Thursday, March 13, 2008

The excitement of Budget Day

In my previous life as a financial journalist, Budget Day was a highlight of the year. A long day listening to the chancellor, talking to contacts in the City and adland, finding an angle, writing endless words of analysis, finally going to press around midnight and then seeing your words the following morning, part of the ocean of ink spilled in an effort to interpret what the Chancellor had done.

I still get a frisson of excitement on Budget Day. So I watched Alistair Darling yesterday while I had lunch. It was the dullest speech in living memory - I gather former Chancellor Geofrey How fell asleep in the peers gallery!

And yet it seems to me to be as good a budget as we had any right to hope for. It's good for poor people - despite Nick Clegg's rather snide remarks - in terms of child benefit, tax credits and fuel payments. I would have liked him to be bolder on dealing with the utility companies but I hope he'll return to the fray if in the coming year if they do nothing to end the inequity of the poor paying a higher price per unit for gas and electricity than the rich - that's a scandal.

I think the alcohol tax rises were well balanced and the green initiatives on car pricing and tax rates, though small steps, are steps in the right direction. I'd have quadrupled the VED on Chelsea tractors (while offering a waiver to farmers and those who need four-wheel drives - though the trouble with that is that it removes the incentive to the industry to improve the technology in these vehicles and opens a loophole that some clever accountant will exploit).

I was also pleased that he left gift aid untouched - £300m left in charities and voluntary sector organisations (and, of course, churches). That was a bold statement of commitment to this vital sector of our society.

So all in all, I thought the Chancellor done good - given the bad hand dealt to him by the world economy and some of his predecessor's decisions. We'll see how it plays out in the coming months.

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