We'll make Britain the most competitive country in the world, says Osborne

The Chancellor promises to make life easier for business - while making the UK less beholden to the Square Mile.

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
No question what has dominated headlines ahead of Chancellor George Osborne's speech to the Tory party conference today: his decision to cut child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers - a controversial move, although arguably not an unfair one. And it’s hard to disagree with his plan to boost the regions and reduce our reliance on the City by ploughing cash into stuff like high speed rail and green technology. But with all these public sector job cuts looming, the regions are unlikely to feel better off any time soon…

Osborne today faced the tricky task of painting a slightly rosier picture of the future of the UK economy, while at the same time reminding everyone just how skint we are - and blaming it all on Labour, natch. Unlike Vince Cable last week, the Chancellor did at least proclaim himself to be a fervent supporter of capitalism. But he still wants to clamp down on some of its excesses, promising to curb bank bonuses if they don't lend more to small firms (though no specifics on exactly how), and to come down hard on tax evaders (though no mention of avoidance – fancy that). And he insists he and Vince are on the same page about one thing: making the UK one of the most competitive places in the world to do business. Though again, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Osborne also promised to prioritise investment that promotes growth - particularly if it makes the UK less reliant on the City. The newly-announced high-speed rail line linking London with Manchester and Leeds is key to this (albeit it won't be that fast, by international standards, and the first bit won't be finished until 2025), while spending on things like green tech and medical research will hopefully boost areas of the economy beyond financial services, benefiting the regions. But given how dependent many of them are on public sector jobs, it seems a bit hard to believe that they won't be worse off overall, at least in the short term.

Osborne had the unenviable task of following Boris Johnson this morning, and the London Mayor was in typically crowd-pleasing form - even getting in a dig at the French (apparently, fewer of the Boris bikes have been demi-pouced than when they launched a similar scheme in Paris). Boris was less inclined to put the boot into the City - 'I'll totter to the ramparts and stick up for the City of London even when I'm the last politician in the country doing it,' he said - but he admitted it would be a lot easier to defend the banks if they were more inclined to lend to businesses, and less inclined to pay themselves fat bonuses. Indeed.

This weekend, David Cameron argued that the kind of cuts being planned for the public sector are no different to those already introduced by the private sector. As the BBC's Robert Peston points out, there's a bit of hyperbole here - not many private firms have been forced to slash spending by as much as 40%, like some Government departments. But the important point here is that the Government needs to avoid cutting spending that will leave the UK worse off in the long run...

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