Budget gets mixed reaction as GM Mayor compares it to 'a packet of Polos'
The city-region's elected first citizen said Chancellor Rishi Sunak's speech was "refreshing but full of holes" as he likened it to the famous mints.
Politicians and business groups from Wigan and further afield gave a mixed reaction after Mr Sunak unveiled a raft of measures in the House of Commons on Wednesday lunchtime as he set out the economic path ahead.
Headline-grabbing announcements included a further extension to the furlough scheme, another six months of the Universal Credit uplift, more support for businesses, an income tax freeze and a rise in corporation tax.
Responses after his speech ranged from supportive to extremely critical.
Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue gave a scathing verdict after hearing Mr Sunak.
She said: “For businesses and families there’s still no clear sense of direction. There is nothing fiscally responsible about this government.
“The Chancellor has made it clear he is increasing taxes now so he can cut them before the next election. It is the latest example of Rishi Sunak putting his political ambitions before what’s best for the country.
“It also puts this government on the wrong side of the argument, with business organisations like the CBI agreeing with Labour that now is not the time for immediate tax rises.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly Leigh MP James Grundy had a very different view.
He said: “My constituents will strongly welcome the measures put forward to help ordinary working families and businesses.
“In particular, I welcome the decision to extend the furlough scheme and the self-employed income support scheme until the end of September, which will help protect jobs as we exit the coronavirus crisis.
“I also welcome the new package of restart grants and recovery loans that will help get businesses going again. This is a strong budget for the small and medium sized businesses that make up the bulk of the local economy.
“The decision to continue to freeze both fuel and alcohol duty will be good for commuters as they return to work and good for pubs when we are able to have a pint again.
“This budget delivers the decisive recovery measures we require to get the country going again. It’s exactly what we needed.”
Aside from his quip about Polos Mr Burnham said the Budget was a mixture of the Government listening to suggestions and notable omissions.
He welcomed many of the financial measures, included extending self-employment support to those who had just begun working for themselves when the pandemic hit, and said Mr Sunak “deserves to be congratulated for that”.
However, he said it was quite clear important things had been missed out.
He said: “There was no mention or very little of the NHS and none of social care. Almost a year into the pandemic that is a glaring omission and an insult to staff.
“The lack of self-isolation support is a big hole in our defences and a risk to the roadmap. The continuation of the grant scheme is insufficient.
“It’s noticeable there was no mention of the Northern Powerhouse. We are moving away from the promised strategic vision and infrastructure to localised investments and that needs challenging.
“We are pleased the Government has listened on the issue of people excluded from public support, but there will still be many feeling pretty dejected their plight has not been recognised.
"The fight will go on because we know they are struggling.”
Greater Manchester’s night tsar Sacha Lord also said the measures for those previously excluded from help were insufficient and also promised to push ministers for a Covid indemnity insurance policy for events organisers.
However, he also praised some of the measures for getting businesses back on their feet.
Mr Lord said: “The night time and hospitality sectors have been crying out for support, and we can breathe a sigh of relief that we have been acknowledged.
“The extension to furlough acknowledges that for the majority of operators, recovery will be a slow and steady process.
“This will allow businesses to feel more financially settled before having to bring all staff back or being forced into making redundancies. I know this will save hundreds of thousands of jobs across the sector.
“The business rate and hospitality VAT cuts will be a lifeline to many. We have lost a huge number of venues in the past 12 months, but with these measures in place we can now look forward and support those who have desperately hung on.
“There will be many business owners with renewed hope for the future.”
Wiganer Chris Fletcher, policy and communications director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said there were some positives but also a lot of omissions and questions that still needed answers.
Mr Fletcher said: “There was an awful lot riding on the content of today’s Budget especially for those businesses still struggling with the impact of Covid.
“The first part of the Chancellor’s speech would have given them and others some comfort with the expected extension of the furlough scheme. Supporting this are new rounds of grant monies and business rate reductions. The phasing of VAT will also bring some relief.
“Alongside new measures to help businesses recruit and re-open in the short term this all seems positive, though there are still a huge number of business owners excluded from government support and, as we approach the first anniversary of lockdown, this is far from acceptable.
“The Chancellor’s final section on building a stronger future was, apart from a few exceptions, a bit lacklustre. Overall, there felt little progress on levelling up beyond what we have heard over the last few years.
“While Covid has obviously intervened dramatically, the solutions and proposals for future prosperity, a zero-carbon environment and radical investment felt a bit flat.
“What is still to be seen is what, if any, impact Brexit will have on these economic forecasts and plans. With more businesses facing problems, increased costs and delays with international trade it’s important the impact of this is monitored closely.”
Business organisations and unions also gave their views on some of the other policies announced.
The extension of Stamp Duty and the Government’s backing of mortgages sparked fears of a stampede to complete of buyers rushing to complete before the new deadline and concern that house prices would remain stubbornly high and out-of-reach of those looking to get on the housing ladder.
Prospect accused the Government of “sleight-of-hand” by ending financial support for self-employed workers two months before employees.
The Society of Independent Brewers said beer producers had been given nothing in the Budget and were now at greater risk of shutting altogether, even as the prospect of the hospitality sector reopening emerges.
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