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Surprise! – Not

the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable

Once upon a time, the Budget was full of surprises. Once upon a time, a Chancellor stood up in the House to reveal the plans that he – ’twas always thus – and his civil servants in the Treasury had been working on late into the night, after night and we didn’t know what was in the red box until he or the BBC told us.

I know I’m not the only one old enough to remember the shock with which we heard Geoffrey Howe announce that VAT (a tax that was only ever meant to be a temporary replacement of the old purchase tax) would be nearly doubled from 8% to a heart-stopping but more mental-arithmetic-friendly 15%.

In these days of spin, leaks, press briefings and Twitter, there’s precious little that get announced in the Budget that hasn’t already been revealed, and so it was with last week’s Summer Budget.

The changes to inheritance tax we’d heard about already so no surprises there. The investment in apprenticeships is great news, but one that we knew was on the cards. The changes to the Minimum Wage and the Living Wage pledge had been talked about for a while – though not by the Tories, it has to be said. The cuts to housing benefit come as no surprise to anyone who came of age in the 1980s, nor to anyone who remembers Osborne’s pronouncement a few months ago that the deficit still requires much work. The true ramifications of this probably won’t become apparent for years.

What was more surprising – in a way – was the deafening silence on any issues relating to energy or energy efficiency.

At the start of the Coalition Government, Cameron loftily announced that he would be presiding over “the greenest Government ever”. Well, we all know how that turned out. But the distinct lack of emphasis upon or even acknowledgement of, energy issues last week makes it clear that any energy emphasis in the last Government came from the Lib Dems. Is that what you really want people to be saying about you Mr Cameron?

It’s ridiculous that there was nothing on this issue when it’s at the heart of how we develop a sustainable society. For starters, we need to reduce carbon emissions by 80% in the next 35 years – it’s legally binding target. If we don’t tackle the emissions coming from existing housing – which is getting on for a third of all UK emissions – then that target will go the way of the “greenest Government ever” claim.

Maybe what we need is for the SNP – those routers of the Lib Dems – to pick up the energy efficiency torch and force another Cameron climb down. It seems to have worked for the foxes.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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