Is this Darling's last Budget?
This isn't the last budget and there will be another pre-election budget next year when presumably the government will want to have a few sweeties to hand to help the electorate just before they go to the polls so I'm not sure I share the premise of the question.
How fast do you think the economy will recover?
Personally, I am not optimistic, but the government hopes by the beginning of next year there will be green shoots sprouting all over the place and people will feel much better and more optimistic. I think that's the plan they've been working to, however implausible it might seem.
Will Alistair Darling lower employers' national insurance?
The problem with all these things is how are they going to be paid for? I can see there would be a very good argument for doing this in terms of helping labour costs and employability, but I can't quite see that they're going to have the freedom of manoeuvre within the Budget to do that.
What other measures do you expect the government to take?
They seem to be emphasizing very active industry policy, spraying money around favoured industries, it seems to be a bad idea, Lord Mandelson seems to be actively promoting that. They may also do something on credit insurance, which is a very important area. I hope they will be able to do something on that.
There are some suggestions about making commercial rate relief obligatory, rather than making them apply through this complicated application process which is often done with the help of local councils so there may be something in that area.
What would you be doing if you were in the driving seat?
I think we need an honest statement about the scale of the problem. At the moment there's lots of spin, there's a lot of speculation, there's a lot of uncertainty, and what we need is a very good, clear, honest, up front statement about the state of the economy and the likely range of government borrowing and deficit requirements over the next few years.
Do you think the Labour government has a culture of dishonesty?
Yes, there is. The government's credibility is at a very low ebb because they were very slow to recognise and even slower to admit that the British economy was heading into recession. We had this long period when they were claiming there was no more boom and bust, and then we had the period when Britain was uniquely equipped to fight the recession, which was complete nonsense.
Even now we get these carefully doctored statements by Lord Mandelson predicting to be able to see signs of recovery which are not based on anything objective. I can understand why people want to be positive, of course they should be positive - but I can see no evidence the economy is indeed turning around.
Federation of Small Business (FSB) are advocating compulsory payment terms. Do you think we're going to see anything like that?
I would hope so. Some of the really big commercial operations like Tesco are behaving outrageously - big chains are just screwing their suppliers. There are penalties for late payment under existing legislation, but actually getting those enforced is difficult. If it could be enforced, though, I would welcome that.
Do you think businesses will forgive the Labour government if they have to foot the bill?
What business does have to face up to, if it wants the government to be disciplined with the Budget and cut down on the Budget deficit, is that there is no money available for large-scale tax cuts for companies, and that's part of the reality. The main stimulus government is giving at the moment is through monetary policy and quantitative easing through devaluation which has a massive impact on businesses.
What message should Darling be looking to deliver to business?
The big message which has to get across is that Britain isn't bankrupt, but we do have a serious problem.
We have some great strengths in the British economy - there are many outstanding British companies and they will pull through. What the government has to do is to address some of the big long-term failings in the public sector, the fact that we are heading for a large budget deficit, and explain how that's going to be dealt with in order, in the medium term, to create space for good companies to flourish.
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