Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Newmark.)
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I need to make it plain before we start that I have applied to the office of the Chairman of Ways and Means for a time limit on speeches. A significant number of Members have written to the Speaker indicating that they wish to participate, and even more Members are present. Given that we will need to call the Front-Bench spokespeople at 10.35 am at the latest, I suspect that we will be down to four minutes per person, but that rather depends on Mr Mearns.
I thank the Speaker’s Office for allowing me to initiate this debate, and also the many Members who have come along. The debate has created significant interest, particularly in our north-east region.
In the Chancellor’s millionaires’ Budget, which will hand back tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of pounds to some of the richest people in our society, including some of his Cabinet colleagues, it is clear who will suffer the most. It will be the poorest, those looking for work when few new jobs are available, pensioners, families, the hard-working, the squeezed middle and the working poor.
Following the Chancellor’s Budget speech, the Treasury produced a briefing highlighting the measures that will benefit the north-east of England. The region has borne the brunt of this Government’s policies. February 2012 figures show that unemployment in my constituency has risen from 8.3% to 10.5% since the coalition took office, and in the latest Office for National Statistics survey, up to January 2012, the figure for the north-east as a whole has risen to 10.8%, yet the Treasury’s briefing runs to a grand total of three measures that it claims will specifically benefit the region.
Although the first measure—the increase in personal allowances—is welcome, it can hardly be regarded as specific to the north-east. The second measure is that Newcastle will receive the princely sum of £6 million, and become a super-connected city. Perhaps the Chancellor and the Treasury do not realise that Newcastle, as important as it is to the entire region, is not the entire region—in fact, it has about a tenth of the region’s population. Finally, in the month when the north-east is losing its regional development agency, its local enterprise partnerships will receive a paltry £10 million from the Growing Places fund.
In the Budget statement, the Chancellor notably consigned to the dustbin of history the phrase, “We’re all in this together.” The imbalance in this Budget means that most of us are in this together, but the few at the top of society will be exempt from it all. The regional disparity is all too plain to see. In the three south-east regions— London, the south-east and the eastern region—nearly 195,000 taxpayers will reap the benefit of the Chancellor’s higher-end tax giveaway, but in the north-east the figure will be fewer than 5,000, and about 4,000 in Wales.
That would be the case if it had not been for the hikes in VAT, which as an indirect tax particularly disbenefits the very poor in regions such as the north-east. There are significant figures showing the genuine disbenefits of that for poor people.
When William I sought to quell the north following the Norman conquest, he developed a slash-and-burn policy to subjugate the unruly barons and the Saxon citizenry, and the people of the north-east could be forgiven for thinking that the Government had developed exactly the same approach—a 21st-century scorched-earth policy for the north. In just two years, they have abolished our Minister for the north, our local authorities have had to deal with massively disproportionate cuts, our regional development agency has been eradicated and there has been a miserly investment in transport and infrastructure projects, at the same time as disposable income has been sucked out of our pockets and our high streets. My local Gateshead authority has had to cut £70 million from its budget—equivalent to £88 per head of population—losing 1,500 staff into the bargain. The average cut for the 12 north-east councils was £84 per head of population, while the 12 least-deprived local authorities in England, including Windsor and Maidenhead, Richmond upon Thames, West Berkshire and West Sussex, each lost an average of less than £20 per head of population, so we are clearly not all in this together.
Almost every aspect of the Budget looks as if it was designed to have a negative impact on the north—on our people and on our businesses. VAT on takeaway food not only most affects people with the lowest incomes but has reduced the value of Tyneside businesses, including Greggs plc, which saw £20 million to £30 million wiped off its share value when the “pasty tax” was announced. I have no doubt that the measure will also have a negative impact on the work of the Greggs Foundation, which last year donated £1.4 million to support breakfast clubs for 65 north-east primary schools, at least four of which are in my constituency. The foundation also supports youth groups in some of the most deprived communities of the north-east, and also in Scotland and Wales. So much for the big society.
In addition, the Government’s welfare benefit changes will have a massively disproportionate impact on regions such as the north-east. Currently, 11,000 people in Gateshead claim incapacity benefit and, together with the numbers on jobseeker’s allowance, almost 24,000 people are claiming out-of-work benefits. National figures show that of those people undergoing the work capability assessment, 37% have been found fit for work and 34% have been placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance, but for the vast majority of them in the north-east there is no real prospect of work in the near future. If the national figures are mirrored in Gateshead, almost 8,000 people will be moved off incapacity benefit and receive lesser benefits, if anything at all.
I am told by Gateshead council that the introduction of universal credit will result in 14,500 tenants having to manage a larger personal contribution each week, which will increase demand for budgeting and money management skills, and risk more tenants being unable to manage their household budgets and resorting to expensive borrowing, including legal and illegal loan sharking. The risk of non-payment of rent, based on a calculation rate for sums not covered by housing benefit, could result in an additional £20 million not being there to be collected by local authorities, which are already struggling to cope with the punitive cuts they have endured.
Benefit reductions for under-occupancy will affect 3,478 of our current tenants in Gateshead—18% of all those with the Gateshead Housing Company. Of those, nearly 3,000 have an extra bedroom and could therefore face a 10% to 15% reduction in their benefit, and the 815 who have an extra two bedrooms could face a 20% to 25% reduction. If we magnify those numbers across the region, we could be dealing with a widespread social crisis.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Is the bedroom tax not an example of how much the Government are out of touch with real people? It is not just about the costs. People who have lived in a community for decades will be forced to move because they will be unable to afford to live there, and everything they have built up over many years will be thrown away as if it means nothing.
My hon. Friend hits on an appropriate point. Regarding how out of touch the coalition is with the vast majority of people in regions such as the north-east, its lack of understanding of how the housing market works in such places is absolutely spot on.
I am a north-east Labour MP, so I suppose that no one will be surprised to discover that I am not impressed by the Chancellor’s support, or lack of it, for the region. However, the north-east’s business community is equally unimpressed. The North East chamber of commerce has said:
“The extra cut in corporation tax is welcome and will help stimulate investment in the UK. However, relatively few North East firms will benefit from this, and we would have preferred to see a greater focus on strengthening investment allowances and cutting employment taxes, to address the two key weaknesses in the North East economy.”
Although it does not deal specifically with the north-east, the Federation of Small Businesses wrote to me when it found out that I had secured this debate, asking that I highlight its concerns. The FSB said:
“We asked for a Budget with long-term measures to help to instil confidence, rather than a barrage of micro-measures that have a limited impact on the ground. We are pleased with some of the actions to cut the burden of red tape, help to get our young workers into employment, and measures to improve access to finance…However, petrol prices remain a major concern for small businesses and we would have liked some further action on reducing the level of fuel duty to help struggling small firms.”
The cost of fuel, although important to all UK businesses, is crucial to maintaining competitiveness in regions such as the north-east. One local business that makes plastic milk bottles informed me that its biggest cost is the cost of fuel. Let us face it: in effect, that business’s biggest cost is transporting its product, which is 90% fresh air, around the UK. Given the geographical location of the north-east and the vital importance of manufacturing employment, was it too much to ask that the Government reduce fuel costs for businesses and maintain jobs in the regions?
