Budget 2021: What on Earth was that?

·3-min read
 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

If you were starting a country from scratch, you wouldn’t start from here. I’m not talking about the weather or continued existence of Richard Madeley, but rather the way in which we do our Budget.

Despite being a former Treasury official I secretly agree with my old colleague, Chris Cook. Sure, a bit of Parliamentary theatre or call and response (Growth? Up! Unemployment? Down!) can enliven a slew of OBR forecasts.

But a system in which — leaks aside — the nation’s Budget is delivered in a speech after which the leader of the Opposition (or in today’s case, Shadow Chancellor as Keir Starmer has tested positive for Covid-19) who is supposedly there to scrutinise the thing has to respond without actually seeing it is not a wholly sensible approach to public policy.

Meanwhile, the actual numbers (did Sunak refer to debt or the deficit? Hold on is that figure real or nominal?) are tucked away in the yet-to-be-released Red Book, what I like to think of as the original novel to the speech’s adapted screenplay.

And of course, the Treasury being the Treasury, the whole shebang is kept secret not only from the Opposition, but from other government departments and, depending on the relationship between the occupants of Number 10 and 11 Downing Street, the Prime Minister as well.

If you made it through that ballad of discontent, here are the headlines from today’s Budget:

  • The UK economy is set to grow by 6.5 per cent in 2022 and return to its pre-Covid level by the turn of the year

  • Inflation (3.1 per cent in Sept) is set to average 4 per cent next year

  • Borrowing (excluding the Bank of England) is to peak at 85.7 per cent in 2023-24, a huge 10 percentage points below the March forecast

  • Total departmental spending is now planned to grow by 3.8% per year in real terms over the next three years

  • Combining the March and October Budgets, Sunak has raised taxes by more this year than in any single year since Norman Lamont and Ken Clarke’s 1993 Budgets in the aftermath of Black Wednesday

  • Beer duty has been cut...

There’s a whole bunch of other more granular but important stuff (for example, the Government seems to think it has invented Sure Start but with a moustache). Check out our business pages for how it will affect you.

One final point highlighted by Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies — real household disposable income is set to rise by a measly 0.8 per cent over the next five years. If the purpose of economic policy is to make us richer, it’s not going great.

In the comment pages, Tom Newton Dunn writes that Sunak’s ‘age of optimism’ Budget is built on shifting sands. Meanwhile, Ayesha Hazarika gets to an uncomfortable truth: No matter how much recycling you do, ”a flight kind of wipes all of it out.”

And finally, it may not quite be this government’s Waterloo, but an unlikely coalition of the singer Feargal Sharkey and the Duke of Wellington has brought about a partial U-turn on the sewage crisis.

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