Budget 2013: As it happened

As Chancellor George Osborne outlined details of his fourth Budget on Wednesday, the key message was that the government would be sticking to its austerity plans, regardless of the weakness in the economy.

Economy

The Chancellor said the government was "slowly but surely fixing the economic problems".

  • The Office for Budget Responsibility now estimates gross domestic product (GDP) will grow by 0.6% in 2013, 1.8% in 2014, 2.3% in 2015, 2.7% in 2016 and 2.8% in 2017.
  • Borrowing is forecast to be £114 billion in 2013. This will fall to £87 billion in 2015/16, £61 billion in 2016/17 and £42 billion in 2017/18.

Analyst view: "The growth forecast for 2013 looks entirely realistic, but we have doubts that the economy can achieve the projected expansion rates from 2014 onwards," scoffed Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight.

"We suspect that the economy will struggle to grow by more than 1.5% in 2014 and given [its] deep-seated problems it is hard at this stage to see the economy growing by 2.7% in 2017 and 2.8% in 2018."

He added: "The strong likelihood is that the reduced growth and higher public finance forecasts will be the trigger for Standard & Poor's and or Fitch to follow Moody's in stripping the UK of its AAA rating.

"In particular, the credit rating agencies are likely to be concerned by the fact that public debt is now seen peaking at 85.6% of GDP in 2016/17 rather than at 79.2% of GDP in 2015/16. This means that public debt is not only seen peaking at a percentage of GDP but also does not start falling to 2017/18 which is a year later than was envisaged in the Autumn Statement and two years later than originally targeted."

Monetary Policy

While the inflation target of 2% was reaffirmed, the Chancellor altered the Bank's remit so it could use unconventional tools and employ forward-looking guidance to influence interest rate expectations.

For more, read: New remit for Monetary Policy Committee.

Tax

The personal tax allowance will be raised to £10,000 from 2014, while the size of loans employers can offer tax-free, to pay for items such as season tickets for commuters, doubled to £10,000.

For more, read: Personal allowance upped to £10,000 early.

There was more to chew on the business tax front. Saying Britain was "open for business", the Chancellor revealed a 20% rate of corporation tax from April 2015 - "the lowest business tax of any major economy in the world".

Other highlights included:

  • The first £2,000 will be taken off national insurance paid by every company.
  • Capital gains tax relief for sales of businesses to employees.

For more, read: Boosts to businesses and Generous tax breaks extended for investors in start-ups.

Analyst view: Angus Campbell, head of market analysis at Capital Spreads, welcomed the tax reductions for both low earners and companies.

However, he pointed out the corporation tax cut did not come into effect until 2015 and added: "You only have to look back at the Chancellor's previous budgets to see that the cuts in corporation tax have done little to really boost companies' expansion plans."

Housing and infrastructure

Calling it a "dramatic intervention", the Chancellor unveiled a Help to Buy scheme to get more people on the housing ladder.

This was made up of two components. Firstly, there will be £3.5 billion in capital spending over three years to shared equity loans.

Secondly, for every 5% put down by buyers, the government said it would offer an interest-free loan (for the first five years) for another 20%. This would be repaid when the home was sold. The only caveat was the property could not be worth more than £600,000.

For more, read: Osborne gives home-buyers a leg up and Housebuilders lifted by "Help to Buy" plans.

Housebuilding stocks rose on the news, with Barratt Developments (BDEV), Bellway (BWY) and Taylor Wimpey (TW.) climbing c. 5%, c. 3% and c. 2% respectively.

Separately, the Chancellor announced infrastructure spending would be boosted by £3 billion in 2015/16.

Alcohol and fuel duty

Osborne announce a freeze in the fuel duty for two years, pointing out petrol would be 13p a litre cheaper than if he had not frozen the duty over the last two years.

Additionally, Osborne scrapped April's 3p rise in beer duty. In fact, he "went one step further" and cut beer duty by 1p. However, the "duty escalator" would remain in place for wine, cider and spirits.

For more, read: Diageo could benefit from excise changes.

Analyst view: Campbell acknowledged that the scrapping of the 3p fuel duty rise in September would be cheered by motorists and businesses across the country, but warned that that this was not going to make petrol any cheaper "unless sterling appreciates or crude prices decline".

Angus Elphinstone, founder of the marketplace for British transporters, Anyvan.com, was of the view that the abandoned fuel duty rise did not go far enough.

"Even without fuel duty, petrol and diesel prices are still crippling - both for British transport businesses, and for motorists too," he explained. "The knock-on effect is that transport businesses are forced to cover their costs by upping prices, affecting the very customers who are also struggling to keep their cars on the road as rising prices at the pumps take their toll on household finances."

Families

Osborne reconfirmed the government would pay 20% of the first £6,000 of childcare costs from 2015.

There would also be a £5,000 payment for those who lost money on Equitable Life policies bought before 1992.

For more, read: Older Equitable Life policies will receive compensation and Parents given right to transfer CTFs to JISAs.

Pensions

The single flat-rate pension of £144 a week was brought forward a year to 2016.

For more: read: Increase in pension scheme members' NICs.

Reaction to the Budget

The Chancellor concluded by saying: "This is a Budget that doesn't duck our nation's problems. It confronts them head on. It's a Budget for an aspiration nation."

Opposition leader Ed Miliband called it a "downgraded Budget from a downgraded Chancellor".

More to follow...