The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
Support for SMEs
My hon. Friend will know that the growth plan really was a very strong package for business and for small and medium-sized enterprises, and I am sure that many of his constituents will appreciate the strong measures that we introduced.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the Government’s growth agenda, notwithstanding the lack of reassurance to the markets, but will the Chancellor seriously consider lowering taxation on smaller businesses, despite the package that has already been announced? They are the engine room of the economy and employ most people in the private sector, and if cost savings are necessary, High Speed 2 and the streamlining of myriad quangos could be the first option.
I am very pleased to tell my hon. Friend that we are going to introduce the medium-term fiscal plan in three weeks’ time, but let us consider the measures that we have already introduced. National insurance hikes have been reversed, the corporation tax rise has been scrapped and the annual investment allowance remains at £1 million. These are measures that small businesses up and down the land have been very appreciative of.
As my right hon. Friend will be aware, small businesses are the backbone of our local economy—none more than Catling Bakery in Cramlington, which has expanded from running a bakery to running a café and now a dessert bar. Would my right hon. Friend please assure me that this Government will do all they can to help these businesses thrive?
Thank you, Mr Speaker; it is like I never went away. I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Supporting businesses will always be a key pillar for growing our economy and, by association, our small and medium-sized businesses, of which there are many in Lincoln and more across our county of Lincolnshire. They should be at the forefront of the Government’s growth agenda. Devolved areas such as Teesside and the West Midlands have continually been successful in delivering for their areas. Greater Lincolnshire stands ready right now for a maximum devolution deal. Therefore, will the Treasury support any such deal for Greater Lincolnshire?
My hon. Friend knows that devolution is at the heart of the Government’s plans to level up and strengthen communities, and in the levelling-up White Paper the Government have fully committed to offering a devolution deal to every area that wants one by 2030.
Can I declare an interest to the Chancellor? I have actually worked in a small or medium-sized business. Unlike many people on these Benches, I have actually worked in manufacturing industry, and the manufacturing SMEs in my constituency are absolutely up against it with the cost of energy. What is he going to do to relieve them right now?
I think the hon. Gentleman makes a very good point and represents his constituency ably. In respect of small businesses, we have introduced a package —an energy price guarantee not only for households but for businesses—to the tune of £30 billion in the first six months. This is something that was absolutely necessary, and I am very proud of the fact that we acted very swiftly to protect businesses such as those in his constituency.
The Government’s failed mini-Budget sent interest rates soaring, which is already causing mortgage pain for millions, but rising borrowing costs are now threatening our high streets too. Small businesses in Richmond Park and across the UK are seeing their loan repayments spiral and their financing options dry up. We have already seen the highest number of company insolvencies since the financial crisis—more than 5,600 businesses closed in the second quarter of this year—and SME debt is now at a staggering £204 billion. Most of those businesses will not see a penny from the cut to corporation tax. What is the Chancellor—
As I have stated a number of times already, the energy support package will help every single one of the businesses in the hon. Member’s constituency. I would be very pleased to see the Lib Dem growth plan. The anti-growth coalition carps from the side lines but it has nothing to say about growth.
The one thing businesses always want is security, and an understanding of what is going to happen for them next year. They are worrying about their borrowing costs for next year, and the Chancellor has already made that more difficult for them. He says he has a package for energy costs, but that lasts for only six months. Yesterday I spoke to a man who owns a leisure company. He said that his bill next year will go from £100,000 to £475,000, and that he will be closing. Why does the Chancellor not bring in a proper measure that will last more than six months?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point in respect of energy costs, and that is precisely why we intervened in the way that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced only a couple of weeks ago. The package is £60 billion for households and businesses across the next six months. That is a generous package, and we are listening.
Businesses of all sizes are struggling with Brexit, import costs, material costs, the weak pound against the dollar and the euro and increased wage and energy costs, and they still do not know what will happen when the Chancellor’s temporary reprieve ends in March. The clock is ticking. Calder Millerfield, a food manufacturing business in my constituency, has come back to me with its latest quote, with the relief applied. It is £944,000 per year, up from £160,000 last year. What will the Chancellor do to support manufacturing businesses now, because they will not survive those increases?
