Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

The Budget

No one was expecting any big giveaways, but the best things definitely came in small packages in Wednesday's Budget.

Chancellor George Osborne knew that, above all, he had to tackle runaway fuel prices.

Everyone expected Mr Osborne to either scrap April's fuel duty increase - which would have put yet another 5p on the price of a litre of petrol - or to introduce a fuel stabiliser to hold prices level when oil prices rise.

No one, however, expected him to do both.

And we certainly didn't foresee the Chancellor lopping a further 1p off duty from 6pm on Wednesday, in a move which the Automobile Association branded 'a blinder'.

In fact, Mr Osborne showed he had a few tricks up his sleeve when it came to pleasing a disconsolate nation. He upped tax thresholds, giving those on lower incomes a crucial breathing-space.

And there were no new increases when it came to those normal whipping boys of No 11 Downing Street, alcohol and tobacco.

For the first time in decades, it seemed, the Government had opted to do something for ordinary people.

Mary Wilson, a shop assistant from Co Antrim, was delighted. "I won't have to pay any more tax for a start," she said.

"I'm very happy drink isn't going up and I can cope with the small increase in cigarettes, but I'm so pleased about the price of petrol.

"Fuel has become so expensive lately I was starting to think I would have to give up my job because it was costing me so much to go to work."

And, from that perspective, the Budget must be regarded as a defining moment for the coalition.

Of course, there will be losers.

For example, Advice NI, the independent advice network, said the Budget offered little relief to thousands of Northern Ireland homeowners facing a mortgage repayment crisis.

But Mr Osborne could hardly have been in a tougher spot.

Unemployment is rising and it's affecting young people in particular.

Soaring prices for heating and clothes is threatening to prompt a rise in interest rates. And the UK is not far enough out of recession to ignore its citizens, or become complacent.

So the Government did the only thing it could - it took the middle ground.

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