This year's budget could scarcely be painted onto a worse economic backdrop: a falling pound, the shock bailout of Cypriot banks and the crumbling of the Chancellor's credibility in the face of the oft-predicted downgrading of the UK's cherished - and supposedly untouchable - triple A credit rating.
So budget day provided an opportunity for the Chancellor to lay out a visionary, comprehensive and, above all, ambitious plan to restore the British economy to health. Sadly we didn't get it - instead we have a piecemeal approach which will leave our economy in the doldrums.
Cutting corporation tax by a further 1% is welcome. Yet instead of incrementalism I would have preferred a bold announcement slashing the tax by several percentage points, signalling to the wider world that the UK is truly 'open for business' and serious about attracting foreign direct investment. Of course, we need to encourage our own home grown entrepreneurs, too - and the modest measures on capital gains and the employment allowance for small businesses were small steps in the right direction. But overall there was a real sense of complacency about the scale of the challenge we face. We need to import growth on a large scale, and fast.
Of course, tax breaks alone will not attract overseas investment. We need to get the politics out of the immigration issue; the current muddle is doing untold damage to those of us who are in a global competition for the very best. Our world class universities, for example, are a terrific asset, and a magnet for overseas talent. Many who come to study at British universities would like to remain and develop their careers and businesses in the capital. We will only boost economic growth by ensuring London is the destination of choice for that.
We also need to play to our strengths and recognise just how important London is to our economy. I fear that the government's acceptance of the Heseltine review is purely driven by a political agenda. It's simply not credible that so many recommendations can be implemented successfully. The idea of decentralisation plays well for local MPs but the economic case has simply not been made. We need to ensure that we do not damage London's position as a leading world city - after all, the capital is home to several world-leading universities, the economic powerhouse of the City and an emerging European tech cluster in the form of Shoreditch's Tech City. Let's build on that.
On the home front, the Chancellor should also have taken even bigger steps to support those ambitious enough to want to create their own businesses. Yes, we've had some tinkering with the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and an extension of the Capital Gains Tax holiday for those thinking of investing in start-ups. Yet I would like to have seen a major expansion of the Start-Up Britain initiative - which is a good idea but needs to be far more ambitious than at present - to give major support to entrepreneurs. We need to create the right conditions for another one million small businesses, urgently.
But specifics aside, this was an opportunity for the Chancellor to project a sense of confidence and ambition underpinned with action to demonstrate serious intent. He needed to be bold and do something to restore trust in the next generation. It is them our generation has let down. We needed George Osborne to articulate an alternative vision, a powerful framework for ensuring the UK's prosperity through bold policy measures; one which will attract investment and make this country a hotbed of entrepreneurial talent generate new businesses, and create the hundreds of thousands of new jobs we desperately needed. Ironically, despite the posturing, this was not the Budget for an aspiration nation.Suggest a correction