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It looks like the government is finally listening

Last week’s Budget saw an embattled chancellor come out fighting. Darling began with an adamant statement that he expected the economy to start growing again by the end of the year.

Conservative leader David Cameron tried to land a body blow with accusations of Labour’s failed ‘boom and bust’ policies but despite this, it was a reasonable Budget.

Much of the news had already been announced but there were shocks in store for some – not least the introduction of a 50% tax on those earning more than £150,000 from April next year.

The increase in penalties for higher earners may be his answer to plugging the nation’s debt but many of his other proposals were more warmly received and designed to avert disaster.

It seems the chancellor is listening as he announced a massive rescue package for the housing industry.

Construction bosses, home owners and local authorities should generally be pleased with the initiatives he unveiled.

The suspension of Stamp Duty for properties worth upto £175,000 – which affects about 60% of home owners and was announced initially in September to try to kick-start the housing market – is to be extended until the end of the year.

Although this will be welcome news for many first-time buyers, I believe the chancellor should have raised the bar to £200,000 to help others such as those who need to upscale and increase their living space as the size of their families increase.

Darling’s proposals for the construction industry were a much more practical intervention.

I am glad he realised that without assisting the house building industry and providing housing stock, any measures designed to encourage consumers to step onto the housing ladder would effectively be nullified.

Many developers have been unable to proceed on new-build projects because of a lack of demand. To help tackle the restraints that prevented builders from meeting housing demand – such as lack of working capital and long-term investment – £500m of extra support has been offered to get building work going again.

In addition, the £100m for local authorities to build energy-efficient housing will mean that Labour may just hit its target of building 240,000 homes a year by 2016.

The number of houses built last year was about 207,000 but the figure was predicted to fall far short of that this year unless substantial measures were introduced.

This cash injection is much needed but I am wary about red tape hindering the process.

The new support to help home owners remain in their properties if they fall into difficulties was announced earlier in the week by housing minister Margaret Beckett.

The Homeowners Mortgage Support Scheme will be available immediately and will enable eligible borrowers who suffer a temporary loss of income to cut their mortgage interest payments for up to two years to help them get back on track with their finances.

As with all these things we need to see more detail but on the face of it I am encouraged.

Marks out of 10 for Darling’s latest budget? It has to be a worthy seven.


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