There have been 13 exchanges between Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and HM Treasury
|Tue 17th March 2020||Economic Update||3 interactions (90 words)|
|Tue 29th October 2019||Early Parliamentary General Election Bill||9 interactions (849 words)|
|Tue 8th October 2019||HMRC Impact Analysis: Customs||3 interactions (52 words)|
|Mon 15th July 2019||High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill||5 interactions (217 words)|
|Thu 11th April 2019||Loan Charge||3 interactions (229 words)|
|Tue 2nd April 2019||Business Rates||62 interactions (3,442 words)|
|Tue 9th October 2018||Business Rates: Small Retail Businesses||17 interactions (2,506 words)|
|Tue 24th July 2018||Summer Adjournment||5 interactions (1,114 words)|
|Tue 1st May 2018||Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill [Lords]||3 interactions (74 words)|
|Wed 24th January 2018||Carillion and Public Sector Outsourcing||15 interactions (120 words)|
|Mon 11th December 2017||Finance (No. 2) Bill||3 interactions (51 words)|
|Wed 22nd November 2017||Budget Resolutions||7 interactions (1,832 words)|
|Tue 24th October 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (25 words)|
We have an extensive security and support network, which extends beyond statutory sick pay to an NHS that is free at the point of use. Our welfare and security support system works well, and we buttressed it with an extra £1 billion investment last week.
I thank my hon. Friend for his support. I have sympathy with his constituents in that situation. That is why we strengthened our security and safety net last week, but the best thing we can do is help employers get through this and ensure that those jobs are ready for people to go back to as soon as practically possible.
(9 months, 2 weeks ago)Commons Chamber
That is one of the key points. Thursday is the traditional day, but it is indeed important to ensure that the civil service is up and running in Northern Ireland, and that is the main reason why I will support this measure if it comes to a vote.
I will preface my remarks about the choice between Monday 9 and Thursday 12 December by simply saying, “Thank God that this House now appears to be resolving the issue.” I say, “Thank God,” as the co-chair of the all-party humanist group, so I perhaps do not have quite the same certainty about the deity as many hon. Members and friends will have, but I think it is incredibly important for us, in our responsibility for all public servants in the United Kingdom and the national interest of the United Kingdom, to resolve the problem between the legislature and the Executive. We have got to a place where ordinary public administration is now extremely difficult to effect because of the uncertainty in this place and the impossibility of the Government actually carrying a coherent programme. So I say, “Thank God” advisedly.
I also say, “Thank God,” Dame Rosie, because of the selection made by you and your colleagues under the Chairman of Ways and Means for this debate, to ensure that it is properly focused on the in-scope issues of the Bill, because obviously the temptation for any piece of legislation to then have attached to it any number of different issues in a Parliament as incoherent as this one in terms of its make-up is self-evident. The discipline brought to our proceedings today is enormously welcome.
I also say, “Thank God,” because of what the selection means for the amendment passed earlier to the programme motion. I managed to miss that vote as I was engrossed in conversation with Baron Williams of Oystermouth about drugs policy and other issues. I was so engrossed in the conversation, and so grateful for getting hold of him after four months to be able to have a conversation with him, that I literally screened the bells out of my mind and so missed that vote. I confess publicly my error and, having thought missing an important vote is impossible for any competent person to do, I put that on the record with due appropriate humility for being so distracted. So there is a godly reason for having been so distracted: the former Archbishop of Canterbury.
I want to put in a word, however, for the poor old electoral registration officers, who will be faced with the challenge of doing an election in pretty short order at a difficult time of year. To ask them then not to go on the customary day of Thursday, and to do it on a Monday instead, will produce all sorts of challenges in terms of their normal availability and polling stations and anything else that would be available on a Thursday customarily. A point was also well made—I have forgotten which colleague did so, but I think that it was made by an Opposition Member—about the need to engage on Sunday to prepare for Monday. Again, we should think to at least some degree about the burden that they will have to carry in preparing for all this.
Then we come to the whole issue of advancing this election by three days. I am as anxious as anybody else to get our governance in the United Kingdom back on a sound footing, so that there is a sound coalition arrangement if a majority is not secured, although I am confident that we would win a majority at a general election. That is obviously part of my enthusiasm for us getting on and getting it done, but no one can take that for granted, as we learned from 2017.
Break in Debate
The hon. Lady makes an extremely powerful point and speaks to the general thrust of my argument, which is that we will be better able to deliver sound public administration if we give ourselves these three extra days. In terms of parliamentary procedure, if there are unconventional measures that the House is agreed upon, it should be possible to get some of them through with an extra 72 hours, but that would not be possible if we curtailed ourselves with an election date of 9 December.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. If we have non-contentious legislation, the three extra days will be of enormous help in assisting the tidying up of our processes than would otherwise be the case.
There has been a discussion about students and about whether their being at university on 9 December or 12 December would make a significant difference, and that was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson). The bulk of universities break up after 12 December anyway. We also know that the National Union of Students ran an extremely successful exercise to mobilise and register the student vote at university, which saw seats come into play that no one could have conceivably expected, such as Canterbury.
This is a long document at some 45 pages or so, but I would have hoped that the right hon. Gentleman could have made it to page 9. He claims that the cost to British business will be £15 billion, but it says perfectly clearly at the bottom of page 9:
“The latest…estimate for the annual administrative burden…is £7.5 billion (updated to reflect 2017 data)”.
I am in no sense happy about that—[Interruption.] I am just correcting the record. The right hon. Gentleman said £15 billion, when in fact the figure is £7.5 billion. That figure is, of course, prior to any mitigations that might be put in place by the Government.
Let me turn to the right hon. Gentleman’s other concerns. He criticised the Government for, as he puts it, failing to secure a deal. All his party had to do was support the perfectly sensible series of deals that have been put before this Parliament, and it would have a deal.
I am not going to comment on unsourced speculation of the kind mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. Let me just remind the House that when this Government’s predecessor came into office in 2010, debt was at a peacetime high thanks to the previous Labour Government. The deficit was at almost 10% and, interestingly, inequality under the Labour Government was significantly higher than it is today.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I have had a number of similar cases. In fact I was about to refer to one involving a constituent of mine who does not mind being mentioned: Mr Jim Prenold has a farm that is bisected by HS2 and has been trying to negotiate a proper solution to the problem caused by HS2. After several years—it is now more than six years since the route was initially published—there is still no solution for Mr Prenold and his family. Again, I urge the Minister to instruct HS2 to sort this out. That can be done very easily and quickly, and with good will.
