Has the lead-in to a Budget ever been more turbulent?
The answer no doubt is ‘yes’ – on plenty of occasions, I hear my colleagues say – and they’re probably right. (Nothing new there.)
In many ways, the past few weeks have been just like any other pre-Budget period. Lots of speculation about the content. Who will do well out of it. Who won’t. And those on the receiving end – from local government to trade associations – pitching for their slice of the cake.
Sajid Javid’s shock resignation on Valentine’s Day introduced a new dimension and fuelled the debate. It also led to his memorable line about ministers and advisers. Not to mention some uncomfortable wriggling from the frontbench.
With just four weeks to prepare, his replacement was up against it. Add to that the seemingly incessant march of coronavirus on to these shores and nobody would envy Rishi Sunak his job right now. That’s before mentioning the courts’ recent decision on Heathrow and potential implications for other major infrastructure projects.
Given the circumstances, can we expect anything other than a short-term Budget dominated by virus control? It wouldn’t be a surprise for the answer to be another ‘yes’. Arguably, given events in Italy, we should be reassured. However, that outcome is bound to leave many sectors, businesses and people deflated and wanting so much more.
There are big question marks over how (and when) the Prime Minister is going to achieve his ambition to level up the country. In the built environment alone, there are umpteen challenges needing support – from the housing crises of delivery and affordability, to building safety, flood prevention and additional support for our high streets.
More generally, Boris Johnson’s government has made a big play of achieving net zero carbon emissions and, lest we forget, 2020 is supposed to be the year of climate action. The climate emergency is not going away and, surely, there will be widespread criticism if the Budget fails to deliver.
We won’t have to wait long to find out if the Chancellor gives us some of the answers.
Pass the popcorn…but wash your hands first. Obviously.
Dan Knight is an associate director at Camargue