As I have stated, the energy price guarantee does help businesses in a large measure. Also, I am not going to take lectures from the SNP about growth. In Scotland, for every year from 2010 to 2019, growth was lower than in the rest of the United Kingdom. I will not take any lessons about supporting business from the hon. Lady.
Mortgage Rates and the Bank of England
The Chancellor speaks regularly to the Governor of the Bank of England on a wide range of matters. As my hon. Friend knows, the Bank of England sets monetary policy, including interest rates, independently of Government.
I thank the Minister for that response. Obviously, the world situation is the biggest cause of the rise in interest rates, but that rise is having a detrimental effect on mortgage payers and risks negativising the welcome help that the Government have provided through energy costs and tax cuts. Will the Chancellor and Ministers meet more regularly with the Bank of England to co-ordinate policy a little more closely?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is a passionate advocate in this place for his constituents. The Chancellor and I regularly meet the Bank of England and all the individual lending banks in the UK. My hon. Friend knows that interest rates have increased in every major economy, despite what the Opposition may claim. That is why it is so important that we provide help with energy costs and cutting taxes.
Surely Ministers must now apologise for the chaos that their mini-Budget, with its £45 billion of unfunded spending commitments and tax cuts, caused to the bond markets. Is it not now a fact that there is a Tory premium on every interest rate rise for every borrower in this country? They are not going to forget that when the election comes.
I think we all understand that there is a clear divide in this House. The Government are supporting growth, providing support for energy bills, giving the economy the confidence and certainty that it needs this winter, and bringing forward supply-side measures that will boost the economy, not being on the side of striking workers who are bringing this economy to a halt.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to send my condolences to the families of all those killed in the tragic accident in Creeslough, County Donegal, last week. My parents came from quite nearby. It is a beautiful place with a close community, and they are very much in our prayers right now.
I welcome the Minister to his place. I am sure that he and the Chancellor’s team wanted their first Budget to be remembered, perhaps even studied in years to come. Well, they have certainly achieved that ambition. Two-year fixed mortgage rates are above 6% for the first time since 2008, and they have risen sharply since the Chancellor’s mini-Budget. Everyone coming off such a rate will face much higher payments over the coming year, possibly hundreds of pounds a month more. Why should people who have worked hard to buy their own home pay the price for the Government’s mistakes?
I add my comments and thoughts to those on the incident in County Donegal last week.
We have already talked about our comprehensive energy support package, which will help not just every household this winter and prevent the uncertainty of energy bills that were forecast potentially to reach £6,500 per home, but help businesses. The Government are on the side of businesses and keen to improve the supply side of our economy, so that we can grow to create the tax revenues for our high-quality public services.
This morning, the Bank of England made a further intervention in the markets, warning of
“a material risk to UK financial stability”.
That risk comes directly from the Chancellor’s mini-Budget two and a half weeks ago. How much more will Government borrowing cost next year as a result of the rising gilt yields since the Chancellor’s statement on 23 September?
As I have already observed, we are seeing interest rates rising in every major western economy. When Opposition Front Benchers are finished with their British exceptionalism, perhaps they will lift their eyes and notice that. What is more important is that we are protecting consumers and households through the difficult winter months ahead, and cutting taxes. Those are measures that Government Members support and Opposition Members oppose.
Today, the International Monetary Fund observed that the Chancellor’s unfunded tax cuts have complicated the fight against inflation. As a result, the Bank of England is expected to increase the base rate to levels not seen since 2008. Families have already struggled with increasing energy prices, Kantar says that grocery inflation stands at 13.9%, and Santander is preparing for increased mortgage defaults. What is the Minister and his Treasury team doing to tackle the absolute chaos that they have created?
I understand that the nationalist party likes to talk the country down at every opportunity, but the reality is that we are taking the action that we need, tackling the supply side, tackling the strikes that are grinding down the economy and building the energy supply that we need to help strengthen our economy and our currency. The hon. Member’s party opposes nuclear and opposes more oil and gas exploration.
