“Prefabs to solve housing crisis,” screamed the front page of The Sunday Telegraph last weekend. Can Britain’s housing crisis really so bad – that ministers are now floating plans to encourage the first new generation of temporary, pre-packed houses since the great reconstruction drive which followed the Second World War?
The UK is certainly in the midst of a housing shortage that numerous credible experts now describe as “chronic” and “acute”. While it’s widely recognised we need 250,000 new homes each year to meet population growth and household formation, house-building hasn’t reached that level since the late 1970s.
George Osborne’s eighth budget was apparently aimed at “the next generation”. The Chancellor used this phrase on 18 occasions during his hour-long Commons statement. This was a policy package for “the long-term” Osborne told us an astonishing 19 times.
The budget also offered “major new commitments to national infrastructure projects” – the i-word getting no less than 10 mentions. What with the “sugar tax”, though, shaky fiscal rules and rows over disability benefit, last week’s infrastructure announcements haven’t received much attention.
It’s not surprising the Chancellor emphasized infrastructure in his latest Commons set piece. Better roads and railways are vital, after all, if Britain is to address its worsening “productivity problem”.
George Osborne promised a “budget for business” and that was largely what he delivered. There was a lot in the Chancellor’s fifth budget to please the business community and, on first reading, few specific measures to cause alarm.
Osborne deserves credit for limiting himself to a fiscally neutral package, despite a strong uptick in growth. Even though the Office for Budget Responsibility raised its 2014 growth forecast to 2.7pc, up from 1.4pc at the time of last year’s budget, the Chancellor’s measures amounted to a tiny £0.5bn giveaway in 2014/15, and a small fiscal squeeze over the next 5 years as a whole.