Hammond’s Budget to focus on housing and tech

Billions of pounds for housing and high-tech industry are expected to be at the centre of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s “positive and upbeat” Budget this Wednesday.

Treasury sources say Philip Hammond will try to help start-up businesses which specialise in driverless cars and artificial intelligence develop into success stories of the future.

He will remove regulatory potholes which prevent developers from road-testing driverless technologies without humans present, pump £400m into electric car charge points and invest £160m in 5G mobile networks.

Steve Boland, who runs the driverless tech firm FiveAI, says it’s a welcome windfall.

“The future is really about computer science and artificial intelligence applied to new problem spaces and the first one we are going to see is transportation,” he told Sky News.

“So more government help to support companies build successful global businesses in driverless cars would be amazing.”

In an interview in the Sunday Times the Chancellor says he will try to deliver 300,000 new homes every year, adding an extra 50,000 to the current target which the Government missed last year.

The newspaper quotes senior government sources as saying they will find £5bn for housing schemes and underwrite loans to small home builders.

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Video: In full: Ian looks ahead to the budget and new borrowing rules to boost house building

It also suggests developers will be put under pressure to build when they receive permission, and the Government will start an inquiry into how to speed up planning processes.

But the Chancellor is not expected to take up the advice from his cabinet colleague Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to borrow £50bn to turbocharge home building.

He told the Sunday Times: “There will be some strategic measures that look 20, 30 years into the future to secure a strategic supply of future housing and there will be shorter term intervention measures which use money, powers and planning to intervene to get things done and make a difference over the next few years.”

He is under considerable pressure from a number of different quarters: to lift the public sector wage cap, plug a funding crisis in the NHS, invest in schools and iron out issues with benefit changes.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told broadcasters what he would prioritise: “I’d like to see a pause in the roll out of Universal Credit,” he said.

“I would like to see sufficient money going into our NHS to deal with the existing crisis and proper funding of our schools as a priority, but also an agreement that we need to invest far more in the housing needs of the people of this country and therefore borrow to invest in housing.”

The political pressure is also immense after the main revenue raisers in every budget since 2015 have had to be modified or abandoned.

John McDonnell

Video: McDonnell: ‘End austerity, start investment’

With the loss of the Government’s majority, Mr Hammond will have to avoid any move which might be unpopular among his Conservative colleagues like changes to National Insurance which had to be abandoned after the last budget in March.

With low productivity and concerns over Brexit he will be unwilling to borrow too heavily, or significantly increase taxes.

But one backbencher Alec Shelbrooke, the MP for Elmet and Rothwell, has an idea to rake in some extra money: ending the freeze on fuel duty.

“Are you raising income tax? I think that hits people quite hard, it really does if you are putting a penny on the starting rate, I don’t think that’s the good way forward,” he told Sky News.

“But in terms of petrol and diesel, (duty) has been frozen for a very long time. We’ve spent £38bn freezing it. I think spending priorities may have changed now.”