IAIN WRIGHT: A mixed-bag Budget full of disappointment

George Osborne.
George Osborne.

The first Budget since the General Election was given by George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, last week. There were no changes to duty on booze, fags or petrol, which often dominate the news headlines immediately after the Budget. This was, however, a significant budget.

In the main, it was a mixed bag, as most budgets are, but overall does not deliver for Hartlepool.

The Chancellor tended to give with one hand and take away with the other. However, the big surprise of the Budget – that of raising the National Minimum Wage to £9 by 2020 – was significant.

It was accompanied, unfortunately, with measures, such as severely cutting working tax credits, which will actually hit the wages of the lowest paid.

On several levels, I agree with what the Chancellor is trying to do. It’s not right that some businesses are able to get away with low and insignificant pay for their workers, happy in the knowledge that taxpayers will subsidise that low pay with top ups in the form of tax credits.

It is far better that firms pay a wage that people can live on, and that includes raising the minimum wage and encouraging firms to pay the Living Wage, currently at £7.20, for employees.

However, the Chancellor is suggesting that the Minimum Wage rises over the period to 2020 but that working tax credits are cut more or less immediately, or certainly by the next financial year.

There are greater restrictions to working benefits in the Budget. This will mean that working people in Hartlepool, those who are doing the right thing and going out to work to support themselves and their families, are being penalised and effectively made worse off financially.

That is not something I can support at all. For those in work poverty – that is, people in low-paid and insecure work – not being able to make ends meet is one of the pressing problems that I’d like to see this Parliament tackle.

Unfortunately, despite the Chancellor’s warm words, working people in low pay are going to be worse off.

Public sector workers, having had a pay freeze or drop for the best of five years, will also see pay increases pegged at one per cent for this entire Parliament, until 2020.

This seems grossly unfair to those workers in those essential services like the NHS, education, the Police and local government on whom all of society relies.

I fear that by not having appropriate pay awards for public sector workers it will be difficult to attract, recruit and retain talented people into these essential public services.

The Chancellor said during his Budget speech that it was a Budget for low tax. This is curious, because the exact opposite is true.

A large proportion of this tax increase is from changes to insurance premium tax: for those who own their own house and take out building and contents insurance, or those who drive a car and have motor insurance, there’s a good chance that you might be paying more for your insurance because of this hike in tax.

On the matter of motorists and tax, the Chancellor has reformed the road tax too.

The devil will be in the detail, but it appears that more efficient vehicles will be subject to more vehicle excise duty because the Government is not getting the tax revenue it would like.

The Budget also was revealing in what it didn’t mention.

The Chancellor failed to mention the word “manufacturing” once, which I find concerning.

Even more disturbing, none of the Budget documents refer to the North East, which shows our region’s priority with the Chancellor.

This will mean reduced investment for our area.

In the main, the Budget is somewhat of a disappointment and does not all it could have done for the people of Hartlepool and our town’s businesses.