Created: 29 March 2011
"Every Budget is a step along the way in implementing the strategy of any Government. Part and parcel of the strategy that the Government have chosen to follow is wholesale welfare reform, which I welcome. A plethora of benefits are being simplified, people are being taken out of taxation, and the central issue at the heart of that strategy is that work should always pay. In this country-including London-today, I could take hon. Members to places where there are three generations of people who have never worked. They feel that it is better to be on benefits than to work, and we have to change that fundamental view in society.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned in his opening speech the scandal that is housing benefit in society today. It has fuelled rental rates and has got totally out of control. The squeals from Opposition Members when we try to implement fairly simple and straightforward reforms to housing benefit are legion. The housing benefit reforms are long overdue, and I welcome them.
Last year, after the general election, we had an emergency Budget that set out the emergency position that had to be implemented to counter the inheritance that this Government received. Some tough decisions had to be made at the time, and we were all warned that they would have a catastrophic effect on the economy. Clearly, the financial markets and every sane and sensible individual in this country could see that those decisions had to be taken, for the long-term benefit of this country.
We then had the comprehensive spending review, which set out tough targets for public expenditure over a range of years. There was tremendous consultation, certainly among Government Back Benchers, to ensure that the decisions taken were in the long-term interests of this country. Now, of course, we have the Budget for growth. That is the third part of the story.
It is clear that we must have private sector growth that generates job opportunities for the people of this country. Governments do not create wealth-creating jobs; it is up to the private sector to do that, but it is Governments' duty to ensure that they create the environment in which the private sector can invest. The problem we inherited was that over the last 10 years of the Labour Government, the growth in employment all came in the public sector. Unsurprisingly, we hear from Labour Members about the percentage or number of people in their constituency employed in the public sector. We need to rebalance the economy completely to make the private sector predominant, and that is clearly where we are going.
The Opposition have two mantras: "It's hurting but it isn't working" and "The cuts go too far and too fast". I detect the whiff of fear from Opposition Members that the Government's strategy will work, and that by the next general election the public will realise that all the tough choices the Government have made were in the best interests of the economy and that the Opposition were wrong, and Labour will be defeated heavily at the polls as a result.
The Budget has brought in long overdue planning changes. I am concerned, as I do not want local people to be overridden, but I want business to have certainty about the decisions that are taken. Decisions on planning will be taken within a 12-month window that allows businesses to plan for the future and allows everyone to express their objections and comment on areas of uncertainty.
The council tax freeze has, without a doubt, already worked. Every council in England and Wales has frozen its council tax this year, and the Government have provided additional funds to ensure that services are provided by local authorities. I look forward to the Government, next year and the year after, providing a similar type of grant to freeze council tax again, so that instead of council tax more than doubling, as it did under Labour, it is frozen under the coalition agreement.
We clearly need a work force that is fit for purpose and apprenticeships that are available. I welcome the decision to fund more apprenticeships and training and to ensure that the work force are ready for the jobs as and when they are created. That is a key part of the strategy. The challenge now, after this Budget for growth, is for the private sector to start to create the jobs that the Budget wishes to see.
There is also a challenge for the Opposition. There is a potential alternative: we could borrow more money, increase taxation, increase interest rates and get into a position where there is more bust in society. I am sure the whole House will take the view that the Government have embarked on the right strategy and the right course, and will endorse the Budget tonight.
To read the debate in full, follow this link: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debate/?id=2011-03-29b.244.0