Budget 2020: The chancellor's very large cheque book

Laura Kuenssberg
Political editor
@bbclaurakon Twitter

  • Published
Chancellor Rishi SunakImage source, Getty Images

He started looking a little bit like the nervous new boy.

Rishi Sunak has barely been in one of the biggest jobs in the country for a month.

But the chancellor certainly found his stride as the astonishing scale of the government's first Budget became clear.

First off, a £30bn stimulus for the economy, in particular the emergency with the coronavirus crisis - a mixture of extra cash for the health service, loan guarantees, abolishing business rates for some firms this year and a promise that the government will pick up the significant cost of sick pay for small firms, if their workers have to stay at home because of the illness.

That is an enormous amount of money by any measure, accompanied by a promise that there is more where that came from if needs be.

And it was not just the urgent requirements of the unfolding coronavirus that caused the chancellor to get out a very large cheque book.

As expected, he outlined a generational change in the rate of spending on the bricks and mortar of the public realm, £175bn more than planned before the election.

He promised more money for the NHS, for further education, for housing.

Media caption,

Chancellor Rishi Sunak's first Budget was "bold" and "audacious"

There was a huge uplift in the amount the government spends on research and development, along with the announcement of the dream of the prime minister's controversial adviser Dominic Cummings, who has long argued for an agency like ARPA - the US Advanced Research Projects Agency.

And to please the new Tory MPs in the hope of pleasing their new voters, there were expected measures to try to even out the lopsided nature of the economy. It seemed at times like it was raining cash.

There is a BIG but.

The government not surprisingly didn't fancy making any big tax rises either, so the new chancellor had to find all that cash somewhere else.

Where? In an absolutely enormous new national overdraft.

Long gone are the days when the Conservatives preached fiscal rectitude as their priority.

The scale of the spending and borrowing announced today would be the stuff of a 2010 George Osborne's nightmares.

The Tories have been drifting away from that ideology for some time, but today the new chancellor buried it several feet under.

Labour can argue with deep frustration that the Conservatives are new converts to the cause, that borrowing to spend on what the country needs is the right way to look after the economy.

But with a potential economic and health emergency on coronavirus and a deep political ambition, their cries, of "we told you so", won't bother the Tories much, at least for now.

PS - Keep an eye out though. As with any Budget, a huge amount of information suddenly emerges, and it takes time to plough through the numbers and the black and white of what's been announced. Surprises may emerge in the coming hours.