The Federation also commented that it welcomed the enterprise finance guarantee scheme, but said that recent figures clearly show that lending under the scheme is falling rather than rising, and that the Chancellor must do a lot more to encourage banks to increase their lending to small firms without requiring the excessive personal guarantees that deter small businesses, particularly in areas such as the north-east.
The Association of North East Councils, which represents the 12 north-east authorities, was also unimpressed, reporting that almost 50% of businesses in the region have no plans to increase staff numbers in the coming months but are hanging on before deciding on reductions. Weakening sales and poor service sector performance are still preventing much-needed growth to offset public sector employment cuts. Job loss in the north-east as a whole is four times deeper than in the rest of the country. None of that has been helped by the complete lack of recognition or action in the Chancellor’s Budget.
This Government are now doing to public services in the north what they did so successfully in the 1980s to our traditional industries of mining, shipbuilding and heavy engineering: bringing them to ruin and laying them waste. If the Government’s plan to replace those jobs is to build the private sector, why are they doing virtually nothing for the north-east? The main problem is not that they are doing nothing but that they are making things worse. For the young in particular, they are removing hope.
The Government have not recognised that for a region such as the north-east, geography and the new politics of the United Kingdom are realities that must be considered. Scotland is just over the border. The Scots at Holyrood still have economic development and tourism strategies and are still offering inward investment incentives, all important determinants whether a company invests in Scotland or the north-east, but the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills seem oblivious. For example, Amazon, despite considering a site in the north-east, has located in Edinburgh, purely on the basis of the grants available. Given the existing imbalance in Edinburgh’s favour, the decision to locate the Green investment bank there seems like a political and economic knee in the groin for regions such as the north-east of England.
In last year’s autumn statement, the Chancellor made much of the Government’s plans for our national infrastructure, emphasising the importance of capital spending on infrastructure to support the UK’s long-term growth prospects. He outlined £30 billion in spending, including an immediate increase of £5 billion in Government spending. As one of their central economic priorities, the Government have defined a number of ways in which they wish to rebalance the economy away from over-reliance on public sector jobs and towards private sector employment; away from over-reliance on financial services and towards manufacturing and export industries; away from over-reliance on the south-east and towards more balanced economic growth across the UK.
The Chancellor’s statement emphasised that every region in England will benefit from that infrastructure spending. He even listed a host of road and rail projects in England in his speech. However, research by the Institute for Public Policy Research on the detail behind the Chancellor’s statement paints a different picture. Behind the empty rhetoric and claims of rebalancing, we find that 11 of the 20 largest infrastructure projects will benefit London and the south-east, only five will benefit the three northern regions and more than half of regional transport projects involving public funding will benefit London.
Considered together, London and the south-east account for 84% of planned spending, compared with only 6% for the three northern regions and an unbelievably minuscule 0.04% for the north-east. That equates to £2,731 per head of population for London and the south-east, more than all the other regions combined, compared with £201 in Yorkshire and Humber, £134 in the north-west and just £5 in the north-east of England. A fiver is what we are worth, in comparative terms, in the UK of today. For each £1,000 of gross value added generated in 2009, £81 is being spent on transport projects in London, £38 in the south-east, £12 in Yorkshire and Humber, £8 in the north-west and less than 50p in the north-east.
This Chancellor and this Government have spoken in duplicitous terms, but I now wonder whether they have given up even trying to talk a good fight when it comes to rebalancing the economy. They have clearly been saying one thing and doing another, looking after their home patch while slashing and burning the regions of England. To make matters even worse, they prefer to exemplify the north-east as a basket case. Before this bunch came to office, nothing could have been further from the truth. Thanks to the support of its 12 local authorities and the regional development agency, the north-east had developed an economy that was strong, dynamic and diversified compared with when a Conservative Government last laid waste to it in the 1980s.
However, in a typically knee-jerk, ideological and spiteful reaction, this Government have abolished our RDA, despite the fact that during the last three months of 2011, the north-east enjoyed record high growth in exports. Goods worth £13.5 billion were sold overseas from the north-east, up from £12 billion the previous year. If every other region in the United Kingdom were performing as well in those terms as the north-east, we would be doing rather well indeed.
Only yesterday, I received e-mail confirmation from the largest private sector employer in my constituency—AkzoNobel, known locally as International Paints—that last year it received an essential grant from One North East to support the establishment of its fire protection research and development facility. Recently produced documentation on the legacy of One North East showed that during the past 10 years, the north-east enjoyed the greatest level of economic growth outside London, and that during the last Government, the development agency helped to increase the region’s employment massively and its number of businesses and GVA to among the highest in the country.
Before the RDA’s inception, our regional economy was falling further behind other English regions. Since it was established in 1999, only London has experienced greater economic growth, but this Government have replaced the RDAs with local enterprise partnerships, which have no powers and little or no funding, and the much-heralded regional growth fund, which has delivered only modest amounts of direct aid to companies in the north-east.
From 1999 onwards, employment in the north-east rose at the third highest rate in the country after London and Yorkshire and Humber, and 116,000 jobs were created, representing growth of 11.2%. We also had the highest growth in new businesses, 18.7%, and the highest growth outside London in GVA per head of population. Tourism, conferencing and inward investment were all significantly boosted by the RDA’s “Passionate people, passionate places” campaign. The agency’s work on low-carbon vehicle production and green energy generation are legacies on which we could build if only the Government had a credible policy for the economy.
We had a credible policy for growth in the region, a credible policy for jobs and a credible policy to rebalance England’s economy, which included the idea that the north-east is a place to do business. Sadly, this Government have none of those, and prospects for my region remain bleak. Disposable income is being sucked out of our communities through public sector job losses, wage freezes and benefit cuts.
Before the recess, the Newcastle Journal published an editorial headlined “Never mind a Heathrow runway”, which stated:
“It would be a terrible shame if the row over party funding deafened the Government to the findings of the OECD. Its report makes grim reading for the region, but not simply because it highlights the problems caused by rotten infrastructure, poor connectivity and the lack of continuity in government. No, what really hurts is that a Paris-based organisation has been able to recognise basic, obvious, well-known facts that should not have been possible to ignore. Yet successive administrations in London have managed that feat damagingly well. Never mind arguing about a third runway at Heathrow, how about helping the North East instead?”
What are the Chancellor’s answers to these regional conundrums—a brain wave, a stroke of genius, an innovative investment package? No, what we got was the concept of regional pay. If that is the direction that he wants to take, perhaps we could also ask him to consider regionally reduced utility bills for gas, electricity, water and telephones, and while we are at it, cheaper council tax and grocery bills. If the Chancellor or the Prime Minister fancy paying £250,000 for the privilege of dinner with the chief executives of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons, they could ask them, “Could the supermarkets reduce the cost of shopping in the regions, please?” They could also ask representatives of the east coast main line to charge regionally reduced fares for journeys to London.
I am afraid that I am not familiar with the position outlined by the hon. Gentleman, but I am not convinced that he is entirely right.
Why do we not go the whole hog on regionalism and consider re-establishing the RDA and setting up a regional Parliament for the north-east? If regionalism is so much in the minds of coalition Members, let us go the whole hog.
