EVEN though next week’s Budget will be the second of a tumultuous 2017 – it is reverting to the autumn so there’s more time to implement changes before the start of the new tax year – the political significance of Philip Hammond’s speech should not be under-estimated.
Much of the national focus will be on the credibility of the Chancellor’s credentials. His first Budget unravelled over proposed increases in NI; he was surprisingly sidelined during the election and appears to be at loggerheads with many of his colleagues over Brexit strategy.
Yet, while Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn does not appear, thus far, to have fully exploited the Government’s disarray, the Tories have already fought one election with real incomes going down. Come the next poll, the supposed party of sound finance won’t be forgiven if families don’t feel better off, irrespective of Brexit’s final outcome.
As such, the Chancellor needs to be ambitious. Not only must he reassure wealth-creators that Britain is still the place to do business, but he needs to find a way of rejuvenating the public services while presiding over a housing revolution and ensuring that the needs of rural communities, so often overlooked by Budgets, are met.
And then there’s Yorkshire. Faith in the Northern Powerhouse has been ebbing away in recent months following a series of misjudgments, not least on the part of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, which have led many to doubt the sincerity of the Government’s commitment to these parts.
Though Mr Grayling was, in fairness, in Yorkshire yesterday to defend his record, only a ringing endorsement of the Northern Powerhouse and its potential in the Budget, as well as a cast-iron promise of sufficient funds to accelerate the proposed Crossrail for the North, will suffice. Over to you, Chancellor.