Douglas Carswell

09 MAR 2017

The stopgap budget

Philip Hammond's first budget was something of a non-event. Borrowing is still too high, and the tax hike on the self-employed is unwelcome. But the biggest story is that he has put off the major decisions until the autumn.

The Chancellor is right not to spend more this year simply because borrowing projections are better than forecast. But he made no extra effort to balance the books either.

According to the OBR's projections, there will still be a budget deficit in 2022 – and that's if everything goes to plan. It's a far cry from George Osborne's promise to eliminate the deficit by 2015.

Of course, economies don't obey Whitehall's plans. The business cycle always turns. There is a danger that the public finances still won't be in surplus when the next crash hits. With the Eurozone teetering on the brink of a new crisis, that could happen sooner many seem to think.

The good news is that the economy is still growing. While the OBR's longer-term forecasts are invariably shaky, its improved growth forecast for 2017/18 – from 1.4% to 2% – reflects the real strength of the economy since the referendum, pace Project Fear predictions.

The bad news – in addition to borrowing – is the hike on national insurance contributions for the self-employed. If the Chancellor wants a flexible labour market and more disruptive innovation, introducing disincentives to self-employment is an odd way to go about it.

But the main message of this budget is that the big decisions – on overhauling business rates and social care funding – have been deferred. Today the Chancellor announced consultations on both. But the changes won't come until in the next budget, which – because of a timetable shift – he will deliver in six months' time.

I suspect the autumn budget will be much more eventful.

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