Seeking an “age of optimism”: Sunak focuses on levelling up in Budget

Chancellor Rishi Sunak this afternoon unveiled his spending plans which he said would prepare the country for a post-Covid “age of optimism”.

In his Budget statement he confirmed a new 50 per cent business rates discount for companies in the retail hospitality and leisure sectors that will last for a year.

Alongside the Small Business Rates Relief, the chancellor said his measures would mean more than 90 per cent of all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses will see a discount of at least 50 per cent.

To make the business rates system fairer, he also announced there will be revaluations every three years.

And he said a new investment relief will encourage business to invest in technologies like solar panels. The planned increase in the business rates multiplier was cancelled.

In his speech he also put the levelling up agenda centre stage, with the first £1.76bn of levelling up fund cash allocated over 100 areas of the UK, including Burnley.

Nearly £7bn is to be given to areas such as Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and South Yorkshire for transport projects.

The chancellor also moved to support the drinks and hospitality sector, with the “most radical simplification of alcohol duty” in more than a century. The reform will mean just six duty rates on alcohol.

And he went on to announce a “draught relief” which will apply a five per cent cut to duty on draught beer and deliver a 3p permanent cut in the cost of a pint.

The planned rise in alcohol duty was also scrapped, along with a rise in fuel duty because, with fuel prices at the highest level in eight years the chancellor said he was “not prepared to add to the squeeze on families and small businesses”.

On housing, the chancellor said £24bn will be earmarked for “a multi-year” housing settlement.

He announced £11.5bn would be set aside to build up to 180,000 new affordable homes, with brownfield land targeted for new homes.

Mr Sunak also had announcements to make on R&D, announcing tax relief rule changes.

Their scope will be expanded to cover cloud computing and date and from April 2023 the relief system will concentrate on investment in the UK.

He told the Commons that a £1.4bn British investment fund is being set up to promote inward investment.

And he announced a new scale-up visa will make it easier for firms to hire talented people from overseas.

On public sector pay, Rishi Sunak says those workers will “see fair, and affordable” pay rises across the next few years, which will return to being made independently.

He confirmed the earlier announcement that around two million workers will get a pay rise next year when the National Living Wage rises from £8.91 an hour to £9.50.

And he also announced a cut in the universal credit taper rate, which he described as a “hidden tax on work” from 63 per cent to 55 per cent. He described it as a tax cut next year worth more than £2bn and helping nearly two million families.

He told MPs: “Taxes are rising to their highest level as a percentage of GDP since the early 1950s. I don’t like it, but I cannot apologise for it – it’s the result of the unprecedented crisis we faced and the extraordinary action we took in response.

“But now, we have a choice. Do we want to live in a country where the response to every question is what is the government going to do about it?”

He says the government "should have limits", and as a result, his goal is to reduce taxes by the end of this Parliament.

And he added: “I want taxes to be going down not up. I want this to be a society that rewards energy, ingenuity and inventiveness. A society that rewards work.”