REPORTS of the death of austerity have been greatly exaggerated. Prime Minister Theresa May promised to be killing it off, but after yesterday’s Budget, it is still very much alive, with the effects of eight years of cuts which have gone deep into the quick of Britain’s public services still raising their heads, zombie-like, for years to come.

But there was a glimmer of change.

This was supposed to be a Budget out of which the life had been sucked by Brexit – it was said there were too many uncertainties ahead to allow Chancellor Philip Hammond to do anything dramatic, particularly as Mrs May had rashly nailed him into a corner by promising a whopping £20bn for the NHS which he somehow had to fund.

Yet Mr Hammond surprisingly found a way to throw lots of little bits of money around in a bid to take the edge off the worst effects of austerity.

He also seems to have found a little room to be ingenious. Conservatives in the Tees Valley welcomed the “special economic area” status for the SSI site at Redcar as the first step towards creating a freeport. Ultimately, a freeport, as proposed by the mayor Ben Houchen, would set its own trade tariffs to boost a specific sector – say, chemicals, or offshore power – and the Treasury was thought to be the major stumbling block in Westminster, so for the Chancellor to give it his backing seems to be a big first step.

And Mr Hammond appears to have made a profound change in policy direction.

Since 2010, it has been the Tory plan to balance the books, to cut spending so that it was covered by what the country raises in taxes. George Osborne promised this deficit would be erased by austerity by 2015, but he kept moving the date backwards.

Mr Hammond appears now to be accepting that for the next five years we will spend £20bn more than we earn. So rather than pay-off the credit card debt, he is prepared to allow it to tick over so that he can lob a little money at things like potholes, schools and the air ambulance, and by giving 34m people a little tax cut by bringing forward income tax changes to April.

The question is whether these little bits will be enough to make any inroads into the awful aftermath of austerity.

Mr Hammond gave a £400m one-off bonus for schools – £10,000 each for primaries and £50,000 for secondaries – for them to spend on “extra bits of kit”. Will that buy off the protesting headteachers who marched on London last month, or do they want more than bits of kit – for example, several extra teachers. There was a £650m boost for social care, but local councils, which are desperately struggling to cope with the increased numbers of children and old people who need looking after, wanted £2bn.

There was £420m for potholes, but Labour’s Transport spokesman Andy MacDonald, the Middlesbrough MP, tweeted that that was just five per cent of what the Local Government Association was after.

And there was £2.7bn to ease in Universal Credit. That’s about half of what Mr Osborne hoped to save from its introduction. Therefore, poorer people are still going to suffer from the shortfall, so will Mr Hammond’s generosity be noticed, or is UC now so toxic that no amount of money can redeem its reputation?

But, small mercies and all that: on Darlington’s High Row, all but four retail units appear to be in line to have their rates cut by a third as Mr Hammond tries to save the high street (only two banks, Binns and one other shop on the street have a higher rateable value than £51,000).

The new tax that will encourage all plastic packaging to be made of 30pc recycled material must also be welcomed, and if Mr Hammond really does stick to his guns and introduce a “digital services tax”, he will be the first chancellor in the world to take on the global online retailers. We shall see.

Mr Hammond ended by saying: “Austerity is coming to an end but discipline will remain.” He then tried to have his cake while simultaneously eating it.

Austerity has not been killed off, but it will be slightly less austere – unless, of course, Brexit goes so badly, Mr Hammond is called back to the House in the spring to do it all again.

A NOTE for those millions of people interested in local government boundaries.

Much will be read in to Mr Hammond’s mention of “Borderlands” and his failure to namecheck “One Yorkshire”.

These are the areas racing to follow the Tees Valley and get devolved powers, extra money and even an elected mayor. Borderlands, covering one million people in south Scotland, Northumberland and Cumbria, is on a roll whereas One Yorkshire, covering 5.3m across the whole county and favoured by the councils of north Yorkshire, was noticeable by its absence.