Taxing times: Osborne ready to deliver Budget

Posted on 19/03/2014 by

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HM Treasury

It’s Budget Day, and there’s no shortage of advice for Chancellor George Osborne ahead of today’s financial statement. The TUC says the Budget must address the UK’s growing investment gap, while Holyrood Finance Secretary John Swinney says Osborne’s ‘last chance’ Budget will mean more cuts in Scotland.

The TUC says the gap between current investment levels (14.5 per cent of GDP) and those originally forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility (17.8 per cent) has grown to £12.4bn a quarter – a gap of almost £50bn. They maintain this has held back the UK economy and, unless addressed, could cause permanent damage to its economic prospects. The TUC’s Budget submission calls for a number of changes to boost investment, including:

  • Increasing the scope of the UK Guarantees scheme to match the scale of Help to Buy (which could also be scaled back by being limited to first-time buyers)
  • Bringing forward infrastructure projects scheduled for the next Parliament so projects could start in the next year or two, and;
  • Cancelling scheduled cuts to corporation tax and reinvesting the money into capital allowances to promote business investment.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “For decades our economy has suffered from over-consumption and under-investment. The Chancellor promised to address this failure but instead has presided over a growing investment gap that has held back growth and which risks causing permanent economic damage. He now has the chance to put things right.

“George Osborne can start to undo the damage caused by slashing capital spending by giving greater financial guarantees to infrastructure projects. This should encourage firms to crack on with the construction of much-needed homes, schools and transport routes.

“The Chancellor should also admit that the billions given away in corporation tax cuts have failed to spur investment. Future cuts should be cancelled and reinvested in more generous capital allowances. After four years of ineffective initiatives, now is the time to start making good on the government’s promise to rebalance the economy.”

With working people still suffering the longest real wage squeeze in over a century, the TUC Budget submission also calls on the Chancellor to halt the squeeze on working families and encourage firms to give their staff a pay rise. The TUC argues that the Chancellor should abandon shifting the personal allowance and higher rate tax thresholds and instead reverse cuts to tax credits and universal credit that are hitting working families on low and middle incomes.

Frances O’Grady went on: “The Chancellor has made Britain’s living standards crisis even worse for working families by cutting vital tax credits and child benefit at the same time as time as wages have shrunk in real terms.

“He has shown contempt for public sector workers by prolonging their wage squeeze even as the economy recovers. Damaging welfare cuts are also adding to the financial woes of hard-pressed working families and must be reversed.
“The one thing guaranteed to cheer working people would be a bigger salary. The Chancellor must do all he can this week to encourage firms to give Britain a pay rise. One way of doing this would be to encourage greater take-up of the living wage.”

This is the last UK Budget before the referendum on Scottish independence, and  Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “This is Westminster’s last chance to seriously tackle inequality and turn away from a budget of continued cuts and austerity before Scotland votes in the referendum.

“Scotland is a wealthy country and we can more than afford to be independent. In each of the last 33 years Scotland has paid more in tax per head than the UK and in the last five years Scotland would be £1600 per head better off than the UK – money that could have been invested in the economy, in public services and reducing debts.

“Instead under Westminster we have seen capital spending cut by almost 27% and our overall discretionary spending power cut by 11% in real terms over the five years to 2015-16.

“We know that we are not even halfway through the cuts planned by Westminster, and that the Chancellor plans a further £12bn of cuts to welfare after the next election. It is also clear that if Scotland sticks with the UK system we could see the scrapping of the Barnett Formula which could result in a further £4bn cut specifically from Scotland’s public services.

“In just under six months’ time the people of Scotland will vote to decide whether budget decisions should continue to be made by Westminster governments Scotland didn’t elect or whether decisions about spending, taxes and public services in Scotland would be better made by the people and parliament of Scotland. Following a vote for independence we can end Westminster’s austerity agenda, tackle the economic challenges Scotland faces and build a fairer more prosperous country.”

Will George Osborne be listening? All will become clear – well, maybe clearer – when the Chancellor delivers his fifth Budget speech at 12.30 today.

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