Next week’s Budget risks becoming a ‘car crash’, a senior Tory warned last night – amid growing Cabinet frustration with Chancellor Philip Hammond.
The Budget has been billed as a ‘make or break’ moment, which could either mark the start of a Government fightback or deepen the crisis surrounding Theresa May’s administration.
But senior ministers fear the Chancellor has failed to grasp the critical nature of the event, and is refusing to release cash for initiatives designed to get the Government on the front foot.
Relations between Mrs May and her Chancellor are also said to be fraught, with insiders claiming he is refusing her request to bankroll a housebuilding revolution.
Senior ministers fear the Chancellor has failed to grasp the critical nature of the event, and is refusing to release cash for initiatives designed to get the Government on the front foot
And there is alarm that the Treasury has briefed the media that the Budget is going to be both ‘big and bold’ and ‘steady as she goes’ – suggesting confusion.
A Cabinet source said: ‘It’s looking more and more like the Budget is going to be a car crash – a real disaster.
‘There is so much riding on it, but the Chancellor seems oblivious. He has no idea about politics – people try to explain how the choices he makes have a political impact, but he doesn’t listen.
The Budget has been billed as a ‘make or break’ moment, which could either mark the start of a Government fightback or deepen the crisis surrounding Theresa May’s administration
‘This is not about Brexit – unhappiness with Philip Hammond is one thing that unites the Cabinet, whether they are Brexiteers or Remainers.’
Government sources say Mr Hammond is ‘digging his heels in’ over the need to maintain the austerity programme that has been in place since 2010.
HEADS TAKE THE DAY OFF SCHOOL TO MARCH ON DOWNING STREET
Chris McGovern, of the Campaign For Real Education, said: ‘These heads misunderstand the real problem – which is quality of teaching
Head teachers were branded ‘hypocritical’ for taking a day away from schools to march on Downing Street in protest at education policies.
Around 70 heads representing more than 5,000 schools joined the demonstration yesterday at a time when parents face fines of £60 if their child misses classes.
The head teachers, who came from all over the country to Westminster to complain about so-called cuts and demand an extra £1.7billion per year, claim a lack of money will result in soaring class sizes, subjects being dropped, special needs children losing their support and possibly the closure of sixth forms.
During the demonstration, a letter was delivered to Chancellor Philip Hammond with the hope of influencing his Budget next week.
However, the protest was branded ‘self-indulgent’ yesterday by critics. Chris McGovern, of the Campaign For Real Education, said: ‘These heads misunderstand the real problem – which is quality of teaching.
‘International league tables show we are behind other countries which spend less than we do on education. More money will not make a difference. They would have been better off staying in their schools and working out how to improve teaching.’
The Government says that it has increased the education budget, but schools say that it does not cover soaring costs.
INFLAION STALLS, EASING COST OF LIVING SQUEEZE
The squeeze on living standards may finally be coming to an end amid signs inflation has peaked.
The consumer prices index stood at 3 per cent last month, the same as it was in September, according to the Office for National Statistics.
It suggests families could have more to spend in coming months as wage growth starts to outstrip price rises. This would come as a welcome relief for retailers following fears of a consumer spending slowdown ahead of the crucial festive season.
Chris Williamson of economics group IHS Markit said the figures ‘will add to the sense that the worst of this impact has passed’. They add significance to the pay figures due out today.
The Bank of England sought to rein in inflation earlier this month by raising interest rates from 0.25 per cent to 0.5 per cent.
Although the inflation rate was the same in October as it had been in September, this is still at a five-year high.
It is well above the Bank of England’s 2 per cent target but this is largely because the pound fell after the Brexit vote, making it more expensive to buy goods from abroad.
Most economists expect inflation to now fall back towards the target level in coming months as the impact from the drop in sterling falls away.
But he is under pressure from ministers to release billions for a string of initiatives, including Brexit preparations, the ending of the public sector pay cap, defence spending and a new housebuilding drive, where Communities Secretary Sajid Javid is seeking £50billion.
Mrs May is also pushing the Chancellor to underwrite a massive housebuilding programme after pledging to make it her top priority, but she has ruled out his plan to fund it on the cheap by allowing developers to concrete over areas of the green belt.
One Downing Street source last night insisted reports of a communication breakdown between the PM and Chancellor were ‘a little bit overblown
Next Wednesday’s Budget is the first since the Government moved to a policy of one a year. The spring Budget this year was the last, and there will no longer an Autumn Statement.
One Downing Street source last night insisted reports of a communication breakdown between the PM and Chancellor were ‘a little bit overblown’.
But another insider claimed Mrs May is exasperated by Mr Hammond’s approach and alarmed by the antagonism he generates among Eurosceptic MPs – fearing some may look to undermine elements of the Budget in order to bring him down.
Mrs May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy yesterday launched a blistering attack on Mr Hammond, saying he was too wedded to playing it safe. Mr Timothy, who remains close to Mrs May despite resigning in the wake of the election setback, clashed repeatedly with the Chancellor during his time in Government.
Writing in The Sun yesterday, he said: ‘I fear Philip Hammond’s instinct is to maintain existing policy, regardless of its quality. This must not be mistaken for conservatism. Nor is it down to a careful analysis that concludes the status quo is best. I worry it is because the Chancellor lacks a burning desire to change people’s lives for the better.’