Region's hopes for Chancellor's Budget

By John Howard, James Hore, David Lennard and Sarah ChambersCOMMUNITY leaders in East Anglia have voiced their hopes for the Chancellor's Budget, which pundits are predicting will hit consumers in the pocket.

By John Howard, James Hore, David Lennard and Sarah Chambers

COMMUNITY leaders in East Anglia have voiced their hopes for the Chancellor's Budget, which pundits are predicting will hit consumers in the pocket.

Gordon Brown unveils his Budget on Wednesday and it is estimated he might need to raise as much as £11 billion during the next two to three years – and with business already struggling, he is likely to look to consumers to make up some of this shortfall.

Mr Brown, who has pledged not to increase income tax, has a number of options to raise extra revenue, including increasing National Insurance rates, raising VAT, freezing tax allowances or increasing stamp duty.

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But with Budget coming just three days after the 1% increase in National Insurance rates comes into force, analysts are not predicting any major tax increases.

Some experts have predicted state pensions will increase by £2 a week, but Suffolk Pensioners' Association chairman Jack Thain warned that would be wiped out by tax.

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"They have already landed so many double whammies on the poorest people in this country, the elderly and incapacitated," he said.

"Council tax has gone up, meals on wheels prices have gone up, the Government has done all sorts of things to hit pensioners hard, hard, hard. It's about time they gave something back to pensioners."

Barbara Williamson, chairman of the Colchester Pensioners' Action Group, added: "I would hope the pensions would go up in line with council tax and also for them to be in line with wage increases rather than September's level of inflation.

"It would seem every time you go to the shops something seems to have gone up in price – so any increases to pensions will be useful to many."

Martin Goold, Suffolk secretary of the National Union of Teachers said, with schools in the region experiencing budget problems, particularly in meeting extra National Insurance and pensions contributions, he would like the Chancellor to put some emergency funding into education.

"We have the worst crisis in school funding for 20 or 30 years. We know there are other pressing demands, some of which we did not need to get in to, like a war in Iraq. We would like to see more money for schools to help them," he added.

Dr Gareth Richards, president of the Suffolk division of the British Medical Association, said: "We are hoping for an increase in money coming towards primary care to allow for the fact that much more of the nation's health is to be delivered from a primary care initiative, so less is done in hospitals."

Dr Richards also wanted to see more funding going to social services in their work supporting people at home, taking pressure of health professionals.

Stephen Rash, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmer's Union, said anything that increased businesses' costs would be extremely unwelcome.

He was keen to see a reduction in tax on bio-fuels and no increases in inheritance tax or further rises in National Insurance contributions.

Paul Newton, director of Haughley Motors Ltd, said he would like to see a fairer deal for UK hauliers. At the moment commercial vehicles coming to the UK from Europe do not get taxed, whereas UK hauliers have to pay tax when they are abroad.

"This Government has talked about taxing commercial vehicles, foreign vehicles, coming into this country. UK commercial motorists pay tax when they are abroad. There is not a level playing field and if they were taxed, this would put something back in to the UK's industry," he added.

Leiston GP Dr Kev Hopayian was hoping Mr Brown would tax higher earnings to help reverse what he felt was the widening income gap between rich and poor.

"I would like to see a budget that tackles health inequality and the causes of health inequality. The causes of widening health inequality between classes comes down to the widening gap in the earnings between classes," he said.

"The Budget could reverse this trend. We need a tax on higher earnings so that we can fund the things that make and keep people healthy – adequate housing, affordable and accessible public transport and better education, to name but a few.

"Of course, some of this extra revenue should be spent on the National Health Service. A really well-funded National Health Service needs money and there is no escaping the fact that that means more tax."

Aldeburgh fisherman Dean Fryer did not hold out much hope he would be better off after this year's Budget. "To be perfectly honest, the only thing I take any notice of is the beer and the petrol," he said.

Mr Fryer, who has a wife, Donna, and two children Chloe, five, and Amy, three, believed the war in Iraq would begin hitting taxpayers in the pocket.

"The money has to come from somewhere and it's usually us taxpayers," he said. "Obviously someone's got to pay for all these bombs they are dropping and everything else."

Tom White lives near Halesworth and is an electrical engineer with Lotus at their Norfolk plant near Wymondham, which means a 70-mile round trip to work each day.

"I want to live and socialise with my friends in the Halesworth area, but my workplace is some distance away," he said.

"There is no way I can use public transport between Halesworth and Wymondham, so my car is an absolute necessity.

"I really think we pay enough duty on our fuel as it is and that it would be wrong to increase it still further. I would rather see an increase in the level of the annual road tax than a further rise in the price of fuel because I believe that is fairer."

n Barbara Williamson is standing as a Liberal Democrat candidate in the Colchester Borough Council election for the Shrub End Ward in Colchester.

Richard Bourne (Labour), John Coombes (Socialist Alliance) and Alan Scattergood (Conservative) are also candidates for the seat.

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