So can this Budget for growth deliver?
IF the tories do manage to pull off a surprise victory at the next election, we may look back on the past month as the point at which their fortunes turned.
After the reckless, self-harming coup against Boris Johnson and the tumult of the truss/Kwarteng interregnum, there is a sense that order and common purpose are being restored.
the Windsor Framework has offered a workable solution to the Northern Ireland PFrotocol and heralds what we hope will be a more grown-up relationship with the EU post-Brexit.
Rishi Sunak’s small-boats plan is a brave attempt to end the scandal of crossChannel people trafficking.
And now Chancellor Jeremy hunt has delivered a wide-ranging first Budget, which he says is aimed at ‘supercharging’ growth and getting Britain back to work.
It espouses the traditional tory values of rewarding aspiration and making work pay and, if successful, could help resuscitate our gasping economy.
there were new low-tax investment zones, a major commitment to nuclear power and carbon capture, money for potholes, mental health charities, swimming pools and military veterans.
energy support payments extended for a further three months, cheaper draught beer and a fuel duty freeze.
But it was Mr hunt’s back-to-work initiatives that most caught the eye. A massive expansion of free childcare to enable young parents to hold down a job.
the offer of mature apprenticeships and career- change support for economically inactive over-50s. Benefit guarantees for 2.5million disabled and long-term sick claimants if they take on paid work.
And for older high earners, such as NHS consultants – a pensions revolution. there had been rumours Mr hunt would raise the lifetime cap on tax-free pension savings from just over £1million to £1.8million. In fact, he removed it entirely.
Some will say this measure affects only the well-to-do. But it is a hugely symbolic and fundamentally Conservative move. It says to everyone that if you work hard and save, you can build a comfortable retirement income without the Government constantly picking your pocket.
there are serious caveats, however. the Mail is hugely disappointed by the Government’s decision to go ahead with a swingeing 6 percentage point rise in corporation tax, though it is true that Mr hunt has mitigated the blow.
half the £18billion extracted from UK firms by the increase will now be given back in targeted 100 per cent tax reliefs on new capital investment – a huge incentive to expansion, research and development.
Also troubling is that over the next five years, the freezing of allowances (so-called fiscal drag) means 5.65million people will be forced into a higher tax bracket, paying an astonishing £120billion in extra tax.
With the overall tax burden already at its highest since the 1940s, this is not something of which a tory government should be proud.
On the brighter side, there were some encouraging macro-economic forecasts – inflation down to 2.9 per cent this year, debt falling and, crucially, no recession.
the average growth expectations of around 2 per cent over the next five years are far from stellar, but it’s a great deal better than the doom-mongers on the Left have been predicting.
Overall, this may not be the radical Budget many would have liked and it adds to our record tax burden. But it plots a course for growth and opens up the possibility of tax cuts before the next election.
there is still a long way to go if the tories are to convince the electorate to give them another chance. Despite the drawbacks, Mr hunt’s maiden Budget can be a step on that road.