AS2012: What the papers say

EDITORIAL COLUMNS wasted no time in dissecting the chancellor’s performance after yesterday’s Autumn Statement. Accountancy Age rounds up what they had to say.

The Financial Times warns the UK’s triple-A credit rating could be under threat after George Osborne conceded one of his key finance targets would be missed and forecasts suggested he would not be able to contest the next election on the back of a strong economy.

Indeed, in his column, Matthew Engel describes the Statement as a “litany of despair” and accused the chancellor of “clutching at straws” in his announcements of extending the Northern Line to Battersea, a dual carriageway in Cornwall and super-fast broadband for several cities.

The Times was more restrained, again criticising Osborne for not meeting his fiscal goals, but also pointing to one-off wins on the country’s 4G telecoms licences and monies coming in from Swiss bank accounts of British residents, which are thought to bring in £3.5bn and £3.2bn, respectively. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls, though, accused Osborne of using those monies in a “sleight of hand” to distort the UK’s borrowing figures.

The Daily Mail reported that Osborne is bringing in a “mummy tax” as he imposed a real-terms cut on statutory maternity pay, while both maternity and paternity pay will be subject to a below-inflation rise for three years from next April, when child benefit will rise by 20p a week.

The most positive response to the chancellor’s statement, though, came from the Telegraph, which praised him for “playing a terrible hand with skill”.

Indeed, Benedict Brogan suggested in his column that the big winner from the statement was the coalition, noting: “The central purpose behind its [the coalition’s] creation was to deal with the economic mess, and the process of agreeing yesterday’s package has reminded those at the top why it is they joined forces in the first place.”

He praised Osborne, too, for eschewing a mansion tax as speaking against “pointless attacks on the wealthy”, while “squeezing the better-off in a number of discreet ways” including bringing about 400,000 into the 40p tax bracket.

“In all, Mr Osborne had a terrible hand to play. His most important achievement was to have consolidated the idea that the government is intent on doing what it must to keep Britain from global relegation,” he said.

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