Leading article: The Chancellor's grim pledge - more of the same

Mr Osborne's timescale fails to reflect the needed sense of urgency and common purpose

Share
Related Topics

Amid all the bluster of his overheated response, the shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, got one thing almost right. There was, he said, nothing new in George Osborne's Autumn Statement. There were reasons for that, not least the fact that, one way or another, so much had already been released. And the few surprises the Chancellor did spring were, for the most part, modestly positive: figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility predicting that the economy would probably not – contrary to the latest OECD forecast – dip into recession; the delay in the rise in fuel duty; and the increase of many benefits in line with inflation.

So much for the good – or, to be more accurate, the mildly better – news. The rest was almost uniformly bad, especially for employees in the public sector. As many as 300,000 more jobs are likely to go; the current pay freeze will be followed by a 1 per cent cap on pay rises for another two years. And, in a move that could prompt a new battle with trade unions down the line, Mr Osborne broached a review of the effect of national public sector pay rates on regional labour markets. The concern is valid, but it is not one calculated to improve his relations with the public sector.

The reason for Mr Osborne's focus on the public sector, of course, is clear: he has precious few other options for reining in spending. With indebtedness running ahead of previous forecasts and growth running far behind, he has to find money to divert into the infrastructure projects that are the rediscovered remedy for rising unemployment and stagnant growth. Private investment will not be enough.

In highlighting a national infrastructure plan, and reeling off a string of projects to be brought forward, Mr Osborne was on the right lines, as he was when he spoke of encouraging pension funds and individual savers to invest in these projects. Interest rates elsewhere are currently so low – and Mr Osborne undertook yesterday to keep them that way – that this could become an attractive option for savers.

The Chancellor is right, too, to make education a priority. The additional free nursery places announced yesterday may be dismissed as a rather desperate effort to woo disenchanted women voters, but providing jobs – especially jobs for lower-skilled young men – has to be a key to growth, as does improving the work-readiness of school-leavers. There would be further merit in requiring companies tendering for these projects to recruit a significant proportion of their workforce through apprenticeships – real apprenticeships to train young people in marketable skills.

The Government's difficulty is that major infrastructure works are long-term endeavours whose results will be apparent only over time; the same is true of improving the quality of schools. Such a timescale, however, fails to reflect the sense of urgency and common purpose that is so essential to boosting public confidence in the here and now.

Which is where Mr Osborne most conspicuously fell short yesterday. For while the OBR forecasts show the British economy to be performing well compared with the economies of the eurozone countries, separately and together, this is more a reflection of the dire circumstances prevailing there than it is of any superiority here. Not only that, but Mr Osborne could not exclude the possibility of drastically worse indicators for the UK in future, up to and including a return to recession, if – say – the eurozone crisis took an unforeseen turn for the even worse.

With many more public sector job losses on the cards, and a return to stable growth and the elimination of the structural deficit both now pushed beyond the term of this parliament, Mr Osborne's message to his hard-pressed fellow citizens boiled down to little more than the stoical injunction to keep calm and carry on.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there