The 2014 Budget: The PR industry reacts

The coalition's Budget was deemed a red letter day for pensioners, with Chancellor George Osborne handing a number of treats to older voters.

The Budget: a good day for pensioners
The Budget: a good day for pensioners

As well as cutting bingo tax, this included tax restrictions on pension pots being removed to ease the burden on those facing retirement and the tax-free Isa savings scheme being made more generous, with the annual limit to be raised from £5,500 to £15,000.

Meanwhile, other measures included a freeze on petrol duty, a cut in bingo tax from 20 per cent to 10 per cent and a freeze on spirits and cider duty, with a further 1p cut from a pint of beer, though cigarettes will go up by two per cent above inflation.

The Government will also stick to plans for a cap on welfare spending from 2015, starting at £119bn and rising in line with inflation.

But what did some of the industry’s top public affairs practitioners think? Read on to find out...

How the Government fared  

James Acheson-Gray, MD, APCO London

George Osborne faced a difficult task with his annual Budget speech – how to make it interesting.  

Let’s face it, "steady as she goes" (which was the basic economic message) was never going to command many headlines. 

It’s therefore a testament to the Government’s news management skills that it managed to keep the build-up to this Budget statement at the top of the national news agenda for the best part of a week, with carefully trailed advance announcements on issues such as childcare.

It also sent clear signals that the Chancellor still had a "rabbit to pull out of the hat" on the day.

The "rabbit" turned out to be an eye-catching, populist package of announcements for savers (on pension changes, pensioner bonds and ISAs) at the end of his speech.

The rest of the new stuff was largely padding: potholes, bingo tax, cider-making – and one very good joke about Magna Carta.

This was very much a Conservative Party Budget, with Osborne making no reference to his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, even when focusing on their flagship policy (the rise in the personal tax allowance to £10,500).

 It’s also no coincidence, of course, that the Chancellor’s surprise measures on savings and pensions appeal to those parts of the electorate most likely to vote – and most likely to vote Conservative.

In terms of drawing the battle lines for the next election, Osborne’s messaging sought to walk a tightrope between optimism about the British economy’s return to growth and a focus on the continued need for austerity and a long-term economic plan to address the deficit. 

 The Conservative Party’s challenge remains that appealing to its own core vote will simply not be enough to win an outright majority at the next election.

The Labour reaction

Tom Frackowiak, head of UK public affairs, Cicero Group

"You’re worse off under the Tories" – expect to hear this mantra again and again from Ed Miliband over the next 14 months to the general election.

Responding to the Budget is never an easy task for the Leader of the Opposition, but Miliband was up for the challenge.

Although light on detail, he continued to hammer home Labour’s core narrative on the "cost of living crisis".

This was met with laughter on the Conservative and Liberal Democrat benches in the Chamber, but Miliband’s message was targeted at an audience far beyond the Westminster bubble.

Miliband and the Labour leadership are convinced that the confident assessment of the economy delivered by the Chancellor today is not being felt by working people in their living standards. 

They are equally convinced that it is this target group of voters who can win Labour the election.

It is a very simple dividing line he is trying to create; on the one hand a Conservative Party that is elitist, out of touch and looks after its 'chums'; against a Labour Party that is prepared to take on vested interests – evidenced by previous announcements on an energy price freeze and a competition review of the banking industry.

He knows the Conservatives have an image problem with many voters and his most effective line today hit home right on this point: "The Chancellor painted a picture of the country that millions of people simply will not recognise."

This attack line will be in every Labour-perspective parliamentary candidate’s briefing pack. And we can expect to hear Miliband use it at every opportunity from now until polling day. 

He is after his target voters while Osborne is after his. Simple as that.

Miliband’s own political fortunes and that of the Labour Party will depend on whether voters believe him.

Business – the winners and losers

Lee Petar, founding partner, Tetra Strategy

While the Budget was an overwhelmingly pre-election political budget, there were nonetheless some very distinct winners and losers today.

For those looking to predict who the winners will be next year, one could do worse than look to road users and consumers of alcohol.

It does appear that this Chancellor has a soft spot for both. This year they will be among those cheering the loudest, given that fuel duty was once again frozen, there is money allocated to fix potholes and the alcohol escalator has been removed – a policy for which the industry has long called. 

Those in the gaming sector will consider themselves at evens with the announcement that bingo duty has been cut, while betting shops and gamblers will find themselves paying a new higher duty for gaming machines of 25 per cent.

Other notable victors include the airline industry, which saw a cut in air passenger duty (again something for which it had been campaigning).  

Given the Budget has fired the starting gun for the next general election, it is no surprise to see that the real winners are those who are most likely to vote in large numbers – namely pensioners. Lobbyists for Saga should be having a well deserved drink tonight. 

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