10 pieces of bad news that Osborne left out of his Autumn Statement

The small print shows that the economy will shrink in the current quarter and that unemployment will rise next year.

As ever, you had to scour the small print to find the bad news that George Osborne chose to leave out of his Autumn Statement. So here, complete with references to the OBR document, are the ten stats that the Chancellor would rather you didn't know.

1. The economy is expected to shrink in the current quarter, with the OBR forecasting a contraction of 0.1 per cent. (p. 48 OBR document). It states that "headline GDP growth is likely to be negative in the final quarter of 2012 as the effect from the Olympics reverses." The day before the last set of growth figures were released, Cameron boasted that "the good news will keep coming". It's now clear that it won't.

2. Despite the government's promise to "make work pay", sixty per cent of the real-terms cut to benefits (they will rise by just 1 per cent for three years) will fall on working households. (Resolution Foundation) A working family on £20,000 with two children will lose £279 a year from next April.

3. The recent fall in unemployment is expected to be reversed as the jobless total rises from 2.5 million to 2.7 million next year. (p. 83 OBR document)

4. Were it not for the inclusion of the expected £3.5bn receipts from the 4G spectrum auction - which hasn't taken place yet - the deficit would be higher this year (£123.8bn) than last year (£121.4bn). (p. 5 OBR document).

5. The measures announced yesterday by Osborne are expected to increase GDP by just 0.1 per cent over the forecast period. (p. 51 OBR document). This was no Autumn Statement for growth.

6. Earnings are forecast to rise at a slower rate than inflation until the second quarter of 2014. (p. 86 OBR document). By then, the median full-time wage will be 7.4 per cent below its 2008 level.

7. Public sector job cuts will reach 1.1 million by 2018 (p. 83 OBR document), reducing government employment to its lowest level in post-war history.

8. An extra 400,000 people will be dragged into the 40p tax band by 2015-16, paying an extra £117 per year.

9. The government is expected to lose £16.5bn on its stakes in the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds, up from an estimate of £14.3bn in March. (p. 162 OBR document).

10. Osborne's decision to cut the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p means the 8,000 people earning a million pounds or more will receive an average tax cut of £107,500 from next April.

George Osborne leaves number 11 Downing Street for the Treasury on December 5, 2012 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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