With death on the streets around the European Union Headquarters building and the Budget shambles at home, it has been a bad week for those of us wanting a remain vote in June’s EU referendum.

The disgusting terrorist atrocities suggest Europe is falling apart under a wave of violence. The events in Brussels come hard upon the migrant crisis where the EU did not cover itself in glory.

People should realise that the economic arguments for staying in the biggest market in the world and the perils of the unknown offered by the Brexiteers, should overwhelm concerns about terrorism and migrants. But after the Chancellor’s bungled budget, will they?

Labour actually edged ahead in one opinion poll and that was even before Iain Duncan Smith resigned. It is a sign that the traditional mid term unpopularity suffered by all governments has come early. People may look at the most senior advocates of remaining in the EU, the Prime Minister and Chancellor, and decide to give them a kicking for the way they are running the UK, rather than think about the dangers of leaving.


Iain Duncan Smith has been a disruptive force in Tory politics for two decades. In the nineties he helped to force the sitting Prime Minister, John Major, the resign and stand again for his own job over Europe. He then became Tory leader in 2003 but showed no signs of avoiding a third successive defeat and was replaced a couple of years later. In government since 2010 he has been on a single-minded crusade to reform the benefits system, so single minded that he clearly has been a nightmare to deal with. Faced with the Chancellor constantly demanding cuts, it is surprising the resignation didn’t come earlier.

Neither Osborne or Duncan Smith have emerged from the events of the last week with much credit. Universal credit is a good idea but it should have been rolled out to over 5 million people by now. The current figure is 200,000. That is failure.

The other failure is George Osborne’s failure to hit any of the targets that he floats at election time to woo the voters. The cap on welfare, reducing the National Debt and the ever receding promise to get the books in surplus by 2020. Even in the Budget it was going to be achieved with some sleight of hand involving Corporation Tax receipts. Now his only hope is a booming economy will fill in the four billion pound black hole.

The retreat on things like welfare cuts and the tampon tax can apparently be accommodated according to the Chancellor which begs the question why disabled people were put through the ringer in the first place.

The one nation Tory Party theme is holed below the water line. The true face of George Osborne was shown in that nasty jibe about abolishing the Lib Dems. Pride always comes before a fall and whilst the Lib Dems are on a long journey back, Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the budget crisis (not overdoing the point scoring) may ensure a better set of election results in May than he could have hoped for a few weeks ago.





You’ll look for an ideological thread in the Chancellor’s budget in vain. On the one hand he regards it as acceptable to cut disabled benefits whilst cutting Corporation Tax again. On the other hand the sugar tax is an intervention in the free market that met with the immediate approval of Jeremy Corbyn.

Then there was the missed opportunity to increase petrol duty at a time when the slump in world oil prices meant motorists would hardly have noticed. He didn’t do it apparently so as to appease Tory backbenchers who he wants to vote for him for leader. But earlier in his speech he referred to the Office of Budget Responsibility’s warning that leaving the EU would lead to “disruptive uncertainty.” The OBR are right, Osborne was right to refer to the biggest issue that could disrupt his Budget strategy, but it didn’t go down well with many of those Tory backbenchers.


It was a complex, somewhat incoherent Budget which nonetheless had some good things in it for small business and the Northern Powerhouse. I thought the Leeds-Manchester rail line had been given the go-head a few times already but, anyway, it was in the Budget along with creating a 4 lane M62 over the Pennines. News that a case will be developed for a Manchester-Sheffield road tunnel is good news too. Greater Manchester once again gets more powers, this time over justice issues. But ominously whilst elected mayoral deals were announced for some rural areas, there was silence on Leeds, Greater Yorkshire and Cumbria. Knowsley is to get the northern Shakespeare Theatre which is brilliant and a reward for the lobbying work of local MP George Howarth. Perhaps he could play Lear in the first production!


600,000 small businesses will pay zero rates from next year when the payment threshold is lifted £15000. This is even higher than campaigners were hoping for but there was more good news in George Osborne’s red box. The annual rise in business rates will in future be pegged to the consumer price index rather than the higher retail price index. There are also likely to be more frequent reviews. Due to government delays, businesses are still paying tax based on property values dating back to the financial crisis.

The elected mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region are to be given full powers over spending business rates but there is a downside for them and all local government. Town Halls will soon depend on business rates for their income rather than central grant. If Chancellor’s keep reducing the rates, council services will suffer further.

They will anyway because the Chancellor is looking for another £3.5bn of public spending cuts in 2019 as part of his desperate attempt to leap from a deficit of £20bn in 2019 to a surplus of £10bn in election year.

By then, the theory goes, George Osborne will be Prime Minister. There are just the little problems of Brexit, Boris and the good old British economy in the way.



Downtown in Business  campaign for a “northern revolution” to close the North South divide got a major boost this week. A leading think tank has recommended that cash strapped councils and public agencies across the North should come together to find new ways of delivering services in cooperation with the private sector.


The Smith Institute launched the report in Leeds amid claims that public spending cuts were on such a scale that senior officers and councillors could quit in despair. The report’s author, Michael Ward, warned town hall trade unions that they must cooperate in change of suffer the fate of the print unions who led a futile fight against changes in newspaper production in the 1980s.


Public sector cuts are leading to a major rethink about the very basis on which services are delivered. Roger Marsh, Northern Leader for Government and the Public Sector for Price Waterhouse Cooper in Leeds feels the current system of delivering council services is broken. He believes the Combined Authority model already operating in Greater Manchester could be copied in West Yorkshire.


The report paints a gloomy picture of the central government’s ability to sustain local government from a shrinking pool of tax revenue. It says that North Sea oil is in decline and countries are engaged in a race to the bottom in slashing Corporation Tax.


The report analyses the claim that northern councils are doing worse than their southern counterparts in the current settlement. They find that it is so and point out that the New Homes Bonus is benefiting southern councils that would have built new houses anyway.


Mr Ward called on councils to use technology to cut costs so they could concentrate on personal services for children and the old. John Pugh, the Lib Dem MP for Southport, said it was not a good time for council’s to be visionary. His authority, Sefton, was totally preoccupied with coping with the cuts.


Mr Ward ended with a rallying call for a Constitutional Convention for England to debate his proposals. Perhaps he will join Downtown’s Northern Revolution.