OPINION: Budget was so full of missed opportunities

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak outside 11 Downing Street.

Rishi Sunak's budget was full of missed opportunities, says Ipswich Council leader David Ellesmere - Credit: PA

There was an air of unreality about Rishi Sunak’s Budget speech last week.

Full of sunny optimism about the future, there was no acknowledgement that his government is currently presiding over a country of empty shelves, fuel shortages and food left rotting in the fields.

He talked of “world class public services” without any recognition that people are having to wait weeks for a GP appointment and more than a year for an operation, and that only 2% of rapes lead to a conviction.

He spoke eloquently and passionately about his “low tax” instincts, while introducing the highest tax take since the 1940’s.

This matters because, if you can’t even acknowledge that there is a problem, how on earth can go about fixing it?
It is probably why the Budget was so full of missed opportunities.

The Chancellor could have acted to temporarily reduce VAT on soaring energy bills – but decided to do nothing.

He could have provided additional funding to end the cladding scandal for thousands of leaseholders facing bankruptcy – but abandoned them instead. Conservative MPs who once claimed to be on leaseholders’ side raised not a murmur in protest.

Instead of a root-and-branch reform of business rates to support town centres against the twin threats of out-of-town shopping centres and online retail, he just tinkered around the edges and actually reduced tax on internet sales.

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Instead of taxing shares, property and capital gains income fairly at the same level as earned income, he pressed ahead with National Insurance increases on the lowest paid and instructed councils to raise council tax even higher.

The 75 new “family hubs” look positive, but also look suspiciously like the hundreds of SureStart Children’s Centres that have been closed by the Conservatives over the last decade.

The reduction in the taper rate of Universal Credit is good news but it still leaves people on low incomes around £4 billion a year worse off following the £1,040 cut last month.

Neither Ipswich, nor Suffolk, was mentioned once in the budget documents with all the new infrastructure spending going elsewhere – a sign, perhaps, that with a full sweep of loyalist Conservative MPs in Suffolk that the Government thinks it can take us for granted?

- David Ellesmere is the Labour leader of Ipswich Borough Council