George Osborne’s reform of annuities is being compared to Margarent Thatcher giving council tenants the right to buy their homes. That’s probably overdoing it but it plays to the same Tory belief that people should be trusted with economic decisions. Few will actually buy sports cars but many will thank the Chancellor for the freedom to decide.
Improving economic figures, radical pension savings reform, backing for major Northern projects and a few good jokes made this the most confident Budget performance by George Osborne since he became Chancellor four years ago.
It shamelessly played to the older voter who might be flirting with UKIP and didn’t have enough to deal with youth unemployment. Yet the overall impression was left that the Coalition’s policies for the economy are beginning to work, albeit three years late.
Labour will hope that their question, “Do you feel better off than 4 years ago?” will continue to be answered in the negative, but they face a danger in doing that. They could end up appealing to a narrow section of the electorate whilst more people get jobs and older voters thank the Chancellor for doing something about the pitiful returns they have been getting on their savings.
Osborne threw down the challenge to Labour when he referred to the need for further cuts in public spending to achieve a surplus in 2018. He said the question for the British people was who had the credibility to do it?
I will never forgive the government for scrapping regional policy but while we are under this heavily centralised system, it is better that Whitehall backs Northern projects than ignores us altogether. So praise is due for the £42m Alan Turing Institute to help businesses use Big Data to help their manufacturing. I particularly liked the way the Chancellor, in announcing the project, referred to the disgraceful treatment Turing received in the 1950s because he was gay. The £270m guarantee for the Mersey Gateway Bridge should finally see this scheme get under way, the new centre for high level training in the commercial exploitation of graphene is welcome. Our regional theatre touring companies are to get a tax break. The future of Colin Parry’s Survivors For Peace programme in Warrington is to be secured when Lottery funding expires
The Budget documents also show that the government has asked HS2 Ltd to flesh out their proposals to accelerate the project with a view to opening the line to Crewe by 2027.
As George Osborne announced a series of economic indicators all pointing in the right direction, I had to check the one where he claimed unemployment in the North West is lower than in London. Surprisingly it’s true, 8.1% in London, 7.9% here. Yorkshire is 8.4%.
It was important that the Chancellor announced new moves against tax evasion. If we are cracking down on benefit, we must be even tougher on the fat cats who evade their responsibilities.
The biggest surprise in the Chancellor’s red box was the help for savers. Low interest rates may be good for the economy in difficult times but they have left savers angry. The reform of ISAs, freedom from the necessity for the elderly to get low yielding annuities and the new pensioners bond will please a section of the population with a high voting record.
The cut in beer and bingo tax and the freeze on petrol duty added to the feel good factor.
The Liberal Democrats also contributed to this Budget. The help with child care and the raising of the tax limit to £10,500 in 2015 are there policies. George Osborne praised his “excellent” Chief Secretary Danny Alexander. Will that be all the gratitude the Lib Dems get as they languish at 7% in the polls?
There were disappointments. The government’s green credentials are compromised by freezing the carbon floor price, there was no reform of business rates and very little on youth unemployment.
Anxieties remain about whether the recovery can be sustained especially if commodity rices rise in response to a worsening crisis in the Ukraine.
A lot will depend on how business responds to measures like the hike in investment allowances, but at the moment Osborne looks a happier man than Ed Miliband who managed a smile once during the Budget statement. It was when Osborne announced government backing for celebrations to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
King John was a central figure in that, recalled the Chancellor. A weak leader who betrayed his brother and then was bullied by unruly bar