The Chancellor began his Budget speech outlining his vision of a united, ‘One Nation’ — and for wonks and hacks playing along to Buzzword Bingo, there was plenty for us.
The last time a Conservative Chancellor delivered a Budget, I was seven years old. Apparently people were kicking off about Hooch at the time, not that I was paying much attention.
Fast forward 19 years and I’m still not sure what ‘a Hooch’ is, but I have certainly paid attention to this Budget.
I think there was a typical amount of over-speculation which got some of us quite worked up about. Not least potential detailed announcements about the Adult Skills Budget and community learning cuts.
We know now we’re going to have to wait until the Spending Review for this, probably around November. And we also know that around £20bn will have to come from government departments that are not protected, unlike schools and health.
Nonetheless, it was disappointing that we didn’t learn more about the intended £900m in-year cuts between the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The introduction of an apprenticeship levy, with more detail expected in today’s Plan for Productivity led by economist Jim O’Neill, of course leaves us with many questions — what does this mean for the wider apprenticeship funding agenda, who pays the levy, who enforces the levy, where the money raised should go etc.
In a way, though, I’m pleased that a policy has been put forward which, at least superficially, offers some level of redistribution in the funding of apprenticeships, recognising that there are ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and the former can do a better job at helping the latter.
Part of the skills section of the Budget speech about the Plan for Productivity was the ending maintenance grants to full-time undergraduates and replacing this support with loans from next year.
Instinctively, the idea that we want to see higher education student debt rise even further from the £44k average is baffling especially as we know that so much of it will never be paid back.
Also, this looks a lot like saddling the poorest students, who would have been entitled to larger maintenance grants, with even larger debts than their more well off counter-parts. However, this policy did feel sadly inevitable.
If you’re a college or provider in the Midlands, there was more in this Budget for you. The Government is committing to working with the region’s local enterprise partnerships to publish a regional skills strategy in the Autumn as part of the Midlands’ Long Term Economic Plan (BINGO!!). We should keep an eye on what this could mean for skills planning, funding and commissioning in the future as more parts of the country explore opportunities for devolved powers in return for electing mayors.
So 20 years on from the 1996 Budget — which may well be remembered by some as the year alcopops got more expensive — the 2015 Summer Budget will be remembered for its vast reforms to the social security system.
Announcements like the 18 to 21 Youth Obligation and removing housing benefit entitlement from under 21-year-olds were not a surprise as they were in the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto.
However, I was not expecting new limits on Universal Credit and Tax Credits based on the number of children you have, and I think the government will face some powerful challenges before this is set to be introduced in April 2017.
I’ll be busy preparing evidence and submissions ahead of the Spending Review from today, and hope you’ll be doing the same.