Budget 2002: Why Brown tried to bury criticism

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Chancellor Gordon Brown this week stood accused of trying to bury a critical report on his Budget, after Labour MPs failed to turn up at a crucial meeting to draft the final text, writes our parliamentary correspondent.

Four government backbenchers did not make it to the Treasury select committee meeting which finalised the wording, and another had to leave part way through.Only chairman John McFall, who could not vote, and Labour’s Jim Cousins lasted the whole session.

Three Tories, led by ex-minister Michael Fallon, David Ruffley and Liberal Democrat David Laws, used the opportunity to drive through a raft of strongly worded criticisms of the ‘Black Hole’ in Brown’s revenue and spending predictions for 2007/8, his ‘sophistry’ over whether the across the board rise of a penny on the pound on national insurance contributions represented a breach of the NIC income ceiling and his attempts to disguise the effect of this on businesses.

But after the document was published, the committee officials ? apparently under pressure from the Labour majority – stopped its distribution claiming it was inaccurate. After an hour’s haggling the report was re-released with a minor correction with the word ‘not’ included in a statement that the Treasury ‘did anticipate these changes affecting the status of the City as a major centre for international financial transactions’.

One Tory source said: ‘This is typical Gordon Brown and New Labour. If they are criticised they try to suppress it.’

Newcastle Central Labour MP Jim Cousins said: ‘This report did not represent the views of the committee. It was political opportunism and it was unwise.’

David Ruffley, a former corporate lawyer, said: ‘There are major holes in Gordon Brown’s figure. He should receive the Robert Maxwell prize for corporate accounting.’

David Laws said: ‘This cross party report makes hard hitting criticisms of many aspects of Gordon Brown’s Budget.

‘It casts doubt on the Chancellor’s increased growth forecast, and criticises the increasing complexity of the tax system.’

The Tory shadow chancellor Michael Howard said: ‘The chancellor’s Budget has been criticised by business, by independent experts, and now by the all-Party Treasury Select Committee. Their report, based on expert evidence, is a damning indictment of Labour’s Budget failures’.

This report shows just how big a mistake the Budget was. Not only did it represent a missed opportunity to improve and modernise the NHS, but it will do great damage to enterprise, to business and to jobs.’

Budget 2002 archive

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