Nothing new for Mr or Ms Ordinary
I could have just summed up this year’s budget, in relation to the average person from Tameside with a blank sheet of A4 paper. Or the electronic equivalent of a blank page devoid of content other than a header and a date stamp. For the average person, earning one of our borough’s typically low wages…
Nothing whatsoever. Unless you’re easily pleased by a measly tax cut on ale, a slightly cheaper trip to the bingo hall, or paying less income tax.
The truth is, these mere crumbs of comfort will be quickly absorbed by continued rises in utility bills. Or rising bus, train or tram fares – not necessarily through fare increases, but on longer journeys for hitherto simple routes courtesy of departmental savings from the Autumn Spending Review. People on Social Security benefits will see their rates reduced thanks to capping. With the exception of State Pensions and Jobseekers’ Allowance, the Social Security budget is set to be capped at £119billion, rising in line with inflation.
There are promises to make permanent £1billon reductions in departmental overspends. It looks like the Metropolitan areas, including our very own could be hit by more service cuts. The value of public service pensions is set to fall in value, with pay and conditions held down again. What’s clear is the controlled demolition of the public sector is still under way.
If you’ve got shares in a fossil fuel company, hydraulic fracturing prospectors, access to a large amount of savings and in the late 60s, you are probably in luck. From January 2015, over-65s in a similar position can benefit from a Pensioner Bond, paying what is claimed to be market leading rates. Savers will no longer pay 10p in the pound on their savings; cash and shares ISAs will be merged into a single ISA with a £15,000 tax-free savings limit from the 01 July.
If your idea of an energy revolution covers eliminating fossil fuels, think again. Though there is reference to renewables on the Chancellor’s statement, the future seems to be assured for nuclear energy and hydraulic fracturing. A £7billion package to cut energy bills is set to be made available for British manufacturers, with a compensation scheme for energy intensive industries extended till 2019 – 2020. It is claimed that families would save £15 a year on bill, which is really a trifling amount set to be cancelled out by higher food prices and transport fares.
It is clear that the most generous giveaways have gone to businesses. Whereas the Corporate Welfare State is in full swing, the goodies for Mr and Ms Average are derisory, yet presented with great chutzpah.
Unless of course you can afford to commute to Melbourne [Victoria] instead of Manchester Victoria. They will benefit from lower air duty, in line with US flights. Furthermore, there will be a fillup for regional airports with start-up support for potential new services. Another sign of the ConDems’ disinterest with less polluting forms of transport, but also a way of wooing potential overseas investors. On the other side, private jets will see increased taxes.
In terms of infrastructure, our locality has already been pummelled by the public sector job cuts with more to come. Though it has benefited from the recent arrival of Metrolink lines, these are the culmination of hard-fought gains by the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester and Greater Manchester County Council since 1984. Further departmental savings will have an affect on the delivery of Greater Manchester’s services, as was the case last June when MoSI along with two others were threatened with closure. The Chancellor’s biggest project announcement, concerning Ebbsfleet Garden City was more or less a rehash of John Prescott’s Thames Gateway. What did Northern England get? £270million towards another bridge across the River Mersey. (Insert your own metaphor about privatised public services ebbing towards the Irish Sea between Widnes and Runcorn.)
And of course, the infrastructural improvements stated are mere sticking plasters; take for instance the flood defences after recent bad weather in the South of England. Where are the new trains to replace the Pacer units and the new electric ones for the Northern Hub? If Gideon is serious about the manufacturing industry, new trains for Northern England ought to be a top priority.
A sticking plaster approach could be true of their housing plans. As expected, no programme for social housing, the extension of Help To Buy (which is a major success – at making Greater London even less affordable for ordinary families), and a plan to build 120,000 new homes, including the 15,000 for the future Garden City of Ebbsfleet. No prizes for guessing where the new homes are going to be (5, 4, 7). Following on from Help To Buy will be Help To Build, a new scheme for self-builders. As you’ve guessed it, another scheme for all the monied you watch Grand Designs and programmes of that ilk.
Not everything in George Osborne’s budget was all doom and gloom. Community Interest Companies will be able to apply for Social Investment Tax Relief at a rate of 30%. Following European Commission approval, the Film Tax Credit is set to be extended. This time for regional theatres, which could be a boost for the Friends of Tameside Hippodrome who aim to reopen Ashton’s historic theatre. This could also benefit the Oldham Coliseum, Gracie Fields, Guide Bridge, Festival and Droylsden Little Theatres. Qualifying productions from September 2014 will get 20% tax relief, with 25% for regional touring productions.
New tax and borrowing powers are set to be introduced for the Welsh Government to fund infrastructural projects. This I consider a step in the right direction towards some form of decentralisation.
A neat gesture was the introduction of VAT exemption on fuel for air ambulances and inshore rescue boats. A good idea, but I cannot understand why they were paying VAT in the first place. If they extended it to other inland emergency services (Fire, Police, Cave and Mountain Rescue), that would have been fairer still.
Though the unemployment figures were trumpeted as falling in the last quarter, the chance to increase employment rates was squandered. The figures, as most of us may know, are massaged by the number of people on Workfare programmes, or facing sanctions. There was a chance to ensure greater protection for employees on zero hour contracts – or press for their abolition, but predictably, nothing forthcoming.
The Chancellor’s bright idea was the extension of apprenticeship programmes. This time, Degree Level Apprenticeships. At best, they could allow people at Graduate Level to study for Masters or a Doctorate whilst employed for two years. Though it sounds good on paper, the worst case scenario could be another way of undermining the National Minimum Wage, as seen with less scrupulous providers.
There was a chance to address the North – South/London and South East – Rest of UK divide by evenly spreading infrastructure projects. Not so. A chance to improve employment prospects for 16 – 25 year olds? Less so, unless you fancy a new Degree Level Apprenticeship in the near future.
As with previous budgets and spending reviews, we have learned nothing new whatsoever. Just another twice annual engagement to hoover more cash to their cronies. Oh, and we got a penny off a pint of beer, so I need to drink 160 to 400 pints to get a free one, depending on my tipple being one of Samuel Smith’s or Fullers’ finest real ales. And slightly cheaper trips to Cosmo Bingo Club.
- 1p off beer duty (per pint);
- Spirits and cider duties frozen;
- Tobacco duty up 2% above inflation by means of tax escalator;
- New Garden City for Ebbsfleet, building on Thames Gateway plans;
- Changes to Individual Savings Accounts [ISAs];
- Social Security budget capped at £119billion for 2015 – 16;
- Support for 200,000 new homes;
- Help To Buy extended till 2020;
- £140million for flood defences;
- £200million for potholes;
- Permanent £1billion reduction in departmental overspending;
- Bingo duty cut from 20% to 10%;
- 40p threshold from £41,450 to £41,865 from 01 April 2014, then 1% to £42,285 in 2015;
- Lower air duty for all long haul flights;
- 25% duty for fixed odds betting terminals;
- VAT free fuel for air ambulances and inshore rescue boats;
- Tax and borrowing powers for Welsh Government.
The Condensed Budget Verdict:
Nothing new for ordinary people except more cuts in public services, falling public sector pension rates and capped Social Security benefits. Great if you’re looking to move to Gravesend, over 65 years of age, have sufficient savings in the bank and run a touring theatre company (the last point is definitely no bad thing whatsoever). Bad news if you live in Northern England, and happen to be a bus using smoker aged 16 to 25 years old, hoping their bus connects with a more rammed (compared with the previous year) Transpennine Express train.
Were we impressed? Nope.
S.V., 19 March 2014.