Wednesday, 15th March, 2023

[Day 1094]

Today was the day before we made our little trip down to Oxfordshire tomorrow so we picked up our newspaper and then called in at Waitrose to take along one or two little offerings for our friends. We settled upon a bottle of liquid sunshine and some interesting succulents in a very original (heart-shaped) container. Then we journeyed on to the park where we were determined not to stay too long, even though the weather was not particularly unpleasant. We stayed on our usual bench just long enough to have a swift cup of coffee from our flask and then immediately struck for home. We know that today was Questions to the Prime Minister immediately followed by the Budget statement so we ensured that we were sitting in our places, warmed by a cup of chicken noodle soup, before proceedings kicked off at 12.00. PMQ was fairly unexceptional with the usual knock-about with the sequelae of the Gary Lineker affair still rumbling on. The Budget statement had been well trailed and so did not contain many surprises as the provisions for extra support with child care costs had been by and large released to the media for a day or so now. In years gone by, it used to be the case that the Budget was kept well and truly under wraps until it was delivered on Budget day. But a practice seems to have grown up over the years whereby any news that was considered to be ‘good’ is comprehensively leaked a day or so beforehand. I suspect that all of this is part of a deliberate strategy to make a budget more attractive by making the same announcement in effect more than once so that the government can get the credit several times over. One of the features of Budget day is that a very full and detailed document, full of graphs, diagrams and statistical tables, is made available online as soon as the Chancellor of the Exchequeur gets on his feet and starts to deliver the Budget. There are some MPs, and an army of other analysts, who are well used to burrowing away into the ‘small print’ and the fine detail of Budget statements and there are often little time bombs ticking away that somehow did not get included in the full speech delivered to Parliament. Sometimes this news can take hours, or even days, to trickle out when MPs and others have had the chance to read and digest the full import of the Budget statement. For example, the Chancellor had made great play of some of the measure deployed to get people back ino work. But the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) has published figures that show that over five years, some 110,000 people may be encouraged to rejoin the labour force. But given the amunts of money that are to be spent, this policy may prove to be a case of spending quite a lot to achieve only a little and there may well be similar instances of this type that get slowly revealed. As you might expect, there was one provision which is already exciting some attention. By abolishing the limit on the size of pension pots (the current limit being £1 million!), then there will certainly be a benefit to quite well paid hospital consultants. On the other hand, the extremely wealthy will benefit enormously from this as the numbers of people who can accrue more than £1 million in their private pension pots must be extremely small.

Meanwhile, there are some economic storm clouds that are gathering as a result of the failure of the American bank, Silicon Valley Bank. It looks as though a certain amount of contagion is spreading across the Atlntic already. The FTSE 100 and other major European stock markets have taken a beating as concern over the health of US banks crosses the Atlantic. London’s blue chip index lost £75bn in combined market value by the close after suffering its deepest fall, on a points basis, since the early days of the COVID crisis. One would hope that our banking system should be sufficiently resilient to withstand these shocks, but we can never be quite sure given the interconnectedness of financial institutions these days.

I see from a display stand in the newsagents that next Sunday is the day when the nation is to celebrate ‘Mothers Day’. Over the years, I have thought that the whole impetus behind this day was largely driven by an unholy alliance of greetings card manufacturers, chocolate makers and florists. However, if I think back to my childhood in the 1950’s, we lived in a largely uncommercial environment but our primary schools encouraged us to make our own Mother’s Day cards. Also we were encouraged, particularly if we lived in or near the countryside, to pluck some early spring flowers (if there are any) and to make a small bouquet and this I am sure we did. Towards the end of the month, though, we have the Eastertime sporting events which tells us that the year has turned. I think that on very rare occasions, it was quite possible for the Boat Race and the Grand National to fall on the same day but this a pretty rare occurence.