What problems did the Autumn Statement actually address? - Andy Brown

It is great to hear Government Ministers giving us assurances that they are committed to levelling up. Because otherwise living through the biggest drop in living standards in decades might feel like the opposite was happening.

The residents in Bradford might also take comfort in those fine words as they walk between two of the saddest stations in any major city in the country safe in the knowledge that there won’t be any new station and the links to Manchester will just be upgraded slowly.

It is wonderful to hear that there will be new money for schools to help improve educational standards for our children.

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Otherwise, we might be inclined to listen to the Head Teachers who are telling us that they will still struggle to pay bills that have gone up by 11.1 per cent in a single year leaving them still facing massive real terms budget cuts.

ChancellorJeremy Hunt delivered his Autumn Statement last week. PIC: Peter Byrne/PA WireChancellorJeremy Hunt delivered his Autumn Statement last week. PIC: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
ChancellorJeremy Hunt delivered his Autumn Statement last week. PIC: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Or to the teaching staff who are wondering how to pay their increased mortgages or rents out of stagnating wages.

It is fabulous to know that care is such a high priority for the new Chancellor and PM. Literally. It is a huge fable. As the commitment to put a £100,000 cap on the amount you need to personally pay in your lifetime if you need care has just been kicked so far down the road that it won’t happen this side of a general election.

It is great comfort to be told that we are all facing this unavoidable fresh bout of austerity together and sharing the burden equally. Just as it was a great comfort to be told that we were all following the rules to get through Covid. By the then Health Secretary who was maintaining a very short social distance from his then friend’s wife. Before he headed off to the jungle for a large fee leaving his constituents without a voice.

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Whilst the then Prime Minister was acting in a way that led to a police caution for breaking the regulations he set. During a period in which a number of companies that made large donations to a certain political party received some very lucrative contracts at the taxpayers’ expense.

It was lovely to hear that there would be new money for hard pressed local authorities.

Less pleasant to discover that they could only obtain it if they put the rates up by 5 per cent for people who are already struggling to pay the bills.

Or that if they did this they would still be 6.1 per cent short of the rate of inflation. Whilst virtually every other government service has to cope without a penny of new money to compensate for steep cost rises.

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It is fantastic to be told that investment is an important priority for this government. This must be a fantasy because capital expenditure is frozen for two years and then cut for the next three years by whatever rate of inflation exists at the time.

Furthermore, it so good to hear that the current government is maintaining its commitment to tackle the climate emergency. Since otherwise some of us might have worried that extra taxes were imposed on companies generating green energy whilst tax loopholes continue to allow fossil fuel companies to offset costs of ‘investment’ against windfall taxes so effectively that Shell paid no windfall tax on its last slice of mega profits.

It was important to hear the seriousness of the drive to cut costs and control inflation. Yet hard to understand why there is so little support for investment in better insulation to help people cut their bills and no investment to help schools and hospitals to cut their running costs by putting solar panels on their roofs.

It was sobering to hear that cuts had to be made in order to tackle an urgent cost of living crisis.

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Only to discover that many of those cuts were deliberately timed to only kick in after the next General Election and in the meantime the government will borrow to subsidise the energy bills of the wealthiest of our citizens.

It was delightful to learn that none of the economic damage had anything to do with Brexit. Because some of us were beginning to think that project fear had turned out to be an underestimate of the problems of losing easy access to our main markets.

Finally, it was important to know that this government is managing the economy with great responsibility and can be trusted to steer our country through challenging times. Because some of us can still remember events that happened a few weeks ago.

When unfunded tax cuts came before this Parliament as recently as this September they were cheered to the rafters by MPs who now tell us they were just a well meant mistake.

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Could it just possibly be that ill thought out blanket austerity might also prove to be something of a problem?

Andy Brown is a Green Party Councillor on Craven District Council and North Yorkshire County Council.