GEORGE Osborne’s budget has been met with mixed reaction from political and business leaders in St Helens.
The Chancellor's confirmation that austerity will continue after next year’s general election has twisted the knife in local authorities already suffering from massive budget cuts, Barrie Grunewald, the Labour leader of St Helens Council, said last night.
However, St Helens Chamber believes George Osborne’s plans are heading in the right direction towards generating business growth, particularly a £7billion package to cut manufacturing energy bills.
Osborne, who announced a radical shakeup of savings and pensions that political commentators suggested were designed to appeal to the greying voter, said austerity would need to continue after the election, when 90per cent of the deficit reduction was planned to come from spending cuts.
The Chancellor said his measures were designed to deal with the economy's long-term weaknesses.
He told the Commons: "The economy is continuing to recover – and recovering faster than forecast.
"We're putting Britain right. But the job is far from done. Our country still borrows too much. We still don't invest enough, export enough or save enough."
Bu in a statement Cllr Grunewald said that “devastating cuts” to local authority budgets will continue well into the next parliament, affecting more council services.
He said: “The Chancellor has made it quite clear that the pressure on public spending will continue through to 2018.
"First they drove a dagger into the heart of St Helens and now they have chosen to twist it, causing maximum pain.
“The budget is a reflection of the gap between the chancellor's rhetoric and the reality facing millions of families who are worse off across the UK.
“The majority of people are, on average, £1,600 worse off each year since 2010.”
Meanwhile, Tracy Mawson, director of business services at St Helens Chamber, believes Osborne’s plans can help the town’s private sector prosper.
She said: “Our members wanted a Budget that was focused and geared towards supporting business growth and creating jobs – and with the announcements made, we believe the Chancellor is heading in the right direction.
“As a town with a proud history of manufacturing, we particularly welcome the focus on this important sector.
“The £7billion package to cut manufacturing energy bills will help create jobs and strengthen this key sector.
“The Chancellor’s Budget clearly recognises the damage that unilateral measures can do to the competiveness of British businesses.
“Our members will welcome the cap in the Carbon Price Floor, which will help all companies, and the extension of compensation for energy intensive industries.
“The Budget offered a clear signal for businesses to grow through the increased investment allowance.
“Consistent allowances help companies invest and this will give many growing and medium-sized companies the confidence to push ahead with investments they’ve long wanted to get off the drawing board.
She added that additional funding to extend the incentive scheme for taking on 16-24 year-old apprentices was another welcome move.
But Labour and Grunewald cast doubt on whether any of the plans will raise living standards.
By 2015 the council will have endured a £65-million cut in government grant since 2010.
The council has already shed 1400 jobs and faces more losses with the closure of Red Bank secure children’s unit.
He added: “It’s a fact that working people are worse off under this government.
“That's why this council is doing all it can to ease the dreadful effect of government policies which has stretched essential council services to breaking point.”
Meanwhile, the North West TUC questioned what steps the government was taking to tackle unemployment in the region.
Despite a national fall in unemployment, figures for the North West showed the jobless total rose by 22,000 on the day George Osborne’s budget was announced.
North West unemployment rate stands at 8.1%, it is higher than the England average (7.2%) and the South East rate (5.2%).
The North West TUC say that this is creating a divide in the UK and leaves some areas facing a much bigger challenge to get people back into work and sharing in any potential recovery.
After steadily falling throughout 2013, the number claiming unemployment benefit in St Helens has started creeping up again over the past two months, standing at 4,581 in February.
Lynn Collins, NWTUC Regional Secretary, said: “There is a stubborn gap between ourselves and other parts of the country that needs bridging with investment is jobs, skills and wages.
“It was an opportunity for the government to tell us how they intend to do that and instead we are left disappointed.
“George Osborne told us this was a Budget if you are a maker, a doer or a saver. In reality, it offered little to those wanting to be a maker, doer or saver.
“People out of work across our region, often through no fault of their own, are not offered much by the Chancellor.”