Budget: National Living Wage is Osborne's bunny

The modern-day trend for Chancellors of the Exchequer to pre-brief the contents of their Budget days in advance of the speech itself often leaves the occasion with a hollow feel.  But today George Osborne reversed that trend by producing a surprise bunny from his red box.

In announcing the introduction of a compulsory National Living Wage - starting at £7.20 from next April and rising to £9 an hour by 2020 - the Chancellor managed to blindside most commentators and, most-pleasingly for him, his political opponents.  

Anoraks out there will recall that one of Ed Miliband's most eye-catching policies when leading Labour's General Election campaign was to pledge an £8 per hour National Minimum Wage.  And critics at the time said even that was unaffordable.  However, by committing to cut corporation tax to 18%  - also by 2020 - and reduce employers' National Insurance contributions, Mr Osborne believes he has his £9 an hour conundrum squared. 

Also of note was his renewed determination to "put power into the Northern Powerhouse," a concept undoubtedly damaged by the recently-announced delay to the electrification of the trans-Pennine rail line.     

Control over fire services, planning and children's services is now to be handed to Greater Manchester where council leaders have already agreed to the election of a metro mayor.  And today the Chancellor reaffirmed his desire to devolve significant powers to other Northern cities and city regions if politicians there accept his preferred model of local accountability. 

West Yorkshire leaders remain hostile to the idea.  This tug of war remains one to watch.