Editor's blog

All human actions are equivalent... and all are on principle doomed to failure.

Hell in a handcart

30/11/2011 10:27:45

Well those of us who thought that last week's Housing Strategy didn't go far enough found out why at about 12.30pm yesterday when that nice George Osborne stood up in the House of Commons and told that there's no money.

Apparently the economic hole that we are in (in inference from this Government is that it is all the fault of the previous incumbents) is bigger, deeper and blacker than anyone had previously realised. Even those people that we voted into government because they are supposed to understand these things better than we plebs do.

Anyone in the public sector in two minds about striking today probably decided to do so at the announcement of the pay restraints to come in after the current two-year pay freeze has thawed.

And anyone in their 40s who were hoping (foolishly) to retire at 66 will be disappointed as the state pension age was announced yesterday as moving up to 67 (and you can bet by the time we get to 67 it will have gone up again).

Confidence is vital in getting the economy moving again and there wasn't much of that dished out for the general populace.

There were, however, a few surprises. Having pinched the slogan of the Get Britain Building Campaign, the government has shown that it actually has listened to the construction industry and understands how vital a part of the economy it is.

Osborne listed something like 40 major infrastructure projects that will be getting the go-ahead in something of a spending binge. Although we need to bear in mind that much of that is just reinstating projects that were cancelled in his first Emergency Statement. He also confirmed the measures set out in the Housing Strategy but put the kybosh on the stamp-duty holiday for first-time buyers (which probably wasn't working anyway).

And, thanks probably to the campaigning by the FairFuelUK campaign, the proposed fuel duty rise of 5p for this January has been scrapped and the August rise will be scaled back from 5p to 3p. So we should be thankful for small mercies.

Although the fact that commuters are praising the limiting of railway ticket prices to 1% over RPI that than 3% over RPI just shows how conditioned we have become to the astronomical cost of public transport. No wonder we all drive everywhere.

The news on the infrastructure projects is good, there's no doubt about that. But it is a long-term solution, with most of these projects taking years and years to get completed. Where's the help for the builders and plumbers, the merchants, the removal companies, the conveyancers and anyone else whose fortunes are tied in with a healthy housing market in the intervening years?

A healthy refurbishment market helps more people and brings in more money more quickly than big infrastructure projects. But with a 20% VAT premium still levied on top of any housing repair, the RMI sector isn't going to get us out of the hole anytime soon.

There's always the Green Deal of course, which has just had an extra £200m. But read the consultation documents and you come to the conclusion pretty soon that it's a lot of style over substance and that the bods at DECC haven't a clue about the best, simplest, most cost effective ways of saving energy.

Is that handcart going to hell? Budge up and make room.

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