17:20 Monday 29th September 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: The Chancellor George Osborne has outlined plans to cut the welfare bill and reduce the deficit, if the Conservatives win the next election. Speaking at the party’s conference in Birmingham, George Osborne pledged to save around £3 billion by freezing working age benefits for two years. Labour says George Osborne is standing up for the very wealthiest few, but Treasury Minister Priti Patel, the MP for Witham in Essex, thinks that’s nonsense. She joined me earlier from the conference.
PRITI PATEL: Well this message is very clear. This is a conference about securing a better future. We’ve been working to a long term economic plan over the last four years to turn Britain around. And this conference is very much, as the Chancellor’s speech outlined today, about how we are securing that better future through our plan, and what it really means for hard working taxpayers over the next five years.
CHRIS MANN: The twin-pack announcements, so he looks tough but fair at the same time? Is that the strategy?
PRITI PATEL: We are very focused on the fact that look, we are still, off the back of the last four years, we are still dealing with the legacy of the biggest recession that we have had in a hundred years. And with that of course we have to make tough choices, and the Chancellor outlined many of those choices today. It is about the principle of fairness. There are hard working people that go to work every single day who are working hard, doing the right thing. They want to get on in life. They want to access good services and have a decent quality of life. And with that of course it means that we have to make tough decisions around the welfare system that didn’t reward work before but bring in the changes that will reward work in the welfare system.
CHRIS MANN: But isn’t the question Mr Osborne has to answer that this is creating a way for better off savers to escape tax? They would have an incentive to use money stored in bank accounts and investments before dipping into the pension pot.
PRITI PATEL: No absolutely not. I don’t think this is about better off people at all. We have to create incentives to get people to save and think about their future retirement. I’m certainly part of that generation. When first started work people did not think about putting money away for the future, and saving, and certainly not for a pension pot. This Government has worked to establish the automatic enrolment policy, where people now, when they go into work, they will be automatically enrolled into a pension scheme. And that is very much about encouraging saving. So getting them to think about their futures in a responsible way as well.
CHRIS MANN: He said nothing in his speech about the squeeze on real earnings, is the challenge from Labour. What about the people who are suffering at the moment, the worse off?
PRITI PATEL: Well look, we think about this all the time. It’s not just the speech. As a Treasury Minister we are well aware that times are still tough for many people. But I think we have to be very clear about this. It takes time to recover from what we have had, the deepest recession in living memory. And on that basis we are conscious of this. We are doing the big macro-economic things, reducing the deficit, creating more jobs. At the same time we have cut income tax. We’ve increased the personal allowance. And it’s measures like that that actually help individuals as well as hard working families through what is and has been a very difficult time.
CHRIS MANN: But tell me how those people who are working, and who are struggling to get by, how they’re better off from anything the Chancellor’s announced today.
PRITI PATEL: Well they are better off, because it’s about their economic security. Apart from the fact there have been more created, there are more people in work than ever before in this country. It’s about creating the right kind of long term economic conditions that will secure those jobs for the future. The right business climate as well, so that businesses invest in this country and employ more people and create that job security. Those are the long term measures that are required for a long term future stable economic plan and government that can they pay for the big ticket items, the NHS, welfare, education, rather than what we I guess didn’t hear last week from the Labour Party. We didn’t hear about anything in terms of their economic plan.
CHRIS MANN: Going back to that balance on pensions, those on lower incomes can’t save much, and need the money during their retirement, don’t they?
PRITI PATEL: Well I think we much not generalise actually about people on lower incomes, because there are many people in lower incomes that do save and do contribute to a pension, and that’s a choice they make. They will benefit from this. And I think we should pay tribute to those organisations, those people that have created these jobs over the last four years. They’re employing more and more people that are giving more people the chance to have a better quality of life, to go out and earn money and get on in life.
CHRIS MANN: Was this an election winning speech in your view?
PRITI PATEL: I think this was actually a speech about securing a better future, and actually speaking to the public in a way where they understand that this country faces some harsh and difficult economic decisions. This isn’t about gimmicks that we heard at the Labour conference last week, where they couldn’t even add them up and failed to talk about their economic plan. This is about actually securing our future through concrete policies, through real decisions and measures that a government has to take when you’re in office.
CHRIS MANN: What about the two embarrassments that started off the conference? Are they forgotten yet?
PRITI PATEL: Well with regard to the defection of Mark Reckless, quite frankly I think that’s now a matter for him, because he has betrayed his constituents, and he’s actually lied to the Conservative Party as well. And my colleague, and he is a colleague, again he’s also my neighbouring Member of Parliament, Brooks Newmark has done the right thing and he’s resigned from Government over what is clearly a personal issue that he’s had to now deal with.
CHRIS MANN: But very embarrassing for the party. I’m sure that’s still part of the gossip on the floor, isn’t it? It’s not going to go away.
PRITI PATEL: Actually it’s not. What’s quite interesting if you were here you would sense here that people are talking about the macro-political issues of the day, and actually about the economy.
CHRIS MANN: Aren’t they talking about who’s next to defect to UKIP?
PRITI PATEL: No they’re not actually. That is certainly not the talk here. The talk here, and I can say this, I was here last week in the West Midlands as well, meeting businesses that have created hundreds of new jobs, the talk is about the economy, and it is very much about securing our future, it’s about jobs, it’s about economic growth, and it’s about the creation and the security of our long term economic future.
CHRIS MANN: So tell me, are you going to win the by-election in your other Essex seat of Clacton?
PRITI PATEL: Well we fight to win every election.
CHRIS MANN: But are you going to win?
PRITI PATEL: As an Essexer I wouldn’t even speculate on whether or not we’re going to win it. And having campaigned in Clacton, I am an Essex MP myself, so Clacton is up the road from me, we fight to win, and we’re robust when we fight by-election campaigns.
CHRIS MANN: Priti Patel, thank you for joining me.
PRITI PATEL: Thank you.