Let me return to a matter that has an impact on costs and is therefore relevant particularly to new clauses 1 and 4: the whole question of the reuse of soil from the line, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone is very knowledgeable. HS2 considers that it can reuse on the line something like 80% of the spoil from cuttings and other excavations. If that is the case, I welcome it, because it would cut down the number of lorry and truck movements required to take away the spoil and to bring in the new spoil needed for embankments and other works. But what we understand—this needs to be proven or disproven—is that the percentage of excavated soil that can be reused on the line is in many cases as low as 20% and possibly even less. Hon. Members can do the maths and understand that we are talking about hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tonnes of spoil that have to be taken off site because they cannot be used on site, and which then have to be replaced by millions of tonnes of spoil for use on site. That has two major implications: cost, and impact on the transport network in our neck of the woods.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) were here, he would refer to junction 15 of the M6, which is already one of the most difficult junctions on the motorway network and needs to be remodelled. The number of truck movements through that junction will increase enormously if the figures about the use of spoil that are built into the provisions of this phase are not correct. The A51/A34 Stone roundabout would also be affected, because it is directly on one of the routes used by vehicles, as would many other parts of my constituency and the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Stone and for Stoke-on-Trent South and the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly).
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. My office has been in touch with the gentleman in question for many years and we are also in touch with the NFU. I agree that there are many cases in which the course of action that my hon. Friend describes has been successful. The NFU has done a great job, as have local land agents and my constituency office. I particularly want to mention my chief of staff, James Cantrell, who has done a fantastic job on this for many constituents over six years. However, there are unfortunately still too many exceptions to the rule. I do not want to do down HS2’s staff, a lot of whom work very hard and try their best to work for my constituents, but they are often frustrated by decisions higher up that do not give them the latitude to make sensible decisions locally on behalf of my constituents.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but sadly we have had to get involved in almost every case, and some cases have taken far too long to resolve partly because of the lack of delegation.
I begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for this debate, the loan charge all-party group for its fantastic work, and the campaigners for bringing this situation into the public eye.
Many employees signed up to these disguised remuneration schemes and arrangements in good faith, and many of them declared them to HMRC. The problem is that many of them are now being unfairly caught up in the Government’s loan charge. Their retrospective implementation has left many people who were unaware of these schemes with eye-watering bills. That is the case for many of my constituents who have been to see me to explain that they have been unfairly burdened with this charge. They did not know that these schemes were a form of tax avoidance, and now they are being asked to pay back tens of thousands of pounds—money that they can ill afford. The burden of paying it back is causing them great distress, including mental ill health.
One constituent told me that she fears that she will have to sell her home. Another constituent risks going bankrupt, while another just broke down in tears when they visited my recent surgery, fearing the consequences that the charge will have on both them and their family. We know that these are not isolated incidents. All these facts were also revealed in the excellent inquiry into the loan charge by the all-party group.
What is most disappointing about the Government’s response is that this scheme is targeting individuals rather than the companies. It is unfair that many of my constituents are being asked to pay back tens of thousands of pounds. I urge the Minister, when he responds, to commit to suspending the scheme for six months and, more importantly, to calling for a judge-led independent inquiry.
Tax is the price that we all pay for a civilised society. I certainly come from the “pay your bloody taxes” school of thought when it comes to disguised remuneration schemes.
With the short time that is left, may I explain to the Minister, from what I have seen both on the Treasury Committee and from my own casework, the weaknesses in his and HMRC’s argument? First, HMRC knew about these schemes for many years. Year after year, in successive tax returns, in individual cases and collectively, it signed off those returns, and failed to take action against promoters.
Secondly, people took advice and acted in good faith year after year on the basis of that advice. That is certainly what happened in my constituency cases. The Government should be taking far sterner action against promoters than individuals who were misled.
Thirdly, in the way it has conducted itself, HMRC has fallen woefully short of the standards we should expect, both in its lack of timely communication with taxpayers and in the way it has misled legislators in calling for them to legislate for the loan charge.
Taking all those things into account, even now, there are people in my constituency and across the country who face demands for six-figure sums. No one—at least no one from an ordinary background, which my constituents are—can afford to pay them back. People are being compelled to settle now, while the situation is under active consideration by parliamentarians. When we look at how many MPs have signed the early-day motion and the letter to the Minister, it is clear that this policy no longer commands the support of the majority in this House.
My hon. Friend has misled the House, although unwittingly. He is very popular; it is his natural humbleness and modesty that prevails upon us today. In Ledbury, which has one of the finest high streets in Christendom, there are only two shops that are part of the chains that can be seen on ordinary high streets, yet the shops in my constituency, like those everywhere else, are under tremendous pressure. More and more of them are becoming charity shops. Although none of us has anything against that, it is surely a sign of a deep unhealthiness in our high streets.
However modest we may be about each other, it is the popularity of both the subject and of my hon. Friend that has drawn the crowd. In addition to shops, will he talk a bit about the rating imposition on automatic cash machines? Cash machines are needed in many places where the banks have gone, and if the rates go up on them, we will start losing them as well.
I am sure that my hon. Friend remembers well that a long time ago—1997—I used to live in his constituency. In fact, we worked on his election campaign together. At the time, the Cotswolds constituency was booming with pubs and businesses. The high streets in Chipping Campden and other villages were doing incredibly well, but what we now see as a result in his constituency, which I had the pleasure of visiting recently, is that there has been a churn in businesses, because many of the small and medium-sized businesses, due to the high rates and high rents on the properties in his beautiful constituency, find it incredibly difficult to sustain the costs of both high rent and high business rates. This problem is found not just in his constituency but across the UK, due to the high rateable value of properties. Does he agree that we need complete reform of the business rating system?