The Budget’s impact on the UK regions demonstrates clearly the Government’s ideology. Despite the negative impact of the Budget and their lack of regional policy, the north-east economy still has vibrant and dynamic aspects, as testified by the expansion of the Nissan plant at Washington, which will make it the largest and most efficient car plant in the world; the growing strength of our offshore wind and green energy sector; and, of course, the relighting this weekend of the Sahaviriya Steel Industries steel blast furnace on Teesside. That good and welcome news, however, does little to offset the negative measures inflicted on us by the coalition. The developments are welcome but small compared with the damage that is being wreaked. We have many skills on tap and a willing supply of people who are currently being denied access to the basics of the fruits of a civilised society through work.
The north-east will survive the economic crisis, but it will have to do so without support from this Government. As a result, many of the region’s people will suffer in greater measure and in greater proportion than the constituents of most Government Members.
The Budget has demonstrated clearly the ideological drive of this Government of Tories and Liberal Democrats. It is not about fairness. It is not about, “We are all in this together,” and it is certainly not about pulling together for the collective good, the benefit of the whole country or for every region in the UK. Under this Government, the Chancellor has given millionaires tax cuts, while pensioners have to pay more. Cabinet members and their chums receive unwarranted and undeserved benefits, while hard-working families suffer. Frankly, the well-off and the well-to-do are looking after the interests of their peers—toffs looking after toffs, with little or no regard for the consequences for the millions for whom the experience will be negative, if not dreadful.
Thanks to the Budget, the north-east and the regions of the UK will continue to struggle to grow and maintain employment and prosperity. The vast majority of my constituents and my region condemn the Budget. We need to maintain and increase the pressure to provide the policy and taxation framework that this country and regions such as the north-east need. The framework has to be designed to secure growth, and to support businesses, regions and our most vulnerable and economically fragile communities. The north-east demands that the Government respond to that challenge. If they are not willing to rethink their outdated and massively inappropriate attitudes to our region and its people, they should get out of the way and make room for a Government who will.
Order. In view of the large number of Members who wish to participate in the debate, I will exercise the power granted to me by the Chairman of Ways and Means and limit speeches to four minutes. I intend to commence the winding-up speeches at about 10.40 am. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman has kindly indicated that he is willing to curtail his remarks to about five minutes. It would not be reasonable to impose any such limit on the Minister, because of the large number of Members who want to participate and who will expect answers to the debate. Members will notice, if they do the math, that I have built in a five-minute leeway, so one way or another we hope that we will get to where we want to be. The same rules apply as to the main Chamber. We will add a minute to the four-minute time limit for up to two interventions, but Members will appreciate that if that happens, someone will fall off the end of the list.
This is an exception—we do not normally do this—but it might help Members if I indicate now the order in which I intend to call them, because a significant number have written to Mr Speaker requesting the opportunity to speak. Those who are not on the list will appreciate that I have to give priority to those who have taken the trouble to write to Mr Speaker. They may, therefore, choose to exercise their right to intervene, although that, of course, is not in my gift, but in that of the person speaking. The order for Opposition Members is Grahame Morris, Phil Wilson, Pat Glass, David Anderson, Ian Lavery, Iain Wright, Sharon Hodgson and Stephen Hepburn; and that for Government Members is James Wharton and Mr Swales.
Westminster Hall does not have the countdown clock system of the main Chamber, but we do have the high-tech alternative of a bell, which will be sounded at one minute prior to a speech’s conclusion. Without further ado, I call James Wharton.
Thank you, Sir Roger. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) on his passionate speech and on securing such an important debate. The issue is important to all of us who represent the north-east, in whichever party.
It is important to be clear that the north-east is not a basket case. It is not the end of the world and it is not a place where economic activity does not exist. There are many good signs of progress and economic success in our region. Unemployment in the north-east has been falling for the past two months, against the trend in much of the country, in what Members will agree is a difficult economic climate. There are many examples of significant good news stories, such as the relighting at the weekend of the SSI blast furnace on Teesside. That is very good and positive news, due in no small part to the sterling work of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ian Swales), who has fought long and hard to see steel-making return to that part of our region.
Will the hon. Gentleman also acknowledge that the work to get SSI to purchase the Corus steel plant began in the summer of 2009 and was largely due to the work of the trade union on the site, which led the “Save our steel” campaign, in conjunction with Labour Ministers, who regularly met plant representatives, unlike this Government’s Ministers, who refused to meet work forces at Rio Tinto Alcan and—these are not in the north-east—at steel sites in Kent, such as Thamesteel?
The hon. Gentleman’s generosity in wanting to ensure that everybody who played a part is adequately recognised is testament to his character. The unions played a significant role, as did the Government of the day, when the plant’s closure was announced, as have the Government of today, in delivering the success. It is something about which we can all be pleased in our region and I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
We have also received the good news that Hitachi will come to Newton Aycliffe to build trains. Nissan has announced that more jobs are being created and more work being done. In my constituency, Nifco has just opened a new factory in Eaglescliffe—a smaller but none the less significant manufacturing investment—and is already considering options for expansion because it is doing well.
More than 47,000 private sector jobs have been announced in the regional media since the last election. Articles in the press report what is said and announced, the levels of investment and the positive news, yet all too often all we hear are the negatives. I am sure that we all agree on a cross-party basis that it is important to take every opportunity to talk up our region and make it clear to anyone who is considering investing there that we are open for business and looking to do business, and that we welcome investment and we want to see the jobs and growth it would create.
We all agree with the hon. Gentleman that there should be willingness to invest in our region, but does he not understand that it is deeply problematic that only 0.1% of the extra capital investment announced by the Chancellor in his autumn statement came to our region?
I was, of course, referring to private sector investment. The hon. Lady makes an interesting point, but we have to look at the figures realistically. A lot of the spending that has been announced is for specific large projects, some of which are in London, such as Crossrail, and some of which will potentially benefit the north-east, such as High Speed 2. Although it is not yet coming to our region, the benefits are real.
The RDA has been mentioned. I have my differences with Opposition Members on that issue. I always felt that the RDA was too focused on Newcastle and as the hon. Member for Gateshead said, we must remember and acknowledge that Newcastle is not the entire region. I welcome the new local enterprise partnerships because they are more localised and more focused on the areas where the growth that we want to see needs to be delivered. From the growth that we are seeing and the investment that is being announced, the signs are that LEPs are already doing a good job. The LEP in Teesside is certainly doing an excellent job. It hit the ground running and is making a difference to securing the growth that we need in that part of our region.
There were, of course, a number of announcements in the Budget that will both directly and indirectly benefit our region. One of the most significant is the increase in the personal allowance. In total, across all the Budgets we have had so far from the Government, 82,000 people have been lifted out of income tax altogether in the north-east region. That significant and welcome benefit will make a real difference to the lives of tens of thousands of families across the north-east who are on the lowest incomes and who most need that support.
The increase in the personal allowance will also, of course, deliver improvements for our regional economy because that money is not being taken in tax and spirited away to London to be redistributed in accordance with the diktat of the Government—whoever they are. That money is staying in the pockets of families in the north-east, so that they can spend it in our local economy, provide a welcome economic boost and create jobs and growth, which is what we all want to see.
In the north-east, the income tax bills of nearly 1 million people will decrease, although some of them will not be entirely lifted out of income tax just yet. The child benefit tapering changes are a welcome mitigation of the impact of the need to control the child benefit bill because of the financial situation in which the Government find themselves. That will benefit 14,000 families across the north-east and is another welcome measure in the Budget that will leave more money in our regional economies and in the pockets of the people who live and work in the north-east and elsewhere. That policy will make a difference to our regional economy and the lives of those who live in the regions.
