When George Osborne gets up in the House of Commons on March 23rd to present his budget, few know what he will say, but many will be looking for a clear vision for economic growth. Indeed some say the coalition will be made or broken by the growth story set out at budget time next week.
The coming Budget will be different: no need for the British public to sit on the edge of its collective seat. With all the key spending and revenue decisions for the rest of the Parliament already set out in the Spending Review last Autumn, there will not be much in the way of news about increased tax allowances and new tax rates. If the chancellor doesn’t create a convincing growth story when he presents his budget, there will be a vacuum for the press and opposition to fill. There will also be an irreparable hole in the Coalition’s programme.
The thinking behind this growth story has been going on for many months with the Growth Review itself under joint Treasury and Business Department control running since the end of last year, mostly behind closed doors, and with shifting timelines that has ended with the announcement being included in the Budget statement. If anything, the key importance of a national Growth Strategy has become clearer over time. Its success will be central to the fortunes of the country and therefore the political fortunes of the Coalition and the outcome of the next general election.
There are many keen to influence George Osborne and the Government on the outcomes of the Growth Review, some of whom were present at the excellent ConservativeIntelligence Growth conference the other week. Lobbyists of course have a job to do. If they weren’t all over the growth review, with its unprecedented impact not just on the future of UK industry, wealth and employment, but their clients’ fortunes, those clients would probably be looking for another Public Affairs consultant. As a result we have heard a lot about infrastructure and airports and runways and tax breaks and green growth from lobbyists. The commentariat with their varying special and partial enthusiasms has been busy in the pages of the quality press. The sage of Twickenham, twinkletoes Vince Cable himself, has also spoken out (of which more later).