Andrew Webb, Chief Economist, Grant Thornton said:

“The Finance Minister’s budget announcement comes at a time when public services and the role of government have never been more sharply in focus. In normal times, this budget would have been noticeable for being the biggest funding increase in a decade, with New Decade New Approach money and various other additions to the pot contributing to an 8% budget increase in real terms. This rise in spending excludes the bulk of the emergency funds allocated to coronavirus related supports.

“The Finance Minister noted that the increase in spending still leaves the block grant below ‘pre-austerity levels’ but does increase the allocations to all departments compared to last year. The full details of the budget are not expected until May and while the obvious focus is firmly on protecting people from coronavirus, there were important funding announcements also indicated. The reduction in non-domestic rates and renewal of Small Business Rates Relief will go some way to offsetting the pain that many businesses expressed over the recent rates revaluation.

“The many budgetary challenges that existed before the coronavirus changed everything – massive infrastructure deficits, increasing demands on health care, and struggling schools – remain to be addressed. Facing these challenges, when society returns to normality, within the funding we have available will require long term planning, innovative thinking and difficult decisions.”