Investment in Infrastructure
I am grateful for the investment in physical infrastructure, but those on the Treasury Front Bench will know that we need the skills for the future to deliver the jobs for the future to make that infrastructure investment sustainable. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the idea of MKU: a brand-new university in Milton Keynes? Every single Minister and Secretary of State I have spoken to about it thinks that it is a good idea. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to get it off paper and get boots on the ground?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is a tireless champion for the great city of Milton Keynes. I would be delighted to meet him to discuss the idea along with colleagues from, perhaps, the Department for Education. I note that Milton Keynes has already received £23 million through the towns fund, but I am happy to meet him to discuss the idea.
Growing the economy is about improving people’s lives as well as improving the success of places such as Carlisle. To achieve that, we need both public and private investment, and, in the case of public investment, it is infrastructure that will make the real difference. Given the rise in the cost of infrastructure projects, will the Minister confirm that where such projects have a shortfall in funding but are ready to go, the Government will step in and give additional funding to support them?
It is very much our intention to speed up projects where they are ready to go. The growth plan announced a few weeks ago made clear our commitment to doing that. The last spending review provided, I think, about £100 billion of funding towards critical economic infrastructure. Where we can speed up projects, we will certainly be doing that. One project that we have in mind for exactly that is the A66 northern trans-Pennine route, which I believe goes not far from my hon. Friend’s constituency.
In 2017, former Conservative energy Minister Charles Hendry conducted a review of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. He gave it the thumbs up, but since then successive Governments have not pursued it. Given the energy crisis we are in, will the Minister consider reopening the business case? It could be a fantastic source of green energy for our country.
The Government are extremely interested in all forms of new energy generation. We are determined to make sure that the United Kingdom is electricity-independent. We are looking at all kinds of projects, including of course marine projects. I understand that when the Swansea scheme was investigated there were questions about value for money, but I am sure that we would be very happy to take a careful look at any proposition that is put forward, if the hon. Gentleman wants to do so.
When it comes to the delivery of projects, I cannot help but admire the speed at which the Government managed to transform Downing Street from a nightclub into a casino. I have one ask that is not a gamble. When are the Government going to deliver the Acorn project in the north-east of Scotland?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor says that that is something we are examining carefully. The hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the growth plan is extremely unfair. The real risk is in not having a growth plan. The real risk is in having taxes that are too high. The real risk is not investing in infrastructure. It is clear that this Government have a growth plan and the Opposition have no plan.
Of course it is always right to look for efficiencies and try to get better value for money for the taxpayer. As we look for spending cuts, could my right hon. Friend confirm that they will not come at the expense of reductions in vital infrastructure spending in our regions, not least in the north of England?
I am pleased to say, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said when he introduced the growth plan, that expediting critical infrastructure was an important part of that plan. Without critical infrastructure, we are not going to see the growth in jobs or wages and the prosperity that we all want. The Government will do everything that they can to speed up the delivery of those projects.
We do not know much yet about the Government’s new investment zones, but in order to achieve success for the primary investment in them, will the Government have specifically targeted funds for infrastructure projects in those zones? If so, will this be a further unfunded expenditure commitment?
I think the Chancellor set out the investment zone concept very clearly. There will be, by agreement with local authorities, planning freedoms and very significant tax cuts. Infrastructure investments are being handled separately to that, but it would be reasonable to expect a degree of co-ordination between the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Department for Transport, as they consider the way investment zones interact with transport projects.
Reforming the EU’s directive on the bonus cap is not about paying people more. All it ever did was increase base pay, regardless of performance. It was never a cap on total remuneration, and no one should pretend that it was.
That was total nonsense. As some families in Battersea struggle to keep up with the rising cost of living, the Government have chosen to help bankers by removing the cap on their bonuses, while maintaining the cap on household social security. Despite soaring bills and growing inflation, the cap has remained stagnant since 2016, plunging hundreds of thousands of families into deep poverty. The cap on social security is cruel. How can the Chancellor seriously justify removing the cap on bankers’ bonuses but not the social security cap? Will the Minister have a word with his colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions and change that?