I put on record that I have been trying to take action for a number of years to exempt public conveniences from business rates. Especially in respect of the towns in my constituency—Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Cliftonville are tourist areas—I have always said that public loos are often the first thing that people use and the last thing that they remember, and they should be thus exempted.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We have debated business rates on numerous occasions, because York, which is known for its retail offer, currently has about 50 empty properties. Does he agree that the business rates system is broken and that we need to move forward to a turnover tax or a profit-related tax, thereby enabling a much fairer system to be in place?
The hon. Gentleman and I came into the House together, so we know each other quite well. To be frank, we have had many debates about rates in general terms, whether they were about the poll tax or business tax and so on, and quite frankly, it is about time—I agree with the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries)—that there was an inquiry to have a good look at the whole system of funding local government in this country. What is happening now is that a lot of local government expenditure, because of the reduction in Government grants to local authorities, has been shoved under business rates. As I said about 18 months ago, we cannot go on like this. Something has to give and we have to look at that properly.
As the manifesto seems to be very popular this week, I will read from it. We said:
“we will also conduct a full review of the business rates system to make sure it is up to date for a world in which people increasingly shop online”.
The pretty market town of Alresford in my constituency has a chocolate box row of shops that includes a beautiful bookshop, but people increasingly tell me they use it to look, view and try, and then go online to buy the books. It is totally untrue that the Government have not done anything to help with businesses rates—we have supported those affected by the revaluation, introduced the discretionary rates scheme and said we will introduce more regular revaluations—and the very good Minister, who is in his place, has done a lot. That said, it is probably time to consider a more structural change away from just property—I understand why the Treasury likes property taxes—to a more transaction-based tax, which might help bookstores such as the one I referred to in Alresford.
Is the fundamental problem one of the taxation system or the nature of retail and our changing tastes? In my view, the rating system does not help—it sets high streets at a disadvantage—but fundamentally people have changed the way they shop, and retail has to respond with a better offer and experience.
Nurseries in Cheltenham provide a vital public service for parents, enabling them to go to work, but they are marginal businesses, and it is very hard for them to make money. Circus Day Nursery has written to me saying that it is struggling with the impact of business rates, and that the Government’s great intentions to allow local dispensations to be provided by councils are not being pursued in practice. Has my hon. Friend any views on the impact of business rates on the viability of the local nurseries that are so vital to our communities?
Order. Before the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent intervenes, I must make two points. First, I think it important for the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) to be allowed to finish responding to one intervention before being interrupted by another. Secondly, I know that it is very tempting to look at the Member who has intervened, but it is a good idea to face in this direction because of the microphones. Obviously, no one would want to miss a word of the debate.
The reason for my enthusiasm about intervening at that particular juncture was my wish to raise a point that is remarkably similar to—if not the same as—the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). A couple of weeks ago I visited a nursery in my constituency whose staff told me about exactly the same problem. Business rates are a huge challenge to its success as a business, but it provides a very important service for local parents—especially mums, but also dads. Regulations require them to have a certain amount of floor space, so they are hit pretty hard by business rates. I am keen to hear the section of my hon. Friend’s speech that deals with possible cases for extra support, and I hope that nurseries will be considered in that regard.
I thank my hon. Friend. I now cannot remember what I was going to say. [Laughter.]
My hon. Friend has identified the high street as an important aspect of business rates. In the last few years, the saviours of many high streets have been casual dining and high-quality bars and restaurants, and in many places the rateable values are so high—above £100,000 in many cases—that none of those businesses has benefited from the generous allowances and discretionary reliefs provided by the Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to ensure that we do not kill the goose that laid the golden egg?
My hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way. I entirely commend the Government for the package of business rates relief that has been given, although I recognise, as he does, the pressures that high streets are under with the business rates system. I also would be interested in a thorough reform of that system. Does he agree that, in the meantime, there are many things that local authorities can be doing to drive footfall and to help the high street? I am thinking particularly of West Oxfordshire District Council —his neighbouring authority, of course. The two adjoining local authorities work closely together. They have a flagship policy of free car parking, which has done a great deal to drive footfall and to help the high streets, particularly of Witney and Chipping Norton, where we have a plethora of great independent shops. In many ways, those high streets are thriving. Does my hon. Friend agree that local authorities such as West Oxfordshire should be commended for that, and that we could see that practice spread throughout the country, which would help the high street?
The hon. Gentleman is not without friends on the Opposition side of the House. He knows my constituency well because he pursues sporting interests in it, and his aunt and uncle—very nice people—are constituents of mine. He knows from his sporting interests that one must give the gillie a tip. If I may draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to his future remarks about ATMs, the distance between ATMs militates against easy access. Where I come from, it is necessary to travel a very long way indeed to get to a cash machine. I would suggest that that is not at all good for the local businesses.
Many ATMs are in petrol station forecourts and convenience stores. Many of those places are situated in some of the most deprived communities, and as a result of the business rate levied on those machines, quite often they are put in those stores on the basis that people have to pay to withdraw their cash. People who withdraw £10 or £20 quite often end up paying £1.50 or £2.50 to get their money. Would it not be helpful if the business rates on ATMs could be looked at, so that, hopefully, more people could access their money without paying an exorbitant charge?
Does my hon. Friend have any idea of the logic behind an ATM on the outside wall of a bank having to pay business rates when those that are inside do not? It beats me! Perhaps there is a reason, but I do not understand what it would be.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. There is an area that has been left out of the discretionary discount, and I wonder whether he agrees that the Government ought to look again at the guidance on this. I am talking about grass-roots music venues. We have lots of them on our high streets. This was raised with me by the Creative Innovation Centre in Taunton. These are places where many of our young musicians find their feet; it is how Ed Sheeran started, for example. They also generate money for the local economy, and I believe that they ought to be classed with pubs when it comes to the discount because they also serve food and drink. I believe that a special case should be made for them. It would cost only £1 million over two years in money “lost” to the Treasury, but it would generate so much more for the economy if they could be included in these discretionary rates.
