Budget Debate speechHouse of CommonsMarch 26th, 2012
The Minister did not manage to mention in his speech the export potential of football, but I am happy to refer the House to my declared interest as the vice-chairman of Sunderland football club.
Since last Wednesday, the consensus has formed that the Budget spin was cack-handed. I want to make the case that the substance was dangerously complacent about growth and youth unemployment. Growth in our economy has tanked since the Chancellor’s Budget at this time last year. The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley) said that we had had a nascent recovery, but the truth is that we have had a non-existent recovery. We have had stagnation. British business is sitting on £750 billion-worth of cash, but it is not investing. It is not refusing to invest because of the planning laws or tax rates or because of public sector pay rates; it is not investing because there is no demand in the economy for the goods and services it wants to produce. No wonder the OBR has slashed its forecast not just for growth but for business investment down from nearly 8% to less than 1%.
I have never believed the argument that without the austerity programme Britain was about to become Greece; neither do I believe the Chancellor’s argument from last Wednesday that it is essential to keep austerity to keep international investors buying British gilts. Why? Some 89% of conventional gilts issued by the Debt Management Office in the past year have been bought by the Bank of England, not by international investors. Even within the fiscal straitjacket that the Chancellor has set, he could have done more. He found £1 billion to support business. We all want to support business. His corporation tax cut will add to the corporate cash pile, but it will not change the arithmetic of demand. Meanwhile, far from increasing investment in capital allowances that would do so, he is cutting them by £1.7 billion. Instead of focusing on regional policy, the Treasury has abolished its regional policy unit. Instead of the strength of higher education being exploited, higher education visas are being cut. Instead of tackling the finance gap for small and medium-sized enterprises, a British investment bank was nowhere to be seen in this Budget. No wonder the OBR concluded, after studying each and every one of the Chancellor’s plans that had been announced since the autumn statement, that the plans will do nothing for growth this year and that it will have to reduce its forecast for growth next year.
We have learned, since the Chancellor’s new definition of simplification last Wednesday, that the price is to be paid by the old. There has been a lot of commentary on that, but there has been far less commentary on the price to be paid by the young. By the Government’s own admission there is a crisis of youth unemployment, with more than a million under-25s out of work, with 1.4 million not in education, employment or training, with 250,000 young people having been unemployed for at least a year and with 200,000 more having been unemployed for more than six months. The net present value cost of all that has been independently calculated at £28 billion. In my constituency, there has been a 250% rise in long-term youth unemployment, with 590 young people having been looking for work for more than six months.
This Government did not invent the problem, but they have made it worse. The Budget was their chance to make a difference, but while the Chancellor insulted the elderly he ignored the young—he spent longer talking about taxing hot snacks. Ministers say, “Look at what we have already announced,” but the flagship Work programme covers only one in 10 of the young unemployed. By the Government’s own admission, the Work programme itself, according to the voluntary sector group that comes together to discuss these things, will help only one in five of those on the programme. So, in total, the Government’s programme will help only one in 50 of the young unemployed get into work.
The Government’s wage subsidy programme, which starts in April, is designed to help 50,000 young people but that number could be doubled by bringing forward the spending for 2014 when the Government say that unemployment will be falling. What about the apprenticeship programme? We all support apprenticeships. Some 75% of the increase in apprenticeships is going to the over-25s. The administration of the £120 million plan for 16 and 17-year-olds is putting at risk precisely the voluntary organisations that the big society was meant to help.
The Deputy Prime Minister has said that he cannot think of a better use of money than creating jobs, hope and optimism for young people. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor say we are all in it together, but the truth is that they got lost in the endless tactical dance about how to dress up the cut in the top rate of tax and in the endless leaking about who would claim credit for raising the personal allowance. They have completely flunked the issue of how to get our economy back on its feet. The loveless coalition will say anything but will do nothing. That is the true story of the Budget and that is the tragedy for the country.