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Parents in Bedford and Kempston will have wanted a Budget that said, “Yes, we are going to make sure you get a good job. Yes, we are going to make sure you get a decent amount of pay, whatever job you do. Yes, we will make sure you can keep as much of your taxes as possible. And, yes, we will deliver a Budget that will make sure that your children have a better future than you do.” The Chancellor, in his robust performance today, has demonstrated that this Budget can deliver on all those items.
I was shocked to hear the response from the shadow Chancellor, as he seemed to spend 20 minutes of his speech trying to hold the Chancellor to account for something that the Chancellor is not doing. That shows part of the Labour party’s problem: there is no coherence in its approach to this Government. I would therefore like to provide a bit of coherence in my criticism of one aspect of this Budget—the sugar tax. I do so because it is not what it says it is, it will not raise the taxes ascribed to it and it will not achieve the health benefits that were its original vaunted purpose.
It is clear that this is not actually a sugar tax. There will be no tax on sugar in cakes, puddings or confectionary. That might be great for food manufacturers, restaurant owners and chefs, but it is not actually a tax on sugar. It is not even a tax on soft drinks, because sugars in milk-based drinks or fruit juices are not covered either. In fact, it appears to be a tax not on sugar, but on five companies: Coca-Cola, Britvic, AG Barr, Nichols Vimto and Lucozade Ribena Suntory. The Government ought to be careful about having very specific taxes targeted on very specific companies, because they will be open to challenge at the Commission or in the courts.