THE GRIN on opposition leader Ed Miliband’s face was there for all to see, as he stood at the despatches box following the last Budget of this parliament.
That chancellor George Osborne had given a confident, if lengthy, speech would not deter Miliband from pointing out that there was very little in there for working families.
In truth, Osborne barely referenced individuals, families, or the public during his 58-minute Budget. The focus was very much on the solidity and robustness of the economy, and business-focused reliefs, investment allowances and – conversely – further clampdowns on tax avoidance and upping the banking levy.
For the man on the street, it would very much appear to be ‘austerity as usual’. Any feelgood factor from a few extra coins in the pocket are welcome – but certainly haven’t been just handed over to them by Osborne.
Yet while some rates and reliefs have flip-flopped over the year, you couldn’t accuse the government of changing tack on its overall theme of letting business get on with things, while the coalition sought to trim department budgets and lower borrowing.
Key areas that do affect swathes of people include the supposed end of the tax return, the lifetime pension allowance being cut to £1m, and the help-to-buy ISA (government putting in £50 for every £200 saved). But these changes will affect limited groups of people, in a relatively limited manner. The personal allowance is increasing, while savings and ISA flexibility allowances are being introduced.
That the austerity measures have been, overall, measured, is a good thing. But the benefits gleaned from Osborne’s strategy lends to incremental increases in goodwill. More pennies are ending up in pocket, but Miliband is more in-pocket, politically speaking.
The Conservatives won votes on their ability to manage the finances. This has been done without drama – although public sector workers may disagree. Labour now has an opportunity to argue that they are the party to push things on, leaving the Conservatives having to leverage its past glories – which haven’t felt that glorious as far as the public is concerned.
Kevin Reed is editor of Accountancy Age and Financial Director