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News - 9 April 2003

Budget Says More About Borrowing Than Taxing

The Chancellor of the Exchequer must have delivered his budget with a rabbit's foot in one hand, crossed fingers on the other hand, a four leaf clover in his lapel and a lucky charm around his neck in the hope that these would bring him the good luck he needs.

It was a particularly modest budget talking up a lot of the structural changes that have been put in place over the past few years and, apart from the odd increase on drink and cigarettes, it did not meddle with the overall tax burden at a time when increases are just about to come into force from the last budget.

The growth projections were the most interesting part of the Chancellor's speech with suggestions of over 3% next year when the Bank of England is forecasting 2% and independent commentators something in the region of two and a half. His confident predictions may be designed to boost confidence itself but with so many variables affecting the final outcome (housing, stock market, consumer confidence etc ) it would be little short of a miracle if they all came together to deliver Gordon Brown's prediction.

The Chancellor thinks that the extra 4bn he needs to borrow next year (bringing the total to 24bn) will be reduced to only 1bn as the economy picks up in the long run and tax revenues rise but this is more of an unknown than at any time in his occupancy of number 11. He made much play of our superior performance compared to other European countries but these are the economies that form our markets. Meanwhile at home, with household debt at record levels (see KnowledgeBase for story Desertion of High Street Continues) he knows that we should be saving more but if consumers stop spending he also knows his targets will not be met.

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