IN many respects, global affairs precipitated two of the most dramatic flourishes in George Osborne’s Budget – the introduction of a National Living Wage to coincide with a further reduction in Corporation Tax at the end of the decade.
The Chancellor clearly wants the first “true blue” Budget speech in 18 years to be a career defining moment that transforms Britain into “a higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare country” that is further insulated from the economic tumult taking place around the world.
The Tories’ desire to make work pay – the carrot being used to justify the hard-edged cuts to benefits – could not be in greater contrast to the continuing chaos in Greece that is now endangering the entire Eurozone. As Mr Osborne said, it is wrong that Britain, home to one per cent of the world’s population and four per cent of international income, is responsible for seven per cent of global spending when it comes to welfare. The sums simply don’t add up and go a long way towards explaining why Labour bequeathed such a large budget deficit in 2010.
He is right – working-age benefits now account for an astonishing 13 per cent of all public spending in the UK and the only way to tackle this false economy is by providing the incentives, and economic framework, that rewards aspiration and mitigates against those fit and able people who took the welfare system for granted. It is not, hence the newly-emboldened Conservatives using their election mandate to reduce the welfare cap to £20,000, in the teeth of the inevitable fierce opposition from Labour and the trade unions.
Yet, while the business community still need convincing that the introduction of a £9 a hour living wage by 2020 is affordable and can be implemented without threatening jobs and investment, Mr Osborne’s desire for even more competitive corporate taxes – and increased allowances for so-called middle class earners – does send out a powerful message that Britain is back in business.
Mr Osborne will be hoping that major banks do not relocate overseas after an eight per cent surcharge on their profits, a policy first advocated by Labour’s former leader Ed Miliband, and that a commitment to meet Nato’s expectations on defence spending reassures those who held concerns about national security.
However, while these policies added an international dimension, the key test in Yorkshire will be whether Mr Osborne advances his Northern Powerhouse agenda. After devolving even more powers to Greater Manchester, he clearly hopes the Leeds and Sheffield city-regions will now embrace the concept of metro-mayors so they, too, can follow suit. Yet the Government has now lost the political initiative after postponing several rail improvement schemes in Yorkshire which were repeatedly promised before the election. Significantly, David Cameron came under sustained pressure on this at PMQs and his unconvincing statement that “we will be pressing ahead with this investment” was greeted with derision.
Having set out this Parliament’s economic and political parameters, it falls to George Osborne to eradicate the deficit, overhaul welfare and get the North’s transport infrastructure back on track. If he achieves all three, this Budget will be viewed as a success – domestically and internationally.
Flights of fancy over Leeds Bradford Airport expansion?
IS Yeadon Aerodrome, built in 1938 when Britain was shoring up its defences in readiness for war, still the best location for an international airport serving Yorkshire and further afield? This is the fundamental question that Leeds City Council – and others – need to answer before deciding to release 36.2 hectares of land to facilitate a massive expansion plan.
For, like it or not, Leeds Bradford International Airport continues to polarise opinion in spite of the improvements that have already taken place. Its geographical location, more than 200 metres above sea level, means it is the most elevated in England and therefore the most vulnerable in England. It continues to be inadequately served by inadequate transport links and concerns persist about poor service – not least parking charges and the length of time it takes to get from the terminal to the actual aircraft.
The fact of the matter is that the airport is already buckling under the strain – and why Keith Wakefield, the former leader of Leeds Council, is among those to have explored the feasibility of a new Yorkshire airport built at a more advantageous location and in tandem with HS2 high-speed rail. If, however, the council decides that Yeadon is still the best location, it should be duty-bound to provide local residents and businesses with a guarantee that any improvements will be preceded by the already long-overdue improvements to the area’s gridlocked transport infrastructure.