Mark Casci: How the once mighty Budget speech is now an exercise in going through the motions

On Wednesday the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond will stand up at the dispatch box and deliver the Budget.

Chancellor Philip Hammond

Even though recent years have seen chancellors deliver budgets amid worldwide financial crises, ballooning national deficits and even war, Mr Hammond will be on shakier ground than many of his predecessors.

On one shoulder he will have an extraordinary weak Prime Minister who, had she not lost her majority in the House of Commons in June, would almost certainly have dismissed him from Number 11.

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On the other shoulder are a host of cabinet colleagues hellbent on his demise.

Chancellor Philip Hammond who is preparing a "revolutionary" budget to get the Government back on track after weeks of speculation about his political future, according to reports.

Many of his cabinet colleagues, easily identifiable by their zealous dedication to the cause of Brexit, also wish him gone, apparently for adopting a more nuanced position to the nation’s financial security than simply telling its citizens that all will be well and not to worry about it.

It is incredible to think Mr Hammond is delivering a Budget for only the second time in his tenure given the amount of water that has travelled under the bridge.

As has become customary much in the way of detail has been leaked already over the course of the weekend, with cash for housebuilding already being talked up.

I cannot fault the Chancellor for actually going through the motions. It would be very easy to say the Government’s focus should be Brexit and that as such there would be little alteration to the structure of the nation’s finances.

STOCK: Sheffield housing.

However, we must make an honest assessment of both the motivation and likely efficacy of any pronouncements he makes.

Providing greater housing for young people is undoubtedly a national priority but we have heard it all before. The last time Britain properly addressed its housing requirements was with the construction of Milton Keynes.

That was 40 years ago.

Committing to buying homes is nothing without the infrastructure to support it. Talk to any of the nation’s homebuilders, large and small, and they will tell you the inhibitors they face, from retrograde planning legislation to shortage of labour (something which will explode post-Brexit if we do not adopt sensible labour movement laws) and even the actual bricks that are needed to build the things.

File photo dated 29/08/2017 of a pint being poured as Chancellor Philip Hammond faces pressure from dozens of Tory MPs to use the Budget to cut tax on beer.

A housing strategy is nothing if it is not bold and ambitious. We have had a never-ending parade of chancellors promising to house the next generation but all it has ultimately been is bluster, usually to provide a smokescreen for a host of stealth taxes.

The reality is Mr Hammond’s hands are tied.

The Government he represents is hopelessly weak and divided. He has to offer something to young people, who are so manifestly enthralled to the message of Jeremy Corbyn.

Failure to do so would appear uncaring.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond arrives to address the Conservative Party Conference /PA Wire

In Yorkshire housing is a pivotal issue. Along with skill levels and transport infrastructure there are fewer things more crucial.

However, will we hear anything more than words on these vital matters? Unlikely.

The Chancellor cannot say he has not been made aware. The Yorkshire Post along with other Northern institutions has made clear time and time again the credible business case for investing in the North, just as the nation has made the case for a genuinely meaningful housing strategy.

Sadly, the Budget is now almost incapable of making these kind of seismic alterations to how the country’s finance are managed that it is now a virtual irrelevance.

What was once, along with the Queen’s Speech, the most important day of the Parliamentary calendar, is now a platform to rehash old policies and make piecemeal everyman promises on the price of a pint and so forth which, forgive the pun, are small beer in the national perspective.

How far it has fallen.

Chancellor Philip Hammond who is preparing a "revolutionary" budget to get the Government back on track after weeks of speculation about his political future, according to reports.
STOCK: Sheffield housing.
File photo dated 29/08/2017 of a pint being poured as Chancellor Philip Hammond faces pressure from dozens of Tory MPs to use the Budget to cut tax on beer.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond arrives to address the Conservative Party Conference /PA Wire