I forgot to say that a lot of information about this arose as a result of the inquiry by the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport into the UK live music industry, as it was one of the things that was highlighted. It is stifling our young talent coming through the chain.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend was able to secure this debate. He is making a really powerful case on the importance of small businesses in our communities. Is it not interesting that there are no Opposition Members here at all, while Government Members, even as the House is about to adjourn, are standing up for small businesses? As Conservatives, we are the party for small businesses. I very much commend my hon. Friend’s recommendation that we look in the round at what we can do to simplify taxation on small businesses. That is really important, but as we do so, I have noticed something positive about business rate retention. Local authorities are now working far more constructively with small businesses, so that that income raised in that community flows to them. Local authorities have to be concerned about small businesses, whereas in the past, when they got cheques from central Government they were not so focused on them. In the new scheme, let us think about the link between local authority funding and small businesses.
As a small factual correction, when my hon. Friend said “5.7 small and medium-sized businesses” he meant 5.7 million. That is a small point, and I know it was a slip of the lip.
I commend my hon. Friend on the debate, which is incredibly wide ranging. I should like to touch on wholesale reform of business rates. The Government have done an awful lot of good work to give discretionary rate relief and to support SMEs in constituencies and towns such as Witham. Does he not agree that wholesale rate reform could be the gateway or avenue to get local authorities in particular to invest in town centre development strategies that could help to grow the base of small business and achieve a much more sustainable local economy that meets local needs as well as helping entrepreneurs and small businesses in towns such as Witham and places across the Witham constituency, and the country, to continue to invest and develop?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me a second time. He is incredibly generous.
On innovation, Flitwick high street in my constituency could not be more different from Chipping Campden high street in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Given the housing crisis and housing shortage, it may be that not all high streets can survive and that we need to do something innovative with them.
On a humorous note, the hon. Gentleman mentioned that we met in 1997 in the Eight Bells pub on Chipping Campden high street. For 21 years he laboured under the impression that I was trying to chat him up, and I had to disabuse him of that notion only recently.
My hon. Friend has spoken about the high street and perhaps, in some respects, the high street may need to change from being entirely retail to a place where people can meet and be entertained. One issue limiting such change is that many small business premises on our high streets are owned by self-invested personal pension schemes. As such, they need to remain commercial property to remain in those pension schemes. Will my hon. Friend or the Minister comment on whether properties that change from commercial to residential, in line with a slightly shrinking high street, may be able to stay within those pension schemes for a period so that such change is not hampered by the SIPP rules?
We have had a very good debate on the extremely important matter of business rates. I will reiterate right at the start that this Government want to see taxes as low as possible. We have made a number of advances in that respect, as the House will know, in areas such as income tax and corporation tax. Equally, we want the burden of rates on businesses up and down the country to be as low as possible. For that reason, as several right hon. and hon. Members have highlighted, we doubled the small business rates relief, from £6,000 to £12,000 as a rateable value threshold, taking 655,000 businesses out of business rates altogether.
We also switched from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index for the uprating of the multiplier, further reducing the burden by £5 billion over the next five years. In 2016 we introduced £300 million for hard cases, which is there for local authorities to use at their discretion. We doubled the level of rural rate relief, from 50% to 100%, to help small communities where perhaps there is just one pub, post office or petrol station. A number of right hon. and hon. Members mentioned the discount of one third brought in at the last Budget.
I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) on securing the debate. He asked a number of sensible and relevant questions about the whole way we structure our business rates. He asked specifically about the allowance, which we have discussed previously. We are looking at that seriously, but it depends to a large degree on us getting in place the digital arrangements between local authorities so that we can transfer information on business premises owned by the same entity. That programme will be introduced by about 2024, but I am happy to have further discussions with him on the matter.
I will have to come back to my hon. Friend with an answer to that specific technical question, but I will gladly do so.
Several Members rightly mentioned our high streets package. The right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) made reference to the fact that it is not all about business rates; it is also about how we design and evolve our high streets to face the changing nature of retailing, which of course includes the rapid advance of online retailing.
Several Members mentioned the digital service tax that we are committed to bringing in by 2020, and we will do so unilaterally in the absence of a multilateral move on the behalf of other countries.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is making an excellent speech. In York, there are 47 empty units in the centre of our city, partly because of high valuation rates. Offshore landlords are more concerned with their investments than the revenue from the rentals, so they keep pushing up the rents. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the whole system needs to change if order is to be restored?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this issue, which is a problem in my constituency as well as others. He referred to a national decline, and the evidence of that is very clear: planning portals in local areas show a downturn in the number of businesses applying for extensions and renovations. Does he agree that that is because businesses cannot expand because of costs, and does he agree that a review of business rates might just allow some companies to take the plunge, upgrade their businesses, sow into them and, hopefully, reap the benefits, rather than continually treading water—as they often do—just to keep afloat?
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I say what a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair after the recess? It is also a pleasure to realise that I have an hour and 16 minutes in which to address my response to my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), but I may cut it down just a little bit to please the House.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this important debate to the House tonight. It is entirely characteristic of him that such a debate is in his name, because throughout his parliamentary career he has been a strong advocate of business both across the country and, importantly, in his constituency. He was right to highlight in his opening remarks the sheer size and importance of our small business community—there are 5.7 million small businesses, a figure that he cited—and the recent growth that we have had under the coalition Government and this Government. He has worked closely with the British Independent Retailers Association on various thoughts and proposals, some of which he put forward this evening and to which I shall respond in a moment.
My hon. Friend is right that business rates are an important tax. When we consulted on business rates back in 2015 and considered the various alternatives, several different suggestions were made, such as turnover taxes, taxes on gross value added and so on. Inevitably, with every kind of measure or metric that one focused on, they had their own particular drawbacks and complexities and so on. The conclusion that was reached at the time was that business rates were a stable tax that is difficult to avoid because property is static by definition. Of course, as my hon. Friend also rightly pointed out, business rates raise around £25 billion a year, which is a significant contribution to our public services and funds, in turn, our doctors, nurses, policemen and policewomen and so on.
The Government recognise that business rates represent a high pressure on small businesses, particularly for high street retailers. Rates are a fixed cost that cannot be avoided, irrespective of whether a business is profitable or otherwise, which is why we have undertaken a series of important measures. In the 2016 Budget, we made 100% small business rate relief permanent, at that time increasing the threshold for the relief and taking 655,000 of the smallest businesses out of business rates altogether. We also increased the threshold for the standard multiplier, taking 250,000 properties, including most high street shops, out of the higher rate of business rates.
