George Osborne's Budget, the M4, and Wales
- 19 March 2014
- From the section Wales politics
Not so long ago, if a chancellor referred to M4 in his Budget speech the chances are he would be talking about the money supply.
With George Osborne, he is more likely - as he was today - to be talking about the M4 motorway linking London with south Wales. Two and a half years ago, the chancellor promised to work with the Welsh government to sort out congestion in the Newport area. I may have mentioned that yesterday.
Today, Mr Osborne told MPs: "Tomorrow we introduce legislation to give new tax and borrowing powers to the Welsh Government to fund their infrastructure needs, and they can start now on work to improve the M4 in South Wales."
All systems go, then? Well, up to a point. The M4 relief road is not yet a work in progress, despite the agreement for the Welsh government to use existing borrowing powers inherited from the old Welsh Development Agency. Mentioning it in his speech (again) serves to indicate George Osborne's support for the project while putting the focus on the Welsh government to deliver it.
There were few surprises in the Welsh angles we were expecting. The Welsh government gets £36m more to spend over two years, an insignificant increase of around 0.1% in its annual budget. This is a consequence of higher spending in England, including - for the first time - new money on flood defences. The Welsh government gets £585,000 as a result of a cathedral restoration fund. Of course, it can spend the money as it sees fit. It says its budget is £70m less than it was expecting because of pension commitments. Either way, this is the small change of public spending.
There is the anticipated help for big energy users, such as steelworks. The Wales Office had been pushing for this in its Budget submission and Welsh Secretary David Jones said: "I was particularly pleased to see that the Chancellor unveiled a radical package of measures to cut energy costs. This will be a welcome boost to the energy intensive industries that employ thousands of people across Wales as well as cutting energy bills for hardworking households too." There's concern in industry that the scheme won't kick in for two years.
The expected increase in the personal tax allowance - from £10,000 in 2014/15 to £10,500 in 2015/6 - will, say the Wales Office benefit 1.2million tax payers in Wales (that is , most of them) and lift 14,000 low-paid people out of income tax altogether although many of them will still pay national insurance.
Mr Osborne said this was a Budget for savers. The Wales Office estimates up to 74,000 savers could benefit from the cut in the starting rate of savings tax and the increase in the band to which it applies. Rather more optimistically, the Wales Office says raising overall ISA limits to £15,000 could benefit up to £299,000 account holders in Wales. Good news if you have a few grand spare.
If you're lucky enough to find rather more cash down the back of your sofa, you could start an airline. The snappily-titled "regional air connectivity fund" will offer start-up aid to encourage airlines to start flying new routes from regional airports: good news for state-owned Cardiff Airport.
Should you wish to celebrate or drown your sorrows, your pint of beer should cost 1p less. According to the Wales Office, "This will benefit the 3,440 pubs in Wales, including the 31,600 people employed directly in them and their customers."
You can see the Budget's key points here.