The hon. Lady has fully booked her place as a member of the anti-growth coalition. The Government are not afraid to be on the side of the people who create the wealth that funds our public services. In 1979 the top 1% of earners paid about 10% of income tax; they now pay 29.1%. That is three times as much.
At a time when my constituents are struggling to make ends meet, struggling to put food on the table and struggling to put the heating on, the Government have decided that the way to increase growth in the economy is to lift the cap on bankers’ bonuses. Not a single person or a single bank that I spoke to in the City as shadow City Minister said that this was the right policy to drive growth in the economy. Does the Minister really think that the policy will drive growth in the economy, or will we see yet another U-turn from his Government?
I can assure the hon. Lady that this Government are going to grow the economy. We will grow the economy by releasing the burden, or the yoke, of taxation, whether that is on ordinary people by cutting the basic rate of tax from 20p to 19p, or by today reversing the increase in national insurance, or by cutting the taxes on the businesses that she has been meeting—I welcome that—by reversing the increase in corporation tax next year.
First-time Buyers: Mortgages
This Government will back first-time buyers by increasing the level at which they start paying stamp duty. A young couple can now purchase a property for up to £425,000 without paying tax.
A constituent wrote to me and said, “What world do the Tories live in? I guess one where you protect the rich and wealthy. The suggestion that the Treasury thinks that a person on £30k a year can buy a home in London is frankly laughable and salt in the wound.” How does the Minister expect my constituents in Vauxhall who are already struggling to pay their rent to save to buy a new home on a salary of £30k?
I will be very happy to write to the hon. Lady and to talk to her constituents about the unprecedented intervention that we have made to protect them this winter from their energy bills, putting valuable certainty and confidence not just into every household, but into every business and the economy. That is why the International Monetary Fund has today increased its growth forecast for the United Kingdom.
Growth Plan: OBR Assessment
I think the House will agree that the uncertainty over the date has not exactly helped forward planning on benefits. Any real cut in benefits will mean people not having enough money to buy food and clothing for their children, so does the Chancellor agree that increasing benefits in line with inflation is the only fair way forward? Indeed, it would be immoral to do otherwise. As the chief executive of Inverness citizens advice bureau pointed out to me, such benefit money is spent in the local economy and is a boost to what the Chancellor has talked about many times: growing the economy.
I am delighted to see that one member of the anti-growth coalition is focusing on growth. However, on the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, he will understand that the medium-term fiscal plan is coming out on 31 October, and I will not prejudge any measures in it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the levelling-up fund is an important part of the plan for growth, and has he seen Harlow Council’s levelling-up fund bid, which I wholeheartedly support? It would transform a derelict area of our town centre into a thriving cultural quarter with jobs and investment, tackling antisocial behaviour. Those abandoned buildings have blighted the heart of our town for far too long.
The Bank of England has had to intervene not once, not twice, but three times now. The impact on pension funds is very significant, and many of my constituents will be deeply worried. What assessment has the Chancellor made of the impact of potential additional pressures on the economy on public sector pensions and the damage to pension funds for pensioners up and down this country? Is that another reason why he did not want to publish the OBR’s forecast at the time of his mini-Budget?
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision to bring forward the medium-term plan and the OBR forecast; he has listened, and he is right. However, may I caution him to reach out as much as he can across both sides of the House, to be certain that he can get through this House the measures he puts forward to underpin that forecast? Any failure to do so will unsettle the markets.
The OBR was the creation of a Conservative Government and was designed to curtail wishful thinking in economic policy, so does the Chancellor agree that it is unfortunate, to say the least, that we seem to have Cabinet Ministers briefing against the economic expertise of that independent institution?
The energy price guarantee is an outstanding part of the growth plan. It is key, but far too few businesses and households know about it. May I urge the Chancellor to have a nationwide mail-out campaign, coupled with the Government taking the lead on the reduction of energy in all public buildings, as Germany and other countries are doing? That would have the twin benefits of saving consumers money and reducing taxpayer subsidies.