However, that is not all. Following the most recent property revaluation in 2017, we introduced a £3.6 billion transitional relief scheme to cap and phase in bill increases. Additionally, at spring Budget 2017, we announced an extra £435 million to support those businesses facing the steepest increases in bills, including £110 million to support 16,000 small businesses losing small business rate relief or rural rate relief to limit increases in their bills to the greater of £600 a year or the real-terms transitional relief cap for small businesses in each year. We also provided local authorities with £300 million of funding for discretionary relief to support individual cases in their local area.
In parallel to all that, we have taken significant steps to ensure the fairness of the business rates system as a whole. That is why, at spring Budget 2017, the Chancellor announced that we would reform the revaluation process to make it fairer. I am pleased to say that we have delivered on that by increasing the frequency of business rates revaluations from every five years to every three years, following the next revaluation. That is an important point in the context of what my hon. Friend said about the difference in the rates being paid by the out-of-town store and by retailers on the high street. If we can have more frequent revaluations, as rateable values on the high street perhaps fall, we can more quickly pass on the benefit of that within the system.
Break in Debate
The hon. Lady will probably be aware of the Chancellor’s speech at our recent party conference, in which he spoke quite strongly about the importance of a level playing field for online businesses that derive value in the United Kingdom and end up paying very little tax and about the international tax approach that we may look at taking unilaterally as a consequence. The most important thing overall is that the Government recognise that when it comes to high streets and the smaller retailers to which the hon. Lady refers, we should take measures to reduce the burden of rates, particularly among smaller businesses, in the way that I have described this evening. That makes bills fairer for everyone, as they more closely reflect the current rental values and relative changes in rents. To ensure that ratepayers benefit from this change at the earliest point, the spring statement 2018 included an announcement that the next revaluation would be brought forward by one year to 2021.
Before I address some of the specific points raised by my hon. Friend, it is worth highlighting that, at autumn budget 2017, we brought forward the planned switch in the indexation of business rates from RPI to CPI by two years. This switch is worth £2.3 billion over five years, and the move to CPI is worth £4.1 billion in total by 2023. So once more, the Government are making a significant investment to recognise the pressures that rates introduce.
My hon. Friend raised the specific issue—
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I know that the Valuation Office Agency is thorough in the way in which it conducts revaluations. It is an independent agency. However, I note the point that he has made, and if he would like to write to me or meet me to discuss it in the context of potential undervaluations, I am open to doing so.
The points that my hon. Friend made included the idea of an allowance instead of the threshold. I assume that he wanted to apply that allowance to all retail businesses, and of course that would come with some cost. It would mean providing further additional relief to some companies or businesses that do not currently receive it.
I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that point, and I am sorry that I misunderstood. He asked what the costs of compliance were under the current system and suggested that, if we changed it, we might be able to absolve ourselves from those costs and pass the benefits on to these businesses. That is certainly something that I am happy to look at and discuss with him. The overarching point is that we had a fundamental review of business rates in 2015, and many of the issues that my hon. Friend has raised were carefully looked at.
My hon. Friend said that he recognised that change would take some time, and we are likely to be considering these matters over some reasonable period. He raised the issue of the confidence of small business retailers at the moment, and this is where I would broaden the debate’s scope a little by saying that it is not just bearing down on business rates that is the mission of this Government. We also provide the employment allowance and we are bringing down small business tax rates, with corporation tax having fallen from 28% in 2010 to 19% now and set to reduce further to 17% in time. A lot of small businesses, including retailers, will be benefiting from other measures such as fuel duty freezes. We have just announced that fuel duty will be frozen for yet another year—the ninth year in succession.
In conclusion, let me again thank my hon. Friend for this very important debate. He is focusing on one of the great challenges of our time for our high streets, which lie at the heart of our local communities. It behoves us all to do all we can to make sure they are live, whole and thriving.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; high streets face a variety of challenges, of which business rates is but one. One of the greatest challenges they face is the change in how we are now shopping, with just over 18% of all retail now going online; that presents a huge challenge and that number is likely to increase in time. That tells us that high streets will need to transition, reinvent themselves, change and come up with new ways to serve their local communities and drive traffic into our high streets. We recognise the importance of making sure that all those things are looked at through the planning system and the reviews we are carrying out at the moment and through the important work we have been carrying out to date. I see this debate as being very important in that regard. We will continue to keep this under review in terms of making sure we keep those cost pressures through the business rates system as low as they can be for our important high street retailers.
Question put and agreed to.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley)
Some Members will have heard me speak before in the Chamber about the closure of the Britvic and Unilever factories in Norwich, corporate acts that will see hundreds of job losses and millions of pounds stripped and lost from the wider economy. If hon. Members are interested—and they obviously are because they are here—Colman’s was started in the early 1800s by Jeremiah Colman, and the mustard brand, as many will know, has become a household name across the country. When I was a young lad, we did not ask that someone pass the mustard; we asked that they pass the Colman’s. Some may still do.
In that time, Colman’s has also become an integral part of the very fabric of the city of Norwich. I remember being taken to the top of Norwich city castle and being shown by an historian and archaeologist the physical structure of the city. It expands in concentric circles: the closer to the castle, the older the buildings, and one can see, moving outwards, a whole swathe of housing built by the Colman family to house the Colman workers. This institution—it is an institution in Norwich—is not just part of the physical structure of Norwich; it is part of the very fabric of our city. The loss of money and jobs is part of the story, but the closure will have a real effect on the people of my city. Psychologically, it is a blow to the identity of Norwich, our history and our heritage. I am confident that we will recover—it is a resilient city—but none the less it is a blow.
As if that were not enough, I must now tell the House of the disgraceful way in which the workers and their trade union representatives have been disregarded by Unilever and especially Britvic. Some of these staff are third generation workers from families who have committed their entire working lives to a company that has now decided to leave the city, completely forgetting that they were the very people who helped to make the brand. When Britvic made the announcement about the Norwich closure, it stated that it was simply a proposal and that the final decision had not been made. It promised to run meaningful consultations and to listen to the issues raised, yet, just two days after the announcement, it started offering voluntary redundancies to members of staff. That is not the action of a company committed to meaningful consultation, and the consultation that followed was a total sham, with Britvic providing no real evidence for the closure and refusing to listen to alternatives put forward by workers that could have resulted in huge savings, kept the plant open and kept the workers in their jobs.
