That was the message from last week’s Budget from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt who, having restored stability to the public finances of the UK in the autumn, was able to set out a package of measures to help support households and push growth. This all comes against a backdrop of much more positive economic prospects for the UK.
It is now expected that a technical recession will be avoided, contrary to many of the dire predictions we heard last year. And the economy is expected to grow more quickly over the next two years than was previously expected, generating higher tax revenues and a healthier set of books, giving the Chancellor more funds to play with.
Recognising the severe pressures on many households from the rising costs of living, the Chancellor extended the energy price guarantee until June, saving the average family £160 a year. Crucially, those who pay for their energy via pre-payment meters will see a major advantage as their charge is brought into line with comparable customers who pay by direct debit. The planned rise in fuel duty has been scrapped, a measure that will be to the benefit of those living in more rural areas who have no option but to rely on a private car as a means of transport.
Perhaps the most far-reaching aspects of the Budget were directed at expanding the labour market, by attracting back to work those over 55 who had perhaps taken early retirement, and by encouraging those with disabilities to take up more paid work. This, coupled with major new spending on childcare, which the Scottish Government should replicate, will help address the concerns many employers have over the difficulty they presently find in recruiting suitable staff.
All taken together, this is a credible package for economic growth which will benefit Scotland as much as other parts of the UK. It would be good to see the Scottish Government having the same commitment to putting the economy first rather than obsessing over separation, as the three contenders for the SNP leadership are currently doing. At least one of Scotland’s governments has got its priorities right.
Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife