After six years in the job, Chancellor George Osborne has become a master of the art of Budgets, unrecognisable as the ingénue who blundered through the omnishambles of 2012
After six years in the job, Chancellor George Osborne has become a master of the art of Budgets, unrecognisable as the ingénue who blundered through the omnishambles of 2012.
But yesterday’s effort was more than just a polished parliamentary performance, designed to make the best of a disturbing global economic outlook.
No, this was a Budget that contained serious, practical measures to help the families and small businesses this paper has always championed.
Indeed, by raising the starting point for income tax and the threshold for the 40p rate, Mr Osborne offered a real incentive to those who are prepared to strive hard for themselves and their loved ones.
The Mail also applauds his plans for ‘Lifetime ISAs’ to encourage the under-40s to save for a home or retirement (though a word of caution: the Chancellor must resist any temptation to treat LISAs as a replacement for more valuable tax breaks on pension savings).
Among many other good things are the sharp cut in Capital Gains Tax and the increase to £20,000 in the annual savings limit for conventional ISAs.
As for the 2018 levy on sugary drinks, this should be a significant step in the fight against child obesity.
But most welcome of all Mr Osborne’s 77 measures is his help for small firms – some 600,000 of which will pay no business rates from April next year (though big corporations are likely to pay more tax). This is long overdue recognition of that sector’s vital importance to our economy, which should give a real boost to jobs.
And while we’re on that subject, never forget this Chancellor has a remarkable record on employment – now at a record high, with the jobless claimant count falling yesterday to its lowest since 1975.
So much for Labour’s scaremongering claims that Mr Osborne’s ‘austerity’ would add a million to the dole queues.
Indeed, perhaps the greatest long-term service he has done this country is recalibrating the economy. In 2010, the state consumed a crippling 45 per cent of output. By 2020, that figure is on course to fall to a sustainable 36.9 per cent.
So, yes, this was a good Budget, targeted to help the right people. But this paper cannot avoid expressing deep qualms.
Leave aside doubts about whether some of Mr Osborne’s infrastructure projects will ever be built (and he didn’t even mention Heathrow or Hinkley Point).
Osborne’s 2018 levy on sugary drinks, this should be a significant step in the fight against child obesity
Forget that he hadn’t a word to say about the NHS funding crisis (though, as a Chancellor with his eyes on No 10, he had plenty to say about education reforms, local mayors and other matters not obviously connected with his brief).
Forget even his undignified descent into electioneering against Brexit – and the fact that all his figures assume mass immigration will continue unhindered.
No, our greatest reservation is that he has gambled everything on projections from the Office for Budget Responsibility – projections that have proved, again and again, to be utterly unreliable.
Only four months ago, the OBR was predicting a £27billion windfall for the Treasury by 2020. Now Robert Chote and his discredited colleagues forecast a £56billion black hole.
Yet extraordinarily, they claim a £21.4billion deficit in 2018-2019 will turn into a surplus of £10.4billion the following year. With only £3.5billion of (unspecified) cuts announced yesterday, how exactly will the hole be filled?
For all those fine words about putting the next generation first, the greatest worry of all is the D-word: even if Mr Osborne does balance the books by 2020 – a very big if – Britain’s debt, at more than £1.7trillion, will be massively bigger than when he came to office.
That is an ineluctable and profoundly depressing fact.