AS2013: What the papers say

by Kevin Reed

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06 Dec 2013

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George Osborne in front of a graph

IT SEEMS APPROPRIATE that the much-lauded TV adaption of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy should currently be on repeat, as the term ‘tinker' has been liberally sprinkled among the editorials of the national newspapers in their coverage of the Autumn Statement.

The Telegraph's Kamal Ahmed said that the chancellor had "decided to tinker rather than try to magic a grand plan" - which he applauded for letting the private sector "get on with it".

Ahmed said business rates are "a cost which bear little relation to the success or otherwise of the enterprise", pointing out the impact they would have had upon the now defunct Blockbuster chain. The chancellor had failed to go far enough to deal with the issue, despite the reliefs and discounts announced in the Autumn Statement.

He also bemoaned the lack of detail around tax simplification, of which less and less has been said since the Office of Tax Simplification was introduced by him in 2010. "Mr Osborne has forgotten that he was once a vocal proponent of flatter taxes, which is a pity," Ahmed said.

In a well-rounded and thoughtful editorial by the Guardian, it pointed out that while the tax avoidance plans laid out were "welcome", they can "hardly be relied on".

It also said that Osborne counterpart Ed Balls failed to take the wind out of Osborne's sails as tits own plans were still "so sketchy" - its proposal for a VAT cut, as an example, "was never going to provide him with much to say after recovery came".

However, Osborne had had "Brownian moments" in appearing spooked by some opposition policies - enough into following them and claiming them as his own, particularly with an energy bill cut and the business rate curb.

Labour might look to pick at the higher-than-predicted annual government borrowing, or that wages are still depressed, it added.

The Times business editor Ian King focused on the continued problems in rebalancing the economy. The OBR figures suggest growth will come through people building up household debt, using their mortgage as the tool. With business investment still stagnant, "any rebalancing of the economy from consumption to investment is as elusive as ever", he said.

He described the statement as a "timid affair" - with the focus mainly on the OBR's upward revisions. The biggest surprise was the abolition of employers' NI contributions on udner-21s, "although those unemployed 22-year olds watching will have been less than impressed by the creation of an incentive for firms to employ candidates a year younger than them".

The business rates announcements were "welcome", but there was little on offer for big business, he noted, and criticising Osborne's budging-up of the bank levy: "He also needs to think about how much, longer term, he wishes to extract from the banks because continually raising the levy like this is a powerful incentive for banks to shrink their balance sheets", inconsistent with encouraging them to lend to business.

The CGT on second homes for non-residents was "largely a gimmick", he said, but with it coming into effect from 2105 we may see some homes go onto the market in the ensuing months.

The Independent described the Autumn Statement as "highly political", with Osborne setting a "political trap" by pushing parliament to sign up to tough fiscal rules for after the 2105 general election, including the use of budget surpluses to pay down the deficit.

This creates a "huge dilemma" for Labour, which intends to borrow more after the first post-election year to fund building projects.

"The Tories will brand Labour irresponsible if it does not vote for the new charter. But Mr Miliband is determined to "be bold and be different". His allies fear the public may stick with the Tories if Labour appears to promise more of the same austerity," it said.

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