Home-buyers and commuters backed as Chancellor sets sail

Cartoon: Graeme Bandeira
Cartoon: Graeme Bandeira
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THE Chancellor has backed home buyers and northern commuters in a decidedly political autumn statement which saw the Government set sail for next year’s election campaign.

In his Autumn Statement George Osborne announced a cut in Stamp Duty which will benefit all but the richest home owners, a freeze in fuel duty, the end of Air Passenger Duty for children and another rise in income tax thresholds to take more people out of tax.

The north made some of the biggest gains, with a promise from the Chancellor to encourage rail operators to replace unpopular Pacer trains for northern commuters, a commitment to release an as yet unfunded £38m plan for Leeds Bradford Airport, a £10m education fund for the region and even £1m for a Great Exhibition of culture and science.

Across the three northern regions the measures Mr Osborne announced, including road and flood cash from earlier this week, add up to a £7bn handout to the Chancellor’s “northern powerhouse”.

Missing from the list though was a heavily trailed announcement of devolution for Yorkshire, with sources close to deputy prime minister Nick Clegg last night insisting the a generational hand over of powers and finance was just weeks away.

It is believed the delay is down to the Treasury “dragging its feet” after it was forced by the DPM to drop a plans for a Metro mayor model for Yorkshire.

Announcing his Autumn Statement, Mr Osborne said: “I said I’d put the Northern Powerhouse at the heart of this Autumn Statement, and with billions of investment in science, transport and new civic power in our great northern cities, that’s exactly what we’ve done.

“We show today what can be achieved if you have the determination and ambition to deliver a truly national recovery.”

However, the Chancellor has missed his latest borrowing targets, with the Treasury needing £5bn more than planned this year and £7.5bn next year.

There was also a severe warning that the worst of the public spending cuts are still to come

Officials at the Office for Budget Responsibility said over the course of the next parliament the measures announced would mean an average of 43% cuts if health, schools and foreign aid are protected.

A public sector pay freeze that has already held £12bn back from workers will carry on next year, while another £15bn is to be cut from Whitehall budgets and £10m extra found in efficiency savings.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said Mr Osborne had questions to answer about living standards, wages and tax receipts, adding: “There is a cost-of-living crisis.”

And taunting the Chancellor over his missed target on the deficit, Mr Balls told MPs: “He is going to carry on missing his deficit targets for year after year.”