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Budget (Regional Differences)

Volume 516: debated on Tuesday 12 October 2010

2. What representations he has received on variations between the English regions and constituent parts of the UK in respect of the effects of the measures in the June 2010 Budget. (16481)

3. What representations he has received on variations between the English regions and constituent parts of the UK in respect of the effects of the measures in the June 2010 Budget. (16482)

We received representations from many interested parties from all parts of the UK and at the time of the Budget we published details of the impact of the Budget on each English region and each devolved Administration.

Does not the Government’s proposed closure of the passport office in Newport show that, far from us all being in this together, these Budget cuts will fall disproportionately on the poorest parts of the UK? Is this closure inevitable?

I am grateful for the question, and I understand the sensitivity in the community about that decision. The spending review will, of course, result in some difficult decisions having to be made all over the country. I can however say to the hon. Gentleman that we are looking very closely at the regional and national impact of particular decisions. One of the reasons why the Deputy Prime Minister announced a regional growth fund for England is to deal with those issues, and I hope very much that the Welsh Assembly Government might follow suit.

Will the Chief Secretary acknowledge the analysis undertaken by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, whose head at that time now leads the Office for Budget Responsibility, that found that the measures in the emergency Budget will hit those on lowest incomes hardest and will have a disproportionate impact on constituencies in the north?

If anything demonstrates the independence of the OBR it is the appointment of the head of the IFS to be the head of the OBR, and I hope that will put an end to any such criticisms from the hon. Gentleman’s side of the House. The analysis was interesting, but the analysis we published at the time of the Budget was robust and soundly based. I have carefully studied the IFS’s additional analysis, and I think it makes some assumptions that push the boundaries. As a result it is not an analysis the Treasury would stand by. I would stand by the view that the measures we announced in the Budget were progressive and fair and hit the people on the highest incomes hardest.

Can the Chief Secretary tell the House the benefits that the regional growth fund will have for neglected regions, in particular coastal and seaside towns?

I fear that the hon. Gentleman will have to wait until a week tomorrow for the spending review announcement to hear details of that sort, but I can tell him that the purpose of the regional growth fund is precisely to ensure that areas hit hardest by public spending cuts or areas most dependent on the public sector have an opportunity to put forward proposals for measures that would support their economic growth. The regional growth fund has been established to meet those proposals.

This builds on what the Chief Secretary has just said. Does he agree that what we need with the regional growth fund is a much more focused regional policy, rather than the waste that came from the previous Government and their one-size-fits-all regional policy?

I would agree with that, although I am not going to go over the litany of spending by regional development agencies. Having a regional growth fund that is able to respond to bids from communities, along with a much more devolved set of arrangements, through local enterprise partnerships, which require local authorities and local businesses to work together on what is best for their areas, is a much more dynamic approach, and it is likely better to meet the needs of those areas.

What account will the Chief Secretary take of last week’s joint statement by the leaders of the devolved Administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? They said that the proposed cuts in the comprehensive spending review are

“too fast and too deep”,

that

“Front loading the cuts into the next two years is…the wrong approach”

and that a failure to promote growth will damage the private sector? Will he now listen to those voices, which do not just argue for the public sector, but argue that the cuts that he proposes will damage private sector growth and private sector industry?

First, may I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role, congratulate him on his appointment and wish him luck with it? The question he asks is important: what is the impact on the devolved Administrations? As he knows, the budget for devolved Administrations is set by the Barnett formula, which reflects the decisions we make for Departments within the UK, and so it falls out as a consequence of the spending review decisions. Of course our decision to protect the national health service—something that the Labour party was not willing to do—will reflect well on the devolved Administrations’ settlement. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to enter credibly into this debate, he and his colleagues should make some credible proposals of their own as to how they would tackle the deficit.