With regular references to “embracing the future” and “looking forwards not backwards” the Chancellor of the Exchequer attempted to sound an optimistic note on our economic prospects, despite downgraded productivity forecasts. He was helped by new OBR figures that indicate the national debt has peaked and borrowing is predicted to fall.
Philip Hammond’s job today was to pass his budget camel through the eye of a needle. His speech and the policy changes behind it attempt to juggle the concerns of populace growing tired of austerity, outmanoeuvre the opposition and placate critics from within his own party. With so little in the bank for giveaways, he put in a solid performance that was decidedly light on substance. The 'B' word was almost entirely absent, save for setting aside further £3bn in funds for “preparation’.
It was a good day for those who invested in their own future with a bet at 16/1 odd that the Chancellor would use the expression “long economicky words” in his second Budget this year. His joke was a reference to media reports that Michael Gove had, apparently, been using such lexicon around the cabinet table to “audition for the role of Chancellor”.
As was well trailed in the media, the focus of the Budget was on housing; with measures to increase homeownership, scrap stamp duty for the majority of first-time buyers. There was a lot of talk but less action on digital skills and infrastructure and much drum rolling for the Industrial Strategy White Paper which is due out next week. However, there were also changes to the minimum wage, tweaks to mitigate the harshest consequences of bringing in Universal Credit and some tax relief for small businesses.
If you would like to read the Chancellor’s Speech in full you can do so here.
Always a hard task having to react on the spot to the Budget, Jeremy Corbyn had a long and wide-ranging pre-prepared speech which bore only passing relation to the Budget itself.
Focusing on many of his key themes which had been pre-trailed in the lead up to the Budget. He asserted the Budget did not reflect reality and predicted, as the Budget unravels over the next few days, people will be revealed to be no better off. He then rightly majored on the poor growth numbers and broken promises on eradicating the deficit.
Now that that tricky task is over, the Labour economist and policy guys will start to look at the detail and no doubt make hay over some of the real weak areas in the Government’s current economic performance.
Whether it will make an impact and force a u-turn remains to be seen. Remember, it wasn't Labour which forced the frantic back tracking in Spring, but Hammond's own party back benchers. We'll find out their reaction over the next few days...