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Natalie Bennett

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George Osborne's Autumn Statement hasn't given Britain the reboot it desperately needs

Posted: 06/12/2012 08:30

We started the day with a hope - that faint, persistent feeling that lies within the human spirit even when all seems lost - that George Osborne might be about to make significant changes to his economic Plan A, which had turned out to be better labelled Plan F for failure. After taking over a British economy that was in a hole caused by the recklessness of the bankers and the failure of the regulators, and two years of digging that had only made that hole deeper and darker, he might at least finally stop digging, and start trying to build a ladder we could use to start to rise from the bottom of the pit.

It was, however, no surprise when that faint spark of hope was snuffed out, as a curiously unconfident and detached chancellor got up to speak in the House, showing a lack of engagement in his own speech that became more explicable as the commentators started to tear apart his figures - highlighting particularly the fact that against all of the rules of accounting he'd managed to bring his borrowing estimates down only by adding in£3.5bn of money from the 4G phone spectrum auction that hasn't actually happened yet and won't anyway be concluded until 2013.

The second biggest single money raiser is the tax repatriation from Switzerland, which is due to bring in £3.12bn in 2013-14. That also comes with an important caveat - a referendum there has to pass... another cheque that's "in the mail" in Osborne's figures.

On the spending side, he is trying, clearly, in a small and inadequate way, to modify Plan A - but every step's a misstep. He's looking to increase government investment - around £5billion for schools, but in money taken from other government departments, so job losses will balance any construction sector boost.

And there's money for road building (including projects that this government slashed when it first came into office) - but the idea that new roads do anything other than create traffic and move jams from one place to another has long been discredited.

He's looking to address the increasing unaffordability of life for many in Britain - with the high cost of food, of heating, of transport, of housing (which does need urgent action) - but he's chosen to do it by abandoning a 3p rise in fuel excise duty, which leaves a budget black hole that means that effectively means less funds for the real solution to the high fuel costs inevitably in our future, public transport and active transport.

And business clearly does need help in Britain - but those most in need of help are the small and medium enterprises that provide most of our employment, provide the backbones of our local economies, yet who are competing against the tax-avoiding, cosseted multinational companies who've increasingly swept them aside.

Osborne is offering help for business - but again only for his friends the multinationals. There's the astonishing slashing of the corporate tax rate for them to 21% - he even boasts how that's barely half the American level. Companies are being invited in with an Irish-style desperation.
And he's increasing capital allowances for plant and machinery by a factor of 10, but that's going to chiefly benefit big firms who can, possibly, secure funding from the banks, which have just about totally turned their back on small businesses. No help to the many small businesses being set up by women and men around the country who, thrown out of government jobs, are in desperation turning to trying to create their own.

Then there's the environmental costs of this budget. Forget the "greenest government ever" - that's a Plan G that's definitely been abandoned.

There's not only road building but an active boost for fracking - the destructive, polluting, Climate Change Act-busting plan to tear up potentially 60% of Britain and turn it into one giant industrial site crisscrossed by giant lorries carrying polluted water.

And this at a time when the Energy Bill, now before parliament, is failing - as the House of Lords identified, to take sensible, obvious steps on energy conservation and demand reduction, and failing to provide a secure environment for investment in renewable energy technologies that can provide us with an affordable and fixed-cost supply into the future.

I was asked by a journalist how I'd score the autumn statement out of 10. I decided I couldn't say zero - some of the trial balloons floated in recent weeks, such as capping child-related benefits at the second child- weren't included, and there were some positives, including the extension of the business rate relief for small businesses and the fact that international aid is at least being maintained as a percentage of GDP, if not in absolute terms. So I gave it a 2/10.

If we were to apply the performance -related pay that Mr Osborne is so keen to introduce for teachers, his salary of £135,000 would be reduced to £27,000. Then he'd have a chance to learn about life as it's lived by the millions he's hit hard today.

 

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