It was hardly a surprise when in December Britvic announced it would be moving its operations elsewhere. This was announced alongside a promise that it would treat the workers fairly and minimise the impact on the local community, which it did by offering workers the statutory minimum redundancy package. Seven months down the line and Britvic has shown absolute disdain for the community of workers that has united against this injustice, refusing to meet with union representatives and workers or to improve the redundancy package. As a result, the GMB trade union has been forced into an unprecedented situation where its only option is to strike. I stand in complete solidarity with these workers, who have planned 18 days of strikes over the next six weeks, and I think it a total disgrace that Britvic has shown no concern for the wellbeing of its employees.
Some people will shrug and say, “That is the way of the world.”. Others will say that there are plenty of other jobs for the sacked workers to go to, but the reality is that hundreds of workers in Norwich have been cast adrift by a Government and an economic system that has let all of us down again, a system that ignores the negative impact of de-industrialisation in cities outside London, a system where all that matters is how much and how quickly profits can be maximised, a system that legitimises Britvic in saying these closures are being made in the best interests of the business. Let us be clear: this decision was made in the best interests of the shareholders and executives who will receive huge profits when they sell off the Carrow Road site.
I applaud the valiant efforts of the unions, Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council and the local enterprise partnership to find a viable solution and keep those jobs in Norwich, but I cannot say the same for the Government. When the issue came to a head at the end of last year, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) promised that they would do all that they could to save the jobs of those workers. Where is the evidence to show that they did anything of the sort? In fact, they have simply become part of a Government who have failed to understand the lessons of the past 35 years, which show that Government cannot be a spectator when it comes to industry.
The Government like to portray themselves as the party of business, but this is a prime example of how they have encouraged a system that works for the shareholders, not the workers. They have created a system whereby companies can pick and choose the members of a so-called “independent” consultation group, and a system whereby workers are only allowed reactive rights to challenge the authenticity of a consultation process after they have already lost their jobs. That is a disgrace.
I am devastated by the way in which the closures have been handled, and the disregard that the companies have shown for their workers and communities. I believe that we must review and overhaul the process by which we deal with site closures, closing the loopholes that help companies to flout the rules with little or no consequences once the gates are closed and production halted. When will the Government step up and create a safe and secure economic system that takes seriously the issues of de-industrialisation and unemployment in the most economically vulnerable towns and cities in the UK? It is not too late to intervene and ensure that these workers are listened to and treated with the respect that they deserve. The Government owe that to the workers at Britvic and Unilever, and they owe it to the city of Norwich.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising such an important point about the A417. Does he agree that the death of a young soldier in May on this treacherous piece of road underscores the importance of delivering that vital project, which is crucial for safety, air quality and the economy of Gloucestershire?
It is good news that I have been called to speak so early, and I want to start with some good news relating to the last time that I was in this slot. I like to use this debate for unfinished business, and last time I mentioned a business in Park Royal called Sweetland, a baklava manufacturer of distinction. It is a patisserie that makes middle eastern food that goes to restaurants all over the west end, and it was having problems with HS2 over late payments relating to its relocation. The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) was the Rail Minister at the time, and he beavered away on this. As a result of his efforts and those of the Deputy Leader of the House, the company got its payments. In more good news, I am pleased to say that I was able to cut the ribbon the other day at the shiny new Sweetland factory in the East Acton ward. The company is very pleased.
I hope that the same magic can be worked again with a couple of other businesses whose cases I want to raise this afternoon. Next door to Sweetland is Med Food, which supplies olives. I emerged from there recently laden with jars of olives in different suspensions and flavours. It has not had a great time from HS2. Its relocation is being queried at every turn, and a receipt for bubble wrap that came in at under £200 was queried as unreasonable. Bubble wrap is the kind of thing that people need if they are relocating many hundreds of cubic metres of stock, and I wonder whether the Minister will look into Med Food’s case.
Altenergy of Chiswick, London, W4, is a solar PV panel manufacturer. Its business was booming as recently as 2011, when it was among the top 100 companies in that field. However, the industry has collapsed over the past couple of years, and the company’s turnover has gone down by 80% since the end of the feed-in tariff scheme was announced in 2011. This is part of a pattern from this Government. They used to want us to hug a husky, but now we see their love of nuclear power at Hinkley Point, which is actually two nuclear power stations, and their Heathrow expansion, which they pushed through the other day, is completely at odds with what they used to believe in, as is all the rest of the un-green stuff that they are doing now.
Will the Minister tell us what will happen to Altenergy of Chiswick, London, W4? The company wants policy clarity and fair treatment for rooftop solar, which is a popular type of renewable energy. It is cheap and obviously green; it is the most popular thing in the global renewables market. It dominates the market globally, but in this country, our Government seem to be dangerously in hock to the nuclear industry, which is getting all the subsidy. Altenergy is very worried. It used to have large offices, but it has now relocated to a shed belonging to the chief executive officer, Rajiv Bhatia. It has massively downsized. It used to employ 50 people, but it now employs just a handful. Can the Minister give me any assurances about what will happen when the feed-in tariff goes next year? The company wants to know about net metering, which would provide some certainty. There is no indication that the export tariff will be maintained after 1 April. May we have some assurances on that? Quinn McGovern from Elan Global Renewables of Acton, W3, is in a similar predicament. Several of these companies are wondering whether they might be about to go to the wall.
The issues being experienced by those businesses are not Brexit-related, but I shall now come to the Brexit-related ones. Hamish Orr Ewing of Ealing, W5, is a wine merchant who runs Wine Source Group, an importer of fine wines. He is concerned that the Government’s plan to ensure that importers pay VAT up front would
“be terminal for many merchants”.
He says that the UK wine industry contributes £9.1 billion to the public purse. He believes this plan to be an act of economic self-harm, and he would like some assurances.
