George Osborne's Autumn Statement: live blog

Minute-by-minute coverage of the Chancellor's announcements and the OBR's new forecasts.

12:07pm Osborne ends with the message: "Britain is moving again. Let's keep going." (Please re-elect us.) 

12:04pm Employers' National Insurance will be scrapped on employees aged under 21, Osborne says. 

12:02pm Osborne announces that next year's fuel duty rise will be cancelled, praising the campaigning work of Tory MP Robert Halfon on this issue. But he doesn't deliver the cut that some predicted. 

11:59pm Through gritted teeth, the socially liberal Osborne confirms that the government will introduce a marriage tax allowance from April 2015 and that its value will be increased in line with the personal allowance (which will rise to £10,000 next year). 

11:58am He announces a £1,000 discount on business rates for all retailers valued at up to £50,000. 

11:55am Osborne says business rates increases will be capped at 2% for all premises (rather than 3.4%). 

11:53am Probably the biggest announcement from Osborne so far: the cap on student numbers will be abolished. 

11:51am He announces that anyone aged 18-21 claiming welfare without "basic skills" will be required to undertake training or "lose their benefits". 

11:47am Osborne announces a "priority right to move" for social housing tenants who need to move for a job.

11:46am A striking admission: "if we want more people to own their own homes, we need to build more homes". 

11:42am He announces the well-trailed introduction of capital gains tax on foreign property owners. At present, while British citizens pay CGT at 18% or 28% when they sell a property that is not their main home, non-residents are exempt. But with foreign investors purchasing around 70% of all new builds in central London, Osborne, still burdened by a deficit forecast to be £111bn this year, has spied a revenue-raising opportunity. 

11:41am Osborne has just used the stat often cited by Boris Johnson in defence of the super-rich: that they pay 30% of all income tax. That's true, but what he doesn't mention is that the 30% stat tells us less about what has happened to the tax system than it does about what has happened to the income system.

Over the period in question, the earnings of the rich have risen to previously unimaginable levels. As a recent OECD study showed, the share of income taken by the top 1% of UK earners increased from 7.1% in 1970 to 14.3% in 2005, while the top 0.1% took 5%. Quite simply, the rich are paying more because they're earning more. Is this really cause for us to thank them? If 11 million low and middle earners receive the pay rise they have been denied since 2003, they'll pay more tax too. 

11:35am Osborne has announced three new steps to enshrine fiscal "responsibility":

1. A new charter for budget responsibility committing the government to running a surplus. It will be put to a vote in parliament (a test for Labour). 

2. A cap on total welfare spending (as previously announced in the Spending Review). Osborne confirms that it will exclude the state pension and cyclical benefits such as JobSeeker's Allowance. 

3. Finally, he announces a further £2bn cut in departmental budget and a £1bn cut in the contingency reserve. 

11:28am He announces that the forecast deficit for this year has been revised down from £120bn to £111bn, but that's still £41bn higher than expected in 2010. 

Borrowing in 2014-15 is forecast to be £96bn, then £79bn in 2015-16, £51bn in 2016-17 and £23bn in 2017-18. That leaves him on track to halve the deficit (it was £159bn in 2009-10) by 2015-16, the same speed promised by Alistair Darling in 2010. 

11:26am On borrowing, Osborne announces that the OBR expects the government to run a budget surplus by 2018-19. 

11:23am Osborne boasts that employment is at a "record high" of 29.95m. That's true, but only because the population has risen. The rate, at 71.8%, remains well below its pre-recession peak of 73.1%.

11:21am Here are the OBR's revised growth forecasts: 1.4% (up from 0.6%), 2.4% ( up from 1.8%), 2.2%, 2.6%, 2.7%, 2.7% 

11:20am Tory MPs cry "apologise" at Labour as Osborne reminds MPs that GDP fell by 7.2% during the recession. 

11:19am Osborne tries to shoot Labour's fox by saying he will help families with the "cost-of-living" where he can. 

11:16am Osborne is up. He wastes no time in delivering his key political message: I have a "long-term" plan and "the biggest risk" comes from those who would "abandon" it. That's Ed Miliband and Ed Balls in case it wasn't clear. 

11:11am While we wait for Osborne to begin, here's 10 things to look out for today. 

George Osborne and Danny Alexander leave the Treasury on the way to parliament to deliver the Autumn Statement. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage