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    JEFF PRESTRIDGE: I’ve been asked to be nice to the Chancellor

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    JEFF PRESTRIDGE: ‘Be nice to the Chancellor,’ said the nurse who carried out my Covid test – I’ll be nice to Rishi Sunak for the time being

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    ‘Be nice to Rishi,’ said the nurse who kindly carried out a Covid test on me last Friday at work – it proved negative for anyone who is interested in my welfare. 

    How, in between having a swab thrust up my nose, we had ended up talking about the Chancellor and his Budget last Wednesday, I do not know – I didn’t provoke the conversation nor declare what job I do for a living. 

    But her gentle support of Rishi Sunak seems indicative of many who believe the Chancellor made the best of a bad job in spelling out how households and businesses would start paying for the Government’s largesse over the past year. As Sarah Bridge’s report on the reaction of small businesses indicates, ‘fair’ seems to be the prevailing verdict on Sunak’s Budget – and it’s a view I don’t disagree with given the precarious economic backdrop against which it was presented. 

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    ‘Be nice to Rishi’: Many believe the Chancellor made the best of a bad job in spelling out how everyone would start paying for the Government’s largesse over the past year

    Of course, there was plenty not to like in the Budget. A five-year freezing of the thresholds at which basic and higher rate tax kick in will hurt many households – resulting in 1.3million more people being dragged into paying tax by 2026 and another one million becoming higher rate taxpayers. 

    And, as I report in our brilliant Wealth section, some investors will baulk at Sunak’s decision to freeze (again, for five years) a series of key allowances that will make long-term wealth creation a little trickier (and for some more taxing). As for businesses, many (large rather than small) will face a sharp hike in corporation tax from 2023. 

    Yet, it would be foolish to think that we (business and households) could start to escape the dreadful clutches of coronavirus and lock down without making a contribution to all the support the Government has provided the economy over the past year. 

    Support that has averted catastrophic job losses and a cataclysmic recession. 

    There could be more tax rises around the corner – as a number of leading economic think-tanks are predicting. But, hopefully, a strong economic bounce in the months ahead will militate against this. I do hope so. 

    For the time being, I’m prepared to be nice to Rishi.

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    NS&I has made a pig’s ear of running the Government’s savings bank over the past year. When lockdown hit last March, it hooked savers in by the millions with attractive interest rates at a time when banks were cutting theirs, only to suddenly slash rates to the bone late last year when it couldn’t cope with demand. 

    The move backfired spectacularly as its already overworked customer support staff struggled to cope with a stampede for the exit doors. 

    The result of all this is that NS&I’s brand has been damaged badly – some say irreparably – while it has failed to raise the £35billion of funds asked of it by the Government in the current tax year. How NS&I boss Ian Ackerley has kept his job remains a modern-day mystery. Against this rather troubling backdrop, I trust NS&I will get itself sorted out before it handles the summer launch of the Government’s green savings bond. A savings product that is designed to appeal to green savers, with the proceeds used to finance green infrastructure projects such as offshore wind farms. 

    So far, details of the bond are scant – as are assurances from Mr Ackerley that NS&I will be able to cope with the new launch. 

    ‘Be nice to Ian?’ No, it’s last-chance saloon, methinks, for the NS&I boss.

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