It was the first – and last – Autumn Statement by the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond on Wednesday and he made a pretty good fist of it as these things go. It should be relatively dull and boring, and it was.
Philip Hammond is rather ordinary with a quiet wit, apparently competent and considered a safe pair of hands. Let’s hope so. He would be the archetypal reliable bank manager, although we don’t seem to have such people nowadays. Just pimpled, white-socked customer service advisers that tend to tell you what you can’t have and can’t do, and how much not doing anything will cost you (oh, and bring your passport so they know it’s you).
It was Hammond’s first, because his predecessor, George Osborne, was sent to the backbenches in July. He was sacrificed partly because he made such a fool of himself in the EU referendum that he had little remaining economic credibility, and partly to help define that the Tory government is “under new management”.
It was also his last Autumn Statement because he is going to move the Budget to the autumn, instead of spring, where it allows far more time for parliamentary scrutiny of the Finance Bill. There will then be a spring financial statement in response to a report on the UK’s finances from the Office of Budget Responsibility. Let’s see if he keeps his promise not to turn that into a mini-budget like the Autumn Statement had become. One circus act a year is quite enough.
As for the announcements, well there was the usual mix of good and bad. The good? Well, it was confirmed there would be no hike in fuel duty – worth £130 a year to the average motorist and even more to hauliers. That should help keep inflation under control as any rise would have hit the inflation figures directly – and indirectly once hauliers passed their cost increase on to us consumers.
For those on the Living Wage there was the good news that it would rise from £7.20 an hour to £7.50 an hour, although Labour claimed this was lower than the rise people had been led to expect. That must be the first time Labour has taken George Osborne’s word to mean something.
There was also a new approach to improving the national infrastructure which, as someone who drives up and down the UK regularly, I can testify is long overdue. This means the Scottish Government will receive a windfall of an extra £800 million.
Will Nicola Sturgeon refuse it on the grounds she does not want any more subsidy from the UK as it will make independence £800m more unlikely? Of course not. Will Nicola Sturgeon spend it on new roads in Scotland? Let’s wait and see, but I expect as usual it will be spent on many other things before our own roads are improved.
The bad news? Well, there was a long list of readjustments to the forecast for economic growth, tax revenues, the deficit and national debt. Most were going the wrong way – but all were based on the Treasury and OBR’s continued belief that Brexit will cost us billions. Well, George Osborne, the OBR, the IMF and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all got that wrong. The Brexit recession, emergency budget and corporation tax cuts to save British business? All wrong.
Philip Hammond would do well to remember Osborne’s fate.
Tell Donald to duck out of our affairs, Nigel
This week Donald Trump thought he should tell our country who it should have as British Ambassador in Washington DC – and nominated Nigel Farage. Imagine if Theresa May suggested he should make Bill Clinton US ambassador in London?
It is not Trump’s place to suggest whom we have and the fact he said it only emphasises his ignorance. Nigel Farage was apparently taken by surprise but he did nothing to kill the story. Nigel, mate, take it from me, we are all tiring of this back-slapping routine. If it was ever funny the joke died when Trump was elected.
If you consider Trump a friend, do your buddy a favour and tell him to butt out of the UK’s own affairs. That was the mistake Obama made. Tell Trump to learn from that and zip it.
Nothing political about MP’s killer
Thomas Mair has been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Labour MP Joe Cox.
Yes, it was an appalling crime, and it is only right that those close to her socially and politically seek to find ways to leave lasting memorials to her public service. But please, can we stop the moral grandstanding and political posturing being made in her name as it only demeans her memory.
The evidence showed Thomas Mair was clearly a psychopath, and as such he had no empathy for anyone, whatever their political beliefs. There are no left-wing or right-wing psychopaths, just heartless murderers.
What good will this ‘deal’ do?
The Chancellor has confirmed that Edinburgh is to receive what is called a “City Deal” and that he is about to set one up for Stirling too, meaning that all Scottish cities will have one.
A City Deal is when the local government receives loads of dosh to repair the damage that it has done from neglect or bad management in the past. Who’s to say the money will be put to good use?
Until we directly elect a Lord Provost who can be held to account for the big decisions in Edinburgh no amount of City Deals will save the city from its own council.