Osborne's missed opportunity to boost growth

The measures announced today will increase GDP by just £0.51 billion.

The Chancellor missed an opportunity to boost growth today with his Budget. Analysis by IPPR shows that an Alternative Budget could have increased the impact of GDP by a factor of five.

The Office of Budget Responsibility set out the fiscal multipliers of different forms of tax and spending changes in Table C8 of the 2010 Budget. Using these estimates it is possible to assess the impact of the Budget measures announced today that will take effect in 2013-14. Policy decisions for that year came to £1.71 billion.

The chart below shows that, taken as a whole, the measures announced by the Chancellor today to boost growth will increase GDP by just £0.51 billion. By contrast, alternative measures proposed by IPPR would increase GDP by £2.66 billion.

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IPPR's Alternative Budget would include a mixture of tax cuts and spending increases paid for through Osborne's new tax avoidance and stamp duty proposals as well as an additional "mansion tax" of 1 per cent on properties worth more than £2 million. Our Alternative Budget would have the same fiscal effect as Osborne's. IPPR's preferred tax cut is an Obama-style cut in payroll taxes. Our original proposal, set out by Eric Beinhocker in last week's Times (£), was for a 2p cut to employee National Insurance Contributions to be paid for over six years. But in order to ensure that all costs are paid this year, we set out here a 1p tax cut at a cost of £2.75 billion.

Our second priority is a jobs guarantee for young people out of work for more than one year. This would cost £400 million and help address the scarring effects that long-term unemployment can cause, particularly for young people. There are currently over 1,042,000 young people aged 16-24 out of work the second highest since comparable records began in 1992, and a rise of 67,600 in the last year. There are now 253,000 young people who have been unemployed for more than a year, an increase of 24,900 over the last year. Osborne's Budget did nothing to address this.

Our final priority is increased infrastructure spending. The OBR's analysis shows that the most effective way to boost growth is to increase infrastructure spending. But the Government is planning to cut its capital spending by 29 per cent between 2010/11 and 2014/15, largely following the path set out by Labour when it was in power. This was, perhaps, Labour's biggest fiscal policy mistake. Not only does infrastructure spending boost growth, it has the advantage of adding to the UK's productive capacity over the longer-term. The money raised from the various tax increases allows for a £2.9 billion boost to infrastructure spending.

As the chart above shows, these three measures combined would increase GDP by £2.66 billion, which is close to five times the stimulative impact of Osborne's Budget. The Chancellor claimed today that his Budget was "growth-friendly". But analysis from the OBR, which he established, shows that it is no such thing.

Will Straw is Associate Director at IPPR

Will Straw was Director of Britain Stronger In Europe, the cross-party campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. 

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.