Negatives in the Budget do exist. Stamp duty land tax is increasing. However, we are lucky in the north-east because only 1% of the properties affected—
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), on securing this debate, the importance of which is testified to by the number of Labour Members present.
The Budget will have few positive benefits for the economy of the north-east, and there is no discernible regional support within the measures set out in the Budget statement. There are cuts in corporation tax and cuts in tax for the wealthy, but there is no credible plan for what is really needed in the north-east: a stimulus for jobs and growth.
The often used line that we cannot spend our way out of a recession has been shown to be an ideological mantra that flies in the face of economic reality. What the Budget has given us is rocketing unemployment and plummeting growth in regions such as ours. The north-east has the highest rate of unemployment of any UK region, at 10.8% of the economically active population. That is mirrored in my constituency where, despite the good news we have had from Nissan, large numbers of private sector job losses are in the pipeline. We are haemorrhaging private sector jobs at an alarming rate.
Regional economies such as the north-east will not make any headway without investment in a comprehensive and lasting economic infrastructure. That can only be done by the courageous state and by Government intervention. The north-east continues to suffer from the unfinished business of transition from heavy industry. However, that transformation has stalled as a consequence of the coalition Government’s policies.
The evidence supports the fact that Labour and our regional development agency, One North East, were making progress in transforming the economic landscape. An analysis from PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that, for every £1 spent by our RDA, an average of at least £4.50 of economic output was achieved. That rose to an output of at least £6.40 when future benefits were assessed.
Ministers have sought to propagate the myth that money spent in the north-east under Labour was wasted, but that is not supported by the facts. Based on the gross value added per head indices, the rate of growth in the north-east went from being the lowest of any region during the 1990s to being the second highest during the past decade. The facts and figures were alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, so I will not repeat them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his speech. Does he agree that another key role that One North East played in the region was to ensure that European regional development funding was drawn down and invested in the region? Some £329 million was made available, but £129 million remains un-invested directly because of the loss of One North East. No one is drawing down that funding and no regional funding can match that investment in the region.
Absolutely. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that on the record. That was another vital element that the RDA contributed towards jobs and growth in the north-east, and it is sadly missed.
Although the Chancellor told us that the Budget is overall fiscally neutral, its impact by region, class or earnings is anything but. For example, VAT—a regressive form of taxation—remains at 20%, which hurts those who have no choice but to spend their wages on life’s basic essentials and depresses demand. The continuation of wage freezes throughout the public sector will make life even more difficult for ordinary people, as will the rise in fuel duty.
In his Budget, the Chancellor has failed the people whom I represent in Easington and in the north-east. There was the increase in VAT, the granny tax, the pasty tax, the philanthropy tax, increases in fuel duty and the loss of tax credits for modest earners. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), the Leader of the Opposition, was right to call it a Budget for millionaires when what we need is a Budget for jobs and growth in the north-east.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) on securing it. Labour Members’ contributions will no doubt be selective so I will not repeat them; instead, I will say a few things that they probably will not.
The increase in the tax threshold that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) mentioned has taken another 35,000 people out of paying tax in the north-east and given 940,000 workers a tax cut. Those workers, including people who are on the minimum wage, would be paying an extra £400 a year under Labour’s tax plans. It would not have been a Lib Dem priority to cut the 50% rate to 45%, but let us remember that Labour’s love affair with the 50% rate lasted for one month out of the 13 years it was in power. For the other 12 years and 11 months, the top rate was 40%. The rate remains 5 percentage points higher than that.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that, in my constituency of Easington, 1,400 families on modest incomes will lose all of their child tax credit, which is worth around £545 a year? In addition, 350 working couples in Easington who earn less than £17,000 a year will lose all of their working tax credit, which could be worth up to £3,870 a year, if they cannot increase the hours they work from 16 to 24.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has his statistics correct.
I will go on to talk about high-rate tax. The Government have cut from £250,000 to £50,000 the amount of pension contribution that can be claimed against tax. They have put a new limit on reliefs, raised capital gains tax from 18% to 28%, put a new tax on expensive houses and clamped down on tax avoidance. Labour has opposed those measures and charged the rich less in tax.
Let us talk about business. As soon as the Budget was delivered, Glaxo announced £500 million of investment, including a new factory in Cumbria and new manufacturing facilities at Barnard Castle, Teesdale. That was a direct result of the Budget provisions on pharmaceutical patents. As AstraZeneca has also shown, that will lead to huge investment in—
I am sure the Minister will respond to that.
Of course our region needs specific help. I welcome the extra £1 billion for the regional growth fund, which has already helped 93 companies in the north-east and is targeted specifically at regions such as ours. Last week’s announcement of help for up to 1,000 jobs in Wallsend in the offshore wind industry was especially welcome.
These occasions usually include a lament from the Opposition for the RDA. However, I shed few tears for an organisation that, in the two years before the general election, spent £148 million on 96 projects in which the directors had to declare an interest, spent nearly £400,000 on gagging orders for 12 staff, and, according to Experian, left Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, and Redcar and Cleveland as the three areas of the country, out of 324, least able to cope with austerity.
I have given way twice already.
I congratulate the Tees Valley LEP on the excellent start it has made and I welcome the further £11 million in the Growing Places fund announced for north-east LEPs.
The press has picked up on certain items in the Budget, so I will finish with three questions to the Minister. I have spoken to the directors of Greggs. Will the so-called pasty tax not move rather than remove the anomalies? I do not relish asking the Greggs staff to feel the temperature of my sausage roll before deciding the price. Secondly, to those worried about charitable giving, tax relief on charitable contributions that would otherwise be taxed at 50% effectively means the Government will match donations pound for pound. Should that use of taxpayers’ money really be unlimited? Thirdly, how do the Opposition justify a situation in which young people on the minimum wage, who are trying to make their way in life, are paying £600 more in tax than their grannies who are on the same income? As we move towards a threshold of £10,000 for all, is that not a matter of fairness? Budgets cannot please all the people all the time, but help for business and the big reduction in tax for basic rate taxpayers means that this one has a lot going for it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) on securing the debate.
People talk about investment in the region, and three examples of investment have been mentioned. GlaxoSmithKline in Cumbria, which also has a plant in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), SSI in Redcar, and Hitachi in my constituency have one thing in common: they would not be there were it not for a Labour Government. They were the result of initiatives established and settled under a Labour Government and which came to fruition after the general election. From personal experience, I know how much time and effort went in to ensure that Hitachi came to the north-east of England—it was not certain that it would.
I set a “We are all in this together” test for the Budget, and it did not pass that test. Some 57,000 households in the north-east will lose tax credits. I met a young mother at the weekend with twins—two little boys—who will start school in September. She has lost more than £300 in tax credits every month. That is a lot of money for someone with a young family. I know that 940,000 people will be better off under the new tax threshold, but let us not forget that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the changes coming in this month will mean that on average they will be £511 worse off.
