Economic recovery built on sand, warns Jeremy Corbyn


Britain's economic recovery is built on sand with a construction sector in recession, Jeremy Corbyn has warned.

The Labour leader pleaded with David Cameron to invest in construction apprenticeships and house-building and rule out cuts which affect women, the young and vulnerable people at next week's Budget.

But the Prime Minister insisted the strength of the economy means he can commit to large infrastructure projects such as HS2 high-speed rail, the biggest road programme since the 1970s and "huge" projects in energy. 

The pair clashed at Prime Minister's Questions as Chancellor George Osborne entered the final stages of drafting his Budget to be delivered next Wednesday.

Mr Corbyn questioned the Government's stewardship of the economy but Mr Cameron warned that Labour would "wreck the country's finances" and put up taxes for low and middle earners.

In the Commons, Mr Corbyn said: "The construction output in Britain has shrunk for two consecutive quarters now, surely this is a matter of concern.

"Isn't this really a bit of a sign that this economic recovery is being constructed on sand?"

The PM replied: "Now you talk about construction, of course we want to see every part of our economy growing and our economy is growing, unlike so many in what is a difficult and dangerous world right now.

"But if you look at our construction plans, because we've got a strong economy we're able to commit to HS2, we're able to commit to the biggest road programme since the 1970s, the largest rail programme since Victorian times, together with huge infrastructure projects in energy and in other areas.

"Those things are only possible because we've got a strong and growing economy.

"We know what Labour would do - your spending plans are a risk to the nation's finances, your tax plans are a risk to every family in the country, and we know from Scotland what you want to do, which is to put up taxes on people earning over £20,000.

"That's their plan and it would wreck the country's finances."

Mr Corbyn accused Mr Cameron of holding back Britain by cutting skills training and investment.

But the PM claimed Labour had created instability in the economy while in government and failed to build enough houses.

Mr Corbyn said: "We have a construction industry in recession at a time that there is an acute need for new housing.

"Construction apprenticeships have fallen by 11% since 2010, we have the lowest rate of house building since the 1920s, almost 100 years ago, will you look again at this issue?

"Stop the cuts to skills training and cuts to investment that are holding back this country, holding back the skill ambitions of so many young people, and invest in them and invest in our future."

Mr Cameron replied: "I have to pick you up on your statistics because we have seen a massive boost to apprentices and apprenticeship funding under this Government - two million in the last parliament, three million in this Parliament.

"On housing, let me just give you the figures - house building under Labour fell by 45%, since then it's increased by two-thirds - over 700,000 new homes have been delivered since 2010.

"And if you look at what's happening now, completions are up, housing starts are at their highest level since 2007, last year housing starts were nearly double the low point of 2009.

"They (Labour) wrecked the economy, they created that instability, we've been building a strong economy, that's what we've got to stick with."

In a wide-ranging set of questions, Mr Corbyn also highlighted new figures from children's charities showing council spending on children and young people has been cut by £2 billion.

The Labour leader said the reductions came at the same time as Mr Osborne cut corporation tax to the lowest level in the G7.

"Doesn't this demonstrate a wrong choice by the Prime Minister?" Mr Corbyn asked.

But Mr Cameron hit back, accusing Mr Corbyn of making a "political point" instead of acknowledging that corporation tax receipts had increased by 20%, giving the Government more money to spend on services.

The PM said: "The fact is that corporation tax receipts are up by 20% under this Government, so we've got more money to spend on children's services, on education, whereas if we put up tax rates as you now seem to be suggesting, we'd actually get less money in, that is the result.

"They (Labour) care about making a political point, we care about raising revenue and providing good services."

But Mr Corbyn asked why the Chancellor had outlined the need for more cuts in the Budget if more money is available.

The Labour leader said: "I ask the question - if there is more money available to be spent on children's services, why are there another half a million children living in poverty in Britain because of the policies of this Government?

"If we really do have the strong economy that the Prime Minister claims, then why did the Chancellor warn next week 'we may need to make further reductions'?

"Who will these reductions fall on - the disabled, pensioners, young people, women?

"Are you going to rule out attacking those groups?"

Mr Cameron said: "You will see the Budget next week where the Chancellor, who has an excellent record of steering this nation's economy, will stand up to give that."