George Freeman welcomes Budget

30th October 2018

George Freeman welcomes the Budget and, in particular, the emphasis on public sector enterprise and innovation and the focus of wage increases and tax cuts for those on lowest incomes.


Last year, after the disappointment of the general election manifesto process, I left the Government in order to make the case that we needed to make this a moment of much bolder national renewal, that we needed to move on from the first phase of reducing the deficit through a programme of austerity and that we needed to set a trajectory of higher growth, more public sector enterprise and innovation, and wage increases and tax cuts focused on the poorest—those on the lowest incomes—in our society. Let me start by saying that I strongly welcome the Chancellor’s Budget for all those reasons. He managed to square an almost impossible circle in a clever Budget that has done something important for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

As a constituency MP, I wish to mention in particular the measures to support the high street. In Mid Norfolk, as in many other rural constituencies, we have seen our high streets hit hard by a big transfer to online retail without the digital giants paying tax in return, and I welcome the measures that the Government have taken to support our high streets. In particular, in health and care day of the Budget debate, I want to highlight the £10 billion put aside for social care; the extraordinary announcement, which I strongly welcome, of the launch of the first mental health emergency service; the £10,000 for every primary school and £50,000 for every secondary school; the £400 million a year for our schools; and the £2 billion to make sure that universal credit is properly funded. These, I suggest, are compassionate steps taken by a Government still paying off the legacy of the appalling inheritance from the Labour party, but doing so in a way that tries to put the needs of the most vulnerable in society first.

All of that is made possible because of the extraordinary economic success over which we have managed to preside. It pains Opposition Members, which is why they are all looking away, that the rate of real income growth has been rising. In the next five years, the OBR forecasts that there will be a bigger real-terms rise in real incomes for the lowest paid than for anybody else, and 3 million new jobs. This is a success story, and nothing tells us how important it is more than the howls of derision from the Opposition, so upset are they that more and more people in this country are not in need of Labour party support. People are coming to us because they know that ours is the party that supports growth.

I want to acknowledge that after eight very painful years, there is a weariness afoot among both those on the frontline of public services, who have tightened their belts, and the lowest-paid people in work. Those two groups have tightened their belts far more than those in plum jobs in government, in Whitehall, or even in local government. We need, as a House, to say to them that they have earned it and to send a very sincere thank you. The British people have tightened their belts far harder than the Government have in the past eight years.

Talking of public sector workers and the need for public sector leadership, I want to thank the Chancellor for announcing the new public sector leadership academy—an academy to support those on the frontline of public services, who have one of the hardest jobs in our society. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) might say that is rubbish, but that is because she has never had to run anything. The people on the frontline of our public services are actually running very complex public services. They, alongside the lowest-paid people in work, are the people to we need to support in the next five years in tightening the belt and delivering the innovation and efficiency that the public want to see.

I note that the hon. Gentleman said that I have never had to run anything. I wonder whether he would like to change his mind given that I ran a crime management centre in a police station and two incredibly busy departments in a busy hospital. Perhaps he would like to correct the record.

I will happily correct that bit of the record, as long as the hon. Lady welcomes the public sector leadership academy, because, given her experience, she will know how important it is.

If we are really to tackle the structural legacy of the 13 years of a Labour Government that led to the biggest economic crisis in this country’s peacetime history—[Interruption.] That is a reality that Labour Members now shout down because it is inconvenient. The crisis that a new generation of voters needs to be consistently reminded of was the legacy of 13 years of a Labour Government. If we are to tackle that, we will have to do two important things: yes, we must continue to drive the modernisation of public service, but we must also increase the rate of growth and revenue generation in the economy by the Government. Even more powerfully, over the next five years we need somehow to make those two ambitions work together. I would like to share some thoughts on how we might do that.

The truth is that our growth rate has dropped since the EU referendum, from 3% to 1.5%. Therefore the first thing that we need to do is to get a good Brexit deal for business confidence. I hope that the Opposition will take the opportunity of the forthcoming Brexit votes to put the needs of business, prosperity and the economy ahead of ideology or party politics. We also need to create an environment in which we can unlock business investment in this country. There is £600 billion tied up on businesses’ balance sheets, and we need to trigger the confidence needed to unlock that money in the post-Brexit dividend. We will not get it unless the Brexit deal gives business the certainty that it needs in the years ahead.

We also need to go much faster on infrastructure. I am delighted that, at this point, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has entered the Chamber, because for eight years she and I have been holding meetings to try to accelerate funding for the Ely rail junction. I want the Treasury now to recognise that, across the country, there are infrastructure schemes that could be funded by private finance. I am talking not about PFI, but about giving local authorities and mayors powers to set up infrastructure bonds to create more innovative ways of driving investment into our public services. If we regenerated rail links and rail lines, gave planning permission for stations and developed innovative schemes for capturing the value increase around those lines, we could harness that growth to fund new models of infrastructure.

I particularly welcome the Government’s continued emphasis, through the industrial strategy, on fields such as life sciences, robotics and artificial intelligence so that we can create in this country the research platform needed to support the creation of the jobs and businesses of tomorrow. But if we are to be more than just a research economy—if we are to be a genuine innovation nation that pulls innovation through into practice—we need an economy that uses innovation in the private and public sectors. The great trick is to harness the power of innovation in our public services, and nowhere more than in the NHS. If we are really to lead the world in digital health and digital medicine, and the extraordinary revolution that that offers, we will not do it with an NHS running on paper and cardboard. We need to make the NHS a genuine catalyst for UK leadership in digital health. It is the same in genomics. When I set up the UK genomics programme, the idea was not only that we would launch the world’s first genomic medicines service in the NHS, which we have, but crucially that, in so doing, we would make this country a leader in genomic research and life science investment.

This, in the end, is the key to getting out of the debt that we inherited from the Labour party—the high-debt, low-growth model that yesterday’s Budget acknowledged. We have to somehow unlock innovation in our public services and drive much higher rates of growth in the private sector. With Brexit coming to its resolution here in this House in the next few weeks, we have to make it a catalyst for the renaissance of innovation and enterprise, and the moment at which we set out a vision for public services in the 21st century.


Earlier intervention in the same debate


I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning suicide. I wonder whether there is anything in this Budget that he can welcome, even though I appreciate that we may differ. Does he not welcome the announcement on mental health or the announcement of a £21 million centre of excellence for public sector leaders?

Of course we welcome more money for mental health, but what was required was £4 billion, not £2 billion; and that £2 billion was contained within the £20 billion that had already been announced, so it is not additional money. There are some things that we can work on on a cross-party basis in this House, but we have to be honest about the needs and the requirements, and we have to be straightforward in saying how they can be funded.