A few think tank reactions to the Autumn Statement…
Mark Littlewood, Director General at the Institute of Economic Affairs, focused on the big picture and the fact that Britain is becoming a high debt nation: "The Chancellor has basically stuck to his spending plans, but not to his deficit plans. Low growth and weak tax revenues demanded that he made greater reductions in spending today. His plan is now to add around £6,000 to the national debt for every man, woman and child in the UK between 2013 and 2018. By the end of this Parliament this will mean the UK’s national debt is close to £65,000 per household. It’s clear the government is still failing to take the necessary action to restore economic credibility. It’s all very well acknowledging the need to get public spending under control, but it requires substantial reform. Limiting benefit rises to 1%, scrapping the planned fuel duty increase, devolving power over teacher pay to schools and cutting corporation tax are steps in the right direction. But they are tiny, tinkering measures – not radical reforms."
Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute was even more depressed at the Chancellor's lack of boldness on spending and public service reform: "Deeper cuts to public spending are clearly needed to cut the deficit, but these are not possible without a fundamental shift away from socialistic monoliths like the NHS. The only way real cuts to expenditure can be made is by shifting to more efficient, market-based models of social insurance for healthcare and welfare. The claim that we can make substantial savings by ‘trimming waste’ is a lie – and we’re fast learning what a dangerous one it has been.”
Graeme Leach, speaking for the Institute of Directors, was more positive: "Graeme Leach, Chief Economist at the Institute of Directors, said: “This was a tricky job, well done by George Osborne. Faced with a weaker outlook for GDP growth, the Chancellor needed to raise business confidence whilst at the same time keeping the deficit on a downward path. And he largely succeeded, particularly with the surprise reduction in Corporation Tax. Ideally, we would have wished for further and faster deficit reduction but political reality always made this unlikely. Our key concern is that the OBR’s growth forecasts will yet again prove too optimistic, with the result that the deficit in the out years will be much higher than forecast. Business confidence will be boosted by the corporation tax cut.”
While welcoming many of the Chancellor's measures Jonathan Isaby of the TaxPayers' Alliance expressed concern at the increasing number of people paying the 40p tax band: "The Chancellor has sent out entirely the wrong message to those earning, or hoping to earn, the increasingly modest wage where almost half of your income starts to be taken in Income Tax and National Insurance. Hundreds of thousands of new people are being ensnared by a punitive rate of tax."
Christian Guy of the Centre for Social Justice regretted that – yet again – the Chancellor had failed to introduce a tax allowance for married couples: “The Government said it would introduce a transferable tax allowance for married couples, it is disappointing that this pledge has still to be fulfilled as it is shown that it would have a positive impact on the incomes of the poorest working households. It would also play a part in tackling the perverse incentives which currently persuade many people on low incomes to reject couple formation and the stability of marriage.”