Sunday, February 24, 2013
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David Heath's Column 13/12/12

The Chancellor’s autumn statement struck a suitably wintry note of chill realism. The direction in which the country is travelling is right, but it’s clearly going to be no easy ride, as we deal with the further shocks to the economic system from continental europe. There were some bits of good news though, apart from the substantial reduction in the deficit, and one is on tax. We have been arguing for some time that we need to take less well-off people out of tax by raising the tax threshold. Now we are within range of the £10,000 limit we proposed at the election, which is good news not only for those who will be taken out of tax altogether, but everyone else on basic rate who will also pay less. A person earning just £10,000a year in 2009 paid £1,180 of that in tax. Now it’s down to just £380. A millionaire, meanwhile, will be paying £381,000 more tax over this parliament than in the last.


The other good news is the extra £5 billion invested in capital projects. That’s good news for our rail and road systems, and for flood defences, which I’m obviously particularly pleased about. The trick now is to make sure schemes are ready to run, and that we can actually get that money into the system, but the good thing about extra capital spending is that it not only improves infrastructure, but it creates jobs and grows businesses as well.


I’m not sure many of the schemes completed this year will get quite the reception given to one in this week almost 150 years ago, however. I read in The Times about the official opening of the Clifton Suspension Bridge on December 9th 1864, five

years after the death of its designer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The occasion drew a huge crowd by all accounts, including “the Lords-Lieutenant, with the magistrates, Sheriffs, and high officials of the two counties..the Consuls of various nations, the clergy of the district, the ancient Merchant Venturers of Bristol, the presidents and office-bearers of Foresters, Druids, Shepherds, friendly societies and trades..the naval reserve, the regular forces, Yeomanry and volunteers.”  We’re told a “large muster of gentlemen came in uniform of some kind or other”, making “a very brilliant show”.


And the joy was felt elsewhere. Every shop was closed, all the bells were ringing, and “all Gloucester and much of Somerset gave themselves up to an unreserved and hearty enjoyment”. One wonders what part of Somerset wasn’t quite as enamoured with the “union between the two counties”. You would suspect Bath, but it was still a year before Bath Rugby club was founded, and nine years before Gloucester, so the old enmity hadn’t yet been developed! Whatever, it’s clear that not only was Brunel’s amazing construction celebrated as it should have been, it’s significance as a key part of infrastructure was recognised as well. Would that we were a little more celebratory, and a bit more frequently, nowadays.


Which brings me neatly, at least in my estimation, to the last opportunity I will have this year to wish readers of the Western Gazette a very happy Christmas, and a peaceful and, let us hope, prosperous New Year.

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