Having won widespread applause for his initial £160bn response to the pandemic back in March, the Chancellor set out a comparatively smaller and targeted £30bn package focused on delivering his Plan for Jobs. With interventions divided between protecting, creating and supporting jobs, this package is about mitigating the inevitable rise in unemployment following the end of the Furlough Scheme in October – currently supporting 9 million UK workers.
The weight on Treasury to deliver creative solutions came to the fore in the government’s “eat out to help out” discount scheme for the hospitality sector. Rapidly badged as a “meal deal” by the Opposition, questions remain on their short validity for just 13 days in August and the exclusion of alcoholic drinks. Coupled with a £4.1bn VAT reduction to 5% for hospitality, accommodation and attractions – the Chancellor showed determination to support the 80% of hospitality firms who were forced to stop working in April.
The consumer facing nature of these announcements, coupled with signed social media graphics, adds further to the ‘Santa Rishi’ brand in the public mindset. The Chancellor will be acutely aware of the dangers associated with this and included a notable warning in his address to the Commons: come the Autumn, “we will deal too, with the challenges facing our public finances” – hinting at new fiscal rules to come. And in a warning to businesses benefiting from government support, he later noted that future interventions – like the latest large business loan scheme - will come “with obligations” on tax, executive pay and green commitments.
Nonetheless, this (predominantly English) spending package will have been well-received across the backbenches, particularly in those critical “blue wall” seats where the economic impact of the deepest global recession on record will be felt acutely. It also lays a gauntlet down to the devolved administrations as they consider their own responses. But with borrowing rates likely to rise again before too long, the question now and for the Autumn Budget is: who pays for it, and how?