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Sunak promises ‘fairness’ as he looks to fund up to £50bn in cuts and tax rises

Sunak promises ‘fairness’ as he looks to fund up to £50bn in cuts and tax rises

Rishi Sunak has pledged to put “fairness at the heart” of the autumn budget as he considers up to £50 billion of spending cuts and tax rises to fill a gaping black hole in the nation’s finances.

The Prime Minister said on Friday he was working through “difficult decisions” with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt after they were warned economic growth is forecast to drop amid fears of a recession.

A day earlier the pair held a meeting on the November 17 budget lasting more than an hour, with the mood being characterised as “sober”.

Treasury sources declined to put a figure on the savings under consideration but they were believed to be looking for financial headroom of up to £10 billion.

Along with the “massive fiscal black hole” forecast as being up to £40 billion, they were thought to be targeting up to £50 billion of cuts and hikes to fill the gap.

Mr Sunak said he was “confident” they can rectify the “mistakes” of Liz Truss’s leadership, as he focused on bringing down inflation and limiting rises in interest rates.

“The Chancellor has already said of course difficult decisions are going to have to be made and I’m going to sit down and work through those with him,” he said during a visit to Croydon University Hospital in south London.

“But what I want everyone to know is that we need to do these things so that we can get our borrowing and debt back on a sustainable path.

“That’s important because it means that we can get a grip of inflation. If we do that, it means we can limit as best as possible the increase in interest rates, which is important.

Cabinet meeting
Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt (Victoria Jones/PA)

“But as we do that, I want people to be reassured, we will always do it with fairness at the heart, we will protect the most vulnerable and ensure that we can continue to grow the economy in the long run.”

The financial figures are not expected to be finalised until Mr Sunak and Mr Hunt receive the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility.

A Treasury source said: “Markets have calmed somewhat, but the picture remains grim. After borrowing and spending hundreds of billions of pounds due to Covid-19 and for energy bills support, there is a massive fiscal black hole to fill.

“People should not underestimate the scale of this challenge, or how tough the decisions will have to be. We’ve seen what happens when governments ignore this reality.”

The pair delayed the financial statement by more than two weeks from Halloween on Monday as public finances appeared in a worse shape after Ms Truss’s leadership.

Mr Hunt has sought the advice of George Osborne as he sounds out Conservative predecessors over his upcoming autumn budget.

George Osborne
Ex-chancellor George Osborne (Yui Mok/PA)

A Treasury source said Mr Hunt met Mr Osborne, the architect of austerity in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, in Downing Street on Thursday.

Talks were also said to have been arranged with Kwasi Kwarteng, Mr Hunt’s predecessor whose mini-budget sparked the financial turmoil that forced Ms Truss from office.

Sajid Javid and Lord Hammond were also expected to be consulted.

Mr Sunak and Mr Hunt have refused to commit to the triple lock on pensions, meaning millions could face real-terms cuts in April, as inflation soars past 10%.

The pledge of defence spending increasing to 3% of GDP by 2030 was also under review.

Mr Sunak was also not committing to Boris Johnson’s promise to raise benefits in line with inflation.

The Chancellor has pledged to get “debt falling over the medium term” and has warned of “very, very difficult decisions” being required on tax and spending.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that many departments’ spending budgets are still far below their 2010 levels in real terms, in some cases more than 25% lower, making further savings hard to come by.