budget-2021-sunak-promises-new-post-covid-economy-amid-commons-anger

Image source, UK government

Image caption, The Treasury released pictures on the eve of the Budget, showing Chancellor Rishi Sunak preparing

The chancellor has promised his Budget “begins the work of preparing for a new economy” post-Covid, after rafts of policy previews angered the Commons.

Spending for transport, health and education has already been unveiled in the press, leading to fury from the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

But Wednesday will see Rishi Sunak fill in the gaps of his Budget – and how he plans to pay for all the pledges.

But the Treasury has already asked departments to find “at least 5% of savings and efficiencies from their day-to-day budgets” – so it is clear not every area will get the same treatment.

And Labour has warned the spending pledges do not go far enough to make up for tax and price hikes, leading to a rising cost of living.

Traditionally the government is expected to make key policy announcements to MPs first before talking to the press, as they are the elected representatives who can hold them to account in debates.

But an unprecedented number of spending plans have been given to the media in the run-up to Mr Sunak’s big speech, with Sir Lindsay telling the House that ministers used to “walk” if they briefed about a Budget.

The break in tradition – deemed “not acceptable” and “discourteous” by the Speaker – also became a feature during the pandemic, with a number of announcements made at press conferences rather than in Parliament.

A No 10 spokesman said they “recognised the importance of parliamentary scrutiny” and they “always listen very carefully to the Speaker”.

Media caption, Sir Lindsay Hoyle says it is “not acceptable” for ministers to give briefings to the media before Parliament.

Policies already unveiled from the chancellor’s budget include:

  • £6.9bn for English city regions to spend on train, tram, bus and cycle projects – including the £4.2bn promised in 2019 alongside funding for buses announced by the PM in 2020
  • £5.9bn for NHS England to tackle the backlog of people waiting for tests and scans
  • A rise in the National Living Wage from £8.91 per hour to £9.50, to come into effect from 1 April
  • £2.6bn to be spent on creating 30,000 new school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities
  • £1.6bn over three years to roll out new T-levels for 16 to 19-year-olds and £550m for adult skills in England

Mr Sunak will announce the rest of his plans after Prime Minister’s Questions at around 12:30 BST on Wednesday.

Whisper it. After the economy took an absolute hammering during the pandemic, might the chancellor tomorrow actually be in a much cheerier political mood than he could have predicted?

During his Budget warm-up in the last few days, Rishi Sunak has already totted up promises of around an extra £20bn of spending, as well as announcing how some of the cash that was already promised is going to be carved up.

Hold on for a second though. On the specifics, there is no guarantee that unfreezing the wages of 2.5 million workers in England will mean they get pay rises that aren’t eroded by inflation.

The same goes for increases for workers on low pay, and cuts to universal credit will pinch too.

Having treated us all to cosy snaps of him and his Labrador, Nova, and him hard at work in his athleisure wear, Rishi Sunak wants to give the political impression that he’s a chancellor we can all be comfortable with – careful with our money, but not afraid to spend it on things that matter, who has modern Tory instincts, but won’t ditch the party’s traditions.

But remember Budget warm-ups are just that. However many announcements there have already been, however carefully the photographs of the prep have been thought through and selected, what matters is what he actually says at lunchtime on Wednesday.

What matters are the numbers – what’s in black and white – in the end.

On the eve of his speech, Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves issued a call to the government to create “a more resilient economy and take the pressure off working people”.

She said if Labour was in power, it would “ease the burden on households, cutting VAT on domestic energy bills immediately for six months”.

“And we would not raise taxes on working people and British businesses, while online giants get away without paying their fair share,” she added.

There were no more announcements from Mr Sunak the night before his speech, but in a statement he said: “[This] Budget begins the work of preparing for a new economy post Covid.

“An economy of higher wages, higher skills, and rising productivity. Of strong public services, vibrant communities and safer streets.

“An economy fit for a new age of optimism. That is the stronger economy of the future.”

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