Clegg optimistic on economic future
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg used his first day at the helm of Government to claim there was "light at the end of the tunnel" for the UK's economy.
Mr Clegg, "holding the fort" in Downing Street while David Cameron is on holiday in Cornwall, claimed the Government had taken the right decisions in the national interest - even if they were unpopular.
The Deputy Prime Minister said the coalition was proving to have a "strong sense of purpose" rather than being the "insipid mush" many had predicted. Mr Clegg said it would take the full, fixed five-year duration of the Government to repair the economy.
But he added: "I think there is light at the end of the tunnel. There's so much gloomy news out around, I think there are some glimmers of better news. I hope when the five years are up people will see that we have taken difficult decisions, some controversial ones, some unpopular ones, but we have done it for the right reasons in order to get the economy right, get growth going again and give people a sense of hope for the future again."
Mr Clegg's optimism was in contrast to Sir Alan Budd, former head of the Office for Budget Responsibility, who told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while continued growth was the "most likely" prospect he was "not confident" the UK would escape a double-dip recession.
Mr Clegg, answering questions submitted over the internet during a town hall-style event hosted by MSN in London, said the measures taken to bring down the deficit could not be "ducked" due to the economic turmoil in Europe and the pressure exerted by the markets. It was also "morally wrong" to continue to build up debt.
"There's nothing fair or socially just about handing on debt from one generation to the next. Someone had to draw a line and say 'no, we're going to sort this out' because you can't create growth, you can't create a fair economy on the sands of debt," he said.
But he accepted that ministers may have failed to spell out the reasons behind the tough tax and spending measures contained in the Budget and acknowledged there had been lengthy deliberations within Government before the VAT hike was agreed.
He continued: "The Budget we produced, and I think it's one of the things that maybe we didn't communicate enough, was a very different Budget to previous Budgets. It wasn't a Budget for six months, it wasn't a Budget for a year, it was a Budget for a Parliament which included, yes, this VAT move at the beginning.
"It's not something we relished, far from it. It's not a comfortable decision to have to take at all. But I think if you put it in the context of all the other things we are going to do, we're trying to make this package as fair as we can and trying to make sure that we're not hitting frontline public services harder than would have to be the case if we don't do something like (raise) VAT."