Friday, March 14, 2008

Darling clobbers booze, cigarettes

Alistair Darling has slapped more tax on cigarettes and alcohol as he scaled back on his economic forecast.
In what he called his "budget for stability", the Chancellor also moved to reaffirm the Government's green credentials by introducing moves to help the environment.
Among the measures announced are the prospect of a charge on plastic bags and free road tax for one year of low-emission cars. However, he postponed a planned increase in fuel duty until next October.
Booze and cigarettes will rise dramatically at midnight on Sunday - the eve of St Patrick's Day - to help raise money to tackle child poverty, he said.
Duty rates will increase by 6% above inflation with beer up by 4p a pint, cider 3p a litre, wine 14p a bottle and spirits 55p a bottle. Duty on tobacco rises from 6pm today, adding 11p to the price of a packet of 20 cigarettes and 4p to five cigars.
It was a difficult first budget for the Chancellor with the UK economy facing the biggest slowdown since Labour came to power and a large hole in Treasury coffers. High levels of government debt and the global credit crunch left him with few options.
Standing at the despatch box, unveiling Labour's 12th budget, he spared motorists a further hike at the pumps with the planned 2p rise in fuel duty - which kicks in automatically every year - delayed "to support the economy now and help business and families".
He added: "For environmental reasons we will increase fuel duty by 0.5p per litre in real terms from 2010."
The move sparked widespread criticism from environmental campaigners, who claimed it damaged the government's green credentials, but soaring crude oil prices have left fuel inflation at the highest since records began in January 1997.
In a nod to tackling green issues he announced legislation to come into force in 2009 to impose a charge on single-use carrier bags if progress is not made on a voluntary basis.
The Chancellor confirmed that the Government was poised to impose charges on the use of plastic carrier bags unless supermarkets make "sufficient" progress on a voluntary basis.
He said legislation would come into force in 2009 and could lead to around 12 billion fewer plastic bags in circulation.
He announced plans for a zero rate of car tax in the first year for new, low emission cars but a higher first year rate on the most polluting cars.
Despite keeping a tight rein on the purse strings there were a few bonuses. Parents will get an extra £50 a year above inflation on the child element of the tax credit from next April and a further £125m to be spent over the next three years to help families.
Child benefit for the first child will rise to £20 a week from 2009 - a year earlier than planned.
And five million customers on energy pre-payment meters will be given a fairer deal, with legislation if necessary.
Mr Darling said all economies were trying to maintain stability during the global slowdown but insisted Britain was better placed to do so. He told MPs growth in the British economy was estimated at 1.75% to 2.25% in 2008 - higher than Japan or the US - and will rise to 2.25%-2.75% in 2009 and 2.5%-3% by 2010.
Corporation tax will fall from 30% to 28% by April this year, he confirmed.
To prevent a return to the high inflation of the early 1990s he said he is writing to the governor of the Bank of England to keep a 2% target on inflation.
Today's budget was a major test for Mr Darling, who has come under increasing criticism for his handling of the Northern Rock crisis, attempts to tax wealthy "non dom" foreigners living in Britain, and his overhaul of the capital gains tax system.
He told MPs that the Government's action to support Northern Rock and protect depositors and savers meant that confidence and stability in the banking system had been maintained despite the "worst period of financial disruption for a generation".
The Tories said that for the "first time in years" the story of the budget is the state of the economy and the incompetence of a government that failed to prepare. A spokesman said: "We know that after 15 years of global economic growth, Britain has the worst budget deficit of any major economy."