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Budget Deficit (CSR)

Volume 520: debated on Tuesday 21 December 2010

16. What assessment he has made of the Office for Budget Responsibility’s report on the likely effect of the outcome of the comprehensive spending review on the budget deficit. (31830)

The spending review set out more than £80 billion of spending reductions by 2014-15, and in its latest forecast, published on 29 November, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility judged that the Government’s overall plan had a greater than 50% chance of balancing the structural current deficit in 2014-15, a year ahead of our mandate. Of course, I welcome that judgment.

This year, the country faces a deficit of about £148.5 billion. Action taken by this Government will, according to the OBR, reduce that to £18 billion by 2015-16, yet there are those who reject that action and would prefer to do next to nothing. Does the Chief Secretary agree that to do nothing would cripple future generations with unbearable amounts of debt for which they were not responsible?

I agree completely, and it is worth adding that if the Government did not have a plan to reduce the deficit, as the previous Government did not, and we lost control of our public finances, the poorest in society would suffer most from that failure to take decisive action.

We read this morning that the Business Secretary has said that the Conservatives wanted to cut the winter fuel allowance in the comprehensive spending review. Will the Chief Secretary put it on the record today that there will be no cut to the winter fuel allowance and no change in the eligibility criteria during this Parliament?

We are sticking to the winter fuel allowance. We announced that in the spending review, and we have not changed our position. In addition, we have made permanent the £25 a week level of the cold weather payment. The previous Government had planned to return it to £8.50 a week. Imagine what that would be doing now to the millions of families who are suffering in the cold.

What assessment has the Chief Secretary made of the impact of the CSR on business confidence, and especially the ability to take on new people? For instance, the Dalton’s peanut factory in my constituency is taking on more people because of the confidence in the stability plans set out by the Government.

I am glad to hear about the companies in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which share the confidence of many businesses that we have a Government who have got to grips with the public finances. That gives companies the confidence to invest, which is an important part of ensuring the private sector-led recovery that we need.