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Budget 2017: Hammond to 'seize opportunities' from Brexit

The UK must “seize the opportunities” from Brexit while tackling deep-seated economic challenges “head on”, Philip Hammond is to say in his second Budget.

The chancellor will promise investment to make Britain “fit for the future” as an “outward looking, free-trading nation” once it leaves the EU in 2019.

But he will also commit to supporting hard-pressed families with the cost of living and address housing shortages.

Labour say he should call time on austerity and boost public services.

In his Commons speech, which will begin at about 12:30 GMT, Mr Hammond will set out proposed tax and spending changes.

He will also update MPs on the current state of the economy, future growth projections and the health of the public finances.

He has been under pressure in recent months from sections of his party who argue that he is too pessimistic about the UK’s prospects when it leaves the EU.

In response, he will set out his vision for the UK after Brexit as a “prosperous and inclusive economy” which harnesses the power of technological change and innovation to be a “force for good in the world”.


What will be in the Budget?

Unlike past years, few announcements have been briefed out in advance of the big day.

But the chancellor is expected to announce more money for teacher training in England and extra cash to boost the numbers of students taking maths after the age of 16.

He has signalled he wants to speed up permitted housing developments and give more help to small builders.

In a nod to younger voters, discounted rail cards will be extended.

An extra £2.3bn for research and development and £1.7bn for transport links are designed to address the UK’s lagging productivity.

Extra money is also expected to be found for new charge points for electric cars and for the next generation of 5G mobile networks.

Expect the theme of innovation to ring through the speech, with Mr Hammond hailing the UK as being “at the forefront of a technological revolution”.


Will it be a ‘bold’ or ‘boring’ Budget?

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The image Mr Hammond has cultivated as a safe, unflashy pair of hands in uncertain times – hence his ironic “box office Phil” nickname – was dented in the March Budget when he had to backtrack on plans to hike National Insurance for the self-employed.

Asked on Sunday whether this would be a bold or boring Budget, he settled for describing it as “balanced”.

While some Tory MPs would prefer a safety-first approach with no controversy, others want him to turbo-charge efforts to prepare the UK for life after Brexit.

Most hope he will begin to address issues perceived to have hurt the Tories at the election, such as the financial pressures on public sector workers and young people.

In remarks released ahead of the speech, Mr Hammond strikes an upbeat tone, saying he will use the Budget to “look forwards, embrace change, meet our challenges head on and seize the opportunities for Britain”.


Isn’t the Budget normally in Spring?

Yes, that’s the way it’s been for the last twenty years. The last one was in March and normally there wouldn’t be another one until Spring 2018.

But Mr Hammond thinks late autumn is a more suitable time for tax and spending changes to be announced and scrutinised before the start of the tax year in April. So from now on, Budgets will take place in November.

But aside from the timing, the choreography of Budget day will remain the same.

Mr Hammond will be photographed in Downing Street holding the famous red ministerial box – used to carry the statement – aloft before making the short journey to the Commons.

While tradition dictates he can take a swig of his chosen tipple during his speech, Mr Hammond is expected to eschew anything too strong and confine himself to water during what is normally an hour-long statement.


What’s happened since the last Budget?

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Quite a lot. In the last nine months, the UK has triggered Brexit and begun negotiations on the terms of its departure from the EU.

Economic conditions have changed too, although there is fierce debate about how much of this is attributable to uncertainty and negativity over Brexit.

Inflation has risen to 3%, its highest level in five years, while growth has faltered a little.

However, borrowing levels are at a 10-year low, giving Mr Hammond more flexibility, while employment remains at record levels.

The political backdrop has also changed enormously.

The loss of their majority in June’s election sparked fresh Brexit infighting within the Conservatives.

The government has the backing of the DUP, but Mr Hammond – who is distrusted by many on the right of the party – does not have unlimited political capital in the bank.


What sort of advice he is getting?

Free market think tank the Adam Smith Institute is among campaigners urging an end to stamp duty for first-time buyers.

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable says housing and the NHS should be the priorities.

And Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell wants immediate action to reduce inequality.

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BBC News – Business

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