment growth a little later in my speech.
The important thing was that we dealt with the deficit up front and brought it down by more than 50%. It is now trailing at around 5%. Do we have further to go? Absolutely, but bringing it down from 10.2% was very important.
The important thing about bringing down the deficit and dealing with the structural deficit was bringing back market confidence. Doing so allowed us to maintain low interest rates. Confidence means low interest rates. It is not just a matter of the Bank of England’s confidence in setting them—there is a worldwide market out there. Low interest rates mean low mortgage rates and low business rates for small businesses. All those things were important in helping to create growth in the UK.
John Healey: When the hon. Gentleman intervened during my speech, I made it clear that the deficit was caused after the global financial crisis by the Government stepping in to help the country through. That is what Governments can do. I said clearly that that caused the deficit and we had to deal with it. Any Government would have done so. What counts is how they deal with it. Will he remind us what Labour’s plan in the 2010 election was, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), the Chancellor at the time? Our plan would have reduced the deficit faster and further than the Chancellor has managed in the past five years.
Mr Newmark: I do not want to use the expression ceteris paribus—all things being equal—but the Chancellor at that time was probably right. Unfortunately, he too would have faced a euro crisis, and things would have been very different from what he originally projected, just as things were different for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor when he made his original prediction.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr Newmark: I am trying to stick to Mr Deputy Speaker’s instruction to keep roughly to 10 minutes.
Time and again, Labour Members talk about borrowing. Page 22 of the Red Book shows us that public sector net borrowing is coming down annually. That is the point. Labour Members look at the gross figure, but the important thing is that we are bringing borrowing down annually. In 2015, it will go down to £90 billion. It will then go down to £75 billion next year. Hopefully, by 2018-19 we shall be in some sort of surplus.
It is also important to look at cyclically adjusted net borrowing, which is also decreasing—we will be showing a surplus in 2018-19. The borrowing figure has been and is a problem. Are Opposition Members right to point out that the gross figure is growing? Absolutely. The point is that we are tackling the deficit to bring down the annual amount of borrowing. That is what the Government have done very well.
Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr Newmark: No, I am not giving way.
I talked about the J-curve. Growth was slower to begin with, but the OBR is forecasting that growth will be much faster than originally predicted. In 2015, GDP growth goes to 2.5%. In 2016, it goes up another 2.3%, and 2.3% beyond that.
It is important to note, as the Chancellor did, that we have rebalanced growth—we have growth in the north as well as in the south. Has the north faced more pain than the south? Absolutely. The facts are there. The important thing is that we are now seeing balanced growth. The service sector is growing hugely, but the manufacturing sector is growing equally fast.
The OBR forecasts business investment growth—this is important—of 5.1% in 2015 and 7.5% in 2016. Hopefully, some of that will benefit Northern Ireland, to support what the hon. Member for East Antrim said.
The critical thing about growth is unemployment and employment. Unemployment has decreased from 7.8% to 5.7%. That has happened much faster than the Governor of the Bank of England projected when I sat on the Treasury Committee. Most importantly, for my constituents unemployment has dropped from 3.7% to 1.5%, and youth unemployment has dropped from 5.4% to 2.6%.
We have a record number of people in work: 30.9 million people in work is a remarkable figure, but even more remarkably, more men and more women are in work than ever before. Some 1.85 million new jobs have been created. I started the Million Jobs campaign to try to address the problem of youth unemployment. I was delighted that the Chancellor took our recommendation to abolish the jobs tax for young people. The Million Jobs campaign supported the abolition of national insurance for under-21s, which will kick in this year. I hope that one year the Chancellor will extend it to 24-year-olds. We are already beginning to see the benefits for the under-21s.
On taxation, I never imagined that we would do this—I thought at the time that it would be costly—but the personal allowance has gone from £6,500 to £10,600.
That has meant that we have been able to benefit the average family to the tune of something like £905 per taxpayer. That is good news for taxpayers. Increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 in the next Parliament is a great ambition: it would take something like 4 million people out of tax altogether.
Raising the minimum wage from £6.70 to £8 an hour is another good and important move, because it stops the state subsidising the private sector, which is what has been happening as a result of a very low minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage will ultimately benefit taxpayers overall and ensure that businesses take on the responsibility to pay their own employees a fair wage.
On business tax, corporation tax coming down from 28% to 20% has not only encouraged people to set up businesses, but encouraged businesses to come across from continental Europe and set up in the United Kingdom. We now have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G8.
I have mentioned the abolition of national insurance for young people. It is also good news that the employment allowance is saving about £2,000 per business, because it encourages small businesses in particular, which live on the margin, to perhaps take on an extra one or two people.
The freezing of fuel duty has also benefited almost all our taxpayers: my constituents save about £10 every time they fill up their cars. Energy costs coming down will benefit the elderly in particular, so it is all good news on that front.
Most importantly—Opposition Members have been making this point for a while—when inflation was running higher than pay, people were in effect losing money; the ordinary, average earner was suffering. Now, however, pay is up about 2.1% and inflation at 0.9%, so real pay is going up.
As an ex-charities Minister, I am particularly pleased that an extra £75 million will be available for charities from the LIBOR fines. I certainly pushed for that and wrote to the Chancellor asking for support for Essex Air Ambulance, which is based in my constituency. I am delighted that the Budget will provide support from the extra LIBOR fine money for Essex Air Ambulance, because that means it will be able to provide an emergency support service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Labour party was financially reckless in government, but its promises in opposition seem to be even more so. It has promised something like £20.7 billion in unfunded commitments, which is something like an extra £1,200 per household. Labour is indeed the party of tax and spend and borrowing. It has not changed and, if elected, it would still not change and it would damage this country.
What would a future Conservative Government do? They would be committed to raising the personal allowance to £12,500 by 2020; cutting tax for 30 million people; taking 1 million more people out of tax altogether by raising the personal allowance; balancing the books beyond the next Parliament; and reducing Government spending to 35.2% of GDP.
In conclusion, the Chancellor has delivered on his long-term economic plan. He has reduced spending, the deficit, taxes and unemployment. Compared with five years ago, he has also overseen reductions in inequality, child poverty and pensioner poverty and a smaller gender pay gap. In the words of Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund,
“this is exactly the sort of result that we would like to see: more growth, less unemployment, a growth that is more inclusive, that is better shared, and a growth that is also sustainable and more balanced.”
This is a Budget that the Government can be proud of. The Government’s long-term economic plan is working, and we hope that on 7 May the electorate will not give the keys back to the guys who crashed the car.