After days of countless articles poking fun at the Coalition’s failure to meet budget deficit targets, one would have been rational to foresee an embarrassing Autumn Statement on the Chancellor’s behalf. That is if one had not already ruled out Labour’s countering skills. (A reasonable thing to do following 2013’s disaster). However, the 50 minute long statement seemingly shrugged such distractions off, with Osborne changing the tune of the annual speech with safe reform measures and continuous evidence of Britain’s revived economic fortunes.
Whilst many announcements were, characteristically, smoothly released in newspapers in the days prior to the Statement, a prominent legislative alteration was Stamp Duty reform – left as an adequate surprise. Following the rapid implementation of this reform, at 00.00 today, a huge 98% of homebuyers will now avoid the often unpopularly regarded tax. With only those buying property worth over £1.5m in value suffering a 12% tax, it is fair to assume that this comes as the Conservative Party’s response to Labour’s Mansion Tax proposals.
Further announcements included:
A Northern sovereign wealth fund – perhaps the most exciting of all announcements, Osborne articulated the need for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, here referring to keeping inevitable revenues from shale gas exploitation in the North, well… in the North!
Finally, completing the Autumn Statement was, naturally, a proud boast of Britain’s economic success and forecasted growth. With the UK’s GDP growth in 2014 revised upwards by OBR predictions to stand at 3%, and unemployment set to settle at 5.3% in 2017, there was little time to dwell on failings in meeting the deficit reduction targets of not only this year, but also of 2015 and 2016. Forecasts of beating deficit reduction targets in both 2017 and 2018 were welcomed however, as was news of regular earnings growth now being significantly faster than inflation, at 4% for those in full-time work for over a year as opposed to 1.5% inflation. Of course, the last Autumn Statement before the 2015 General Election could not ensue without a display of the eternally craved qualities of decisive leadership and economic responsibility. To satisfy such electoral cravings came talking points such as £1bn lower welfare spending than forecast, alongside net payments to the EU falling by £1bn both this year and next; inevitably well-received news following that dreaded £1.7bn surcharge we saw Britain lumbered with last month.
This Autumn Statement was finally one moulded to appeal unashamedly to Britain’s ‘middle’, led by the reform of Stamp Duty taxation.
Positive economic figures combined with just a few inconvenient underachievements portray the notion that Britain is on the right track, provided no one falls into complacency. As George Osborne put it himself, 2010 saw Britain become an island fearful of gradual exit from the major global economic scene. Taking into account the past two years of positive economic news, irrespective of where you place the credit, by securing our prime position in the global economy with well targeted, business-supporting investment and the highest GDP growth amongst major advanced economies, we must surely be a proud Britain again.
By Elena Attfield