IT WOULD be good if there were no gimmicks in today’s Budget, as promised by Chancellor George Osborne. And although it may seem counter-intuitive to say it, let’s hope there are no giveaways either.
The country does need Mr Osborne to spend some money, but he must do it intelligently, with an eye to the best economic benefits for the UK as a whole, and not just give it away to improve the electoral fortunes of the Conservative Party.
Analysts have worked out that due to falling inflation and lower borrowing costs, Mr Osborne will have around £6 billion to spend should he want. That is a long way away from the sum John Swinney, Holyrood’s finance secretary, has demanded that the Chancellor put in to public spending in an effort to kick-start better growth. Mr Swinney and Ms Sturgeon are demanding that the government earmark £180bn for this task. It would be fair to say it is unlikely Mr Osborne will acquiesce to this demand.
This would mean a public admission that the policy of austerity was over – and that it had not worked. If the economy is the trump card for the Tory party, then an admission at this stage it had got it all wrong is unlikely. And anyway, did not Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, recently single out Britain as having one of the most “promising” recoveries in the world? “Why change a winning formula?” will be Mr Osborne’s cry.
So if more heavy borrowing is unlikely and the Chancellor paints a picture of persevering with his debt reduction programme should the Conservatives win office in May, just what will Mr Osborne do?
It has already been widely speculated that he will raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million – presumably for a couple – which on the face of it is squarely aimed at the Tories’ traditional voter, ie, the rich home owner. But the truth is more and more people have been getting caught in the trap as property prices recover and people live and work longer. To see such a huge amount of money going to the taxman and not to offspring has been a growing bone of contention for many, and is perhaps a sensible move.
He is also likely to raise the personal allowance threshold to £11,000, giving 27 million people a £200 tax cut; a move for the people. But he is also expected to raise the threshold for higher rate tax, a move again that might best benefit his party’s demographics.
But it is these kind of easy traps he should avoid. The oil and gas industry, a multi-billion earner for the UK, is undergoing a fundamental transformation. It is a crunch time for the North Sea-based industry. Recognition of this crucial phase and proper changes to tax regime structures and investment allowances to allow a sustainable future are imperative.
That is far more important in the long term that populist short-term giveaways.
Film festival move in the frame
Moving the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2008, from Festival time in August to a more solo time slot in June was a statement of bold ambition. At the time the reasons stated were to give the Film Festival “breathing space to expand and create its own identity.” But really it was a hope and an aspiration that it could truly be a huge international draw..
Now newly-appointed artistic director Mark Adams wants to investigate bringing it back to August. There is a lot to be said for the idea. It is less than a year since the Edinburgh International Festival decided to move its dates to bring it into line with the Fringe for the first time in 18 years.
But there are obvious problems in a city in full swing when it comes to getting venues, and paying for transport and accommodation for visiting guests. Not to mention having to compete with many others shows for your audience. But what an audience. The city is packed with thousands of great shows but also tens of thousands of people who are keen to experience the full force of what an Edinburgh experience can be. Mr Adams talks about cross pollination, and he is right, if people are in town for two weeks will they limit themselves to just theatre or just comedy? That has certainly not been the experience of the runaway success that is the Book Festival.
It might even be a better time to attract Hollywood stars.
So good luck to Mr Adams, and it is probably right to investigate where the best future for the festival lies. But a word of warning – make the investigation thorough and profound because in reality there is only one chance to move it back to August. Once there, it pretty much has to stay.
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