Budget Debate

Alok Sharma speaks in the Budget Debate and welcomes the raising of personal allowances and measures to help small and medium-sized businesses in particular. He gave examples of businesses investing in Reading.

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Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): I welcome this responsible Budget, which targets help to individuals and businesses intelligently. Our time is short, so I wish to focus on three points: personal allowances, the employment allowance and exports.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), I welcome the raising of personal allowances to £10,000. That is being delivered by a Conservative Chancellor and, as a result, more than 42,000 people in my constituency will be paying less tax and more than 4,000 will be taken out of paying tax altogether. Before the Budget, I suggested to the Treasury that we set an aspiration for future years that nobody on the minimum wage should pay income tax. I know that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who is not in his place, shares that aspiration. It will take some years to deliver and it will be an expensive measure, but it is fair and it is the right thing to do. I hope that aspiration will be set and I hope it will be in the 2015 Conservative manifesto.

Small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency welcome the employment allowance, which is a big boost to job creation. The private sector is the engine of growth, and Reading, the town I represent, is an economic powerhouse in the south-east. No matter what the Opposition may say, the private sector is creating jobs. This morning, I met the chief executive of Huawei, a Chinese IT and telecoms group, which is opening its head office in my constituency in the next few months. It is bringing hundreds of new jobs to Reading and creating several hundred more over the next few years.

In the past few weeks, Tesco has confirmed that it is starting recruitment at a new distribution centre in my constituency, and I am pleased that this brownfield redevelopment is taking place. I have been discussing it with Tesco and its advisers since 2011, and it means more than 1,000 new jobs in my constituency.

A couple of months ago, I met Ross Snape, the chief executive officer of United Asphalt, a successful independent business located in Theale in my constituency. He said:

“All too often we hear politicians and the press talking down the economy, which can have really negative effects on business and the decisions we make on investment and employing people…it is time to move on and face the challenges we have with confidence.”

I could not agree more. Many billions of pounds have been sitting on UK corporate balance sheets as deleveraging has been going on, but businesses based in my constituency have decided that it is now time to invest. They realise there are no easy fixes to the economy because of the problems that had built up.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): My hon. Friend is giving good local examples of job creation. Does he agree that as the Budget contains one of the proposals relating to the single pot of funding, a recommendation of the Heseltine review, his local area will be helped to develop even further?

Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that proposal, which will help not only my local area, but other areas. It also advances the whole aspect of localism, on which this Government are very keen, as I am. As I was saying, companies in my constituency have decided that it is time to start investing, and I hope that many others up and down the country will follow suit.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman says that some companies are starting to invest, but is that not related to what Keynes and, latterly, Paul Krugman have said: in the absence of government doing anything substantial, recessions will sort themselves out in the end, but years of unnecessary pain will have been experienced by many people because of government inaction or wrong policies?

Alok Sharma: Thanks to the measures taken by this Government, the deficit is coming down, we have record employment and interest rates are at record lows. I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would welcome all those things, just as businesses in my constituency do.

The Chancellor made the point in his Budget statement that for the first time in more than two decades we are exporting more goods to non-EU countries than to EU ones, and I welcome that. The right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), for whom I have huge respect, said that there is no growth, but, as he well knows, there is growth; we are expanding our exports to some of the world’s key economies, which is a result of the policies that this Government have put in place and of the good work being done by UK Trade & Investment and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Small and medium-sized businesses still tell us that there is a fear factor when they are looking to enter new markets. UKTI and the FCO have been great at targeting high-growth nations and opening new offices, but we need to turbo-charge that expansion. We need not only to target three, four or five cities in these huge economies such as India and Indonesia, but to go into the 15 or 20 top tier 1 and tier 2 cities. In those economies it is not only the national Governments who make decisions; the state governments make many of the big decisions on investment, which is why we need to turbo-charge our approach and get these offices across these countries quickly. The Government, together with UKTI, should provide practical help by taking on office space in these key cities, basing sector experts from the UK Government and UKTI there, and working with local enterprise partnerships to get out there and allow SMEs low-cost desk and office space for three, six or 12 months. The synergies that will be created as a result of all these companies coming together in one location, with sector focus and where we can also get local advisers involved, will do a huge amount to boost our exports. We want to go from having one in five SMEs exporting to having one in four, which is the European average. That will add billions of GDP to our economy. UKTI is doing a great job with the headstart scheme, but we need to build on such initiatives.

The final point I wish to make is about the local Labour party in Reading—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am not sure that this is totally relevant to the Budget, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to stray from what the good people of Reading want to hear about the Budget.

Alok Sharma: Of course not, Mr Deputy Speaker. What I wanted to say was about jobs. We have really good news coming out of Reading, but I never hear people from the local Labour party welcoming new jobs or celebrating business success. They do not do good news. They are anti-aspiration and anti-business, very much like many of the Opposition Members who have spoken in these Budget debates. Let me tell hon. Members what Geoff Foley in my constituency says about Labour Reading council:

“Reading Borough Council do not really give a thought to local businesses”—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure that Reading borough council knows exactly what it is talking about, but I am not sure that this is relevant to today’s Budget debate. I am being very generous and I think we are going to run out of time, so one quick mention of Reading without the Labour party would be helpful.

Alok Sharma: Let me conclude, Mr Deputy Speaker, by commending this Budget and urging everyone to support it.

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