A Spending Review for age, devoid of commitments - Mark Casci

Sajid Javid prior to this Spending Review speech
Sajid Javid prior to this Spending Review speech
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As Sajid Javid as he rose to his feet to deliver his first major address as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he cannot have helped reflecting on how different the circumstances were from how he had imagined it for so many years.

As a young boy he became obsessed with financial markets and spent his time reading the Financial Times rather that comics.

Sajid Javid

Sajid Javid

However, as he stood at the Dispatch Box to update MPs about the plans he had developed for the entire country’s economy, he was faced not with anticipated faces but rather a rapidly emptying chamber. Even the Prime Minister had to be reminded by a front bencher that he should stick around for the speech.

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With the country in the grips of a major crisis on Brexit and another General Election now seemingly destined to take place next month, his Spending Review was ultimately built on sand.

There was little in the way of new announcements, nor was there ever likely to be. Indeed, one wonders why it was ever even deemed worthy of Parliamentary time.

The vast majority of its contents were commitments that had been previously revealed, particularly on matters pertaining to the North.

Northern Powerhouse Rail was among the matters mentioned which had already been previously announced

Northern Powerhouse Rail was among the matters mentioned which had already been previously announced

A vow to upgrade infrastructure contained no announcement on cash or timings, merely being a repetition of pledges made before many times by Boris Johnson.

The commitment on Northern Powerhouse Rail went no further than that made before by Mr Johnson.

And for many in the North it was disheartening to hear Mr Javid parrot the words of former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling when he banged on about upgrading the existing transport infrastructure on our railways, work which is already beset by delay and prevarication.

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Similarly words concerning upgrades to our poor digital infrastructure contained no details concerning how we will overhaul our broadband and mobile networks to place us on a parity with other major economies and ensure our rural economies gain proper access to these vital utilities.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at PMQs

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at PMQs

The additional £2bn to help with “Brexit preparedness” is again of some comfort but do little to unlock the investment and growth ambitions of thousands of firms who are currently in limbo as they await even the most merge levels of clarity about how they will be able to trade and transact with nations across Europe.

The truth is that Mr Javid’s Spending Review was always doomed to be a far cry from the magnitude of which previous reviews have been received. The Government of which he plays a key leadership role had suffered two major defeats in less than 24 hours prior to his address.

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The Conservatives lost their Commons majority after Philip Lee quit the party.

It then suffered a major defeat after MPs backed legislation to take control of the Commons and try and block a no deal scenario.

Uncertain times for the economy

Uncertain times for the economy

Indeed, the only interesting economic commitment delivered in the Chamber that day had already been delivered by the Prime Minister when he agreed to look once again the ill-considered Loan Charge debacle.

The pledges made by Mr Javid are subject only to the economy remaining in growth, something already in jeopardy before we begin to contend with the possibility of a no deal Brexit.

If we do enter recession any new spending will be immediately placed under review and could quickly be undone by an emergency budget in November.

Only until the Brexit mess is sorted out can we begin to look at our nation’s economic future with any true sense of reality.