We have heard a lot about the Windrush generation recently, and there are several Home Office-related business issues hitting Ealing and Acton. Manic Textiles wants to hire someone from Ukraine. He is skilled, but the company cannot pay him enough. When is this going to stop? We have ridiculous Government targets for the sake of targets that do not consider the skills gaps in our labour force. People may have seen on BBC News the case of a much-loved teacher at the Christ the Saviour Church of England Primary School who went back to Canada and now cannot come back because he does not earn enough. The situation is just nuts. In every case, the Home Office reply just seems to say, “Tough,” which is a bit embarrassing to pass on to the constituent, so I wonder whether the Department will consider the quality of its responses.
The last case that I want to raise is a really sad one. I was contacted on 12 July by Karl and Abbie Pokorny, who wrote to me to say:
“Our family has had a hard few weeks. Our previously happy and healthy three-and-a-half-year-old daughter has ended up in a drug-induced coma on a heart and lung machine and is on the transplant list, waiting for a new heart.”
I think that a new heart would have come for this little girl in March 2019, and their question was about EU organ donation. We have heard about Galileo and the European Medicines Agency—luckily, a new clause was passed last week with the aim of keeping us in the EMA—but they were wondering about our access to organ treatment networks. I contacted them this morning to ask whether it is okay to raise Sophie’s case this afternoon, and I am sorry to say that she passed at the weekend, on Sunday. Perhaps that particular case—[Interruption.] I am sorry for making the tone a little dramatic—I did not wish to do that—but let us hope that Sophie’s death was not in vain. Such things should be uppermost in the negotiations. The answers to my written questions about such things are vague in the extreme and always say “in due course” or whatever.
Anyway, I will end my speech there, because I know that loads of people want to speak. Happy holidays to one and all!
I hope that I will be able to continue to address the House with similar such effect this afternoon.
I will be saying more about the overseas territories in a moment. I fully recognise the interest that my hon. Friend has shown, over many years, in the importance of protecting the interests of the overseas territories, particularly in the Caribbean. I will be able to give him deeper reassurance on this in a moment, but if I may, I will continue with my points in the order that I was planning to make them, by addressing the Magnitsky issue first, then Scottish limited partnerships, before turning to that rather more vexed issue.
Looking at the Scottish National party Benches, I turn to the separate amendments on Magnitsky tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). While we agree with the driving principles behind the amendments, we are satisfied that the package of amendments that we have tabled—which have been signed by Members on both Front Benches—sufficiently cover the same objectives. I hope that the hon. Lady will feel that they do. As she knows from our discussions in Committee, we have approached this entire issue in a spirit of cross-party co-operation. Indeed, she has played an important part in that in her campaigning.
I could stand here and reel off a long list of outsourcing companies that have been guilty of fraud, tax avoidance, blacklisting, failure to pay contractors, and even, shockingly, billing the taxpayer for tagging people who had died. They have presided over, and have been vehemently committed to, a failed and failing ideological project. That is my charge today.
My opposite number, who I am pleased to see in his place—the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—has personally shown lots of enthusiasm for handing out Government contracts—
I am trying to make some progress. [Interruption.] Well, they will be glad that I am making progress, then.
In the Minister’s role at the Ministry of Justice, what did he do? He awarded a £25 million Government contract to G4S. But that company was under investigation for fraud against the taxpayer. He snuck out plans to privatise the collection of court fines, and he even proposed giving private companies the power to arrest our fellow citizens. His Department bailed out a private probation service with an additional £277 million over seven years, and he failed to deliver the promised £115 million that he said would be delivered by outsourcing two prisons.
We need to change direction. Let me briefly set out the case, because outsourcing of procurement has boomed under this Tory Government. It is now worth £242 billion. Nearly a third of public expenditure—of our taxes—is being put at risk by a Government who are blindly following a dogma.
To be clear, there never was a true market in outsourcing. It is an oligopoly. The course of action that the British Government set out on has led only to the creation of a handful of mega-corporations, almost too big to fail, and those corporations have penetrated nearly every aspect of the state, both central and local. This so-called market works well for a handful of companies making huge profits out of the taxpayer, but it is not working for anybody else.
We want the Government to see the facts as they are, not through the lens of a tired, stale, outdated, dogmatic view of the world. Jeremy Corbyn, our leader, commenting on the Carillion debacle—
Break in Debate
Well, we still pay tribute to our leader, unlike some of the Government Members, who seem to be making up a point about it. Let us see how many of them—[Interruption.] My party leader said that we have now reached—
I am coming to an end. He said that we are now coming to a turning point, and he was right. He caught the mood of the country. The public are tired of outsourcing. They want democratically accountable, quality services, which are run effectively and efficiently in the interests of the public. Every poll we can look at shows the same thing: the people are completely disabused of this whole process. That is why the House of Commons must take up the task that the Government have failed to act on. Where else could we start but by referring the matter to our excellent Public Accounts Committee? That is what the motion recommends.
I will not—I am finishing. The Prime Minister and her Government have squandered taxpayers’ money on a failing dogma. They have run out of new ideas. They have proved unable to grasp the change that our country desperately needs. Even her own MPs agree. The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) says:
“Where’s the bold and the brave?”
He is talking to the Prime Minister. He says, “it’s dull, dull, dull.” He is absolutely correct.
The hon. Gentleman knows that, from chairmanships in many other areas, that is not a point of order. It is up to the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) whether he wishes to give way, as we will later find out when other Members want to intervene.
Break in Debate
PwC, as the special managers working with the official receiver, is looking at such cases to see whether it can offer arrangements whereby workers are no worse off than they were under the terms of their Carillion employment. The hon. Lady and I met yesterday to talk about the constituency concerns that she and other parliamentary colleagues have about the Wolverhampton headquarters. The alternative of a chaotic, unmanaged collapse and liquidation of Carillion would have been far more difficult for the workers concerned, because the liquidator in those circumstances would have had a statutory obligation to terminate all contracts and lay off all workers straight away, not to continue with the provision of public services. That would have been more costly not only for the individuals involved but, obviously, for the public purse.
I welcome the initiative taken last week by the Construction Industry Training Board to help the 1,400 apprentices employed by Carillion. Those apprenticeships were primarily in bricklaying, carpentry and joinery—skills that the country vitally needs to build homes and solve our national housing shortage. To date, the CITB has matched 400 of those apprentices with new employers, and it continues to assess the large number of industry offers it has received to find placements for the remaining Carillion apprentices.
