Chancellor flashes the cash – but where is Norfolk’s money Mr Sunak?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 12 March 2020
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Chancellor Rishi Sunak has delivered his first Budget – and, as political editor Richard Porritt explains, he is hoping medicine in the form of cold, hard cash will save the UK’s economy
Spend, spend, spend - that is the government's tactic for beating the coronavirus as it threatens to trash the UK's economy.
And much of what chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled in his first Budget yesterday will be welcomed by businesses across Norfolk and Waveney.
There were headline-grabbing announcements such as a freeze on business rates for retailers and leisure firms, a loosening on the rules for statutory sick payments and the promise of an open cheque book for the NHS.#
In total it adds up to an astonishing £30bn shot in the arm for the UK at a time when confidence had begun to plummet as the full scale of the crisis loomed.
What is perhaps the most startling aspect of the new government's Budget is the difference to recent statements. Austerity is not just over - it is dead and buried.
Of course the naysayers will claim that much of the stimulus package would not have been necessary if the previous Tory administration had not cut back so deeply.
But that cannot take away from the fact that the government has come out all guns blazing - this is a Tory government the like of which we have not seen for a long time. Perhaps ever. In fact in many respects this was a Budget more akin to a Labour government's. Mr Sunak's words could easily have been Gordon Brown's.
The Tories might have won the last election but, it seems, Labour have won the argument.
The hope now is that the UK can weather the storm of the coronavirus and be well placed to get back on track as soon as possible.
And it is not just the pandemic that is getting money thrown at it.
There were big spending announcements for research, broadband rollout and roads - but once again no specific mention of Norfolk's notorious A47 which desperately requires major works.
In fact once again Norfolk and Waveney should feel ignored. Yes the region will benefit from the coronavirus spending - but we are in desperate need of a stimulus package of our very own.
The chancellor and prime minister will get away with it this time. Coronavirus has given them something of a free hit. But East Anglia requires urgent attention or the region could be left behind as cash is targeted on the North where so many people 'lent' Boris Johnson their votes in the general election.
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Of course there is still some money that has been promised to certain areas - roads for example - without being attached to specific projects. But how can the East expect to be anywhere close to the front of the queue when devolved regions get to argue their case first?
During the Budget the chancellor announced that West Yorkshire - with a population of £2.3m - will get an elected mayor next year. This means Norfolk will be pushed even further down the pecking order.
When the plan for devolution for the East was on the table last time it was scuppered by squabbling politicians. It needs to be discussed again. And this time we need to embrace progress.
Now that the magic money tree has been located expect this Budget to be widely welcomed. However - there is a very BIG 'but'.
Usually when there is a spending splurge chancellors have to make ends meet by grabbing cash from some other area. Yet there were no significant tax hikes.
So where is all this money actually coming from? Did Mr Sunak find it down the back of his sofa when he moved into Number 11?
Sadly not. The UK's overdraft will have to take the considerable strain of this wallet-busting Budget.
The signs the Tories were willing to loosen the purse strings emerged under Theresa May but no-one could have predicted how quickly Mr Johnson would rip up the ideology of the past in favour of this 'hey big spender' policy.
The Tories won't care one bit, of course. The public will, by and large, back plans to battle coronavirus. After Brexit and 10 years of penny pinching the public will welcome the change of direction.
Where does this leave Labour? It is hard for the opposition to take the government to task over action on the virus.
But Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, part of the shadow Treasury, makes some pertinent points about whether the Budget goes far enough on the environment. He also claims there is a element of 'smoke and mirrors' about some of the announcements. Time will tell.