Business Eye: Russia, rain and reality...

Alex Pratt
Alex Pratt

When I put finger to keyboard it can be a bit of a struggle to identify major current economic affairs that you will recognise as impacting strongly on the Vale – but this week I’ve had trouble picking from a healthy crop.

Russian “assistance” to Crimea risks tit-for-tat economic turmoil through sanctions, and at worst World War Three. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile we await a second, albeit less hastily, arranged referendum result in September, when the Scots will unilaterally remove investment uncertainty and decide if they want to stand united with us or not.

More immediately, the return of blue skies has already dried out our Noah mind-set, already inspiring multiple visits to the garden centre in preparation for the first barbecue of the season. When the weather changes gear, so do we.

I’ve opted for the Budget, which will likely be over by the time you read this.

For any Chancellor, this is a major moment to stake out ground popular with the electorate, while finding wriggle room to do the less popular stuff that protects us from our comfortable selves.

Never is this more so than just a year before a General Election. Mr Osborne is additionally burdened by Coalition status, our colossal growing debts, and the un-fundable expectations we now have of the NHS, the Welfare State and other public services.

It would be a brave, if honest, Chancellor who told us to take a serious dose of reality pills one year before the election.

An inspired economic budget would focus forensically on catalysing more exports, on stimulating growth in our productive capacity, on business investment and on cutting costs, while driving a step change in digital investment, the infrastructure for growth in the 21st century.

It would pay for this and a host of other identified infrastructure projects with returns on investment of at least 10 times that of HS2 by cancelling this huge mistake in waiting.

Instead, what we will get is a sprinkling of the above and a reaffirmation of HS2.

So, I expect sweeteners for pensioners and first time buyers, some form of giveaway to the middle-classes, help with alcohol and petrol, and lots of rhetoric about the corner being turned and the road ahead being long. Was I right?