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Budget reaction from law firm Blake Morgan

Written by Bruce Potter, Chairman at Blake Morgan

“The Chancellor’s first Budget is one of unplanned circumstance, to a degree. Above all COVID-19 has succeeded in disrupting what should have been the Chancellor’s first attempt at outlining what the government’s vision for the post-Brexit UK really is. But what was announced – on the face of it – is still radical. Amongst the usual giveaways – such as protecting the price of a pint and petrol at the pump – this Budget signifies that this is a government willing to finally take advantage of low borrowing costs to invest. Investment in roads, education, cleaner fuel types, scientific R&D and flood defences come with striking figures attached, far more than in any another recent government Budget. Moreover, the government realises that it needs to ensure the economic benefits of major investment are not only radical but regional too is encouraging news.

“However, there’s a danger this Budget is simply an updated Conservative manifesto – a mix of the pragmatic and the popularist. Behind the big figures, the government needs to be sure it has a clear vision for the UK. This may appear in the coming days in subsequent announcements on national infrastructure including planning reform and road investment, but the government needs to ensure its plans are strategic and not totemic, so businesses really know what our post-Brexit future is. It’s easy to promise big infrastructure, but confusions over Heathrow, long deliberations over HS2 and rebellion over 5G all suggest this government still isn’t comfortable making the case for major – sometimes disruptive – projects.

“We should also be concerned about what’s missing. Keystone promises on new hospitals and nursing staff restate earlier commitments, but there was little on how we tackle the crisis in our social care sector, plug the recruitment holes left by a post-EU immigration policy and how we finally get to grips with the skills shortages. These aren’t new problems; they’re repetitions of successive failures by previous governments too, but the failure to recognise those challenges is a concern. Whatever the short term issues there may be these long term problems will not go away easily.

“Set against the context – wobbles in the economy and a potential pandemic – there’s lots here to suggest this government can throw off the uncertainty of the last three years, but there’s still work to be done to shape and energise the UK’s post-Brexit future.”