Hewson on...Promising budget for horticulture industry

So what are we to make of George Osborne's final Budget before May's general election and what might it bring for UK Horticulture PLC -- and in particular the ornamentals sector?

His proposed tax cuts will surely give a genuine boost to consumer spending, as will long-overdue pension reforms, liberating the retired classes to cash-in underperforming annuities and spend their savings as they choose. Quite right too. Pensioners buy plants and they always vote.

Infrastructure reforms — notably, a national roll-out of ultra-fast broadband — and proposed investments to boost industry and local economies are also of interest. Let us hope they include some funds for skills training, apprenticeships, science spending and research, for these are the building blocks of any industry, not least our own. A tad more help with exporting wouldn’t go amiss either.

Handily, such measures also coincide with the recently announced and in my view completely spot-on wish list of the new ornamentals round table, whose detailed action plan for growth and competitiveness will be published at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Crucially, this round table collaboration is cross-sector, including such weighty players as the NFU, RHS, HTA, Horticultural Development Company and Lantra, so it should be well joined-up.

Also of interest are plans to build more homes (45,000 no less) on brownfield sites, for which the chancellor has earmarked a cool £500m, which should buy a few trees. His proposed compulsory purchase reforms should accelerate the development of new towns and garden cities, both of which would be a welcome fillip to landscaping and garden retail alike.

I’m not a Nick Clegg fan but the garden-cities he champions sound promising, with "biodiversity rich public parks" and "networks of well-managed, high quality gardens, tree-lined streets and open spaces". Of course, budgets and policy statements are one thing, while getting the job done is quite another. But it’s a decent start, right?

Andrew Hewson is a freelance writer and columnist

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