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George Osborne accused of "shoring up Tory vote" ahead of Autumn statement
12:10am Thursday 5th December 2013 in News
GEORGE Osborne was accused of “shoring up the Tory vote” in the South with juicy transport spending pledges, ahead of today’s ‘mini Budget’.
Labour MPs leapt on eye-catching new announcements in an updated National Infrastructure Plan (Nip), which now boasts of future projects worth £375bn.
Most schemes had been announced previously, including upgrading the A1 between Dishforth and Leeming, in North Yorkshire, and the Sunderland Strategic Corridor.
Only three new projects were announced with cash funding confirmed – all in the South-East:
* £300m to scrap planned tolls on an upgraded A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon – a scheme costing £1.5bn.
* £50m to redevelop the railway station at Gatwick Airport, in Sussex.
* £30m towards a new ‘Garden Bridge’ across the River Thames, in London.
Meanwhile, the ‘feasibility study’ into the long hoped-for upgrade of the A1 to a dual carriageway - all the way to Scotland - will not be completed for another year.
In the Commons, Labour MP Geraint Davies said: “Eighty per cent of the money in the infrastructure plan is being spent in London and the South-East, to shore up the Tory vote.”
But Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Treasury Chief Secretary, said: “I completely refute his allegation”.
He added: “We are investing in infrastructure up and down this country, from the North, the South, the Midlands and across the whole of the United Kingdom.”
Meanwhile, today’s autumn statement will force people in their mid forties to wait longer to receive their state pension, to save £400bn in pensioner benefits.
Under current plans, the retirement age will rise to 66 by 2020, to 67 by 2028 and to 68 by 2046.
But Mr Osborne will announce plans to bring forward that 2046 date to the mid 2030s – and make people wait for their pension until they reach 69, from the late 2040s.
He will defend the switch on the grounds that people are living “longer and healthier lives” and pledge that no-one now over 50 will have a retirement age of 68 or more.
The Chancellor will also seek to calm anger about rising business rates, by capping increases at two per cent next April – down from 3.1 per cent, linked to inflation.
And, in a surprise move, he will announce the death of the traditional paper car disc, after 90 years, saving £7m in administration costs.
Mr Osborne will say the disc is no longer needed because the police and the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) now use cameras and an electronic register.
Motorists will also be able to pay their road tax monthly, by direct debit, and the cost of paying by six-monthly instalments will be cut by five per cent.
But Mr Osborne is expected to announce further £3bn cuts to Whitehall budgets over three years, to help pay for the marriage tax break and more free school meals.
Last night, there was a spectacular Coalition bust-up over that flagship promise to give free school meals to every primary school pupil.
Nick Clegg announced an extra £150m for schools to build kitchens and expand their dining rooms, ahead of the scheme’s introduction next September.
Of that sum, £80m will come from so-called “underspends” in the school maintenance budget – despite that budget having been slashed by 60 per cent over this parliament.
A senior Lib Dem source accused Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove's department of “talking bollocks”, after it said Mr Clegg did not have the money pay for it.
Around 1.5m more children will receive free school meals, on top of the 400,000 who are already entitled to them, it is believed.
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