By Tim Montgomerie
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And so it came to pass. George Osborne announced measure after measure today that could have been announced by Gordon Brown. As well as the nook-and-cranny interventionism on housing, childcare and job schemes there was also the hefty revision of growth, unemployment and borrowing forecasts. Events are, of course, scarily unpredictable at present but we are in danger of getting to the point where the OBR's numbers are as incredible as Gordon Brown's were.
There were good things in today's Statement…
- The deficit reduction plan is now almost back at 80% spending cuts and 20% tax rises rather than 75%/25%.
- The 1% cap on public sector pay will help bring some fairness to the public sector/ private sector pay gap.
- The consultation on localisation of public sector pay is an encouraging move but it's only a consultation. If it happens it will be enormous and help the private sector to compete in, for example, the north west and north-east.
- The new money for specialist maths colleges is an important investment in Britain's future.
- The fuel duty relief is good for strivers and well done to Rob Halfon for his campaign on the issue.
- The £250 million rescue cash for energy intensive industry is the latest proof that the Chancellor understands the economic danger of Chris Huhne's climate change policies.
- The £525 million trimming of the aid budget will take the sting out of this spending's unpopularity but will still keep Britain on course to hit the 0.7% target.
Overall, however, I'm disappointed by the tinkery. Osborne is wasting the opportunity presented by today's crisis. Now would be a great moment to massively simplify and rebalance our tax system. To rip up Britain's disastrous climate change policies. We should be privatising our motorways as Mark Field proposed. We should be throwing every spanner into the EU works until they agree to stop imposing measures on us like the Agency Workers' Directive and regulation of the City. And where by the way was the rumoured embrace of Boris Island airport?
I have much sympathy with what Paul Goodman wrote earlier. A great economic storm is coming but that does not mean Britain shouldn't be doing everything to maximise its chances of surviving that storm. What we had today was an ordinary budget in extraordinary times.