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Budget 2017: There are few fireworks from Spreadsheet Phil's debut

By Richard Ramsey

Chancellor Philip Hammond surprised those anticipating a boring Budget by littering his speech with jokes and gags. However, there were definitely none of the pyrotechnic policies that were prominent in the last Chancellor's Budgets, like the sugar levy, as the substance of 'Spreadsheet Phil's' announcements lived up to his nickname.

Some of the most noteworthy aspects of the speech related to analysis of the economy and finances, rather than policies.

The short-term economic and fiscal outlook has improved, but the UK's long-term economic challenges remain.

The Budget applied a sticking plaster to public finances, with tax rises more than offsetting fresh spending commitments.

Looking at the growth forecasts in detail, while there is an upgrade to economic growth for 2017, there are downgrades for the following three years, with growth between 2018 and 2020 set to be below 2% each year.

Usually, duties attract a lot of media attention in the Budget, but yesterday it was a case of 'nothing to see here', with most of the duties rising in line with inflation, and on National No Smoking Day duty on cigarettes was up 2% above inflation.

A number of areas are to receive additional public spending. Social care is set to receive £2bn over the next three years, although it has been argued by many that this is insufficient to meet growing demands.

Encouragingly, to this end, the Chancellor announced that a Green Paper would be produced later this year on funding for social care.

The upshot of the additional spending is that Northern Ireland will receive an extra £120m.

But even with this, spending in real terms is set to fall. If a Northern Ireland Executive were in place, it could decide how this money would be spent. However, without a Northern Ireland Executive, there is no Budget.

The challenges remain for productivity and getting the public finances on a sustainable footing, issues that are even more pressing for Northern Ireland. Austerity watchers, as you were.

  • Richard Ramsey is Ulster Bank's chief economist

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