My hon. Friend gave three examples of programmes starting under the Labour Government: SSI, Hitachi and GSK. That is also the case with DigitalCity in Middlesbrough, where public-led investment increased private-led investment. The hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) referred to information from Experian in relation to Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Redcar being the hardest-hit areas, but those statistics related not to the RDA, but to an investigation post this Government’s autumn statement.
My hon. Friend is right. That proves how much we have to celebrate what the previous Labour Government did for the north-east of England. The hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) mentioned the minimum wage. The minimum wage has been frozen for people under the age of 21. It has gone up by only 11p this year as a consequence of the decisions made by this Government. At the same time, 4,000 to 5,000 taxpayers on the 50p tax rate in the region will on average receive a tax cut of £10,000 each. If that does not show that we are not all in this together, I do not know what does. The Government put VAT on pasties, but they did not put VAT on caviar.
The 40p tax rate has been ignored by many people. The threshold has been reduced from £42,475 to £41,450, so that 300,000 people will be brought into the 40p tax rate. How many more people will lose a proportion of their child benefit because of the reduction in that threshold? Will the Minister indicate whether she knows that figure? By reducing the threshold, the number of people paying the 40p tax rate in the region has gone up by 8%. There are now nearly 110,000 people paying the 40p tax rate. Little by little, the Government’s fairness agenda is being found out—actually, we are not all in this together.
I am very concerned about regional pay. The hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) mentioned the flexibility in local pay in the court system, but we reduced the number of bands from 40-odd to five; we did not increase the number of bands. The latest survey by the TUC states that 68%—more than two thirds—of Conservative voters do not believe that regional pay in the public sector will boost jobs in the private sector.
The Budget is divisive. It is also complacent. It does nothing for growth, not just in the north-east of England, but in the rest of the country.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) on securing the debate, which has allowed so many hon. Members from the north-east to talk about the impact of the Government and the Budget on our region. It is disappointing that we have such a poor turnout among Government Members—one Tory MP and one Liberal Democrat MP. That is less than 50%. It is amazing to hear them speaking with one voice—“We are all Tories now”—and to hear the Liberal Democrat MP defending the 50p tax rate, the granny tax and tax cuts for the rich. Either the Liberal Democrat hon. Members have Stockholm syndrome, or they have no principles and never did. I think that we would all say yes to that.
The Prime Minister, before the 2010 election, talked a lot about the need to rebalance the economy from the south to the north and for the north-east to be less reliant on public sector jobs. However, if we have seen any rebalancing of the economy at all, it has been from the north to the south. Public spending cuts have had a massive impact on jobs in the north-east in particular. The north-east now has the highest unemployment rate of all the northern regions at 10.8% and has received higher than average cuts to local government grants and services. In my constituency, unemployment has doubled since 2010. The hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) said that unemployment has fallen in the region. I do not know what he defines as the north-east region, but it certainly does not cover the area that I represent. Youth unemployment in my constituency is now dangerously high, and the Minister needs to be aware of that.
I can tell the Minister that despite a lack of growth in the economy generally since 2007, there have been some areas of real growth in the north-east. I visit companies in my constituency all the time, and there has been something of a renaissance in engineering and manufacturing, but at the high-level specialist bespoke end of the market. In those areas, manufacturers have told me that what they needed from the Budget was more highly skilled toolmakers and specialist engineers, to enable them to take on more of the work that is out there. The Government failed to deliver that in the Budget.
Chemical companies in my constituency have also told me that they have full order books but need more highly skilled chemical engineers to take on more of the work that is out there. The Government’s shabby excuse for an apprenticeship programme will not deliver the skills that those companies need. The Government again failed to deliver on that in the Budget. Other companies—good companies with good products—are struggling.
Does the hon. Lady agree that nothing done three weeks ago will deliver a chemical engineer to a company tomorrow and that the previous Government’s failure to deliver the skills agenda over the past 10 years is the problem for manufacturers and engineers in the north-east?
The Budget is a good opportunity and a good place to start, but if this is going to be done, now is the time to start. Did we see that? No, we did not.
Good companies with good products are struggling to get investment. They tell me that, despite the Government’s rhetoric, banks are refusing to invest in good companies that would give a good return. Banks still prefer to spend our money in the speculative markets, risking it, because that brings high rewards and gives bankers bonuses. The Government failed to do anything about that in the Budget.
I am on the doorstep all the time, knocking on doors. When people open their doors, I do not have to say anything: they tell me that the message from the Budget is that the Government are giving tax cuts to millionaires at the expense of pensioners. The Government do nothing and have been a disaster for the north-east region. If they cannot do something about that now, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead said, they need to move over and allow a Government who are interested in the regions to take over.
I shall break with the habit of a lifetime and say something good about the Government. I welcome the news about what is happening with Nissan, but the context is that without intervention from our Government four years ago, Nissan might not have been in the position that it is in now. We introduced the scrappage scheme and reduced VAT. We gave grants so that battery electric cars could be developed and brought forward the training budget, which kept people from being laid off. Compare that with what the present Government did in respect of the building schools for the future fiasco. In Gateshead alone, £80 million was earmarked for five schools in March 2010, but the Secretary of State for Education took that money away in May, despite recognising, in meetings with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), that the schools needed to be refurbished and rebuilt. The crazy thing is that, although the money would have gone to Gateshead council, it would just have passed it on to the private sector to build and furnish the schools and put the infrastructure in. So now everybody loses, including the public sector, the children and the private sector.
The RDAs have been mentioned a lot. The RDA was successful in the north-east of England. We have been here before; this is not new for us. Exactly the same programme and attitude that we saw in the 1980s and ’90s is being repeated now. People are being thrown on the dole with no hope or support, no way forward and no framework for intervention. The RDA worked because people came together—unions, employers and the public sector—partnership building, working together, bringing in international support and making things work. That is why it is a real shame that the RDA has gone and has been replaced by the regional growth fund, which is nothing more than a farce and a joke.
My hon. Friend tells me that during discussions on the RDAs in the main Chamber, on more than one occasion senior Ministers—in fact, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills—said that the RDA in the north-east was the flagship RDA and was working very well indeed.
I could not agree more. People will remember when they could believe what the Liberal Democrats said, although that was some time ago. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills now says that he supported the RDAs, but the leader was not sure. It is now clear that the Liberal Democrats are being dictated to for ideological reasons. Anything that smacks of being positive about the public sector has to go. That is why we are suffering in our region.
Look at chaos and incompetence that has come from the Budget. People at the bottom have been hit: people with disabilities, old people, vulnerable people, children and women. Benefits have been cut. Millionaires have had tax cuts while pensioners’ tax levels are frozen. Government Members talk about taking people out of tax. They have taken a lot of people in Gateshead out of tax: 1,600 people have been taken out of tax because they have been put on the dole by the cuts, and 710,000 people from the public sector are being put on the dole and will not be paying tax or national insurance and will not be buying goods and services. Lessons from the past have not been learned. These things will have an impact on the economy.
The pasty tax is, to some extent, a joke. However, I am worried that it is classed as a harmonisation and simplification of the tax system; if that is so, will the Minister tell me what else she is going to simplify and harmonise that does not have VAT on it? Are there any other plans to increase the scope of VAT? Will she give us a guarantee today that VAT will not be extended to any other part of the tax system?
