I am going to write one more column on the budget – and it is about the thorny topic of Brexit.
Many people voted to leave the EU because they wanted to end unlimited low-skilled migration that is part of the deal when you are in the single market. I know there will be Herald readers who strongly agree or strongly disagree with that view and do not propose to reopen the argument.
But for our economy the implications are profound. We had an economic model that had access to – and depended on – unlimited migration but now we do not.
If businesses cannot fill the one million vacancies there are currently in the economy, they will not be able to grow. My budget set out for the first time how we can do that.
Firstly we need to invest much more in skills so businesses can access the people they need here in the UK. In the Autumn Statement I said I had appointed Sir Michael Barber to advise me and the education secretary how to do this. We have a brilliant state school system – and have risen no fewer than nine places in the international league tables for English and maths since 2015.
Our approach to skills has been transformed by apprenticeships. But do the half of school leavers who do not go to university end up with the skills they would get in Switzerland or Japan?
That is the challenge I have given Sir Michael and I look forward to his findings.
Secondly – and this was the main focus of the budget – we need to remove the barriers to work for people here in the UK who would like to work but find they cannot.
We are middle of the OECD table on what economists call ‘workforce participation’ – the proportion of adults actually in work.
But if we look at a country like Holland which is nearer the top of the table, we can see what ‘good’ looks like. With their participation levels we would have 2.7 million more adults in work – in other words, we could fill every vacancy nearly three times over.
That was the reason I introduced the big childcare reforms which will reduce the cost of childcare for one and two year olds by up to 60 per cent. It was why I reformed pension taxes so the over-50s (especially doctors) don’t feel pushed into early retirement.
It is why I hope we will see a revolution in getting long-term sick and disabled back into work now there are so many jobs that can be done from home.
None of this should be controversial. We all want a high-wage, high-skill economy.
But if we look at the concern people have over the fall in living standards, that is partly because some of our growth in previous decades has come from migration – in other words, an increase in GDP but not necessarily an increase in GDP per head.
Upskilling our workforce, incentivising companies to invest in plant and equipment and tapping into the contribution that can be made by those not at work, all helps to increase productivity and GDP per head.
I therefore hope it is a direction people from all political parties feel they can welcome.