James Frayne, ConservativeHome columnist
From the viewpoint of those Just About Managing, it was a mixed bag. The JAMs – as Policy Exchange explained – are the crucial C1/C2 swing voters of provincial England who decide elections. They struggle for middle class status – not to pay their bills. They don’t consider themselves struggling in absolute terms.
For them, there were some positives – a fuel duty freeze, an increase in the personal allowance, road building, attempts to cut car insurance, infrastructure for home building. But this still felt mainly like a mini budget for the working poor. Hammond announced help for people that earn very low wages, that rely in part on welfare, that worry about rip-off landlords. C1/C2 voters generally own their own home, earn a reasonable amount and only rely on the state in as much as they use public services.
No 10 initially seemed to have understood the importance of the provincial English lower middle class – to society and their own electoral fortunes. But departments seem to have to have dragged the Government’s focus towards poorer voters again – back into the Westminster comfort zone. Ultimately it won’t matter as long as Corbyn leads Labour but it’s a missed opportunity to dominate the Midlands and Northern battlegrounds.
David Skelton, founder of Renewal
Politicians have long talked about the ‘economy that works for everybody’, but they haven’t always had policies to match. This Autumn Statement suggests that the Government is prepared to walk the walk.
The ban on fees for letting agents is to be welcomed. These fees represent a racket in a broken market and the Government is right to step in.
It’s the first big housing intervention for years to help low-income private renters. Equally, the commitment to invest in affordable housing is a step in the right direction. It’s crucial that this helps to provide a path to home ownership for those working hard on low incomes.
The Government is willing to upset vested interests in order to ensure that the economy works in the interests of all. The increase in the National Living Wage also helps those struggling to keep their head above water.
It’s also welcome that further cuts to welfare have been shelved and that priority has been given to infrastructure and productivity growth outside the South East. Now is the time to invest in a future that benefits communities who have been left behind and people who’ve felt shut out from economic growth. This statement is a good step in that direction.
Andrew Allison, Head of Campaigns for The Freedom Association
If I had just read this Autumn Statement, rather than watching it on television, I could have been forgiven for thinking that George Osborne was back. Once again we heard an Autumn Statement that included a long list of various new spending promises. The Chancellor said that he plans to balance the books as early as possible in the new Parliament, yet still plans to borrow more to fund some of his promises, adding further to the debt that is going to have to be paid by future generations. He may call this responsible, but I doubt those who will ultimately have to pay for this spending will agree.
Although the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20 is welcome, I would like the Chancellor to have gone further and announce he was scrapping it. In a post-Brexit world, this would have led to massive investment into the UK economy, creating more highly skilled and well paid jobs, generating growth and prosperity across the country. Free markets work. They raise living standards and lift people out of poverty. Anything that stands in the way of making the UK the place to do business, needs discarding.
If I was to sum up today’s speech in a single phrase it would be “jam tomorrow”.
Laetitia Glossop, former PPC
This was an Autumn Statement laying the foundations to continue the UK economy’s growth and increase numbers of people in work across the nation, based on a pragmatic reassessment of the post Brexit, economically uncertain, outlook.
Provision of extra funding for infrastructure and innovation represents positive investment in measures boosting not only UK economic output but also the quality of life for people making use use of the end products. The £23 billion Productivity Investment Fund is a flagship policy to align the interests of both business and the population at large.
Similarly, using the Housing Infrastructure Fund to unlock land for housing, particularly in key areas of demand, has the dual benefit of boosting the construction industry and addressing the challenges of UK housing provision.
The renewed commitment to lowering corporation tax to 17 per cent and the increase in rural rate relief are welcome business-friendly measures continuing the business-led recovery supporting the UK as an attractive destination for investment, delivering jobs, and boosting the country’s long-term prosperity.
The announcement of the increased personal tax allowances by the end of this parliament is welcome news for millions and underlines the Government’s commitment to an economy that works for all.
Alan Mak, MP for Havant
The Autumn Statement delivered more economic security for working people, and boosted Britain’s productivity. Both messages will go down well on the doorstep across the country. The Chancellor is making Britain a world leader in the new Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) so we build the high-wage, high-skill economy we need for the future, as we prepare for Brexit.
The new £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund is welcome, and pays for high value-generating infrastructure, including the extra £2 billion per year for R&D. The £1 billion investment in digital networks including 5G will turbo-charge Britain’s homes, businesses and entrepreneurs. These are all measures I called for in my report on the 4IR & Industrial Strategy last week. The race to lead the 4IR is especially intense in the development of driverless vehicles, so the £390m investment in autonomous vehicles puts Britain in the fast lane.
Alongside investing in our economy for the future, Philip Hammond also provided an immediate boost for working people, with welcome increases in the tax-free personal allowance and National Living Wage. By tackling long-term challenges like the productivity gap whilst incentivising innovation, the Chancellor gives Britain a strong platform as the Industrial Strategy is developed and Brexit negotiations begin next year.
