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Will Hammond step up as calls grow for bold Budget?

Tom Fitzpatrick

It is now a time-honoured tradition that days before the Budget, the chancellor will announce a shiny new housebuilding strategy.

They will say appropriate things about how everyone deserves a home, that the banks aren’t lending enough, red tape is in the way, the young are being priced out and the old… well they’ll tend to avoid that part (they vote more, after all).

Mr Chancellor (for it has thus far been a role preserved solely for men) will then pluck a nice, round number from the forthcoming red box (sometimes referred to as the ‘sky’), which we in the media will be duty-bound to report.

Phrases like ‘I am clear’ and ‘we’re taking action’ will be sprinkled into conversation, to eventually be superseded by jubilant Budget day cries of ‘we are the builders’ and ‘fixing the roof while the sun shines’.

Sadly, or perhaps satisfyingly, the traditional Budget day hyperbole isn’t really Philip Hammond’s style. The man nicknamed ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ is conservative with both a little and a big ‘c’.

But this year’s Budget sees him coming under fresh pressure to loosen the purse strings and take the type of flamboyant approach you could imagine George Osborne would have relished (had he not been hamstrung by that pesky deficit reduction stance).

Mr Hammond has indeed come up with a nice, round number: he says 300,000 homes must be built on average each year.

He envisages many ways the government can achieve this goal, from building new roads to cleaning up brownfield sites, though he is expected to protect development on the green belt.

Housebuilders want him to create a National Housing Fund to borrow £10bn annually for a decade to help build an extra 40,000 homes a year.

Another inquiry is expected to focus on landbanking, a move that will be greeted with a collective shrug of the shoulders, it being a direct juxtaposition with the chancellor’s traditional cry that he is ‘taking action’.

What is particularly interesting to note, though, is that should Mr Hammond not commit to braver ways of increasing housebuilding, not only will he come under pressure from the public and the opposition, he will face further hostility from Cabinet colleagues who are demanding he be bold in his approach.

This Budget will define Philip Hammond as chancellor. Here’s hoping the actions he takes are the making of him.

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