London: British Finance Minister Philip Hammond, under pressure to help weakened Prime Minister Theresa May in this week’s budget, promised to speed up house building and said he had some room to help voters despite his squeeze on public finances.
Aware that to some her government looks overwhelmed by the task of delivering Brexit, May needs her finance minister to show voters that she has a handle on Britain’s domestic problems like a housing shortage, low productivity and stagnant pay.
Hammond told the Sunday Times he wanted 300,000 homes built each year, a big step up from recent levels closer to 200,000.
May — who suffered a rebuke from voters in an election in June when she lost her parliamentary majority — has said she wants to help younger households, many of whom fear they will not achieve the living standards of their parents’ generation.
Hammond told the newspaper he would do “whatever it takes,” including new powers and planning rules, to get companies to build more homes and pledged that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.” He also said the world’s fifth-biggest economy was at a turning point after a hard year in what seemed to be an attempt to challenge his critics in the Conservative Party who say he is too downbeat about Britain’s prospects as it prepares to leave the European Union.
Some Conservatives have even called on May to sack Hammond because he is too cautious about Britain’s Brexit strategy.
Hammond said Britain was now “on the brink of making some serious progress” on Brexit and inflation looked likely to fall after rising sharply because of the fall in the value of the pound after the June 2016 Brexit vote.
“And after many years of struggling to get the (budget) deficit down and seeing our debt still rising I think we are at last about to turn that corner and see debt begin to fall,” Hammond said.
Debt is expected to reach nearly 90 per cent of GDP next year, more than double its levels before the global financial crisis, before falling back, according to Britain’s official budget forecasters.
New forecasts are due to be delivered on Wednesday, alongside Hammond’s budget.
Hammond said he was hopeful the main parts of Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union could be agreed “in principle” by March 2019, when the country is due to leave the EU. “We hope that it will be agreed, certainly in principle, that the big elements of it will be agreed before March 2019 so that everybody knows where we are going,” Hammond told ITV television’s Peston on Sunday show.
BOX -Britain to submit ‘Brexit bill’ proposal before December EU meeting
LONDON: Britain will submit proposals on how to settle its divorce bill with the European Union before an EU summit next month and is expected to negotiate hard, finance minister Philip Hammond said on Sunday.
The EU told Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday that there was more work to be done to unlock the Brexit talks, repeating its early December deadline for her to flesh out Britain’s opening offer on the financial settlement.
“We will make our proposals to the European Union in time for the Council,” Hammond told the BBC, referring to the December 14-15 meeting of EU heads of government.