Balls Calls For Sky News Debate With Osborne
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has thrown down the gauntlet to Chancellor George Osborne to meet him head-on in a debate on Sky News.
The challenge came as the combative Mr Balls repeated his call for the Government to pave the way for more homes to be built in Britain.
He pointed out that, although house prices in some parts of the country had only recovered to peak levels seen in 2007, they had risen by 20% in London and parts of the South East during the last year.
Mr Balls said: "It does feel especially in London and the South East, there's a strong housing market that there's price inflation.
"It's fundamentally about supply and demand - if demand is going up but the supply is not keeping pace prices are rising and that can lead to instability of the past.
"If the Government doesn't do its bit to back the supply of housing, the danger is we will see interest rates going up earlier in this cycle more than the country needs and the rest of the country wants."
The Shadow Chancellor, who accepted that the Chancellor's Help To Buy Scheme had been necessary to help first-time buyers onto the housing ladder, said he was nonetheless still concerned about the upper limit of the scheme - £600,000 - and that it was open to people other than first-time buyers.
He added: "I've asked the Governor of the Bank of England to keep a close eye on this, to make sure the parameters are right, but at the end of the day, it's actually about supply and demand.
"If supply is the problem, which it is, act on it. We need more affordable homes, I'm afraid a few thousand homes (more built) in Ebbsfleet isn't enough."
Mr Balls said the Government should not just leave it to the Bank of England to try and deflate the housing bubble.
He went on: "The Government has been really scaling back on supporting new homes?leaving it to Bank of England sort of says to them they'll have to use the main instrument they've got, which is interest rates.
"I think it would be dangerous for the recovery which is still in its early stages at a time when across the country and there's still spare capacity in the economy.
"To start putting interest rates and mortgage rates up now would be risky and it would squeeze the budgets in which people are still struggling - so I think the Chancellor should pull his weight."
Mr Balls also dismissed suggestions that rising consumer confidence weakened his key critique of the Government, that most households are still seeing a fall in living standards, arguing people were seeing the economy getting better but that they were not seeing an improvement in their own finances.
The shadow chancellor added: "Wages are still going up by less than prices. When the Government says the cost of living crisis is over, most people say 'not in the part of the world where we're living'.
"I think at the moment the Government seems to be patting itself on the back even though we haven't caught up to where we were in 2007. I think it's too early to say they've succeeded."