Christmas came early in Westminster today, with the Chancellor sprinkling largess across the United Kingdom, seeking to address significant pressure points in areas such as the NHS, Universal Credit and housing as well as seeking to tackle populist and important causes like single use plastic items, second homes and air quality.
The national minimum wage and personal allowances were all raised and a number of unpopular duties were frozen. All this was achieved despite the Chancellor’s room for manoeuvre being significantly constrained by downgrades in the country’s GDP growth and the fact that the Government is still spending significantly more than it raises in taxation.
Saving the best news to last, the Chancellor unveiled the biggest announcement for Housing. In his speech he unveiled an incredibly ambitious target and set of measures to crank the build rate from the current rate just slightly above 200,000 to 300,000 by the mid 2020s. £44bn is to be made available in a mix of capital and new loans with £2.7bn made available to more than double housing infrastructure fund, £1.1bn to 'unlock strategic sites' and £1.5bn to help small developers build more homes.
The Chancellor also recognised the issue of the gap between permissions granted and new homes built and set up a commission to investigate why with the interim report due in Spring. Extra support was announced for local planning authorities and the HCA is to be beefed up and renamed Homes England as well as the Garden Towns programme to be expanded.
The biggest cheer was raised for the announcement that Stamp duty is to be abolished for first time buyers spending up to £300,000.
Whilst budgets are quite reasonably judged upon the fine detail and rarely on the actual Budget speech, this one showed greater political nous and deft footwork than his earlier effort. The fortunes of an embattled government can turn on a well-judged and effective Budget and today’s effort should at least provide some breathing space and possibly the basis of a relaunch. It may well have also saved the Chancellor his job.
This article was written by Frank Browne, Associate Director at MPC