Though evidently pleased finally to have some parliamentary activity to report, predictions by the press that this new, “fiscal news delivery” format would prove to be a dull affair, were somewhat justified. Chancellor Philip Hammond was on his feet for just over 20 minutes, the majority of which was dedicated to handing out the usual opposition barbs. There was an (ever so slightly) improved economic outlook, with growth forecast to be marginally higher for 2018 and the years ahead. Equally, more benign figures were associated with inflation (which is set to fall “back to target” this year), wage growth and borrowing – but nothing to write home about.
As we were briefed at the start of play, Mr Hammond did say that there was “more to come” on a major agreement between NHS management and unions on pay for staff. The figure had been touted to be in the region of 6-6.5% but this is likely to turn out lower. Rumours of pleas within the cabinet to provide further money for the health service overall, seem to suggest we will hear an announcement sooner rather than later.
In addition to imminent departmental allocations of “Brexit preparation funding” (as promised in the Autumn Budget) by Chief Secretary Liz Truss, the Chancellor did announce that the 2019 Autumn Budget would contain a “detailed spending review”, to set an overall path for public spending in 2020/21 and beyond. This is presumably the Government aligning its Whitehall spending plans with whatever Brexit deal is struck by April 2019; giving departments and stakeholders the chance to put forward their compelling case for more investment. On the Brexit front, a hint was given by Mr Hammond that positive news was on the way for next week’s European Council meeting.
So while the Spring Statement may have presented itself as a brief, awkward interlude in the Westminster schedule, it has also laid the groundwork for a significant 18 month plus period, in which the Department of Health and Social Care, and in turn, NHS England, will need to fight tooth and nail for greater long-term investment in post-Brexit Britain.