Budget 2015: Hope for high speed trains to Sussex

Louise Stewart
Political editor, South East

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
George Osborne announced the introduction of a national "living wage"

Update: As always with a budget the devil is in the detail. I said on Wednesday in this blog (see below) that there wasn't any detail on infrastructure projects in the chancellor's budget.

That is true, but there was a announcement of interest in the big red book for Sussex commuters.

The Department for Transport has asked the rail industry to include extending HS1 rail services to Hastings and Rye in the forthcoming Kent route study.

The Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, Amber Rudd, has already campaigned hard to reduce journey times from Hastings to London and has lobbied the Rail Minister Claire Perry over bringing high speed rail services to that area.

She welcomed the inclusion of what she described as the "ambitious plans".

But there is still a long way to go before residents would see high speed services.

The findings of the study will be presented to the government in 2016 but they wouldn't look at funding until 2019 - so any improvements for that line are likely to be much further down the track.

Budget day

The chancellor George Osborne has delivered the first Conservative-only budget for almost 20 years.

He told the House of Commons the budget would "put our country firmly on the path from a high tax, high welfare society to a lower tax, lower welfare society".

It was a lengthy budget - the chancellor spoke for more than an hour and six minutes and there were lots of new tax measures and welfare cuts.

What there wasn't though was any detail on infrastructure - the acting Labour leader Harriet Harman chastised him over this saying: "Long-term term economic plan? What kind of long-term economic plan when they are ducking it on Heathrow?"

Benefits cap cut

So, there was no more information on plans to increase aviation capacity in the South East - despite the fact the government has now had an opportunity to digest Sir Howard Davies's proposals.

It had been heavily trailed that there would be benefits cuts and he confirmed one controversial move, the reduction of the benefit cap - which is currently £26,000 per year - to £23,000 in London and £20,000 in the rest of the UK.

The idea of a regional benefits limit was suggested in the last parliament by Labour's Ed Balls - at a higher rate - but was furiously rejected by the party's MPs in the north of England.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman said Mr Osborne ducked the decision on airport expansion

Critics say lowering the cap for the rest of the country is unfair on claimants who live just outside Greater London - in the South East for example where the cost of living is still high.

He also announced that social housing tenants earning more than £40,000 in London and £30,000 elsewhere will have to pay rent at market rates.

'Cuts too harsh'

Again that's likely to be seen as unfair in parts of the South East - for example in Brighton - where housing costs are high but wages are not as high as London.

And he did pull an unexpected rabbit out of the hat when he announced an increase in the mandatory living wage to £9 an hour for over 25s by 2020.

That was welcomed by the Green Party but Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas criticised the benefit cuts announced by the chancellor as being too harsh.

She warned the budget would lead to more poverty for those unable to work and increase child poverty.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mr Osborne announced his first Conservative budget

The move to scrap student grants is also likely to spark criticism that there was very little in this budget for younger people, especially those aged under 25.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Mr Osborne, who was not constrained by coalition partners, was able to announce that from April 2017 parents would be able to pass on to their children up to £1m free of inheritance tax.

That's a measure likely to benefit those living in London and the South East, where properties have increased significantly in value in recent years - more than other parts of the country.

Labour accused the chancellor of playing politics with the budget and said it was "less about economic strategy, more about political tactics designed by the chancellor to help him move next door."