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Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2013

Under this Government, Britain has moved into the top 10 of the most competitive places in the world to do business, according to the World Economic Forum; our tax system is seen as one of the most pro-business in the world; market interest rates are at record lows; red tape has been cut by almost £850 million in the past two years; and exports to China, India and Brazil are up by almost two thirds since 2009.

I thank the Chancellor for that reply. Is he aware that, according to accountants KPMG, Britain is now the best place in the world to do business, for the first time ever? That is very welcome news for businesses in my constituency, but what more do we need to do to maintain and consolidate that position?

My hon. Friend refers to the remarkable survey by KPMG that found that in the space of three years Britain has gone from having one of the least competitive business tax systems in the world to having the most competitive one; we are ahead of Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, as well as, of course, the United States, France and Germany. That is because of the hard work we have done on corporation tax and on the controlled foreign companies regime. Of course, we have to go on making this country the most competitive place to do business, so that we can succeed in the global race.

Is it not the truth that demand has been so sucked out of the economy by the Government’s policies that there just is not the growth? Telling us how competitive we are is living in cloud cuckoo land, given that even the Office for Budget Responsibility says that growth is going to be very slow, even in the coming year.

To get a lecture from the Labour party on demand! The economy shrank by 6% when the shadow Chancellor was in the Cabinet, and we are picking up the pieces of the mess he and his party left behind. One of those pieces was the deeply uncompetitive business tax system which meant that companies were moving their headquarters out of the United Kingdom. Companies are now moving into the UK because of the changes we have made.

It is small businesses in our constituencies that will hold the key to Britain’s economic revival. Does the Chancellor agree that they are simply not getting the support they need from the banks at the moment and that although the funding for lending scheme is good, most of the money is currently going into mortgages rather than businesses? I realise that he will not want to say much now, just before the Budget, but can he at least reassure the House that the needs of small businesses are right at the top of his agenda for this Budget?

My hon. Friend has that assurance. The funding for lending scheme, joint with the Bank of England, is now supporting the small and medium-sized business sector as well as the mortgage market, and is repairing the damage to the financial system caused by the financial crisis. He is also right to say that small businesses are the bedrock of our economic revival, which is why we have cut the small companies tax rate, which before the general election the Labour party wanted to put up. We have also carried on the relief for small businesses from business rates, and in the autumn statement we increased tenfold the annual investment allowance, so that small businesses can invest for the future and create jobs. The Government understand that there needs to be a private sector recovery in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The Chancellor boasts that all is going well for British business, but terrible figures out this morning show that manufacturing is down by 3% compared with last year’s figure. Business has lost all confidence to invest, so when will he pull his head out of the sand and see that his plan is clearly failing?

The manufacturing sector halved as a share of the British economy when Labour was in office and we had the fastest decline in British manufacturing in British history. The steps that we have taken to support manufacturers, to help with investment allowances and to ensure that they have access to fast-growing parts of the world, such as China and India, are all part of rebalancing and rebuilding the British economy. I was in the west midlands a couple of weeks ago, and there are 67,000 new private sector jobs in that region alone; I mention the region because private sector employment fell during the boom years under the previous Labour Government. We must get behind the private sector and we must get behind business: that is exactly what this Government are doing.