Howard slams Brown's 'credit card' budget

17 March 2004
Conservative Party leader Michael Howard has reacted with fury to Gordon Brown's annual budget statement, delivered by 'the borrow now, tax later Chancellor'.

'The Chancellor's budget begged the central question if everything's going so well why does he have to borrow so much', said Mr Howard, speaking in the Commons.

He then criticised Gordon Brown's forecasting, noting that borrowing in 2001 was only £30bn, rising to £72bn in 2002 and then £140bn this year. This was five times more than Mr Brown's predictions made in 2001, thus making it 'a credit card budget from a credit card Chancellor', Mr Howard argued.

Mr Howard moved on to savings, noting from the budget that savings had fallen from 10% as a percentage of national income in 1997 to just 5% this year. 'The government's policy on saving is a mess', he claimed, before going on to highlight that business investment has fallen for two years in a row, trade deficit is at the highest level since the 17th Century and manufacturing output is lower than it was in 1997. For manufacturing, this meant job losses of 6,000 a month, he added.

The Tory leader welcomed the increasing resources to combat terrorists and savings from merging the Inland Revenue with Customs and Excise, though pressed for reassurances that there will be little political interference from central government in the shape of the previous tax credits disruption surrounding the Inland Revenue.

On the Barker report on housing, Mr Howard noted that the government had built the lowest number of new houses in peacetime since 1924.

He also praised the decision to increase income for pensioners over 70, though warned those concerned that 'what this Chancellor gives, this Chancellor takes away'.

Growth forecasts, he argued, 'are fuelled by public sector boom paid for by a public sector Chancellor'. In addition, Mr Howard highlighted that Mr Brown had got forecasts for revenue, deficit and borrowing all wrong.

'This is a government that has increased taxes and increased borrowing', which he pointed out was 'unsustainable'. 'If Labour get a third term, tax rises are inevitable', Mr Howard added.

He continued to pour scorn on the government's growing 'mountain of debt', referring to comments made by David Frost, Director General of the British Chamber of Commerce, who had warned the UK has a '£30bn millstone around its neck'.

Mr Howard continued to slate the government on wasting public money, outlining that there is £15bn a year of waste in the NHS, without modernisation. This was in spite of the Chancellor's annual promises that this would be addressed, he said.

With the annual cost of running central government up £7bn since 1997, waiting times getting longer, violent crime at its highest level ever, few indicators showing improvements in the numbers of patients treated and the Energy Minister stating in the US that 'too often a lot of money is being spent, but very little seems to be achieved', Mr Howard claimed that 'this government will never deliver real reform of public services'.

'The sooner they, go the better it will be for our country', he concluded.