It’s not too late to go for growth – my pre-Budget article for the Evening Standard

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That was Einstein’s definition of insanity. Yet with just a week until the Budget, that seems to be where George Osborne is heading.

Chancellors are rarely short of private advice in the run-up to Budgets but this year he finds himself besieged with public demands for a change of direction. And they are not just coming from me and the Labour Party, but from a succession of Cabinet ministers. In the past week the Business Secretary demanded a £15 billion housing boost, the Defence Secretary said no more cuts to the armed forces and the Home Secretary joined in calling for a proper industrial strategy.

It’s no wonder the Cabinet is losing confidence in this downgraded Chancellor. It can see there is no method in the Chancellor’s madness. Because after almost three years it is clear his plan simply isn’t working. Our economy is flatlining, prices are rising faster than wages, the deficit is going up and even our triple-A credit rating has been lost. On every economic test this Government set itself, it has failed.

David Cameron and George Osborne just pretend everything is going to plan. In their Alice in Wonderland world, it’s all going fine.

But they are not fooling anyone. Only last week the Prime Minister’s own Budget watchdog rebuked him when he tried to claim that his tax rises and spending cuts hadn’t slowed down the economy. And it is not the first time. Last month the independent Statistics Authority ruled that David Cameron was wrong to claim that his Government is “paying down Britain’s debts” when the national debt is actually rising.

Rather than playing fast and loose with the facts, it is time our Prime Minister and Chancellor realised that more of the same failing policies just won’t do. What Britain needs next week is not more tinkering but instead a bold and radical Budget to kick-start our stagnant economy and help people on middle and modest incomes who are struggling with the rising cost of living.

So what would a Labour Budget next week do?

First, we need action now to boost confidence, create jobs and support struggling businesses.

Let’s bring forward long-term infrastructure investment in schools, nurseries, roads and transport and use the money raised from the 4G mobile spectrum auction to build thousands of affordable homes — getting builders back to work, creating the homes we need now and strengthening our economy for the future.

Cut VAT temporarily, including to five per cent on home repairs, maintenance and improvements. And give small firms in every part of the country a national insurance tax break if they take on extra workers, using the unspent money from the Government’s failed scheme which is limited only to new businesses and excludes London and the South-East.

Prevent another lost generation from being scarred by unemployment by guaranteeing every young person out of work for a year or more a job — a job that they will have to take up or lose their benefits — funded by a fair tax on bank bonuses.

And let’s get lending going to small and medium-sized companies, who desperately want to invest and expand, by establishing a British Investment Bank.

Crucially, as part of any sustainable jobs and growth plan, we need to ease the squeeze on families and pensioners on middle and modest incomes who are seeing their living standards fall year after year.

While millions are being forced to pay more for this Government’s economic failure, in just four weeks’ time millionaires will each be given an average £100,000 tax cut.

A £3 billion tax giveaway to the very richest cannot be the right priority when tax credits, child benefit, maternity pay and childcare support are being cut for everyone else. It was the biggest error in last year’s “omnishambles” Budget but it is not too late for George Osborne to correct it. I hope he does.

Labour must also put right its mistakes. As I wrote on this page just a few weeks ago, Ed Miliband and I are determined to right a wrong that Labour made in the past by bringing back a new lower 10p starting rate of tax. This would mean a tax cut for working people struggling with the rising cost of living — helping more than six million people in London and the South-East — funded by a mansion tax on houses worth over £2 million. Because a strong and sustained recovery can only be made by the many, not just a few at the top.

David Cameron says any action to kick-start the economy will lead to more borrowing. But as the Business Secretary told the BBC this week, the Government is “already borrowing more”. The simple truth is that without growth we cannot get the deficit down. If confidence is crushed, businesses go bust, long-term unemployment soars, the Government gets less from tax revenues and the benefits bill goes up. That is why the deficit is rising this year and the Government is set to borrow a staggering £212 billion more than planned to pay for the mounting costs of its economic failure.

This doesn’t make any sense. A steadier and more balanced plan — sensible spending cuts and tax rises, together with measures that support our economy, create jobs, invest in infrastructure, and reform our economy for the long term — would be fairer, more successful in getting the deficit down and make Britain better off for the future.

It doesn’t take a genius such as Einstein to realise that when a plan isn’t working, you change the plan. So even our Chancellor should now be seeing sense. Next week George Osborne has one last chance to admit his plan has failed and chart a better long-term course. It would be crazy not to while he still can.

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Posted March 13th, 2013 by Ed