The Chancellor’s refusal to publish OBR forecasts just over two weeks ago played a key role in falling confidence in the pound, rising borrowing costs and market panic. His woeful decision to avoid scrutiny by gagging the OBR helped to increase mortgage costs for working people, who are now paying the price for Conservative failure.
The Chancellor’s behaviour has been described by the former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney as “undercutting” economic institutions. Jonathan Haskel, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee, has made it clear that a
“sidelined OBR generates more uncertainty”.
Does the Chancellor accept that they are right?
Research and Development
At the 2021 spending review, the Government announced an increase in public expenditure on R&D to £20 billion a year by 2024-25, including funding for association to EU programmes.
I thank the Chancellor and his team for making the Treasury a growth Department. Do they agree that innovation-led growth is particularly important if we want to drive up productivity, competitiveness and inward investment, and that our high-growth sectors such as space, agritech and fusion have a big role to play? Will the Economic Secretary specifically reassure those in the R&D community that he will not be tempted to reduce the allocation for Horizon or for science and research in the comprehensive spending review? That would reassure the markets.
Very few Members can look back on a track record of commitment to R&D as significant as that of my hon. Friend, both as a Minister and as a Back Bencher. I am happy to confirm to him that we will abide by the spending review 2021 decisions, and that that includes funding for core Innovate UK programmes, for association to Horizon Europe and for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency.
The Minister needs to be much more specific about the Horizon Europe programme. Is he aware that the Nobel laureate Sir Andre Geim has said that top academics are leaving the country in despair because the Government are not negotiating on Horizon Europe? When will the Government do something—now?
The loan charge was announced in the 2016 Budget as part of a package of measures to tackle disguised remuneration tax avoidance. In the 2022 spring statement, it was estimated that the package would produce an overall Exchequer yield of £3.4 billion. The changes resulting from the 2019 independent review of the loan charge have reduced the Exchequer yield by an estimated £620 million.
Too many ordinary people are facing huge bills, untold distress and, in some cases, personal harm and indeed suicide because of the loan charge scandal. Can the Minister and the Government now commit themselves to finally commissioning a truly independent review to deal with this mess?
I do not think that any Member who has met constituents who have been affected by the loan charge can have failed to be moved by the emotional and psychological impact that it has had on many of them. It is therefore right for me, as a Minister, to look at the issue carefully, and I can say to the hon. Member that I will engage all interested parties.
It is a pleasure to answer my first question at the Dispatch Box, and to reply to the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who responded to my maiden speech.
The White Paper “Levelling Up the United Kingdom” set out a clear plan to level up every corner of the UK by 2030. We are also driving growth and unlocking housing across the UK with our new investment zones, and we are continuing to invest billions in regional infrastructure. That includes £1.7 billion allocated under the levelling-up fund, of which £500 million went to the north.
It is a pleasure to see the Minister at the Dispatch Box, and I congratulate her on her appointment.
Previous Chancellors have not delivered the level of transformative resource required for levelling up. I know that the present Chancellor understands the huge potential that exists throughout the north of England, but it seems to many of us that the levelling-up agenda is sipping in the last chance saloon. Can the Minister say what will be done differently under this new Chancellor?
We are absolutely committed to the levelling-up agenda. South Yorkshire received £570 million through the regional cities transport scheme, £95 million through the levelling-up fund and £46 million through the shared prosperity fund, and our ambitions for levelling up continue.
Building on Bradford’s city of culture win and in a momentous year for Rugby League, I am supporting the plan for the transformation and regeneration of the home of the Bradford Bulls, the iconic Odsal stadium, to become a world-class sports, music and culture arena. This plan would be an incubator for the ambitions of the entire Bradford district, delivering more than £1 billion of socioeconomic benefits. Following the Bank of England’s repeated interventions, can the Minister confirm that round 2 of the levelling-up fund will still be going ahead in full, and will she and the Chancellor demonstrate that by meeting me, Bradford Council, the Bradford Bulls and the Rugby Football League to discuss our catalyst for growth?