We all know about the impact of the charities tax. Because the Government cannot control the people who are avoiding and evading tax, the charities that the Government expect to cover for the job and service cuts in the public sector will not be able to do so. Charities in my region tell me that they are already suffering because of funding cuts and that, if money does not come from private investors, they will go even further down that road.
The application of VAT to listed buildings has had a disastrous impact. Ryton Holy Cross church in my constituency magnificently raised £300,000 in 15 years. Now, it would have had to raise £360,000 to do exactly the same work. People are telling me that that fills them with despair.
This Budget exposed the Government’s incompetence. They are not up to the job. The best thing that they could do for our region and our country is to go now.
The Budget is a great missed opportunity, not only for the north-east but for the whole country. It should have been a Budget for jobs and growth, but instead it was a Budget for tax cuts for the rich and the toffs.
Unemployment rates in the south-east of Northumberland—in my constituency—are alarming. According to the Library, statistics revealed last week showed that, on average, 22.2 people were applying for each jobseekers’ vacancy. Earlier this year, according to the Office for National Statistics, that figure was 55.5. Every time we mention the problems faced by unemployed people in our area, we are told that we should look at the positive signs, such as Nissan. Nissan has been and is tremendous, but it is a million miles away from where I live.
I am sorry to stop my hon. Friend in full flow, but it is important to place on the record that, although we welcome the additional jobs and the announcement about Nissan, it must be put in context. Does he agree that although 250 jobs are welcome, they do not go anywhere near even offsetting the private sector job losses in my constituency alone? Reckitt Benckiser has lost 500 jobs; Fortress Doors has lost 100; Carillion, Cumbrian Foods and, most recently—
Order. I am terribly sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is beginning to make another speech. This must be an intervention. I remind hon. Members that each of the first two interventions adds a minute to the time that the speaker is allowed. Hon. Members are in danger of pushing one of their colleagues off the end of the list, if they are not careful.
Thank you, Sir Roger. I agree with everything that my hon. Friend said.
We in the south-east of Northumberland are a million miles away from Nissan. The perceived jobs bonanza at Nissan is two bus journeys, a Metro journey and a further bus journey away. We wish that we had the same opportunities as there are at Nissan. We hope that they will come. We have not even got a rail service in my area: there is a railway line but no trains to run on it. We cannot even get to Newcastle, Sunderland or Middlesbrough city centre from where we live, because there are not the transport links and the much-needed transfer links.
I want to focus on a strong appeal to the Minister to hear the case of the people in south-east Northumberland. If we in Wansbeck are to have an opportunity for growth, a Northumberland extension of the North Eastern local enterprise partnership enterprise zone—the port of Blyth and the estuary—needs to benefit from capital allowances and rate relief at the same time. It is not enough to extend the enterprise zone without the provision of the additional allowances and incentives necessary to attract businesses and jobs. We need those guarantees. In addition, with the appropriate allowances and incentives, further extension to the enterprise zone is desperately needed, so that it stretches through Wansbeck as far up the coast as the Alcan site. A failure to do so will place Wansbeck and south-east Northumberland at a distinct disadvantage, by further damaging employment opportunities for our communities.
On a point of regional, cross-party unity, I echo the hon. Gentleman’s calls. The enterprise zones are a good initiative of the Government, and I should like to see them extended. Anything that we as a region can do to put pressure on Ministers to extend the enterprise zones and to give us further opportunities for growth is welcome.
Having enterprise zones surrounding areas such as mine only compounds the entire problem; basically, they incentivise people to stay away. May I appeal to Ministers, on behalf of the young and the old? Please listen, visit the area, help the anxious communities that we represent, give them fairness and a level playing field and give them hope and access to aspiration. Although not the most wealthy people in the country, we are most honest and most sincere. We need the Minister and the Government to act now to save what might be lost future generations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) on securing this important debate.
We in the north-east have fantastic potential to lead the country out of recession into sustainable, long-term growth. In the Budget last month, however, the Chancellor failed to help the region fulfil its potential or address its challenges. I am critical of the Chancellor not only because of what was in the Budget, in which he showed the wrong policies, the wrong values and the wrong judgments, but even more because of what he left out. He failed to use the opportunity to grasp the enormous potential of our region and, perhaps most damning of all, simply neglected to remember the north-east at all. For example, there was nothing to mitigate the effect on energy-intensive industries or to incentivise businesses and to give firms in the region or elsewhere the confidence to invest their substantial cash piles in improving the productivity of our region.
On Friday, I met dynamic, energetic and ambitious entrepreneurs in the technical, digital and creative sectors in our region, running businesses such as Stick Theory, Love Your Larder and Sherpa. They have the potential to grow, to thrive and to create job opportunities. I asked them what was the one thing they wanted from the Government. They said improvements in transport infrastructure, making it easier to get on a train, to get to London, to make contacts and win businesses. In the Red Book announcement of £130 million for the northern hub rail scheme, however, no north-eastern town or city was even mentioned, let alone had any investment.
In the time available, I want to concentrate on the biggest neglect of the lot: unemployment, which is the biggest single social and economic factor affecting my constituency. The number of claimants in Hartlepool has risen month on month and year on year to reach 4,678 in February. The number of unemployed in Hartlepool is now higher than it was at the height of the global recession, and tomorrow’s publication of the March unemployment statistics will probably see a further rise. Contained in those figures, however, there is even bleaker news. Almost one in four young men, or 23.8% of 18 to 24-year-old young men, is claiming jobseeker’s allowance. When an area hits one in four young men out of work, it has reached crisis point. We last saw such statistics for youth unemployment back in the 1980s, when my shipyards and steel works closed down. For many lads coming to adulthood in that time, theirs was a lost generation who faced no pay or low pay, benefits and illness; they failed to fulfil their potential. My town, arguably, has not really recovered from the social and economic shock of the deindustrialisation of 30 years ago, yet we are in danger of experiencing that shock again because of the neglect of the Government.
The Minister must recognise the lessons of history and ensure that young people are helped into work and training. It is economically ignorant to suggest that public sector jobs are crowding out private sector employment and growth, and that the best approach is to cut drastically public sector employment. It is economically illiterate to believe that a region’s employment and growth prospects will somehow bloom if spending, resources and demand are withdrawn quickly, or will be helped if regional pay bargaining strips out regional income. The Chancellor had a perfect opportunity to do something in his Budget to encourage employment, especially for the young. Instead, he chose to provide tax cuts for millionaires. Despite the importance of youth unemployment, the Red Book contained only one, single, derisory new announcement—complete with spelling mistake—about such a huge social and economic issue. The announcement that the Government
“will pilot the best way to introduce a programme of enterprise loans to help young people”
is patronising, smacks of gimmick and gesture politics and will do nothing to stop a lost generation of young people. I ask the Minister to think again.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Sir Roger. I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) on securing this important debate.
I hope that the Minister has brushed up on the geography of our region and where the north-east covers—the Government sometimes struggle with that. I will not repeat what the Minister has said, but other examples make interesting reading in Hansard. I am sure that the Minister will want to talk in her response about the recent good news of Nissan’s success. Nissan is in my constituency, and I am personally very happy about its fantastic success. The announcement was a great vote of confidence in the local work force in particular, as well as a reflection of all the hard work and sustained relationship-building with Nissan by Sunderland council over the past couple of decades.
