Underlying the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is the sobering fact that UK National Debt is heading for a record high – 90.2 per cent of GDP. He acknowledged this last Sunday on the Andrew Marr show when he described the level of UK National Debt as ‘eye watering’. The rising level of debt comes on top of the huge levels of Quantitive Easing – or printing money as it would more plainly be called – that has taken place. The need for Britain to live within its means remains as pressing an issue as it ever has. Philip Hammond did not duck this pressing priority, even as he doled out new money to every part of the country.
The UK’s stagnant level of productivity is persistent and debilitating for the economy and all of us who work in it. The new £23 billion National Investment Fund is a welcome initiative. The Chancellor has recognised the issue as a priority. Housing, infrastructure, spreading investment across the country more equally, supporting business, local growth initiatives, and various other regional investments are all welcome and reasonable. The usual charitable dispositions were made: the ‘Tampon Tax’ to be distributed by Comic Relief to a range of women’s charities, and a further £100 million of Libor fines to various national and community causes.
The significant £6.7 billion move to reduce Business Rates will be widely welcomed by SMEs up and down the country. Significantly the Chancellor moved to raise around £7 billion in new taxation money by closing various loopholes and revising previous arrangements. He raised the National Living Wage and reduced the impact of Universal Credit.
Wisely he swept away the most ludicrous legacy of Gordon Brown’s time as Chancellor the Autumn Statement and the ‘Spring Budget’. The two-event year was introduced by Brown to provide him with a platform on which to perform. In reality it was a destabilising twice yearly tinkering with the economy. Unnecessary and unwelcome to business, Philip Hammond, a businessman himself, understood the need for this long overdue reform.
The Chancellor delivered an elegant, focussed and effective Autumn Statement. A politician known for a sombre demeanour and a rigorous focus on spreadsheets opened his speech with a generous tribute to George Osborne, a flash of gentle humour at the expense of Boris Johnson, and several other effective quips along the way. Although he expressed doubt in his own ability to ‘pull rabbits out of the hat’ he managed one or two. All is all it was as unexpected as it was welcome.