I can confirm that we will be going ahead with the second round of the levelling-up fund. There should be decisions by the end of the year, and I wish the hon. Lady well with her bid. An independent assessment of the bids is going on at the moment, but if that meeting is possible, we will do it. Clearly we would need to decide if that was appropriate. I congratulate her on her success in the first round of the levelling-up bids, where she got £20 million for the Squire Lane leisure centre.
A key part of levelling up is the creation of investment zones, and the Chancellor will be aware of the proposals for a gigafactory at Coventry airport to support UK automotive manufacturing. Does the Minister agree that the joint application by the Labour Coventry City Council and the Conservative Warwickshire County Council for an investment zone at Coventry airport should be encouraged?
“Never has so much chaos been inflicted on so many by so few” will be the motto that will reverberate down the eons from this Government. Do they actually still believe in this fairy tale of levelling up? Is it not now just a matter of how far they are going to level us all down?
The Eden Project North is, as far as I am aware, the only project in the second phase of the levelling-up round that has planning permission and land allocated. I would like to know when the decisions will be made so that we can get this shovel-ready scheme going. Eden has £50 million to put on the table, and we are asking for £50 million as match funding, in effect.
I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. If the hon. Member’s question relates to the operating budget of the DWP, we expect Departments to live within their existing CSR21 allocations. If his question relates to the level of benefits more generally, a statutory process is undertaken every year and no decisions have yet been made. They will be made in due course in the normal way.
I thank the Minister for his answer, if not for his recent tweets. Has he had any representations from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to increase social security payments in line with inflation? Far too often, this Government talk about their agenda for growth, but failure to increase in line with inflation will result only in a growth in food banks in Easterhouse, in fuel poverty in Carmyle and in child poverty in Baillieston. When is the Minister going to do the right thing and commit to raising social security in line with inflation and not with earnings?
I am obviously not going to offer any kind of running commentary on the ongoing internal discussions. I have said that the normal ordinary statutory process is ongoing, but the Government are mindful of the cost of living pressures that people are facing. I would draw the hon. Member’s attention to the large increase in the national minimum wage—I think about 7%—that took place last April or May, and there are now more vacancies in the economy than there are people on unemployment benefits.
The Government’s first objective is to ensure that the economy is growing. That will help to lift wages and to create new jobs and a sustainable tax base for our public services, but as we make the decisions that my right hon. Friend refers to, we are going to balance considerations of fairness and the cost of living pressures that people suffer with the interests of the taxpayers who are working hard to pay tax.
The Minister talks about vacancies in the job market. There are vacancies, of course, but many of my constituents earn under £12,000 a year. They will not benefit from the tax cut, so they rely on universal credit to make up the gap. They cannot afford to work because of the high cost of childcare. They are already on the poverty line. What is his advice to them? Will he give us some comfort that the Government will make the right decision on uprating benefits?
I have already explained that the normal statutory process is under way. When it comes to helping people on lower incomes, I mentioned the very significant increase in the minimum wage just a few months ago. We made an unprecedented intervention this year, amounting to £37 billion, which is disproportionately directed towards people on lower incomes. The one third of households on lower incomes are receiving an extra £1,200 this year.
The hon. Lady also referred to the fact that people earning £12,570 or less pay not a penny of national insurance and not a penny of income tax, which is thanks to the action of this Conservative Government.
The Government are encouraging business innovation in many ways, of which I will enumerate four. As I mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), there is a significant uplift in R&D expenditure, with £150 million of innovation loans over the spending period, research and development tax relief, long-term investment in technology and science—a competition is providing up to £500 million in Government support—and the British Business Bank is supporting innovative businesses, including through the future fund.
Owners and entrepreneurs behind small businesses such as Code Ninjas in Bridge Street in my constituency are a key part of the Government’s growth agenda. What steps does my hon. Friend have in mind to enable such small and medium-sized enterprises to create further jobs and growth?
Oh, right. Perhaps I can visit my hon. Friend’s constituency to learn what the company does.
More generally, the growth plan focuses on important measures to support small businesses that wish to grow, including by making the £1 million annual investment allowance permanent, by looking to expand the amount of money that can be given through the seed enterprise investment scheme to help small businesses to grow and, most importantly, through the Government’s energy price support this winter.
