Andrew Jones MP discusses the UK’s 2023 Spring Budget and the importance of infrastructure in it.
The backdrop to this Budget is critical when judging it.
All the extraordinary times created by the last one meant that extreme sensitivity would characterise the market scrutiny and response to this one.
And over the preceding weekend we had seen the concerning failure of a bank and urgent action from the Treasury to protect its customers and stop contagion.
I have been a Treasury minister at a budget, so I know that when you and your team are at maximum stretch, the very last thing you need is a significant emergency issue to handle – or an exogenous [external] shock, as a Treasury official would call it!
So expectations in parliament were high.
They always are, of course, for one of the big set pieces of the year, though I'm not sure everyone had thought about context.
This Budget had to land well and address key issues while being very reassuring, an interesting balance to strike.
I was in super early to grab a good seat.
My first response in the chamber was that it was a detailed and long Budget speech.
That makes it harder to assess it at the time.
A couple of issues jumped out at me.
Tax relief on investments
The main one being the capital allowances.
It basically means companies can get up to 100% tax relief on investments on plant and machinery.
This measure is focussed on improving UK productivity, something I have discussed before but in the context of infrastructure investment.
I am sure productivity improvements are critical to future progress, so was pleased to see this measure.
The Treasury forecasts suggest this is an expensive measure but important for international competitiveness, too.
Pensions change for retaining skills
The other area that jumped out was on pensions.
One of the most recent conversations I have had with a doctor in my constituency was his telling me of his leaving the NHS due to issues surrounding his pension, where he would literally have to pay to go to work.
Obviously a ridiculous situation.
In this case, a senior brain surgeon in his early 50s was leaving a job where he was doing important work and which he loved doing.
Our conversation had been one of sadness and regret.
The lifetime allowance change makes the problem disappear.
I hope this most expert and pleasant of my constituents will reconsider his life plans.
This policy change seems to be making political noise.
I am not sure those making the noise are reading the public on this issue.
Firstly, I have had almost no communication on the issue.
Correspondence runs at on average a thousand pieces per week, so quietness is not common.
I think people know there is a problem to solve, particularly in the health service, and want it tackled.
Plus, it is good policy to encourage people to make provision for their futures whichever sector they work in.
Part of good policy is making things simple and transparent. This change does that.
The key points for the APPGI
In terms of infrastructure and our All-Party Parliamentary Group, there were some elements to look at.
But the key was one small sentence – “capital plans are maintained at the same level as the Autumn Statement”.
Government investment in infrastructure will be £600 billion over five years, covering a number of sectors.
One increasing focus was carbon capture and storage, where more funding was announced.
One of the biggest issues raised with me by infrastructure companies is workforce availability and skills.
It is also raised with me by companies of all sectors and backed by the data on the number of vacancies in our economy.
There were many measures on boosting work participation, from reforms to universal credit and childcare to abolishing work capability assessments.
Each was to be welcomed.
It reflected the budget as a whole - getting the wiring of the economy right and problems solved for a post-pandemic world.
The budget was not showy.
Rather it was addressing long-term issues, seeking to make the UK a better place to do business and supporting people through difficult times.
The atmosphere in the chamber when the chancellor sat down was lively, but most members will have headed off for detailed reading shortly after.
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