The state of the nation's finances could send even the staunchest Prohibitionist to the drink – we even allow the chancellor alcohol in the chamber to steady him through! Gladstone drank sherry, Disraeli a brandy and water, Howe a gin and tonic, Ken Clarke the very best whisky, Nigel Lawson a spritzer, and as for Gordon Brown – well, apparently mineral water but the result was still devastating!
If a budget could be summed up in a drink however, what would this one be? I'd have to say yakult. Generally the budget is acceptable but underwhelming. It's probably good for us – but not significantly so – it's boring, tastes awful, but it'll soon be forgotten. It is good to cut Corporation Tax by 2p, but it's not going to make the world's multinationals decamp to London. The cut in fuel duty by 1p won't make any real difference to our competitiveness or the price of filling up at the forecourt, and the increase in personal allowance – though welcome – will make very little difference either.
These things, along with extending the rates relief for small firms, are good for us – but not game changers. Indeed it's hard to see how they will have anything but minor impact on growth. The closest the budget comes to being radical is the 21 new Enterprise Zones to be created in urban areas of greatest social need; all very good but at this point we don't need Enterprise Zones but an Enterprise Nation. Yet the budget still tastes bad. We still force companies – whether in profit or not – to pay Business Rates on their premises, even if vacant; we still tax jobs through employers' National Insurance; we still retain the 50p tax rate.
Added to this non-doms setting up businesses in the UK will face a £50,000 levy, despite 52% of Silicon Valley start-ups being founded by immigrants; borrowing as a percent of GDP won't fall until 2015/16, indeed the deficit reduction has been slowed; 43 special tax relief measures will be abolished; thresholds will be adjusted by the lower CPI; and banks will face a higher levy. Other bad tastes are left by £2 billion extra for a "Green Investment Bank" to lend money to projects that are "too risky for private sector" – by which I think the government means sub-prime toxic borrowers – and the carbon floor price, which will force up electricity prices to price out coal and gas power and make nuclear profitable.
The rest of the budget is easily filed under boring and insignificant. A £250 million package for first-time buyers will help just 10,000 yet do nothing to fix the housing market's biggest issue – a wholesale lack of liquidity. The £100 million for science facilities in addition to budget protection last year is welcome, but in the scheme of things very little (a new antibiotic costs £6bln I'm told). And £100 million to help councils repair potholes, nice but it wouldn't cover Kent alone! All in all an acceptable but dull budget of little impact. A great pity and a wasted opportunity for radical reform and a pro-growth agenda lost forever.