This Government are relentlessly focused on growing the economy. Putin’s barbaric war in Ukraine continues to put pressure on gas prices so, with predictions of typical bills reaching between £4,000 and £6,500 a year, people needed immediate support to get them through this winter.
Last month we set out the growth plan, which will focus on breaking out of the high-tax, low-growth cycle in which we are currently trapped. This will put more money into people’s pockets and raise living standards for all our people. This week I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) to inform him that I will set out the medium-term fiscal plan on 31 October, and I wish to remind the House that it will be accompanied by a full economic and fiscal forecast published by the Office for Budget Responsibility.
The Chancellor will know that Essex is a pro-growth county and a hub of economic growth. To support job creation and more economic growth, will he commit to funding the dualling of the A120 between Braintree and Marks Tey and, importantly, along the route that the county council, businesses and the local community have specified?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her role in the Cabinet and the Government. She is a fantastic colleague. I wish to confirm that the A120 between Braintree and the A12 remains under active consideration, alongside the rest of the third road investment strategy pipeline.
Since the Chancellor’s disastrous mini-Budget just 18 days ago, we have seen wild swings in the value of the pound, gilt yields up 100 basis points in a single day and the Bank of England stepping in because of, in its words,
“a material risk to UK financial stability”.
The International Monetary Fund has now said that UK growth is to slow further next year. This is a British crisis, made in Downing Street; no Government are sabotaging their own country’s economic credibility as this Government are. Are the Chancellor and the Prime Minister the last people left on Earth who think their plan is working?
To pick up on a point, the IMF said today that the plan—the mini-Budget—has increased the forecast for growth. That is precisely the opposite of what the hon. Lady has said. It is very clear where we stand on this. We have pro-growth, pro-enterprise, pro-business Conservatives on one side and the anti-growth coalition on the other—they want to tax more and commit us to low growth.
The Chancellor is in a dangerous state of denial, but the costs of these mistakes are all too real for everyone else: borrowing costs up; growth down; and mortgage payments set to increase by £500 a month. Now the Government scrabble around looking for cuts, hitting the most vulnerable and our public services. It does not need to be this way. Will the Chancellor put aside his pride, do the right thing for our country, end this trickle-down nonsense and reverse the Budget?
Which of the tax cuts do the Opposition want to stop? Do they want to stop the cut in the basic rate? Are they committed to having a high tax economy? The other thing I suggest is that the hon. Lady should get her facts right; the IMF today has said that our growth is going up, not down.
Eastbourne is indeed beautiful, as are North East Bedfordshire and many other parts of the country. My hon. Friend is right to talk about the importance of VAT to the hospitality industry, particularly as we moved through the period of covid recovery. As we now move towards the growth plan, we need to look at the level of taxes on small businesses in general. That is a key part of the work I will be looking at as part of the tax simplification plan.
Push payment fraud is a growing problem, which the Government take very seriously. That is why we will be taking powers in the Financial Services and Markets Bill that will mandate reimbursement to consumers.
My right hon. Friend was 100% right to notice that the energy intervention was exactly the right thing. We are going to have a commitment to fiscal responsibility, which will stabilise the economic situation and picture, and I am sure that her constituents will fully understand what the growth plan is all about: putting more money into their pockets so that we can have a growing and dynamic economy.
As my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary said earlier, most of the measures that constitute the £37 billion intervention were targeted directly at the vulnerable constituents of all of us in this House. The energy price guarantee will also be greatly beneficial to people across our country who are suffering because of the cost of living. The Government are committed to a huge amount of intervention, and our top priority is making sure that everyone gets through challenging times as best they can.
Absolutely. I am in frequent contact with my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary, and we have sequestered and dedicated a pot to help people who are off the gas grid. We are happy to help my hon. Friend and her constituents in this challenging time.
My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and I are engaged with all the regulators, particularly the Prudential Regulation Authority, and we will be absolutely committed to getting to the bottom of what has happened, particularly in the long-dated gilt market, which has been over-levered in the past few weeks.
