IN his Pre-Budget Report on Thursday Gordon Brown disappointed his critics who had fully expected him to present proposals limited to winning the next general election and installing himself in No 10 Downing Street when the present occupants vacate it. In fact, except for a few goodies directed to deserving causes (among them an increase in pensioners' winter fuel allowance which presumably will once again exclude shivering Majorcan residents), the Report was largely free of crude political gestures and, in the case of the Ten Year Plan for greatly improved childcare, it clearly addressed an urgent need that in principle all shades of opinion will support. Much the same can be said for his proposals to improve links beween universities and commerce and to encourage the upgrading of the skill base in British industry.
Whether Mr Brown has got all his sums right is a matter of debate among economists who naturally will not reach a conclusion. Some think that his prediction of 3-3.5% Gross Domestic Product growth in 2005 is over-optimistic and that the outcome is more likely be as much as one point lower. But such forecasting is at the mercy of global trends that cannot always be accurately predicted; Mr Brown is entitled to point out that, even if Britain does slightly less well than he expects, its fiscal standing will still be far stronger than its EU partners France, Italy and Germany, and than the US's probable performance.
The Chancellor used his Report as a platform to encourage UK exporters to give more attention to the burgeoning markets of China and India; currently only two per cent of all British exports go to these two countries which, between them, have half the world's population.