A few other welcome gems of news in my constituency include the recent announcements by Calsonic Kansei and Rayovac. However, all those new jobs and pockets of investment in the north-east are not enough to mitigate the effects on tens of thousands of people of losing their jobs in the public sector and elsewhere in the private sector, or the reality of long-term youth unemployment in my constituency, which is up by 188%.
I want to focus my remarks on household budgets and family finances. At the start of this month, an estimated 1,400 households in my constituency were no longer eligible for child tax credits worth £545 a year. A further 355 households will lose their working tax credits, worth £3,870 a year, unless they find a way to increase their working hours by at least eight hours. Throughout the north-east, such changes will affect just short of 50,000 households—so that is 50,000 households having their budgets squeezed, spending less in local shops, pubs, restaurants and other businesses and with less money to have days out, if any, at local attractions. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that families with children will, on average, be £511 a year worse off, and that includes the token amount given back to them by increasing their personal allowances. Some parents may find, therefore, that they are better off not in work than taking up work if it does not make financial sense. What is the sense in policies that push people out of jobs?
We have yet to see the full impact of the changes, but no one believes it will be positive—certainly not our pensioners, who have worked hard and saved throughout their working lives to provide a modest pension for themselves in later life. They will be hit by the freezing of age-related allowances, the worst affected being those who retire next year. In total, Treasury figures state that the changes will take more than £3 billion out of pensioners’ pockets—again, £3 billion that will not be spent in local economies such as Sunderland’s. At the other end of the scale, however, those on more than £150,000 a year will get a tax cut; unfortunately, not many of them live in my constituency.
We needed a genuine plan for growth and real help for families; we did not get it. What we got was worse than nothing. We got measures that will deepen the north-south divide and, as usual, the lives of my constituents will suffer at the hands of this out-of-touch Tory-led Government. Has it not always been so?
This Budget has been drawn up by a Chancellor with no perception or idea of what it is like to live in the north-east of England, and to have to live on a day-to-day basis. On one hand, the Budget cuts the wages and pensions of people in the north-east, and cuts their public services; on the other hand, it turns round and gives a tax cut to the richest 1% of people in this country. It is a Budget that will condemn thousands of families in the north-east to poverty, while it makes a priority of giving tax cuts to business by way of corporation tax cuts. It is a Budget built not on fairness, but on privilege.
This is not the Budget that we wanted for the north-east. We wanted a Budget for growth, to create jobs and the necessary economic activity to make the north-east alive again. Instead, we have a Budget that lines the pockets of the rich by cutting income tax and corporation tax. The Government say that they have changed tax thresholds, and that people will be better off, but that is more than compensated for by the cuts in tax credits and benefits, the scanty increase in the minimum wage, and the increasing cost of travel and utility bills for people in the north-east.
The move to regional pay will be a disaster. As the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills said, it will stigmatise the north-east as a region of failure. It must not be allowed to go ahead. The Government justify the regional pay policy on the basis that public sector pay hurts the private sector and curtails job creation. What nonsense. How come we live in a region with the lowest wages in the country, yet we still have the highest unemployment, with nine people chasing every job vacancy? It is nonsense.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point about regional pay, but the situation is worse than he indicates because up to £1 billion could be taken out of the north-east economy, which would hit all sectors of industry in the north-east, particularly the service sector, cultural industries and retail.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is not just the pay of teachers and nurses that affects job growth in the north-east; it is lack of demand. The point that she rightly makes is that every 1% taken out of regional pay in the form of public sector pay cuts sucks an extra £80 million from the north-east economy, causing a spiral down and down.
I am pleased that the Budget is already beginning to implode daily, because people are catching on to the fact that because of tax cuts for the richest in society, charities will receive less, pensioners will receive less, and Greggs pasty eaters will have to pay more. The Budget will not help the people of the north-east. It is a Budget of the privileged, by the privileged, for the privileged. If we really are all in this together as a society, surely it is right that the better-off pay a little more and take the burden off working-class people in the north-east.
This has been an excellent debate, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), and we are left with one question, which was asked not just by my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn), but by most contributors. Will the Minister dare to have the audacity to utter the phrase, “We’re all in it together”? I hope that she will. I want to give her ample time to respond to the debate, because so many points have been well made, including the impact on families with children and on single individuals, and the statistic that the typical family with children will be £511 worse off annually as a result of cumulative Budget measures. When people open their pay packets at the end of this month, they will see the impact not just of VAT, but the tax credit changes that will also hit working people exceptionally hard.
People are shocked at seeing a Government hit elderly people and pensioners by freezing age-related allowances and using that money to give a tax cut to the wealthiest in society. Those earning more than £150,000 and typical millionaires—if there is such a thing as a typical millionaire—will receive a £40,000 tax benefit. That is astonishing. Is it any wonder that the Government’s fortunes are plummeting? What is even worse—as my hon. Friends the Members for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), for Jarrow, and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) mentioned—is that there is no action of any substance in the Budget to tackle the crisis in jobs and growth. That is at the core of the issues.
The Government have taken a wrecking ball to institutions in the north-east that existed to try to help the economy, whether it was a Minister for the north, the regional development agency, or local authorities whose grants have been slashed disproportionately in the north-east compared with other parts of the country.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the lack of a growth strategy for the north-east is a complete travesty? Getting rid of the RDA and replacing it with LEPs and enterprise zones, fragmenting the whole support system, is not working. The Government are leaving the north-east without the support that it needs to keep regenerating itself.
The jobs crisis worries people, and all contributors today have talked about that, including my hon. Friends the Members for North West Durham (Pat Glass), for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery). The statistics that 22 people apply for every vacancy, and that youth unemployment in the north-east is rising by 155% are shocking. The Minister must react to that crisis.
What does my hon. Friend think about the fact that the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) refused to meet me to discuss the severe problems facing unemployed people in my district, saying that it was inappropriate at this point?
I have heard of similar cases. What sort of Minister refuses even to discuss such issues, and turns a blind eye to the problems? A pointless Minister, so what is the point of having that individual in that post.
Many issues have been raised—too many to mention. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead and others referred to the case for investment and infrastructure. There is the impact on the so-called big society, with major charitable trusts and others losing out. The Chancellor is taking away from them while staff who are being made redundant from Alcan and elsewhere have dug into their own pockets for their works welfare fund donations to local charities. Their example contrasts so much with that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Greggs was founded on Tyneside in 1939, and if ever a part of the country should be astonished at the Chancellor’s move to extend VAT, it is the north-east. The hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) referred to the temperature of his sausage roll, and he will have the opportunity to vote on the matter in the House this week. We hope that he will join us in the Lobby.
I do not want to take up any more time, because we want to hear from the Minister. She should listen to these exceptionally powerful voices from the north-east. People know what they are talking about. She should recognise the warning signs for jobs and growth, and change course now before it is too late.
This has been an interesting debate, and I thank hon. Members for their contributions, whether in a constricted four-minute speech or an intervention. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns) spoke with great passion about his constituency and the broader region, and I hope in the time available to address some of his concerns and those of other hon. Members. With a smile on my face, that gives me a chance to place on the record the apology that I have already given to the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Mr Crausby) for having mistaken his constituency on the Floor of the House last month.
Will the Minister say whether she has visited the north-east to look at the impact of the dreadful Budget on that area, and to refresh her geography at the same time? Perhaps more significantly, has she asked her officials to look at the impact of the Budget on the north-east, and to come up with measures that will support growth in the region?
