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Public Expenditure Reductions

Volume 525: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2011

9. If he will review the pace of proposed reductions in public expenditure to take into account GDP figures for the fourth quarter of 2010. (47926)

I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. The short answer to her question is no. Of course, growth in the final quarter of last year was disappointing, but, as we always said, the recovery in the early stages would be choppy. Deficit reduction is the essential precondition for growth, and the OBR’s November forecast stated that we would see growth in every year of the forecast.

Will the Chief Secretary explain to my constituents who are either unemployed or facing redundancy how his Government’s catastrophic economic policy is in the interests of the country? Clearly, we are not all in this together.

I hope the hon. Lady will take the opportunity to explain to her constituents that it is the legacy of the previous Labour Government that has caused the enormous mess and all the problems in our economy. They left us with the largest Budget deficit in Europe, and one of the largest in the world. Countries in our position have to take the sort of action we have taken, or risk being in a much deeper mess. If that is what she is advocating, I suggest she tells her constituents.

We are spending £120 million a day on debt interest—£1 billion by the end of next week. How many representations has my right hon. Friend received from reputable international and national organisations advising him to slow the pace of deficit reduction?

None. The hon. Lady will be aware of the report that the OECD published last week, which strongly endorsed our plans. Its general secretary, Angel Gurría, said that the fiscal position we inherited was “clearly unsustainable” and that the

“consolidation measures and plans that the”—

Government—

“have put in place were therefore vital.”

I agree with that.

Today’s inflation figures show a sharp leap in the retail prices index to 5.5%, the highest level in 20 years. That hits not only living standards, but public service expenditure plans. Is the Chief Secretary sticking to the coalition agreement guarantee of real-terms growth for the NHS in each year or is he resolutely sticking to his plan A, regardless of economic realities?

We are sticking to the spending plans that we set out in the spending review, and that is the right thing to do. Of course I understand that inflation has an effect on people’s living standards, which is why it is particularly important to emphasise the increase in the personal income tax threshold—£1,000 extra on the threshold—that comes into force this April, which will put £200 back into the pockets of hard-working people in this country. That is the action this Government are taking to help people through these difficult times.