THE Chancellor has denied that any tax cuts in his upcoming Budget would be a bribe to voters in an exclusive interview with a North-East school newspaper.

Weeks before the Spring Budget on March 6, Jeremy Hunt fielded questions from school newspaper editor Owen Ovens, 16, from Hummersknott Academy, in Darlington.

Government policies on education, housing, and the economy were put under scrutiny, including whether much-vaunted tax cuts would be a ‘bribe to voters’.

Mr Hunt said: “As a Conservative, what I care about is growing the economy and creating opportunities. I think low tax economies grow faster, so I’d always want to bring down taxes if I could, but I would do it in a way that helps grow the economy.

“I think people are very smart – if you do a tax cut that’s an election bribe, people will see through it instantly. If you do a tax cut that’s part of a plan to make our economy grow faster, then people know that’s the right thing to do.”

Owen, who edits the school’s newspaper, The Hummersknott Academical, challenged the Chancellor with a concern widely held by young people – whether they will ever be able to afford their own homes, or if they are destined to be a ‘generation of renters’.

Mr Hunt replied: “The number of first-time buyers increased to record levels in the run up to the pandemic. Obviously, we've had a very difficult period since the pandemic, but I would love to help people get onto the housing ladder in the Spring Budget.

“I think what's caused me to hesitate up till now is that house prices have been falling because of the invasion of Ukraine. If house prices stablise, and start to rise again, then it becomes easier to start taking measures that will help people onto the housing ladder.”

The Northern Echo: The interview was arranged for the Hummersknott Academical by Darlington's MP, Peter Gibson (left), pictured with Owen Ovens and Jeremy HuntThe interview was arranged for the Hummersknott Academical by Darlington's MP, Peter Gibson (left), pictured with Owen Ovens and Jeremy Hunt (Image: Hummersknott Academy)

Owen raised the success of the Help to Buy scheme – which was recently discontinued – and asked the Chancellor if there were any plans to come up with a replacement scheme, as has been called for by Darlington Building Society.

Mr Hunt acknowledged the success of the scheme in helping young people get on the property ladder and expressed willingness to consider reinstating a similar scheme if economically feasible.

Owen also asked the Chancellor for his opinion on the announcement that a Labour government, under Sir Keir Starmer, would introduce legislation to charge public schools 20 per cent VAT on fees.

Mr Hunt, who was educated at the elite public school, Charterhouse, said: “I think it's sort of class war really, and the reason I'm against it is because the likely impact is that it's not going to affect the very rich – they'll carry on sending their kids to public schools.

“But there's people just below that level who will suddenly find they can't afford to send their children, and potentially up to 90,000 families will switch their kids into state schools, and there’ll be less resources to go around. I don’t think that’s something that would be good for our state schools, to have to absorb that many extra students.”

Asked whether he had any plans to enhance support for young people, such as the free school meals scheme, Mr Hunt said: “I think the answer is we want to take people out of poverty, so they don’t need free school meals.

“I would always want us to be a country where we help people who are struggling. The Conservative Government's been criticised for lots of measures we've taken, but since 2010, 1.7 million people have been lifted out of poverty, including 400,000 children. And we've done that not by massively increasing benefits, but by making work pay.”

Owen and the Hummersknott Academical team arranged the interview with the help of Darlington MP Peter Gibson.

Mr Gibson said: “I’m aware of what a great job Owen has done as editor of Hummersknott Academy's school newspaper and I was delighted to take him to meet Jeremy Hunt.

Most read:

Stay informed and up to date with a digital subscription to The Northern Echo. Only £5 for five months.

“He did a cracking job in pinning the Chancellor down on some key issues, showing great confidence and insight. He’s a great ambassador for Hummersknott Academy and I’m sure he’ll do well in whatever career he chooses to pursue.”

Nick Merifield, Hummersknott Academy’s Head of School, said: “We’re incredibly proud of our student-led news team to have landed such a remarkable political interview, and very impressed at their ambition.”

English teacher, Dominic Webber, who oversees the student-led newspaper, added: “On behalf of the newspaper team, we’d like to say thank you to Mr Hunt for giving us his time, and to Mr Gibson for collaborating with our students to make this interview happen.”