Chancellor Rishi Sunak to unveil Government's spending plans in Budget amid coronavirus pressure

The Government is to unveil its first Budget amid increasing coronavirus pressures.

The new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will present the spending plans to the Commons at 12.30pm, less than a month after taking over the Treasury.

Wednesday's Budget is the first post-Brexit and was intended to be a platform for the Government to set out its vision for the economy and detail of how it would be delivered, post-EU.

It was also intended for the Conservatives to deliver on their promises they set out at the December general election.

Following years of austerity to reduce the deficit, the 2020 Budget was also expected to see lots of spending promises, including infrastructure investment, climate change policy commitments and “levelling-up” pledges designed to address geographical inequality across the UK.

While issues such as these are likely to still get a mention in the Budget, following the outbreak of Covid-19 the Chancellor's speech and spending plans will have been radically rewritten and the focus will now be on softening the economic damage the coronavirus outbreak will cause.

Coronavirus cases are rising across the UK, impacting on the economy. Credit: PA
  • Coronavirus will dominate the Budget

On Sunday, Mr Sunak said the Government stands ready to give the NHS “whatever it needs” amid the coronavirus outbreak and said he is ready to take “targeted” measures to help businesses get through it.

Revealing part of his plans to tailor the Budget towards tackling the virus' potential impact on the economy, the Richmond (Yorkshire) MP said he would "take whatever steps are necessary to help us get through this and that there are “policy levers we can take to ease the short-term burden on businesses’ cashflow”.

It comes as the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK rose to 382 on Tuesday and a sixth death was confirmed.

Mr Sunak suggested his financial plan would now focus on the “economic security” of the country, as he warned that the economy could suffer a “supply shock” if lots of people fall ill.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know:

The River Severn burst its banks in Bewdley and flooded homes. Credit: PA
  • Flooding

In recent weeks, hundreds of homes were evacuated after Storms Ciara and Dennis battered the UK in quick succession.

Many voiced anger that flood defences had not stopped their properties from flooding.

The Treasury has already said funding for flood defences is expected to be doubled to £5.2 billion in the Budget to help build 2,000 new flood and coastal defence schemes and better protect 336,000 properties in England over the next six years.

Mr Sunak said communities in Britain have been “hit hard” by severe flooding this winter, saying it is “right that we invest to protect towns, families, and homes across the UK”.

The funding – which doubles the £2.6 billion spent on flood defences between 2015 and 2021 – is expected to be targeted in every region, and will be available from next April.

The Chancellor is also set to announce a £120 million winter defence repair fund to fix assets damaged in the recent storms as quickly as possible.

Last month the Government pledged a package of support to help flood-hit households – including financial hardship payments, council tax and business rates relief, and business recovery grants.

The decreasing number of ATMs is fuelling concerns over access to cash. Credit: PA
  • Plans to protect future of cash

Plans to protect the future of cash will also be included in the Budget.

New laws will aim to ensure that people who rely on cash, including vulnerable groups and local communities across the UK, can access it as and when they need it.

The Treasury is expected to start talks with the industry and regulators – the Bank of England, Financial Conduct Authority and Payment Systems Regulator – around legislation immediately after the Budget.

One area being looked at is whether to give watchdogs new powers which ensure that banks continue to properly support their customers’ cash needs.

The Treasury also wants the banks to create a new system for moving money around the country, so cash remains accessible for those who use it every day.

The rapid disappearance of many bank branches and free-to-use ATMs has fuelled concerns about people’s ability to continuing accessing coins and notes.

Around two million people in the UK still rely on cash for their day-to-day spending – with three in 10 payments still made using notes and coins.

In 2018, 50 million adults used cash machines, with 87% of them using one at least once a month.

The Government said 90% of insurance claims are related to pothole damage. Credit: PA
  • Pothole repairs

A £2.5 billion drive to repair 50 million potholes over the next five years is expected to feature in the Budget.

The Treasury said that the £2 billion pledged to deal with potholes in the Tory general election manifesto has been boosted by a further £500 million.

Mr Sunak is set to target the money particularly at the south west, east of England, and north west.

The Treasury said action is needed to improve infrastructure and deal with a situation where 90% of insurance claims are related to pothole damage.

Injury causing crashes involving potholes are three times more likely to impact a cyclist or biker, according to the Government.

The Chancellor said funding will also be available for local authorities to undertake longer-term road resurfacing works to prevent potholes from appearing.

Mr Sunak is also expected to announce:

  • A £643 million package of investment to help rough sleepers off the streets and support them get their lives back on track.

  • Up to £100 million more per year will go towards the fight against ‘dirty money’, with a new levy on firms regulated for anti-money laundering.

  • Millions more for state-of-the-art football pitches in hard-hit communities.

  • Abolition of the "tampon tax"

  • The "largest ever" investment in broadband

  • Measures to tackle fly-tipping

  • Employers will no longer pay National Insurance contributions for ex-forces personnel for the first year of their work in a bid to make them more attractive to employ

  • £8 million build football pitches for more than 300,000 young people to play on

Dame Eleanor Laing will be the first woman to chair the Budget's proceedings in the Commons. Credit: PA
  • Anything else of note?

Dame Eleanor Laing will be in the Speaker’s chair – the first time the Budget has had a female keeping order in the House.

The job of chairing the Budget debate has traditionally been held by the Chairman of Ways and Means, the most senior deputy speaker, and Ms Laing is the first holder of that post.