16/03/2005

Brown's Budget promises for pensioners and homebuyers

Chancellor Gordon Brown has aimed his ninth Budget at pensioners and homebuyers with a series of promises including council tax refunds and an increase in the stamp duty threshold.

In the Budget, which is expected to be the last before the next General Election, Mr Brown unveiled plans to offer pensioners a £200 council tax rebate, as well as free local bus travel – which would also apply to people with disabilities - as part of plans to offer "a fair deal" for pensioners.

The Chancellor also announced plans to increase the pension credit by 13% from now until 2008. Child tax credit will also rise by 13% over the next three years.

Mr Brown also included a series of promises for homebuyers, starting with the doubling of the residential stamp duty threshold, to £120,000 from midnight tonight. The Budget also included plans to make more estates exempt from inheritance tax and introduce two new proposals to encourage first-time homebuyers – firstly, a new partnership with the Council for Mortgage Lenders to create a shared equity scheme that would raise the numbers eligible for low cost home ownership schemes to 100,000 new homebuyers and secondly, plans to build new private homes in council estates. Mr Brown said: "Where once all were tenants, we will offer new opportunities to own your own home".

The Chancellor also froze a number of taxes including petrol duty, air passenger duty, insurance premium tax and company car tax. Duty was also frozen on spirits, cider and sparkling wine, but Mr Brown announced that there would be an increase of 1p on a pint of beer and 4p on a bottle of wine from midnight on Sunday. Cigarettes will also increase in price by 7p per packet from 6pm this evening.

Delivering his Budget speech in the House of Commons, the Chancellor said that Britain was "experiencing the longest period of sustained economic growth since records began in the year 1701".

Mr Brown also stated that he had achieved the forecast for economic growth of 3.1% in 2004 and the growth was set to continue with 3 – 3.5% forecast this year and 2.5 – 3% forecast for 2006.

Other targets that had been met, the Chancellor said, included the reduction of civil service jobs by 12,500, and the relocation of 7,800 jobs from London and the South East to areas including Yorkshire, the Midlands, Scotland and Wales and the first £2 billion of value for money Gershon savings.

Mr Brown also announced plans to reduce "unnecessary inspections" by reducing the number of regulatory bodies from 35 to 9.

The Chancellor also announced plans to build a memorial to the Queen Mother on the Mall, using proceeds from a new coin, which will be released to mark the Queen's eightieth birthday. Mr Brown said: "It is right to honour the life and service of the Queen Mother with a permanent memorial to her."

Conservative leader Michael Howard criticised the Budget as a "vote now, pay later Budget".

Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy described the Budget as a "sticking plaster" for the General Election."

(KMcA/SP)

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