Skip to main content

Strength of the Economy

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2024

The economy is beginning to turn a corner after a series of unprecedented shocks. Inflation has more than halved, GDP grew in January and the economy is on a path to long-term growth.

The economy has grown at a snail’s pace under the Tories, but that snail is still 30% faster nationally than in the north-east, despite our strengths in clean energy, manufacturing, science and health. On average, my constituents are £11,500 worse off that they would have been had the economy grown at the same rate that it grew under Labour. Is it any wonder that the Public Accounts Committee found no compelling evidence of levelling up? Is a vote for the Tories not a vote for continued economic failure?

It is not, because we have grown faster than Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany and multiple other countries since 2010. With respect to the north-east in particular, the hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that our vision is to spread growth into every corner of the country. That is why, in the last three months alone, both the Prime Minister and I have been to the Nissan factory in Sunderland to mark its decision to make two electric car models in the UK. Just last week, we announced the opening of a massive new film studio in Sunderland that will bring more than 8,000 jobs to the north-east.

According to the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute, the Government’s current programme for investment to mitigate the worst effects of climate change will still see climate change damage to the UK increase from 1.1% of GDP to 3.3% by 2050 and 7.4% by the end of the century. To put it into context, that is the United Kingdom’s entire social care budget of around £25 billion. The Climate Change Committee has said that the current approach to adaptation

“falls far short of what is required.”

Has the Treasury made any attempt to assess the cost to GDP, the public finances and jobs of failing to invest for climate adaptation?

We listen very carefully to what the Climate Change Committee says, and we are absolutely committed to net zero. In fact, a Conservative Government passed the law requiring Governments to commit to net zero. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have just become the first major industrialised country to decarbonise by more than 50% since 1990. As well as the costs, we are also mindful of the economic opportunities, which is why we are investing billions of pounds in our clean energy transformation.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that my constituency, which has Cambridge to the north, has fantastic new industries such as Johnson Matthey in Royston, which is at the forefront of hydrogen. We have pharma companies to the south and some of the best film studios in the world in Hertfordshire. Is he consciously trying to back those successful industries of the future so that our children and grandchildren have fantastic opportunities for the future?

That is absolutely what we are trying to do. Film and TV is a good example here, as it has now become an offshoot of the technology industry. Films such as “Barbie” have been filmed in Hertfordshire but have the look of the Californian sunshine; they can withstand the British rain because of the use of high-tech devices that simulate Californian sunshine, even in my right hon. and learned Friend’s constituency. What he sets out is our absolutely our plan and we will stick with it.

In response to covid, this Government introduced the furlough scheme, and delivered and funded the world’s first vaccine. In response to the energy price spike, this Government introduced comprehensive support for families. The Office for Budget Responsibility, so beloved of the shadow Chancellor, had its long-range forecast for 2025 to 2028 showing GDP increasing every year, GDP per capita increasing every year, average earnings increasing every year in real terms and productivity increasing in real terms. So does the Chancellor agree that when the shadow Chancellor says that we face a 1979 moment, she is right: a choice between a Labour party still in hock to its union bosses and a Conservative party committed to growth?

I have nothing to add to my hon. Friend’s brilliant list of statistics, except to cite another independent organisation, the International Monetary Fund, which says that in the next five years this country, under Conservative leadership, will grow faster than France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

The British people are paying the price for 14 years of Conservative economic failure, with lower wages, higher taxes and public services on their knees. Time and again, the Conservatives hide behind international factors and take no responsibility for their failures. Yet figures from the OECD confirm that the UK is the only G7 advanced economy now in recession and, according to the IMF, our economy is forecast to have the second slowest growth in the G7 this year. So can the Chancellor tell us: why is the UK so far behind other major economies under the Conservatives?

Well, it is not, because it is actually growing faster than France, Germany and a bunch of other countries. However, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned 14 years, because we can look at what has happened under 14 years of Labour in Wales, where unemployment is higher, NHS waiting lists are longer, school standards are worse and growth is lower. What is Labour’s reaction to that terrible record? It has just promoted the Economy Minister to First Minister.