LET’S face it. When there’s a ruddy great hole in the bottom of your boat, and you’re all at sea, you’ve got no choice but to do your best to bail it out. Otherwise, you sink.

That’s what Chancellor Rishi Sunak has done with the good ship Great Britain over the past year, culminating last week with his second Budget.

In the financial year ending in April, we’ll have borrowed £355bn to keep this country afloat. The extension of the furlough job retention scheme, and further business support, will cost a further £60bn this year.

The bottom line is that payback time is coming for all of us – and we will all have to make sacrifices. Mr Sunak rightly made that clear when he warned that future tax hikes will be needed to “stop irresponsible debt”.

However, my overriding issue is that successive Governments – this one included – have all failed to see that the boat was already sailing in the wrong direction long before the Covid 19 wave came out of nowhere.

Don’t get me wrong, the Budget threw up some seriously good news for the North-East, not least the 750 Treasury jobs coming to Darlington, and the freeport status for Teesside. None of that should be underestimated because the more people in jobs, the more they are contributing to the economy – providing they are jobs that are adding real value.

And that’s the problem we have. We have too many people working in jobs that are not adding value to the country, and too many able-bodied people on benefits. Then we hide from that reality by borrowing money to give ourselves a lifestyle that we can’t really afford.

All you hear governments talk about when they are measuring economic success is growth. We had it in the Budget again: official forecasts say growth will hit four per cent this year and 7.3 per cent next year.

We have to fundamentally change direction. Balancing the books is what’s important, not growth. I accept you have to borrow money in times of crisis, but it’s not OK to behave like irresponsible teenagers and borrow money just to have a nice time. It might make us all feel better in the short term but we will suffer eventually.

There has to be a radical rethink of the way we run the economy, and that includes an overhaul of the benefits system, and a root and branch review of education. We can’t go on wasting valuable resources on the huge number of young people who aren’t suited to academia, and would be far better off in jobs that make a meaningful contribution to the nation’s finances.

One of the first things I’d do is get rid of corporation tax, based on profits, and replace it with a turnover tax instead. That would be fairer – making sure that those who can afford to contribute more, do so – and it would help get rid of loopholes that enable the Amazons of the world to avoid paying their fair dues.

The Chancellor did what he had to do in an emergency – he reached for an even bigger bucket and carried on frantically bailing. But the truth is that we need to tear down the sails and fit the ship with an engine that gives us greater power – along with a rudder that, at long last, sets us on the right long-term course.

l John Elliott MBE is the founder of dehumidifier and washing machine manufacturer Ebac, of Newton Aycliffe