Brown shifts the timing of budget policy

THE CHANCELLOR has decided to make March and November the fixed points in the yearly cycle of budget policy, in an echo of the traditional pattern of the March Budget and Autumn Statement. The Treasury will no longer publish a summer forecast, instead updating its predictions for the economy and public finances in a spring Budget and an autumn Pre-Budget Report.

Although the Chancellor remains confident that the economy will experience a mild and short-lived downturn, he will concede that slower world growth has had an impact on Britain. Although tight fiscal policies have made it possible for the Bank of England to cut interest rates to their lowest levels since the mid-1960s, a quarter of the world remains in recession.

But he will say the economy is continuing to grow, and will emphasise the Government's success in cutting long-term and youth unemployment. These are both down by around a half since the election.

Next week's Budget, Gordon Brown's third, will have three themes: enterprise, families and work. It will also contain for the first time projections for government borrowing over 30 years.

Some of this year's measures have been pre-announced, including a cut in national insurance contributions for the low-paid, an increase of pounds 2.95 in child benefit, the introduction of the Working Families Tax Credit later this year and a reduction in corporation tax - along with the usual "escalators" in fuel duties.

The 200-page Budget Red Book - which officials daringly revealed would have "elements of red" on its cover - will consist of two parts. The first will be the "Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report", first published last July but in future to be released with the Budget.

This will contain a summary of the measures, a chapter on the macroeconomic and fiscal framework, and chapters on productivity, work and fairness.

The second part will be the traditional Financial Statement and Budget Report, containing the detail of the Budget measures and appendices on the economy and the Government's finances.

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