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Budget 2015: What to expect from George Osborne's last budget of the coalition

George Osborne will say the UK faces a "critical choice" at the election when he delivers his Budget today – but what do we know so far?

Depending on the election result in May, today could be Osborne's final Budget. Unsurprisingly, Twitter is clear of any patronising adverts highlighting the changes to beer and bingo taxes - the things working people enjoy, of course. But the newspapers this morning are swelling with leaks, announcements and juicy rumours. Here's a round up, for anyone (including us) too excited to wait:

Inheritance tax

In plans leaked to the Guardian, Osborne has drawn up blueprints that would allow parents to pass a main property worth up to £1m to their children without paying inheritance tax. This would reduce the inheritance tax bill on properties worth up to £2m by £140,000 with the Treasury concluding that the scheme would “most likely benefit high income and wealthier households.” Quelle surprise.

Power-generating lagoon

Helen Lewis spotted the first shameless reannouncement of today’s Budget: the world’s largest power-generating lagoon, in South Wales. Negotiations will be started on funding a £1bn initiative to produce electricity from turbines in Swansea Bay.

Personal Tax Allowance

Raising the personal allowance to £11,000 – giving 27m people a £200 tax cut. But as Tim Wigmore has reported, raising the tax allowance has already reached its limits for helping the poorest families. Once the personal allowance had reached £10,500, three million people had been taken out of income tax altogether.

Death of the tax return

The Telegraph has splashed this morning on the “death of the annual tax return”. It is expected that Osborne will use the Budget to announce a cut in unnecessary HMRC “red tape” Tax returns, the paper reports, “have been long considered an unnecessary burden for millions of people”.

A new shiny coin

This “long-term economic plan” is certainly under way: a new shiny 12-sided (!) pound coin will be unveiled. Featuring the “four symbols” of the UK: a rose, leek, thistle and shamrock. Sorry? The Chancellor announced the plans at the Budget in 2014 to replace the £1 coin because it has been increasingly vulnerable to counterfeit.
 

Photo: Twitter

Postgraduate Loans

Loans of up to £25,000 for PhD students from disadvantaged backgrounds in an attempt to convince more people to take up postgraduate research.

Savings Tax

The Independent believe they’ve found the biggest “rabbit” in today’s Budget: they say the Chancellor will abolish tax on income from savings for millions in a move to woo pensioners and “hard-working” people. In last year's Budget, Osborne announced that that 10 per cent tax on saving for people on low incomes will be abolished next month. This change will help an estimated 1.5m savers, many of them pensioners, according to the Indy.

Welfare

According to reports in the Daily Mail, the Chancellor will be announcing a welfare cap as he sets out more than £12bn in benefit cuts... and guess who will be affected the most? Read on... 

Young people

At the bottom of the list for a reason. No “goodies” or happy “rabbits” for the under-25s it seems. In fact, they are set to lose the right to housing and unemployment benefits if they refuse offers of work, training or education. It seems the controversial Tory grandee, Lord Tebbitt, whose ambition it is to make young unemployed people pull up ragwort for benefits, might be gleeful at the Budget today. 

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn

 

 

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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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