I have listened to 26 budgets now, sitting in the chamber, trying to make sense of it all. I remember Norman Lamont’s budget in the early 1990’s, cheered to the echo. Some of us left the chamber wondering what does VAT on fuel actually mean. Within an hour the sky had fallen in our heads! I remember the 25 pence pension increase, the pasty tax and granny tax and all manner of ticking time bombs that later exploded in the face of the party of government.
Judged by that standard the budget earlier this week seems very smart. A political judgement has been made to increase spending on public services once again. We could have maintained austerity and paid down the deficit sooner, but I am glad we did not. I was pleased with our extraordinary commitment to pump an extra £20 billion into the NHS and to fund Universal Credit more generously so that the transition is more successful.
I very much welcome the significant boost for the High Street by slashing business rates and starting to better tax hi-tech giants. There will be more money for local government in the spending review later this year and after eight years of squeeze, the timing is right. I also salute the decision to get to the promised increase in tax thresholds a year early – to enable hard working families to keep more of their earnings. The commitment to fund the Dawlish resilience work is also welcome, as is the extra billion for defence
So broadly good news and no hidden time bombs so far discovered! This is all made possible by the hard work of the British people who have slogged their way through some tough years following the 2007/8 recession.
Two primary concerns remain. Although the extra cash for schools was welcome, we need to go further. The new National Funding Formula is pointing us in the right direction, but school budgets remain very tight, especially for Special Educational Needs. I will be campaigning on this over the next two years.
Finally, the police. The extra money for counter-terrorism isnecessary, but the police force needs additional help. We ask these brave men and women to put themselves in harm’s way every day in an increasingly complex world. It is time for a thorough review of what they do and a fresh funding settlement.
A budget I am happy to support, but as ever, challenges remain.