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Budget 2001 Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 18:14 GMT
The Budget: Expert views
John Whiting (left) and John Curtice
John Whiting (left) and John Curtice
What did the experts think of the Budget? Read the views of BBC News Online's panel:

John Curtice

It used to be thought that the job of Chancellors immediately before an election was to woo the electorate by making headline grabbing income tax cuts. Mr Brown has defied that conventional wisdom.

All that Mr Brown is offering most voters is a modest 360 increase in the amount of income at which they pay tax at 10p in the pound rather than 22p.

Not only is this measure worth just 60p a week for most people, but it was widely trailed in advance.

Not that Mr Brown has eschewed cutting taxes entirely. By far the biggest giveaway are the cuts in fuel duty and car tax. Between them they will cost the Treasury around 1.7bn, nearly twice the cost to him of his income tax cut.

Meanwhile Mr Brown has also decided not to increase taxes on beer, wine and spirits. And he has also announced the abolition of betting duty.

The Chancellor appears to have heard the message from recent opinion polls that it is indirect rather than direct taxes - and the cost of motoring in particular - which are now the more unpopular amongst the electorate.

But what is most striking about this budget is how little of our taxes Mr Brown is giving back to us - no more indeed than the extra revenue that has been flowing into the Treasury because the economy has been doing well.

Evidently Mr Brown believes that voters are more likely to be wooed by what he argues is his party's prudent stewardship of the economy than they are by the jingle of extra money in their pockets.

The polls have certainly suggested that there is more demand amongst voters for more spending on health and education than there is for tax cuts, particularly as they are not as yet necessarily convinced that Labour has delivered on improving public services.

The Chancellor responded to this mood too, by suggesting that he was going to spend twice as much money on increasing health and education spending than he was on making income tax cuts.

He may however come in for some criticism when it emerges that most of the increase is being funded out of unallocated spending monies rather than an increase in the the public spending total.

Moreover as in previous budgets he announced how much money he was going to spend over three years rather than just one year, thereby apparently exaggerating the scale of the increase.

Mr Brown may also have taken something of a risk in not announcing any increase in pensions beyond that which he promised last November. His one concession to the pensioner lobby was his decision that tax allowances for pensioners will rise in future in line with earnings rather than prices.

Mr Brown did however have more money for another traditional Labour target - less well off working families with children. There were increases in the working family tax credit, the new child tax credit, and extra money in particular for families with new children.

Labour MPs will be hoping that such measures will help persuade the party's more traditional voters, some of whom have appeared to be disillusioned with New Labour, to back the party once more in the general election.

But in truth this was a budget in which, for the most part, Gordon Brown indicated he was determined to remain on the course on which he has been set since 1997. Evidently he believes that what most voters want is more of the same, not a pre-election sweetener.

We will finally only know whether his judgement is right or not when the ballot boxes are eventually opened.

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John Whiting

Before the Budget, I suggested that we would see something of a cappuccino budget.

In other words, a deal of froth (particularly of measures that we had heard about already) , a few sprinklings of something sweet on top and, to be fair, a shot of something reassuring and solid underneath. I think that is what we have had.

The solidity came from the economic figures we had - which will please many businesses who will see it as giving the best chance for a cut in interest rates.

In many ways this is what they will most appreciate, but there were some good things in the measures announced, though it does seem we will have to wait for some of them.

Business gets a number of the tax reliefs they wanted.

The relief for the small- and medium-sized businesses for spending on research and development is to be extended to larger companies.

This is certainly to be welcomed - but it may be something that has come too late to stop a flow of R&D out of the UK. There are also some useful technical measures - better tax reliefs for intellectual property for instance - very much needed in the new knowledge economy.

The smaller business, predictably, gets some extras - help on VAT administration for instance.

But there are no real giveaways here, just sensible improvements to the system and an attempt to streamline administrative burdens.

In many ways, this is the area that requires most attention - there have been too many measures in recent years that have added to the administrative burdens on business, particularly on employers.

On the income tax front we have the widely expected increase to the amount of income that is taxed at 10%. This probably didn't go as far as was expected by some (including me).

It was increased to 1,880 instead of what would have been a nice round 2,000.

But it helps many people and is the main cut in the budget to what will be seen as the headline taxes that we all pay.

The best sweetener came with the changes to the Childrens' Tax Credit. That goes up from the 8.50 a week that was planned to 10 - and from this April.

Then, from April next year, there is to be a doubling of this credit for the first year of a child's life. This recognises the extra costs for the first year of a child's life. With the promise of two week's paid paternity leave, are we to read something into this?

Some cheer also comes with the freezing of alcohol duties and the relatively modest tobacco duty increases. Coupled with the expected cuts in petrol and diesel duties, the "sin" taxes are treated rather lightly.

Overall, not a terribly exciting Budget - few if any rabbits out of the hat. But perhaps that's what we want these days.

Certainly, consulting on measures before bringing them in is a much better way of changing the tax system than just bouncing them onto the statute book.

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