Raffy Marshall, history student
The Autumn Statement was a tour de force of imaginatively re-defining political terminology. A ‘Proper Industrial Strategy’ turns out to involve tech starts-ups and railways. Growing faster than Italy has become a benchmark for economic success. Fiscal discipline now means breaking even before 2025. Those heavily previewed JAMs received a mere 40,000 houses and precious little besides. Many measures were highly sensible but nothing was quite as advertised.
The Chancellor was right to cite low-productivity but his proposed response was disingenuous. Hopefully some of the infrastructure and tech spending he proposes will be helpful but just being able to get somewhere a little faster won’t induce businesses to invest. The economic benefits of the kind big-ticket infrastructure projects the Chancellor favours have a tendency to become alarmingly inflated. Perhaps in his spring budget the Chancellor could attempt to diagnose the roots of low productivity and use that as the basis for a more thoughtful response.
Broadly the economic projections released, whilst not alarming, were moderately discouraging. It would have been reassuring if the Chancellor’s response didn’t seem to have been primarily designed to look good on TV.
Hannah David, former PPC
For his first and last Autumn statement, the new Chancellor gave us Osborne plus or Osborne light depending on how you look at it. We get a little bit more in terms of public spending and a little less in terms of cuts.
When it comes to public spending, it is important that the Government focuses on the areas that matter most and represent a sound investment for the future. This being the case, I was very happy with the emphasis placed on housing. The Chancellor’s clear understanding that well placed Infrastructure investment can unlock land for housing is very welcome indeed.
The £2.3 billion fund to provide housing enabling infrastructure in areas of high demand, is a step in the right direction towards addressing an intensifying housing crisis.
There are of course many complex and long term issues inherent within the UK Housing market. As the Government is soon set to publish its Housing White paper, our new Chancellor will have to be prepared to fund more initiatives to build on the measures announced today.
This is clearly a Government that is coming to terms with the challenges posed by the Housing crisis. Today marks a step in the right direction.
Suella Fernandes, MP for Fareham
Optimistic, bold and fair: my verdict of the final Autumn Statement delivered by the Chancellor today. Optimistic in setting out clear plans for investment, public spending and reducing public borrowing and bringing down the deficit. Bold in facing up to the long term challenges that we face of low productivity, infrastructure upgrading and innovation. Fair in extending the ladder of opportunity to more people through the increasing affordable homes, raising the National Living Wage to £7.50, reducing the Universal Credit taper, raising the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500 and introducing a new savings bond through NS&I with an interest rate of 2.2 per cent gross and a term of 3 years.
The wide-ranging commitments such as £1.1 billion towards English local transport networks and £220m for national roads, 5G and a National Productivity Fund of £23 billion boosting science, technology and R&D will significantly create the right conditions for innovation and greater productivity in the UK. When combined with support for those on low wages, welfare and for savers, the fiscal roadmap set out today paves the way for country that is preparing for a new chapter in our history, more outward-looking, dynamic and compassionate, rewarding hard work and enabling aspirations to be realised.
Amandeep Singh Bhogal, former PPC
With sterling turning positive as Chancellor Phillip Hammond delivered his first and the last Autumn Statement it was clear he was laying down the resilient building blocks to build a match-fit Britain readying to exit the European Union.
The new £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund will help equip Britain to compete with and match the productivity fitness of Germany and the US. Targeted investment such as the £220 million to target traffic pinch points on strategic roads will help reduce the £13 billion annual cost of road congestion.
Doubling the UK export finance capacity will help put British businesses in a stronger post-Brexit position to compete and win globally. And the £1 billion investment in 5G will enable small businesses across Britain held back by copper wire bottlenecks to be at the front of the charge to target and break into new markets such as the tier one and two towns and cities across India.
We’ve had more than four decades where our vision to compete in the world has been blurred by the broken prism of Brussels and this Autumn Statement is a step to ready Britain to ramp up productivity, modernise our infrastructure and build a Britain which trades with everyone. To borrow a phrase from Prime Minister Modi – Good days are ahead.
Ryan Shorthouse, Founder and Director of BrightBlue
The Chancellor delivered compromise between fiscal hawks and those who want more radicalism. Not too pessimistic, not indulging in ‘Project Fear; but not too optimistic either, considering the projected borrowing and growth figures.
There were some sensible announcements: the banning of rental agency fees, a new National Investment Productivity Fund, and the abolition of tax relief on misused salary sacrifice schemes. This Conservative Government wants to play outside its comfort zone, prioritising those on lower incomes.
But it did not match May’s rhetoric. The softening of cuts to Universal Credit is a step in the right direction, but increasing work allowances would have helped more. And planned cuts to Universal Credit will still make most of those receiving it much worse off.
This was a missed opportunity. The Chancellor could have maintained fiscal discipline but shifted spending priorities. He could have reversed Universal Credit cuts or raised the threshold for employees’ National Insurance, rather than raising the Personal Allowance or the 40p tax threshold.
And Brexit has caused the projected growth rate to be 2.4 per cent slower. The economic indicators show storm clouds gathering. We should be bolder: corporation tax could have been cut further, for example.
At the moment, Hammond is either captive or just too conservative.