AS I SEE IT: The Chancellor went on a spending spree, but overlooked a few opportunities, says TERRY MURDEN
Budgets are always an exercise in give and take and it’s left to the rest of us to work out whether we’ve been given more than we’ve given away. How we measure its success after the numbers have been delivered and crunched depends on how we perceive the Chancellor’s performance. Rishi Sunak gave a barnstormer, hailing his statement as heralding a new age of optimism. It was also notable, as is often the case, for what it left out.
The most startling absences were the failures to deal with immediate crises. Nothing to relieve businesses struggling with rising energy costs, despite numerous warnings from both suppliers and supplied that many firms are within weeks of going under.
Nothing also on the wider reform of business rates which has been demanded uniformly across the UK. Nothing new on online taxes (though there was a commitment in the Budget papers to consult on a digital tax). And no movement on VAT or personal taxes, such as capital gains and inheritance tax, which may have enabled him to claw back some of the money he has handed out and help towards the ‘levelling up’ agenda.
His decision to cut air passenger duty and cancel the planned rise in fuel duties may have pleased airlines, airports and motorists, but it raised eyebrows ahead of the COP26 summit and appeared to be insensitively timed.
A more economically – and politically – sound decision would have been to support the Scottish bid for the carbon capture and storage programme, creating 20,000 jobs and sending a positive, instead of a negative, message to the climate delegates gathering in Glasgow this weekend.
The dispute over whether or not his latest settlement for Scotland adds up to more or less than was already promised depends on how it is calculated and is complicated by the money distributed to support Covid measures.
Mr Sunak’s package was compared more with Gordon Brown’s spending instincts than with traditional Tory tax-cutting Chancellors, though in practical terms it was a Budget to satisfy his boss Boris’s desire to spend his way out of the Covid crisis and prove that Britain will emerge stronger from Brexit.
He did say, however, that his mission is to follow the path of his predecessors on creating a lower tax regime “by the end of this parliament”. That gives him two more Budgets.
He is, of course, gambling that the better than expected recovery does not falter in order that he can fund any future tax giveaways.
Terry Murden held senior positions at The Sunday Times, The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and The Northern Echo and is now editor of Daily Business