Nothing new for Mr or Ms Ordinary – apart from a twelve-sided pound coin
Another March, another budget, and nothing in the cupboard for Mr and Ms Ordinary. Not even a proper populist tax cut from the back of a Commons’ bench. The biggest beneficiaries of George Osborne’s last budget, in this parliament, were employers and well-to-do savers. Locally, affecting our area, Greater Manchester is set to gain control of its business rates.
It was one of the vaguest budgets I had ever had the joy of following. Perhaps the worst I had the joy of following since Kenneth Clarke’s in November 1996.
On face value, a nondescript budget; on closer examination, a continuation of the cuts agenda in spite of George Osborne’s Austerity end date being 2017. Supposing the Tories gain a second term, there will be no such thing as subsidised bus routes, LEA-run schools and the National Health Service.
We at East of the M60 are reading between the lines, so you don’t have to.
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Bye Bye Annual Tax Returns: Most of the tax based changes concern the simplification of our taxation system. The annual tax return will become a thing of the past. In its place by 2020 will be digital tax returns, which is probably an extension or cousin of the Real Time PAYE system. It aims to allow 50 million individual and small businesses to see and manage their tax affairs online.
Reading between the lines, we should expect to see more job cuts at HMRC.
Corporation Tax: down to 20%.
N.I. and Personal Allowances: There will be changes to National Insurance Contributions and personal allowances. Scheduled to change to the first £10,600 next month, it’ll rise to £11,600 in April 2016.
There’s every chance the rise in personal allowances is a smokescreen for a future VAT increase. Don’t be surprised if VAT reaches 25% in the next parliament, if Cameron’s back in No.10.
Business rates: local control of business rates has been an emotive issue among retailers and manufacturers. Local control was ceded under Thatcher’s government in her second term. As part of a pilot scheme, Peterborough, Cambridge, Cheshire East and Greater Manchester is set to regain control of its business rates. Effective from next month, this rests on the formal agreement of Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
The jury’s out on this one, but I think it may work out. However, there is one grouse if a business rate for Blackley is unsuitable for Stalybridge. Greater local input is needed.
Newspapers: subject to consultation, there could be business rates relief. Locally, this could be good news for Quest Media Group, the New Charter backed owners of Tameside Radio and the Tameside Reporter. Not only that, also smaller titles with a hyperlocal focus like the Staly Mag.
Alcohol: another penny off a pint of bitter, from Monday. Duty will also be cut on spirits and lower strength cider (by 2%).
Yes, the only populist measure of the day. As always a swiz as the cut is usually cancelled out by the brewery’s rises. Before the budget, a pint of Robinsons’ Unicorn bitter went up by 5p from £2.55 to £2.60 at The Old Pack Horse on Guide Lane, Audenshaw. Still, we wouldn’t mind a double Laphroaig or Talisker if someone’s paying! No, not Strongbow…
Tobacco: up 2% above the Retail Price Index from 1800 hours today [18 March].
Fuel duty: proposed increase of 0.54p per litre scheduled for 01 September 2015 cancelled.
Councillors’ travel expenses: with effect from Easter Sunday [05 April], income tax on travel expenses will be waived. This will only apply to the AMAP (Approved Mileage Allowance Payment) rates.
This could be as popular as piles with some people, who are likely to blame the council for this (central government supported) perk.
T’Internet Speeds: it was announced that 5Mbps would be the minimum broadband speed, from Skye and Islay to the Isle of Sheppey. The government also aspires to providing ultrafast (100Mbps) broadband.
We shall see it when we believe it! We certainly need faster broadband speeds if a lot of the DWP or HMRC related stuff needs to be done online as standard. Even so, we’ll still be lagging behind Singapore and sporting ‘buffer faces’ out in the sticks.
Trains: electrification of the Selby – Hull (subject to business case and contribution from Hull Trains). This could, by 2025 or thereabouts allow for all-electric trans-Pennine services from Stalybridge.
A good move, but again we shall believe it when we see it! The rest of the rail based announcements are a rehash of the Autumn 2014 statement.
Business development: known as “Forward Plan”, £4million government investment has been earmarked for an eight storey incubator unit in Federation House, Manchester. Similar developments are proposed for Leeds and Sheffield.
Good, but the idea is focused towards agglomeration in the three city centres. Similar schemes should be considered on a smaller scale in, for example, each borough to ease traffic congestion and boost local skilled employment opportunities.
Tax: from April 2016, fewer savers will pay tax on their savings accounts. A Personal Savings Allowance will exempt the first £1,000 of savings income.
Help to Buy ISAs: starting next month, this elaborates on the present Help To Buy scheme which benefits rich wannabe homeowners more. The new ISAs will see first time buyers given a £50 bonus per £200 saved, with a maximum of £3,000 on £12,000 of savings.
One wonders where they are going to find the money (savings from DWP sanctions as well as departmental cuts perhaps). In the long term, this is about reducing tax revenue for public services whilst making homes less affordable for less well-off families.
Premium Bonds: maximum investment limits will be raised to £50,000 from the 01 June 2015.
New £1 coin: the new £1.00 coin is set to have twelve points and, like its £2.00 companion, will be two toned.
No wonder Morrisons have done away with coin slots in their trolleys! Tesco’ll have a job in Stalybridge.
Church Roof Repair Fund: a further £40million has been allocated to the Listed Places of Worship – Roof Repair Fund till 2017. This could be good news for Old Chapel Unitarian Church in Dukinfield.
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East of the M60 Comment: George’s Last Ride?
So, here goes the last budget of the Coalition Government’s first parliament. What was missing in the budget, or conveniently omitted, was of greater concern than the announced measures. George Osborne mentioned that austerity measures are likely to finish a year earlier.
In other words, the amount of cuts forecasted in the next parliament are set to be deeper. Particularly in the 2016 – 17 financial year where it is stated that the equivalent of the last five years worth of cuts would be made in that year alone.
In Greater Manchester, the end of the next parliament could see the end of local government. Subsidised bus routes would be a thing of the past. Libraries would close. Private security firms will make up the shortfall of the already thinner blue line. The National Health Service could become the Notional Health Service as cover differs from county to county throughout England alone.
There is not one single measure designed to improve the lot of working class families. Any proposed change in personal allowances will be cancelled out by indirect taxation sources. For instance, Council Tax rises to maintain essential services; possible VAT rises; healthcare bills, if the NHS ceases to be free at the point of delivery. Rises in Social Security benefits? Forget it! Support for people with disabilities? Ditto the above. Note the lack of coverage given to DLA’s replacement by PIP [Personal Independence Payments] in the SK and OL postcodes (most of our area east of the M60 motorway).
No amount of devolution for Greater Manchester or announcements of new trains in Northern England is going to take away one fact. The fact that living standards – contrary to the Coalition Government’s – have dwindled rapidly since 2010.
Numerous parts of the United Kingdom had had only just recovered from Thatcher’s government. Then, just as it was convalescing (following the body blow of the 2008 financial crisis), the doctor’s prescription for its bunion was amputation. An amputation that comprised of VAT hitting 20%; cuts to Social Security benefit rates; the Bedroom Tax; sanctions and more sanctions; and more besides.
Not forgetting the butchery and phased-in privatisation of our National Health Service. The politicisation of the Department for Work and Pensions. Also the right to retire at 60, a move which disproportionately affects women. Plus to right to retire at all, especially if you’re aged between 18 to 40 and hail from a working class area where life expectancy is worse than parts of Russia.
For the sake of Britain, Northern England, our area east of the M60 motorway, we sincerely hope this is George Osborne’s last budget. We need to make sure of that at the ballot boxes this May.
S.V., 18 March 2015.