As I have said repeatedly, I am not going to prejudge what is in the medium-term fiscal plan, which will be fully scrutinised not only by the OBR but, I am sure, by my right hon. Friend. I do not think that it is right for me to prejudge or anticipate those measures today.
Despite the Chancellor’s confident words, the IMF is predicting that inflation will last longer in this country than in other similar economies. In my constituency of Edinburgh West, which has half the national average rate of unemployment and claimants, people are so concerned that more than half of them are talking about cutting their essential budgets, and, according to recent reports, 20% are concerned that they might have to turn to food banks for the first time. When will the Chancellor reassess the potential impact of this growth plan and accept that maybe he has got it wrong?
The IMF specifically said this morning that the 2023 forecast for growth in this country has gone up as a direct consequence of the mini-Budget. In respect of helping constituents up and down the land, we have already committed £37 billion of energy support this year and a further £60 billion to houses and businesses over the next six months, and we are committed to making sure that every one of our constituents gets through this winter as best they can.
Numerous residents such as those at Harwood Bar caravan park have been in touch with me about the £400 energy support scheme. The previous Chancellor confirmed that there was an equivalent scheme for those in caravan parks and park homes. Could the Chancellor please provide an update for my constituents in Hyndburn and Haslingden?
As I said in relation to heating oil, a pot of money is going to be reserved to help people who are off the grid. We have already made announcements about that, but I would be very happy to speak with my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary.
The upkeep of the Chester city walls costs about £600,000 a year, but that money has to come out of the local authority’s highways budget. Can the Government set aside a small amount of money to help local authorities with the stewardship of internationally important heritage assets?
The Government continue to support the heritage and cultural sector. There are several sources of funding from Government arm’s length bodies such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England’s repair grants, so I encourage the hon. Gentleman to look into those.
Since the 1970s, residents in Eastleigh have long been expecting, and have been promised at times, funding for the Chickenhall Lane bypass, including being allocated funding in the 2015 Red Book. Will the Minister agree to meet me and Hampshire County Council to discuss getting this sorted for people who have simply waited far too long?
My hon. Friend is a tireless advocate for that and other projects in his constituency. I and perhaps colleagues from the Department for Transport would be delighted to meet him and his county council colleagues to discuss that important project.
The Chancellor was warned that unfunded tax cuts would force the Bank of England to increase rates and that is exactly what has happened. The Bank of England has said today that, in effect, the mini-Budget has caused a material risk to Britain’s financial stability. Can the Chancellor explain how people are supposed to pay their mortgages, which have gone up by £500 on average and £900 in London? What is he going to do about it, because it is not acceptable that his incompetence is risking people’s livelihoods?
I have two points to make on that. First, the Bank of England certainly did not say that the mini-Budget increased risk. Secondly, as rates are rising throughout the world, there is exposure. That is precisely why we thought that it was absolutely right to have the energy intervention, which is for two years—let us not forget that the Labour plan was for only six months —and to reduce the burden on people by reducing taxes.
Talking to people working in the housing industry in Winchester, I have found that they are not convinced that the stamp duty reduction will help first-time buyers while inflation and particularly mortgage rates are creeping up. Lenders are coming back with some good rates, and the Chancellor will know that, but when he delivers his statement on 31 October, will he ensure that it has confidence at its heart and that it is—knowing him, it will be—a relentlessly positive statement, so that we can push confidence right the way through the market?
Will the Minister admit that, if the Government do not increase the guarantee credit component of pension credit in line with inflation this year, they are effectively cutting the incomes of our poorest pensioners when they need help most?
Can the Chancellor state how much the investment zones are worth and how they will be funded?
Thank you, Mr Speaker. The UK has rightly frozen around £30 billion of Russian foreign currency reserves. A number of countries are moving from freezing those assets to seizing them to pay reparations to Ukraine. Will my right hon. Friend look at similar measures from the UK?
Those measures have been discussed in the past; I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) talked about that earlier in the year. Those schemes are always being looked at in the light of what is an increasingly bleak and volatile situation in Russia and Ukraine.