Swingeing cuts store trouble for the future

There’s an old adage that a Budget which is well received turns out to be not so good when its full impact is later felt.

As an observer I thought that for presentation and confidence George Osborne put in a good performance.

A first Budget for a young Chancellor who’s only been in the job for six weeks is a daunting task, and Mr Osborne more than met the standard required of him.

But, as a partisan politician, my compliments about the content of the Budget statement, rather than its delivery, are rather thin, and for good reasons.

The “emergency” with which this Budget has been tagged is of this new Government’s own making.

Their overblown rhetoric, inaccurately comparing the UK’s position with Greece and talking down the inherent position of the UK economy, has forced them into taking some harsh decisions which time is likely to show will be unnecessarily damaging to our economy and to the lives of the vast majority of the British people.

They argue that the deficit is so huge that only the roughest kind of surgery could cure it. Now I am not in the least complacent about the deficit.

However, the issue is not about whether action is taken to cut the deficit – about which there can be no argument – but how quickly and by how much. We would have halved the deficit in four years – and far from Alistair Darling “fiddling” the figures for pre-election consumption, the new Government’s own “Office of Budget Responsibility” shows the deficit for the last financial year, and again for this year, £10bn below Mr Darling’s March estimates.

Our total debt is half that of Greece. When the banking collapse began in 2008 we had similar debt to France and the US (and well below Japan and Italy), and that was where we were due to end up.

There was therefore nothing “unavoidable” about this Budget.

It’s a result of explicit choices made by the Conservative leadership. It will, I believe, undermine the recovery.

And don’t just take that from me.

President Obama has just written a lengthy letter to leaders of the “G20” group of the most industrialised nations, pleading with them not to take action which could put world economic prospects into reverse – in other words opposing the prevailing European view.

Nor is there much “fair” or “progressive” about this Budget. The small print shows the poorest 10 per cent will proportionately lose slightly more of their income from the changes than those with twice their income.

Then there’s the impact on our area. The North West Regional Development Agency is to be abolished.

And in four years all public services apart from the NHS face having one pound in every four cut from their budget.

But whether we agree with it or not we can all understand why the Conservatives have introduced this Budget. It’s what they do. But as for the Liberal Democrats? Words almost fail me. From VAT rises to these huge cuts they are now voting for measures they opposed seven weeks ago, and said they would never back.

Blackburn’s roads

The Big Freeze that hit Blackburn with Darwen this winter inflicted massive damage on our already poor roads. Snow and ice left the already hole filled roads in the Borough with a  moonscape of pitted and potholed roads to be repaired right across the Borough. The roads have become a danger to road users, pedestrians, cars and bikes. At one point I thought they were trying to create a number of swimming pools on every street.

That’s why in last week’s Budget, Labour announced an extra £100 million funding for local authorities to help put the damage right – including an extra £143,000 for Blackburn with Darwen.

With the encouragement of Jack, who has had complaints from many residents on the state of the roads, the Government took  rapid and decisive action to ensure that our roads are in the best possible condition before next winter.

Knowing how this Tory /Liberal run Council has wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds that has been given to them by the Labour Government, and to make sure it is spent on our roads, the money will be ring-fenced, with the Council being forced to  publish a  report on the work they’ve carried out with the funding.

This means the funding will go where it should go – to plug the potholes.  And we’ll be able to make sure that Blackburn with Darwen Council has made the repairs properly and spent the money wisely.

You’ll also be pleased to know that Labour has recently announced plans to make sure utility companies repair roads properly after carrying out their work. Taken together, it is clear proof of our determination to tackle maintenance problems and make our local roads safe and fit for purpose.

All this comes on top of a trebling in Labour’s investment for local road maintenance over the past decade – up from £265 million in 2000/01 to £809 million in 2010/11, it’s just a pity that this Tory/Lib run Council has not spent the money wisely.

But we understand we must also look forward to help avoid another sudden deterioration in road conditions in the future. So, we will be ensuring that this Council will focus on longer term resurfacing and maintenance work.

All this demonstrates that when things go wrong, Labour is on your side. Taking the decisions in the interest of the many and not the few and working to make the road ahead as smooth as possible