Chancellor Jeremy Hunt defended the Tories’ record in a speech that challenged recent claims that Britain was a badly-performing economy but accepted taxes were too high.
In a brief address to the party conference in Manchester he confirmed a pay rise for two million low paid workers and said he believed in cutting taxes when the time was right. He made no mention of the future of HS2.
On the government’s economic performance, he said the Office for National Statistics was wrong to say Britain was the worst performing large European economy since the pandemic.
“We weren’t the worst, we were one of the best,” he said. “Since the pandemic we have recovered better than France or Germany; we have grown faster than both of them since we left the single market; and since 2010 we have grown faster than France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands and Japan.
“So, to all the pessimists and declinists who have been talking us down, we say this: ‘Don’t bet against Britain. It’s been tried before and it never works’.”
Alongside the Prime Minister, he pledged to turn Britain into a global leader in the industries of the future, “the world’s next Silicon Valley…and it’s already happening”.
Last year we became only the third trillion dollar tech economy in the world. Our tech sector is now double the size of Germany’s and three times [that of] France.
“We do more offshore wind than anywhere in Europe.. we have three huge electric car factories being built. We are Europe’s biggest film and TV production centre.”
He said that Conservatives know that everything follows from getting the economy right which was why he was focused on getting inflation down. The choice was between “sound money” under the Conservatives or “run out of money” under Labour.
He accepted that the level of tax was too high but said public spending is still growing faster than the economy. He said the Institute for Fiscal Studies was wrong to say high taxes were a permanent feature.
“We need a more productive state, not a bigger state,” he said
Echoing Winston Churchill, he said he was proud to live in a country where “there is a ladder everyone can climb, but also a safety net below which no one falls”.
He said that safety net depends on tax and it was imperative that those preferring a life on benefits were not treated the same as those trying to get a job. The Conservatives believed in making it more worthwhile to get into the labour market.
“From last year for the first time ever you can earn £1,000 a month without a penny of tax or national insurance”, he said.
He confirmed that the government will raise the national living wage from £10.42 an hour to at least £11 an hour.
“That is a pay rise for nearly two millions workers,” he said.
He said the Treasury will save £1 billion by freezing the expansion of the civil service. “Of course, we need modern working practices and better IT. But the Treasury needs to change its practices,” he told the conference.