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Prices cut in the high streets after Darling's announcement

Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling
Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling

The cost of goods on Kent's high streets will come down next week after the Chancellor cut VAT from 17.5 per cent to 15 per cent.

Alistair Darling aims to boost shopping by the move, one of the main highlights of his eagerly-awaited 55-minute pre-budget report.

But the cut, to be introduced from December 1, will only last 13 months and will not apply to most food items, which are already zero rated. The cut is expected to cost £12.5bn.

"We want retailers to pass it on as soon as they can," he told MPs in what was widely seen as one of the most crucial budget speeches in years.

There will be more money for pensioners, with the pension credit going up, as well as the state pension going up as usual by the rate of inflation - this time from £90.70 to £95.25.

All pensioners who normally receive an extra £10 at this time of the year will receive an extra £60.

"These are exceptional times and they need exceptional measures," the Chancellor said.

But there was bad news for high-earners. A new 45 per cent tax band will be introduced for anyone earning over £150,000 from April 2011.

National Insurance contributions will also rise by half of one per cent on the same date. While personal allowances will be increased for all taxpayers, it will be recuced from April 2011 for those earning between £100,000 and £140,000.

Families with children will also see child benefit increasing. Low income savers will be given 50p of Government money for every pound they invest.

People facing redundancy will be given extra help. Duty on fuel and cigarettes will rise as planned.

Measures for business include reductions in the controversial empty property rate and deferring a planned increase in corporation tax.

Mr Darling’s measures, which he claimed would give a fiscal stimulus worth £20bn, will raise borrowing levels to as much as £118bn - eight per cent of GDP - that had some MPs gasping. He claimed the recession would be longer and deeper if he did nothing.

But the pre-budget was condemned as a "tax bombshell" by shadow chancellor George Osborne. He claimed the Chancellor and Prime Minister Gordon Brown were giving away with one hand and taking it back with another. Temporary tax cuts would be replaced by permanent ones, he said.

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