If the hon. Lady had let me press on, she would have heard the answer to much of what she asks a little sooner. Let me reassure her that I have often visited the north-east, although not since the Budget, so I look forward to a chance to do that, perhaps in the next recess. As many Members have said, it is a fine region and a great place that we should all seek to support.
Let me return to the matter in hand. In the Budget, the Government made it clear that they have three priorities: first, the creation of a stable economy; secondly, a fairer, more efficient and simpler tax system; and thirdly, reforms to support growth. The 2012 Budget, together with the national infrastructure plan that we published in last year’s autumn statement, set out the Government’s latest steps towards achieving those priorities, based on a model of sustainable and balanced growth, including, of course, in the north-east.
As hon. Members have made clear, the north-east faces difficult challenges. It remains, however, a significant contributor to the national economy, and I would like to reiterate and highlight the numerous good news stories that have been mentioned and involve companies that are already investing in the north-east and creating jobs for people in the area. For example, the Japanese automotive company Vantec has created 230 new jobs and secured 800 existing posts in Sunderland. Nissan has announced the creation of 225 jobs at its Sunderland factory and 900 more with its British suppliers. Both companies have been pledged money from the regional growth fund, which illustrates the difference that that initiative makes on the ground. I join other hon. Members in celebrating the relighting of the blast furnace at the SSI Redcar steelworks, which my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) mentioned earlier in the debate.
The reforms set out in the Budget will give businesses and individuals in the region a further boost on top of those private sector initiatives. Corporation tax will be cut by an additional 1% on top of the cuts announced last year. From April this year, the rate of tax will be reduced to 24%, and it will ultimately fall to 22% by 2014—a competitive rate when we consider our competitors around the globe. Let me reiterate that the Budget increases the personal tax allowance by £1,100, which will take 34,000 people in the north-east out of tax altogether. It also increases the Growing Places fund, which will provide additional funding for the infrastructure that is needed to unlock developments that lead to jobs and growth. Local enterprise partnerships in the north-east will receive a further £11 million.
I also confirm that Newcastle has been selected to become a super-connected city. I do not sneer at that; hon. Members may fail to welcome it, but the city will receive up to £6 million of funding to deliver ultra-fast broadband to residents and businesses, which is valuable. On top of that, the Budget includes investment of almost £28 million in stalled development projects within the north-east.
Hon. Members were keen to talk about capital spending in percentage terms, but let me provide some absolute terms and mention £4.5 billion for the intercity express programme; £260 million for the new Tyne tunnel; £57 million for the Tees valley bus network; £350 million to reinvigorate the Tyne and Wear metro; and £82.5 million for a new Sunderland bridge, which perhaps hon. Members will welcome.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way as I know that time is short. However, she is reading out a list of projects that have already been delivered and were planned by the previous Government. Can she equate the £10 million in the Growing Places fund to a distance of new motorway, for example? Would it buy one, two or three miles of new motorway? We are talking about relatively modest sums of new money.
I am afraid that my mental arithmetic does not extend to working out pounds per mile on the spot, but I will be happy to look into the hon. Gentleman’s question.
I will continue with my comments, which I hope will help hon. Members. I want to talk briefly about support in the Budget for individuals and families to buy new-build properties with a 5% deposit through the NewBuy scheme, and I wish to put it on record that the Budget increases the maximum right-to-buy discount—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Sir Roger. The new right-to-buy discount introduced by this Government is more than three times the current limit in the north-east of £22,000.
In his opening comments, the hon. Member for Gateshead used words such as “outdated”, and various other words have been bandied around today. I think that the hon. Gentleman, and other hon. Members, need to look around and see the threat to today’s economy, which in one word is debt. Debt is a problem both in the UK and globally, and this Government are determined to sort it out. Fiscal consolidation is necessary. Those in the Labour party seek to spend more, borrow more and owe more, and therefore to pile more debt on their children, and indeed my children. The hon. Gentleman, and those on the Opposition Front Bench, still believe that child benefit should be claimed by millionaires. We do not; we believe that there should be consolidation.
I am afraid that I have no time. If we do not tackle our deficit, it will be worse for everybody. The really outdated view is to burden future generations with more debt, and for the Government to fail to take responsibility and consign all regions in the country to economic disaster. One need only look to the eurozone to get the picture. The Government’s actions have kept our interest rates closer to those in Germany than those in Greece, and made Britain a safe haven.
The topic of young people was raised by the hon. Members for North West Durham (Pat Glass) and for Hartlepool (Mr Wright). I am shocked that the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is patronising to believe that young people can start their own businesses and I disagree strongly. As a constituency MP, I make it my business to support Jobcentre Plus, the youth contract, the work experience programme and the Work programme—perhaps the hon. Gentleman acts differently in his constituency—and that is what I call working together to achieve things for our young people.
The hon. Gentleman asks me to do that as well as to respond to other hon. Members in three minutes, but I value his Back Benchers more than he does, and I wish to talk about local pay. The hon. Member for Gateshead focused much of his contribution on that issue, and I wish to reassure him about something that he already knows. At this stage, the Government are not setting out detailed proposals; they are asking experts how public sector pay might better reflect local markets. Localising pay has the potential to improve the resources available to private sector businesses that need to compete with higher public sector wages. It can improve or reduce unfair variations in the quality of public services, and tackle a limit on the number of jobs that the public sector can maintain created by having to support disproportionate wages. The principle of local pay has already been established, and I confirm, as has been mentioned, that the Labour party did that in 2007.
I will move on briefly to pasties and the sausage rolls mentioned by the hon. Member for Redcar. The point is that the Budget closes loopholes and addresses anomalies to ensure a level playing field. The National Federation of Fish Friers states:
“There should be a level playing field. Why should the UK’s fish and chip shops have to pay 20 per cent. on all the hot food they sell…when the bakery next door sells hot pies, pasties and sausage rolls free of VAT?”
The Budget seeks to introduce that level playing field.
I am afraid that I do not have time because I must respond to concerns about local government funding and the claim that local authorities in the north-east have taken disproportionate cuts. As I have made clear, the previous Government left an appalling economic and financial mess, and we have a moral obligation to pay back our debts as quickly as possible. Therefore, tough decisions are necessary. The hon. Member for Gateshead will know that the formula grant in his area will be nearly £555 per person in 2011-12, compared with an average of £372 across England. That reflects the higher level of need in Gateshead, and I expect him to welcome that. In the light of issues raised by hon. Members, the Government’s key priority is returning the UK economy to sustainable, economic growth.
Before time runs out, I want to talk about local enterprise partnerships. Such partnerships have radically reshaped the way businesses and the Government interact at local level, and they mark a sharp break from the top-down, politically driven regional policy of the previous Government. The winners of the first two rounds of the regional growth fund are expected to create over 13,500 direct jobs and 25,000 indirect jobs in the north-east, including at Gateshead college in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. The Government are taking forward an ambitious work programme that will assist with city deals for core regions, and I encourage all hon. Members present to engage with that.
Order. Will hon. Gentlemen and Ladies who participated in the last debate and are leaving please do so quietly? As they are doing so, I thank everyone for their courtesy and patience this morning, which has allowed every hon. Member to have at least some say.