Grey budget

PENSIONERS were today's big winners in Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown's budget.He knocked £200 off their council tax bills – and promised them free bus travel from next year.

PENSIONERS were today's big winners in Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown's budget.

He knocked £200 off their council tax bills - and promised them free bus travel from next year.

He also offered help to younger people, especially new homeowners, as he doubled the threshold for stamp duty on house purchases to £120,000.

With the expected poll only weeks away, he insisted he would take no risks with the country's economy.

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He dismissed any idea of Britain adopting the euro - saying there would be no reassessment of whether to join the euro-zone over the next year.

He opened his speech with a now-familiar boast.

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"Britain is today experiencing the longest period of sustained economic growth since records began in the year 1701.

"And the foundation of this Budget is our determination to maintain British stability and growth."

He said inflation was lower in Britain than in other western countries - and the number of people in work was much higher in percentage terms than in competitor countries.

Economic growth in Britain over the last year was 3.1 per cent - exactly as the Chancellor predicted in his budget last year.

Over the next two years he expected growth to continue at about three per cent a year.

Mr Brown also announced changes to the way the government is run - especially a culling of the quangos.

The government would reduce the number of bodies involved with regulation matters from 35 to just nine.

He announced that an extra £400 million would be spent on defence - partly because of the commitment to Iraq.

There will be no change to Corporation Tax or company car taxes.

The chancellor put 1p a pint on beer and 4p a bottle on wine - but did not change duty on spirits or sparkling wine.

The rises are in line with inflation -as is the 7p a packet on cigarettes.

Vehicle excise duty would increase by the rate of inflation - except the reduced level for smaller cars which will be frozen.

And petrol and diesel duty will not go up until September.

Income tax allowances were increase by the rate of inflation.

Mr Brown also increased child tax credits by 13 pc over the next three years - which means families with children will pay less income tax.

The inheritance tax threshold will increase from £263,000 to £275,000 with further increases over the next three years.

Over the next five years the government will spent £9.4 billion on new or rebuilt primary schools - that means 8,900 will be built or rebuilt.

By 2010 the government would be investing £1,000 in capital investment for every pupil in the nation's state schools. In 1997 the government was spending £100 per pupil on investment.

The government would also create a further million childcare places over the next parliament.

At the other end of the education spectrum, the government is to spend £1.5 billion new FE colleges across the country - bosses at Suffolk College were today expecting to get the go-ahead for its rebuilding.

Those in full-time education or training will be offered up to £75 a week in education allowances and benefits.

The Labour benches hailed the budget - but opposition parties were not so charitable.

Conservative leader Michael Howard, making the traditional reply, described it as "A 'vote now, pay later' Budget."

A MAJOR announcement in the bill was a proposal to build a new permanent monument to the Queen Mother in the Mall in London.

This will be paid for by a special coin that will be minted to commemorate the 80th birthday of the Queen in 2006.

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