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Express: Chancellor’s Budget PLEDGE: Britain’s ‘MATCH-FIT’ for EU exit

Date: 24 11 2016

Chancellor’s Budget PLEDGE: Britain’s ‘MATCH-FIT’ for EU exit

PHILIP Hammond last night pledged to make Britain “match-fit” and ready for Brexit.

The Chancellor unveiled a bold £23billion package in his Autumn Statement to prime the UK for a prosperous future outside the EU.

Mr Hammond plans huge investment in transport links, technology communications and housing to boost competitiveness and seize trade opportunities.

He declared: “We are a great nation – bold in our vision, confident in our strengths and determined to build a country that works for everyone.”

To help millions of people struggling to make ends meet, he announced a pay rise for low-income workers, new bonds for savers and a freeze on petrol duty.

And he celebrated the growth surge that has followed the historic referendum vote to quit the EU and defied the doomladen warnings of Brussels supporters.

He said Britain’s economy had “confounded commentators at home and abroad with its strength and resilience since the British people decided, exactly five months ago, to leave the EU and chart a new future for our country.

“That decision will change the course of Britain’s history. It has thrown into sharp relief the fundamental strengths of the British economy that will ensure our future success.”

The Chancellor added: “Our task now is to prepare our economy to be resilient as we exit the EU and match-fit for the transition that will follow.”

Official figures released by the Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed the economy had defied warnings of a recession in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Growth was set to be 2.1 per cent this year, even higher than that forecast by the watchdog at the last Budget.

Yet the OBR also came under fire for predicting soaring borrowing and lower growth for the years ahead.

Mr Hammond put a bold plan to raise productivity of British industry at the centre of the Autumn Statement – his first financial set-piece since taking over at the Treasury from George Osborne.

He warned that too many British employees worked longer hours for lower pay and produced less than their counterparts in France, Germany, Italy and other advanced industrial nations.

“That has to change if we are to build an economy that works for everyone,” he said. “Raising productivity is essential for the high-wage, high-skill economy that will deliver higher living standards for working people.”

He unveiled a £23billion National Productivity Investment Fund for spending on innovation and the country’s infrastructure over the next five years.

The move will be financed by extra Treasury borrowing to invest in the “economy of the future”.

The fund will provide cash for high-tech business, research, telecommunications and better road and rail links.

It will also hand out billions to build new homes to address the housing crisis.

Mr Hammond tore up Mr Osborne’s plans for balancing the budget by the next election, due in 2020.

Instead he promised to deliver a budget surplus “as early as possible in the next Parliament”.

He said: “The Prime Minister and I remain committed to seeing the finances return to balance as soon as practicable, while leaving enough flexibility to support the economy in the near term.”

A package of measures to help “just about managing” families included:

A 30p rise in the National Living Wage to £7.50 next April, worth around £500 a year for a full-time worker. 

Reducing cuts in the Universal Credit benefit to allow working households to keep more of the cash they earn.

A freeze in fuel duty, to save the average car driver £130 a year. 

A ban on fees charged by letting agents to tenants. Brexit campaigners praised the Autumn Statement last night.

John Longworth, co-chair of the Leave Means Leave pressure group, said: “The Chancellor has made a good start on the road to making the British economy the best in the world.

“Investing in infrastructure and research and development, improving access to finance – particularly for tech companies which ensures they do not have to sell out to foreign competitors, and funding for the Oxford-Cambridge expressway are all very positive announcements.

“This is a solid base on which to build and crystalise the huge benefits Brexit brings to our country. Through signature-ready trade deals, tariff reduction and removal, deregulation that will feel like a tax cut for UK businesses and real tax cuts, Brexit will enable the UK economy to thrive.”

Business leaders also welcomed the statement. Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said Mr Hammond had delivered “a responsible and solid package that will reassure business and markets”.

CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “These measures must now be translated into action.

“That means tarmac, tracks and telecoms being laid, and clear timetables for major projects – only then will they act as a catalyst for investment, jobs and growth.”

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, added: “We are pleased by confirmation of plans to remove £6.7billion from the business rates system and the decision to make rural rate relief fairer for small firms.

“But there will need to be stronger fiscal interventions to boost the economy next year, with the prospect of weaker longer-term growth looming.”

November 24th, 2016: Express