Unfortunately, there will be some redundancies as a result of this company failure. That is why Jobcentre Plus mobilised its rapid response service, and it stands ready to support any employee, at any stage, who is affected by this announcement. I am aware, too, that a significant number of small and medium-sized businesses—either suppliers to or subcontractors of Carillion—will be affected by this collapse because Carillion owed them money. We are doing what we can to keep continuity on service contracts for those companies, and as I said earlier, we are having some success, particularly on the facilities management side.
In addition, we are looking to restart work on construction sites at the earliest safe moment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with the assistance of my the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), who has responsibility for small business, has personally led efforts to do what we can to mitigate the risks to subcontractors and suppliers through a taskforce to monitor and advise on mitigating the impacts of Carillion’s liquidation on the sector through practical measures that will help SMEs and employees alike. My right hon. Friend has met the banks, and I join him in welcoming their undertakings to take special measures to help those affected, including overdraft extensions, payment holidays and fee waivers.
The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), may be able to say more when he responds to the debate, but that help will involve things such as credit facilities and loans to enable those companies to trade their way through this period of difficulty, particularly until there is greater certainty about what happens to the contracts on which they were engaged.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very, very good point. As chairman of the all-party group for small and micro business, that is something that is very close to my heart and the hearts of those for whom I endeavour to speak in Parliament. That matter has been a concern. I know that the hon. Gentleman has campaigned on it, as have I and many others. The simplification of the VAT regime and the ability to pay online will streamline the tax process for small businesses. I am grateful to the Government for the action that they have taken in ensuring that that burden is not too onerous.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a Government who are cracking down on and taking serious, practical and effective measures against tax evasion. What we hear from the Opposition are measures that will drive businesses and investment abroad. They will not invest in the businesses that we need to help grow the economy and grow jobs. What we see from the Government is effective management of the economy, and what we see from the Opposition is, as my hon. Friend quite rightly said, fantasy. The irony is that their measures will destroy jobs, destroy the economy, destroy productivity and destroy the tax revenues on which our public services depend. The policies from the Opposition will mean less, not more, for the public services.
I would certainly buy a second-hand car from the right hon. Gentleman.
The Chancellor, who is regarded with the utmost suspicion by the Brextremists on his own side, was warned at the weekend that he had to produce a game-changer of a Budget or his career would be over. They want rid of him because they do not think he is Eurosceptic enough. The Prime Minister has already shown her faith in him by making him disappear for the entire recent general election campaign. After his outing on the Sunday politics shows at the weekend, when he claimed that no one in Britain was unemployed, we can see what they are worried about. It is no wonder that he declined to get in the driverless car that they were going to put him in for a pre-Budget high-tech photo-op.
The Conservative party is responsible for the slowest recovery from recession since the Napoleonic wars and the largest squeeze on living standards since Victorian times, and it is presiding over record levels of wealth inequality. That is not a record to be proud of. The Budget has done nothing to address those abject and fundamental failures. Since the crash, GDP per head has increased by just 2.4%. During the 1990s recession, the comparable figure was 21%. Meanwhile, driven by the significant decline in the value of the pound after the referendum vote, UK inflation rose to 3% in September, which is double the rate in the eurozone. Growth in the UK is anaemic by historical trends and is on a downwards path, as shown by the OBR today.
In real terms, wages are lower now than they were in 2010, and the living standards squeeze has returned as prices are outstripping wage increases once more. The public sector has seen a decade of falling wages, which is causing real hardship. The TUC has calculated that, as a result of the public sector pay freeze, paramedics and NHS dieticians are £3,800 a year worse off since 2010, firefighters are £2,900 a year worse off, and Crown prosecutors in our courts are £4,400 a year worse off. The TUC’s polling shows that 15% of staff in our public services have skipped meals in order to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, in Tory Britain, workers are not only struggling with stagnant or falling pay levels; they are also experiencing a huge increase in job insecurity. One in 10 of the workforce—3.2 million people—now face insecurity at work, including: 800,000 on zero-hours contracts; 760,000 on non-standard forms of temporary working, including agency and casual work; and 1.7 million in low-paid self-employment, earning below the Government’s modest so-called living wage.
It is little wonder, then, that tax receipts are falling as employers take advantage of tax structures that incentivise less secure forms of employment. It is little wonder that Bank of England figures show that household levels of unsecured consumer debt are rising at their fastest rate since the global financial crash—up by over 10% last year and now higher than they were in 2008. The Budget contained nothing to address any of those important concerns.
However, there are a few people who are doing really well out of the current system. Pay ratios between FTSE 100 CEOs and the rest continue to widen. They are now paid a staggering 160 times more than the average worker. That means they made more money by the first Wednesday of 2017 than the average worker could earn all year. Some 5% of households now own 40% of all the wealth in Britain. Is that really the kind of society we wish to create?
Boosting productivity is the key to economic growth and pay increases, yet over the past decade the UK’s productivity performance has been the worst of all G7 countries. Since 2010 the Government’s failure to invest in infrastructure and in skills has seen our productivity flatlining so that we are now 15% lower than the G7 average. So bad has been this Government’s record on productivity that the OBR has revised down its assumptions about future growth from productivity gains. The UK has the lowest level of investment in the G7. Driven by the Government’s failure to invest, business investment has grown slowly over the past 10 years—by only 5%. That is nowhere near enough to retool our economy and make it fit for the future. Addressing that problem must be at the heart of any Government’s industrial strategy.
This Budget might have been the time when the Chancellor decided to tackle the regional disparity in economic performance, when he took the opportunity to invest in our infrastructure and skills base, and when he finally gave Britain the pay rise it so badly needs. But he did not. This is a Budget of missed opportunities. Once more there is nothing on social care. It is a bits and pieces Budget that fails to rise to the huge challenges that this country faces.
In my parliamentary division, the difficulty is that private builders will not address that proportion of the market where the need is greatest: the bottom and the mid-market. Equally, such is the increase in supply that is required to drive down the price, it is questionable as to whether it would be in the interests of independent builders to secure such a reduction in price. The greatest increase in the market was achieved through public sector building; does my hon. Friend see that as a possibility?