philip hammond chancellor government budget

‘Full-fibre’ telecoms connections and plastic tax proposals vaunted in Chancellor’s spring statement

Image credit: reuters

In his statement to the House of Commons yesterday, Philip Hammond launched consultations on taxing throwaway coffee cups and excise duty cuts for drivers of low-emission vehicles.

Nearly £100 million has been allocated to boost broadband connectivity in 13 areas in the UK as part of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s spring statement, which also contained hints of future excise duty cuts for drivers of low-emissions vehicles and a potential new tax on throwaway coffee cups and items of disposable plastic packaging.

The government is hoping its strategic digital telecoms interventions will help stimulate the market, thereby boosting further investment from communications giants as part of its much vaunted industrial strategy.

Manchester, North Yorkshire and Belfast are among the biggest beneficiaries of money from the Local Full Fibre Network funding pot, which totals £190 million in public funds.

Projects include using some NHS premises as ‘anchor points’ for the growing network and upgrading schools, libraries and emergency response buildings to gigabit-capable full-fibre connections, as well as creating so-called ‘fibre spines’ along major transport corridors.

In all, 95 per cent of UK premises can now get superfast broadband, but just 3 per cent have access to gigabit-capable full-fibre infrastructure. The need for faster connectivity is expected to dramatically increase over the coming years.

The Chancellor has also announced the start of a consultation designed to determine how best to crack down on throwaway food and drink packaging, millions of tonnes of which are sent to UK landfill sites or incinerators, or littered in parks and on beaches, each year.

Measures could include a so-called ‘latte levy’ on single use coffee cups, which contain a thin poly-lining that does not biodegrade and which has been blamed for worsening marine pollution. The measure would mimic the successful plastic bag charge affecting supermarkets, which is set to be rolled out to other retailers nationwide.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has previously mooted plans to ban plastic straws. Last month, he made a point of issuing each of his cabinet colleagues with reusable cups.

In addition to its consultation, the government is also reportedly planning to award £20 million from existing departmental budgets to fund research and development of alternatives to plastic.

A consultation was also launched into proposals to cut excise duty for drivers of low-emissions vehicles.

Elsewhere in his spring statement, the Chancellor hinted at new taxes on social media giants’ revenues generated from UK users. The proposed measure would target firms where the core business offer comes from content made by other users.

Economic growth predictions were revised upwards and borrowing predictions were revised downwards by Hammond, who announced there was light at the end of the tunnel following years of austerity.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell branded Hammond complacent for making public services wait another eight months for relief, and Institute for Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson said growth forecasts for the UK were “dreadful by historical standards and dreadful compared with most of the rest of the world.”

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