Thursday, 5 December 2013

Autumn Statement - lots of good Lib Dem ideas made real

Today's autumn statement might have been delivered by a Tory Chancellor, but most of the ideas had the roots with the Liberal Democrats*.

So we see:
  • free school meals for key stage one pupils; 
  • 20,000 more apprenticeships over the next two years; 
  • no rise in petrol duty (again). That means a 2p per litre rate rise has been scrapped and petrol prices are now 20p per litre lower than they would have been under Labour;
  • more support for firms to employ younger workers as they will no longer have to pay employers National Insurance contributions for under-21s. That will affect 12,650 under 21s who are currently employed in Cornwall and, hopefully, encourage firms to take on even more;
  • support for town centres with £1000 off business rates for retail outlets with a rateable value of £50,000 or less (ie small shops and cafes) for two years from April;
  • half-price business rates for shops that move into empty town centre units;
  • basic pensions to rise by £2.95 per week thanks to the Lib Dem's triple lock guarantee.

For local councils there was also good news:
  • councils will not have to find extra savings on top of those previously announced (which are severe enough);
  • the New Homes Bonus - a reward for building new homes - will not be top-sliced after all. The proposal had been to hand some of the cash to local enterprise partnerships (LEPs). This returns £330 million to councils that they thought they had lost;
  • the business rates incentives will be fully funded by the government. Half of business rates come to councils and so there was a danger that the otherwise welcome move would hit councils hard. However, we will have to wait for the final council settlement in a couple of weeks to confirm this; UPDATE - Eric Pickles has written to council leaders to confirm that the government will fully fund business rate reliefs.
  • the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap will be raised by £300 million. That means more council housing being built. This money will be distributed via LEPs to replace the new homes bonus cash they lost.
Remembering the pasty tax debacle, we may have to wait a couple of days to see the full fall out of the statement today, but the initial indications are good.

*Not the married couples tax break, obviously.

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