Wednesday News Review

Osborne prepares to deliver budget

Only a short but eventful year ago, George Osborne was no one’s idea of a chancellor. He routinely trailed Vince Cable and Alistair Darling in polls of the City, the public and business for competence. Mervyn King told the US ambassador he was worried by his lack of experience. Peter Mandelson identified poor George as the Tories’ “weakest link”; dark rumours circulated that he would be replaced by the apparently full-of-mojo William Hague. Yet now Mr Osborne has confounded his critics and emerged as the most formidable operator in the Government, and it is fair to acknowledge that (though some of us rated him in opposition a bit higher). He does not exactly bestride the British political scene today, but then again nobody does. In any case the eyes of the world will be elsewhere today – on Portugal, whose government may topple if its austerity budget is not passed today, in which case the eurozone could be plunged yet again into existential crisis. The UK’s sovereign debt trauma never arrived. Mr Osborne calls this “the absence of war”, and much of it is down to him. Quite an achievement for “the weakest link”. – the Independent

Time for George to stop blaming the snow and go for growth

IN today’s Budget George Osborne will boast he’s a man with a plan. He’s right – a political plan to cut services now in the hope he can bribe voters with tax cuts later, before the next election. He blames his ­decisions on Labour and hides behind the Lib Dems. But this isn’t an economic plan. And it’s not working. A year ago, under Labour, unemployment was falling, ­inflation was lower and the economy was growing strongly. But yesterday we saw inflation rise again, the number of people out of work is now at a 17-year high, and the economy has ground to a halt. But all the Tories can do is blame the wrong kind of snow. The Tories said they were the most family-friendly government in the world. But they’re giving the banks a tax cut while clobbering families with children hardest. They told us the NHS would be safe in their hands. But they’re cutting funding in real terms. Today, I think Osborne will cancel April’s fuel duty rise, as Labour did when world oil prices were going up. But will he reverse the Tory VAT rise on petrol? He’ll claim to help more young people get work placements. But, with nearly a million out of work, is it enough? – Ed Balls, the Mirrror

After all the leaks, will there be any suprises?

George Osborne’s budget “purdah” has surely been the most leaky in the history of the Treasury. There are several devices by which hints can be briefed. George Osborne’s mini-me and ex-staffer Matthew Hancock MP has been popping up on TV for weeks saying what he’d like to see in a budget which he is very probably still helping to shape. And Osborne’s spinners have given an unusual amount of detail away to enable well informed previews in the newspapers, leading ConservativeHome to ask “Has Osborne leaked his whole budget to the Sunday newspapers?” But I wonder if Speaker Bercow might think that BBC political editor Nick Robinson reporting as a fact, from Downing Street, on the night before the budget the precise amount that the tax threshold will rise, and that this will this time include top rate taxpayers takes Osborne’s pre-budget leaking into entirely new territory. Standards have certainly slipped. If they have been slipping for several decades, I can not recall any previous Budget being so openly and definitively leaked without even the slightest veneer of deniability. – Next Left

Clegg to take on Lansley over NHS

Nick Clegg told a meeting of his MPs in Westminster on yesterday that he would now be “taking the lead” within government to rein in its programme of reform for the NHS. The Liberal Democrat leader said he was determined to ensure changes were made to the health and social care bill, the clearest sign that he will personally negotiate with the health secretary, Andrew Lansley. A senior party source said that the Lib Dem leader had decided to “front up” the issue with the Conservatives. Lansley’s reforms to the NHS – handing over a majority of the healthcare budget to GPs for commissioning, and scrapping primary care trusts – have been opposed by some Conservative MPs and the British Medical Association, and 10 days ago Lib Dems voted at their spring party conference to ensure modifications were made to the bill… Now Clegg’s aides say he will push for alterations to the bill, including beefing up the governance and accountability while minimising the financial risk of the new GP consortiums, and having some limits on the types of new private providers that can come into the system. – the Guardian

Academics latest to criticise health bill

The Health and Social Care Bill, currently going through Parliament, will see the NHS replaced by a service in which private companies compete and the Government “finances but does not provide healthcare”. Instead of having a duty to provide a comprehensive health service to patients in England, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley will only have a duty to “act with a view to securing” comprehensive services. Professor Allyson Pollock, from the Barts and The London School of Medicine, and David Price, senior research fellow at its Centre for Health Sciences, say GP consortia will “not have a duty to provide a comprehensive range of services but only ‘such services or facilities as it considers appropriate’.” – PA

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