We’re still in November but Christmas seems to have come early for the Chancellor - he certainly seemed to have raided the Christmas crackers for his Budget Speech jokes - but the real story of this Budget wasn’t the cut-price comedy routine but the (Office for Budget Responsibility) OBR’s view on the state of the economy.
Until the global financial crisis of 2008, the UK’s improvement in productivity averaged 2% a year but the OBR says that this long-term trend has been broken, with growth predictions of just 1.5% this year, 1.4% next year, 1.3% in 2019 and 2020, before, in the Chancellor’s words “picking back up to 1.5% and finally 1.6% in 2022.”
To put this into perspective, our growth is now the lowest in the G7 Group of Countries and this is the worst set of forecasts in the OBR’s history.
No doubt those MPs on the Tory benches will reach into their well-used file of stock responses and say “scaremongering” or “talking down” but this is the Government’s independent forecasting body speaking and the usual stock of dismissive jibes just will not cut it - the UK is now, following the 2008 global financial crisis, substantially poorer with no prospect of any sort of recovery anytime soon.
And yet, in 2010, George Osborne promised he would have got rid of the UK’s budget deficit by 2015 - just one 5-year parliamentary term. That soon became two parliamentary terms but now it would seem that there is no possibility of this being achieved. This is a Government which has failed to meet any of the fiscal targets it has set itself. We’ve had, in effect, 7 wasted years. The austerity experiment has failed.
As a result of the last 7 years attempt to cut the economy back to growth, the UK has ended up with slower growth, weaker productivity, a doubling of debt and a rate of borrowing which just services this debt rather than investing in this country’s future.
So what does this mean for people living here in the UK, the young, the elderly, the just-about-managing? The Resolution Foundation says that family finances would be hit hard by weaker productivity. They say “That downgrade has huge implications for family finances over the remainder of the Parliament. Disposable incomes are now expected to be £530 lower by 2023 than forecast in March. Pay is not set to return to its 2008 peak until the middle of the next decade, with Britain now facing a 17-year pay downturn.”
So far, so gloomy. Was there anything to celebrate in this budget? Well, the announcement that Kensington and Chelsea Council will receive a further £28 million to provide support for the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster is welcomed and necessary. However, I cannot help but compare that approach with the unseemly display that we have witnessed in Manchester over the weekend, with the Prime Minister seemingly reneging on her commitment to pay Manchester whatever it needed in the aftermath of the vile terrorist attack on the Manchester Arena and instead only committing to what was deemed “reasonable”.
It would seem that Manchester might be a good enough place for the Tory Party to hold their annual conference but not good enough for them to honour a commitment made to its people in the wake of a terrible terrorist attack.
Fortunately, thanks to formidable campaigning from Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, and others, the Prime Minister has revised her decision and committed to paying the full amount, which is welcomed but we shouldn’t have had to have that argument with her in the first place.
Money for transport as part of the Transforming Cities initiative is welcome but it’s not the West to East “Crossrail for the North” that we both need and want. The nearest we got to it was an announcement about improved Wi-Fi on Transpennine Trains. As Andy Burnham said, at least we’ll be able to text and tweet our friends and families to let them know we’ve been delayed but there was no good news for electrification of our railways or improvement of services. The announcement on funding for tackling homelessness, which we need very much, was welcome but we must eradicate rough sleeping well before the Government’s target of 2027.
The headline policy on Stamp duty doesn’t really cut much ice in the North West with first time buyers set to save only £300 as compared to London first-time buyers who will save up to £5000 based upon average house prices in 2017. And in any case the OBR have predicted that all this policy will do is push up house prices and ultimately benefit the seller and not the buyer.
And as ever, the budget was notable more for what it didn’t say than for what it did. No mention of police funding after everything our police have been through this year. Rochdale alone has lost around 200 police officers since 2010 and crime is rising as a result. Nothing either for our Fire Services but a commitment to fund lifting of the pay cap for NHS Agenda for Change Staff. Let’s hope that this commitment doesn’t involve the downgrading of staff, job losses and reductions to terms and conditions under the guise of “reforms”
No mention of social care for which my council, Rochdale, needs around £20 million to meet the needs of our growing elderly population.
Nothing for our schools beyond a small announcement on maths, so the crisis in recruitment and retention of teaching staff will continue.
Nothing on student loans; whilst the chancellor announces that business rates will be calculated based on the lower CPI measure of inflation, it’s high time that this was extended to the repayment of student loans and well before the 2020 start date for business rates.
Nothing for 1950s born women who are seeing a rise in the age at which they can receive their state pension, without proper notice. These women are not going to go away and there is great cross-party support for them and their quest for fair treatment; the chancellor needs to address this issue as a matter of the utmost priority.
It’s time for this Government to admit that their austerity experiment has failed and that attempting to cut our way to growth just does not work. People in the UK are suffering as a result; it’s time to put an end to all this and start investing for growth and to rebuild our economy.