Article - Budget Week

The past week was Budget week.

In the House of Commons, as in the country as a whole, the Budget counts as a significant event.

The difference is that, whereas most of our fellow citizens are mainly concerned to discover whether the Chancellor has been able to do something useful to help them live more prosperous lives or has hit them with some ghastly new tax, the talk amongst MPs is all about how the Budget ‎ will affect the economy and how it will go down amongst the electorate at large.

Once the Chancellor sits down, Members of Parliament are to be seen in corners all over the Palace of Westminster, earnestly poring over two tomes.

One is the Budget 'Red Book' (which contains all the figures for the measures proposed by the Chancellor). The other is the book containing the forecasts produced by the Office of Budget Responsibility -- the independent body set up to ensure that our chancellors nowadays can't engage in what used to be called 'policy-based evidence-making' (as opposed to the rather more orthodox approach of evidence-based policy making.

Between them, these two books enable those who study them closely to get a pretty good idea of what each Budget really amounts to, and what effects it is likely to have, both immediately and in the longer term.

My sense, having studied these documents, is that this particular Budge‎t will come to be regarded by the economic historians as a 'steady as she goes' item -- carefully treading a path that aims to provide sufficient funding for key public services like the NHS while progressively reducing the deficit and increasing investment in infrastructure and technology.

It remains to be seen whether that approach provides a sufficiently stable platform for our economy to remain resilient in the face of the considerable challenges we face, not only as we leave the EU‎ but also as many countries wrestle with the long-dated geo-political effects of the 2008 crash.

For me personally, this particular Budget has had an additional and somewhat surprising effect -- because the Chancellor used it to announce that, as well as investing large additional sums in housebuilding, he had asked me to chair a Review into why there is so much land on which developers already have planning permission to build but on which they are not currently building any homes.

This is a very important issue -- both for us in Dorset and for the country as a whole -- because we can't provide enough homes for our young people to rent or buy just by granting planning permission for them to be built. We actually have to get them built.

But it is also a difficult question to answer, because there are any number of competing theories about why this slow build-out is occurring. ‎And we certainly can't hope to design policies that will speed up the build-out until we know why it is happening.

So, for me, this Budget means a few months of hard labour.