Philip Hammond has been savaged for finding almost £1bn more for Brexit than he allocated in additional money for the National Health Service.
The Chancellor revealed £3.7bn will be immediately pumped into preparing to leave the EU, while the NHS was handed just an additional £2.8bn in “extra resource” on top of its more than £100bn total budget.
Hammond said £350m of the NHS cash would be sent straight into the health budget as hospitals fear a sharp uplift in demand over winter - but opponents told him the cash fell short of what was needed.
Sir Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, had asked for a £4bn cash injection and Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director, said Hammond’s announcement will “force a debate about what the public can and can’t expect from the NHS” and it was “worrying that longer waits seem likely/unavoidable”.
Opposition MPs laid into the Government, saying that instead of paying for doctors, nurses and health facilities, taxpayers’ cash will be “disappearing down a Brexit black hole”.
John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, said: “Philip Hammond has completely failed to recognise the scale of the emergency in our public services.
“Today’s Budget has found no meaningful funding for our schools still facing their first real terms funding cuts since the mid-90s and nothing even approaching the scale needed to address the crisis in our NHS or local government.”
The Brexit cash will partly be used to prepare for a ‘no deal’ scenario - something Hammond just weeks ago had insisted was not necessary.
But mystery surrounds exactly how each penny will be spent with the Brexit, International Trade and Foreign Office departments not set to benefit. It also comes as the Foreign Office braces itself for a 40% (£800m) in its budget in 2018.
Much of the cash is expected to be spent on accountants, lawyers and consultants.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) slated Hammond for failing to offer detail. Its economists asked the government for more information, but were directed to “broad brush” position papers and the themes of Theresa May’s Florence speech.
The OBR said: “Given the uncertainty regarding how the Government will respond to the choices and tradeoffs it faces during the negotiations, we still have no meaningful basis on which to form a judgement as to their final outcome and upon which we can then condition our forecast.”
The Chancellor was similarly vague on detail about the cash in his Commons speech, telling MPs: “We are determined to ensure that the country is prepared for every possible outcome.
“We have already invested almost £700m in Brexit preparations and today I am setting aside over the next two years another £3bn and I stand ready to allocate further sums if and when needed. No one should doubt our resolve.”
But on the NHS the Chancellor was more specific. He did not lift the 1% public sector pay cap for workers and offered nothing for social care.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, said: “The British people were promised a Brexit boom but all they’re getting is a downgraded economy with forecasted growth plummeting since the referendum. The worst long-term growth projections for decades show that Brexit will leave working people worse off.
“£3 billion more of taxpayers’ money will be spent preparing to leave, more than the emergency cash being given to our NHS. We were promised £350 million more a week for the National Health Service, but instead public money is being swallowed up by Brexit.
“There was no rabbit in the Chancellor’s hat, just a mounting Brexit squeeze which is leaving people poorer and starving our public services of much-needed funds. As the Brexit bad news mounts up, voters have every right to keep an open mind about whether leaving the EU is the best thing for our country.”
Liberal Democrat Leader Vince Cable added: ”£3 billion of taxpayers’ money is disappearing down a Brexit black hole.
“It tells you everything you need to know about this government’s priorities that more funding has been found for Brexit than for our struggling NHS, schools and police.
“Money that could have been invested hiring thousands of teachers and police officers is instead going to pay for a Tory Hard Brexit.”
NHS England chairman Sir Malcolm Grant has welcomed extra money in the Budget but warned: “We can no longer avoid the difficult debate about what it is possible to deliver for patients with the money available.”