Thanks to our long-term economic plan, the deficit has more than halved as a share of GDP from its post-war peak of 10.2% in 2009-10 to 4.8% by the end of last year, but the job of fixing the public finances is not yet complete.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his stellar victory in demolishing both the UK Independence party and Labour. I made a number of visits to his constituency, and I can say that he is truly one of the party’s finest campaigners. The Government remain committed to improving value for money in public procurement, building on the significant progress made in the previous Parliament. The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General and I meet regularly to discuss this, continuing the excellent work of Francis Maude.
Despite being left a note by one of his predecessors saying that there was no money, will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will continue to focus on cutting taxes for low and middle-income earners in North East Hampshire while working to eliminate the deficit, so that my constituents pay less tax and less debt interest in the future?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking his seat and on his fine maiden speech last week. He told us then:
“Our best days lie ahead.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 646.]
He is right, but only if we continue to get our deficit, and therefore our debts, under control. Thanks to the plans we have set out, we are set to eliminate the deficit altogether and deliver the tax cuts outlined in our manifesto. We are doing it with the strong endorsement last month of the British people.
The hon. Gentleman ignores the overall employment picture over the last Parliament, in which 2 million new jobs were created and unemployment fell by 1 million. It sounds to me as if the Labour party is starting this Parliament as it started the last one: in a mode of deficit denial and failing to face up to Britain’s problems.
Despite the Chancellor telling us last week he was going to get our economy into surplus, we are still £75 billion in the red. Will the Chief Secretary set out in detail how he will eliminate the deficit, specifically on the £12 billion of welfare cuts?
Order. Let me make something clear, as I know the right hon. Gentleman is a new Minister. The Chief Secretary has no questions for the Opposition—that is not the constitutional position. [Interruption.] I am glad he is getting a bit of advice from the Chancellor. He needs to be clear about that at the start of the Parliament.
Does the Chief Secretary agree that the key part of reducing the deficit is the long-term economic plan, and that it rests on the provision of additional skills for our manufacturing sector, which in turn will drive up opportunities for young people?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why the Government have, and will continue to have, an excellent record on the skills agenda. I look forward to looking at the funding for the further education sector as part of the spending review this autumn.
Among all 20 of the world’s most advanced economies, why have only France, Italy and Japan grown more slowly than the UK in the five years the Chancellor has been in the Treasury? Is not weak growth, not the deficit, the real problem for the UK economy?
The right hon. Gentleman, as a Treasury Minister in the last Labour Government, will know that the size of the deficit we inherited—which, at more than 10%, was one of the highest—made our job difficult in the first couple of years. However, the UK is now growing faster in 2014 and 2015 than any other EU or G7 country.