Jumping on the bandwagon

It’s not Brown, it’s Balls’

So the redoubtable Ed Balls has decided that it would be a good thing for the building and housing markets if the Coalition Government were to reduce VAT to 5% on housing repair, maintenance and improvement.

Well hurrah for him. Isn’t it nice and uplifting to see that a politician is on the side of the industry. After all, the industry has been campaigning for this for years, far longer than the Coalition Government has been in power.


So, Mr Balls. Now you decide that something the industry has been saying for years and years is a good idea, is a good idea. And why have you decided it now? Well, a) because it is a good idea and b) because it will, in theory, get the building and home improvement industry on your side without you ever actually having to do anything about it.

Oh yes. Don’t think we haven’t noticed that you fell short of actually promising to put this on any kind of election manifesto. It is so much easier to promise something when you are in opposition and you can’t actually make good on those undertakings (see Nick Clegg MP for further clairification on this point).

What do we reckon the chances are of an incoming Labour Government reducing the rate of VAT on home repair, maintenance and improvement work? About as much as they were when the Builders Merchants Federation, the Federation of Master Builders, the Modern Masonry Association and British Precast launched the Get Britain Building Campaign – of which the reduce VAT to 5% issue was a major plank. At the time there was, er, a Labour government.

Despite the campaigning by BMF et al and despite the fact that a similar exercise in France actually increased inward revenue to the government because it generated so much extra work, the Labour government didn’t listen.

VAT is a revenue-generating machine much-beloved of the Tories so I’m not expecting very much from them either in terms of action on this point. Quite apart from anythng else, I can’t see that George Osborne doign anything that Ed Balls has already said is a good idea.

Thanks, Mr Balls, it’s nice that you agree with the industry, but it would be much better if we could believe you actually, truly meant it.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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