Osborne warns of dangers of Scottish independence in Budget

CHANCELLOR George Osborne today warned of the dangers of independence in his final Budget before the referendum.

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With voters in Scotland due to decide if the country should stay in the UK or not in September, the chancellor pledged "more hard decisions, more cuts."

However, Mr Osborne revealed the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has revised down forecast tax receipts from North Sea Oil, adding that the change is the "danger of Scottish independence".

He said: "These further downgrades in the tax receipts would leave independent Scots with a shortfall of £1000 per person.

"Britain is better together."

Gamblers were very much in his sights as fixed odds machines will see a tax hike but bingo duty will be halved to 10% in a bid to preserve an industry more widely seen as part of the community than betting shops.

The super-rich were also targeted with increased charges for those using private jets.

But there was good news for drivers with the fuel duty rise planned for September being scrapped.

Smokers lost out though with tobacco duty continuing to rise by 2% above inflation.

For drinkers, beer duty was cut by 1p per pint which the duty of ordinary cider was frozen.

And, in a widely-leaked move the Chancellor confirmed that he is to introduce a new £1 coin, modelled on the old thruppeny bit, in 2017 which will help beat counterfeiters.

The chancellor pledged an additional £200m for potholes repairs and an extra £140m made available for maintenance to flood defences. However, this cash will only be available south of the border with Scotland's proportion being part of the general settlement with Holyrood.

And VAT will be waived on fuel for air ambulances and fishing rescue vessels.

Other widely leaked announcements included the point at which people start paying income tax being raised to £10,000 while the threshold for the 40p rate of income tax being paid rises from £41,450 to £41,865 and by another 1% to £42,285 next year.

For senior citizens Mr Osborne announced a new pensioner bond, available to anyone over 65-years-old.

He said: "The exact rates will be set in the autumn, to ensure the best possible offer.

"But our assumption is 2.8% for a one year bond and 4% on a three year bond.

"Up to £10bn of these bonds will be issued. A maximum of £10,000 can be saved in each bond."

And inheritance tax will be scrapped for members of the emergency services who lose their lives in their job.

The key announcements were immediately blasted by Labour leader Ed Miliband who accused the chancellor and his colleagues of being the "same old Tories."

He said: "Working people are worse off under the Conservatives."

"The chancellor reminded people of the gap between his rhetoric and the standards of people's lives.

Throughout the hour-long speech it was standing room only in the House of Commons as the chancellor delivered what he called "a Budget for building a resilient economy".

He vowed: "We will fix the roof while the sun is shining to protect Britain from future storms."

His fifth Budget as chancellor came amid a strengthening economic recovery, with inflation falling.

Mr Osborne told MPs: "The economy is continuing to recover and recovering faster than forecast.

"We held our nerve, we're putting Britain right. After the mess we were left, we put Britain right.

"But the job is far from done.

"If you are a maker, a do-er, or a saver - this budget is for you."

"Never again" should the welfare system be allowed to spiral out of control, the Chancellor said.

He faced jeers from the opposition benches as he set the welfare cap at £119 billion for 2015/16, rising to £127 billion by 2018/19, with only the state pension and cyclical unemployment benefits excluded.

He also pledged compliance checks on migrants "claiming benefits they are not entitled" to save almost £100 million.

All Budget decisions are "paid for", with both taxes and spending lower, said Mr Osborne.

"Britain is not going back to square one", he added.

"The biggest risk is clear - abandoning the economic plan that is working."

He told MPs the deficit will be down "by a half" in the coming year but remains "one of the highest in the world".

Mr Osborne predicted growth of the UK economy in 2014 of 2.7%, and 2.3% next year, higher than previously forecast by the OBR.

He said this is "the biggest upward revision to growth between Budgets for at least 30 years".

Upward revision of GDP figures means UK economy will be £16 billion larger than OBR forecast four months ago, Mr Osborne said.

OBR forecasts 1.5 million more jobs over the next five years, and earnings to grow faster than inflation this year and in every year of the forecast.

The underlying deficit was revised down to 6.6% this year, 5.5% in 2014/15 then 4.2%, 2.4% and reaching 0.8% in 2017/18 and a surplus of 0.2% in 2018/19.

Mr Osborne added: "Faster growth alone will not balance the books. There will have to be more hard decisions, more cuts."

OBR predicts borrowing will fall to £95bn in 2014/15, then £75bn, £44bn and £17bn in subsequent years.

Mr Osborne told MPs there would be a surplus of almost £5 billion in 2018/19.

Borrowing forecasts mean the UK will borrow £24bn less than previously predicted over the period.

OBR revised down national debt to 74.5% of GDP this year, then 77.3% next year, reaching a peak of 78.7% in 2015/16 and falling to 78.3%, 76.5% and 74.2% in following years.

The reduced debt forecast implies £42bn saving on interest payments, Mr Osborne told MPs.

The chancellor also promised to make "permanent £1bn reduction" in departmental overspends.

rebecca.gray@eveningtimes.co.uk

Local government

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