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'Devil in the detail' in Brown's budget

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MP MICHAEL HOWARD: claimed Mr Brown was a "discredited" Chancellor
MP MICHAEL HOWARD: claimed Mr Brown was a "discredited" Chancellor

A BUDGET for octogenarians and babies. That's how some business people in Kent summed up Gordon Brown's seventh set-piece profit and loss account to the nation.

Business people, clearly still seething about the hike in National Insurance contributions imposed last time and only feeding through to employers and workers this week, thought it was a "thin" budget.

More than 100 attended a seminar organised by Richard Baxter, from Otham near Maidstone, a tax partner with McBrides accounting firm.

Mr Baxter said there was not a lot in it, but the "devil would be in the detail." He would wait to see the small print in the press releases before he could make a final judgment.

There was a welcome for the new Child Trust Fund for every child born since last September, although it will give most help to children from poorer backgrounds.

Eighty-something pensioners will receive an extra £100 a year winter fuel allowance, taking it up to £300. There was also good news for pensioners now obliged to lose £28 a week from their pension when they have a prolonged stay in hospital.

A number of measures for business were welcomed, notably cutting a few regulations, raising the Vat threshold to £56,000, encouraging more research and development, and boosting business start-ups in poorer areas.

Mike Lazenby, chief executive of Kent Reliance Building Society, said it was a confident performance by a Chancellor who really had nothing to shout about.

"He always seems to be able to do things by the back door and get away with it," said Mr Lazenby. "National Insurance is a good example where everyone has to pay the price."

Mr Lazenby added that freezing income tax bands was also another discreet way of taking money out of people's pockets.

"He got all his numbers wrong and he is gambling on a revival in the economy. If that doesn't happen, I would suspect we've got much worse to come in the next Budget."

The Budget would have no impact on Kent Reliance or the housing market in Kent, Mr Lazenby said. While the Chancellor talked about long-term fixed-rate mortgages, it would be "incredibly difficult" to implement.

He would like to do it but it would need similar long-term savings products to match them.

Mr Lazenby said: "No one would lock into a savings rate over 25 years at four or five per cent. We would have to go to the markets and there are few people who would give you a fixed deal over 25 years."

John Day, of Daymark Associates, Ditton, former chief executive of Medway Chamber of Commerce, attended the live Budget seminar. He said that few businesses would be jumping up and down with glee.

Nigel Bourne, CBI regional director in Sevenoaks, said: "He had little room for manoeuvre and he has turned to more creative ways of improving the overall performance of the economy, especially productivity and investment.

"It's encouraging that his economic forecasts are more in tune with reality and he has fortunately resisted the temptation to put more taxes on business which would have delivered a serious blow to confidence."

Shadow chancellor Michael Howard, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, claimed Mr Brown was a "discredited" chancellor. He said people would be asking: "How long can we trust this chancellor?"

"He used to pride himself on the prudence and caution of his forecasts. Now he's throwing prudence and caution to the wind, now he's becoming a gambling chancellor and for the second time he's had to come and admit that his gamble has not come off."

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