I am glad the new government wishes to end the use of the “a” word. It has been much used and abused over the last six years. It has been a rallying cry for the Opposition. It has been a misleading spin line used by the Cameron/Osborne government. As a policy it has been lop sided and ineffectual. The last Chancellor did not succeed in bringing new borrowing levels down as promised. He relied on tax rises rather than on overall spending cuts. Within spending he did make some cuts in welfare and defence many urged him not to make, whilst presiding over large increases elsewhere. I spent much of the last six years trying to explain what was really going on from the published figures, fighting against political lines from both Opposition and government which did not reflect the reality of the spending and tax plans.
So what will a prosperity driven policy look like? The government will examine how it can borrow money very cheaply in today’s markets to invest in major infrastructure. There will be two constraints. The first is the difficulty the UK experiences in reaching agreement and in progressing plans for much visible large scale development. Sometimes we have too much delay to discuss, with endless consultations and arguments over whether a road or railway line or airport can be built. If the government wishes to cut through and shorten times for such debates, the best way would be much more generous compensation schemes so anyone adversely affected in their homes has the money to move or improve their property if they wish. The second is the need to ensure we build infrastructure which generates a proper return. In the case of water or energy or telecoms there remains a market test to see if the investment pays. In the case of roads and heavily subsidised railway lines there is no such direct test, so government needs to make honest study of need and economic impact.
The government will pursue its life chances agenda. This will be a package of policies designed to improve schooling, mentoring, training and access for all, so that more people can develop the skills needed for better paid employment. There is no more important task to raise productivity than to help each individual find a good place in our economy, with emphasis on more small businesses, more entrepreneurship and better rewards for success. Tax policy is also important. The outgoing government was more generous to large corporations with cuts to Corporation Tax than to individuals risking all in their own business with CGT and Income Tax. A very large company pays tax at 20% and a successful individual at 45%.
The government needs to worry about the balance of payments. The first and easy way to cut the outflows is to repatriate our EU contributions, slicing £12 bn off the balance of payments deficit. Spending the £10bn net public sector contribution here at home would give a welcome boost to jobs and output. I would bring that forward even if there is delay in cancelling the payments. Let’s have the removal of VAT on domestic fuel, and the extra spending o n the NHS with more nurses and doctors as identified in the Brexit budget first published here.