In the weeks leading up to the Autumn Statement, the press was full of speculation about tax cuts. This was a surprise, just over a year after the tax cuts announced by Kwasi Kwarteng were judged imprudent by the international markets, contributing to a fall in the value of sterling and increases in interest rates.
Jeremy Hunt opened his first full Budget speech by declaring that it was a ‘budget for growth’. He emphasised that this would be ‘long term, sustainable, healthy growth’; after all, Kwasi Kwarteng’s ill-fated September speech at the same despatch box was titled ‘the Growth Plan’. The Office for Budget Responsibility reported that there is unlikely to be any growth in 2023, but the UK is likely at least to avoid a recession.
The Chancellor had a difficult task in this Budget: to indicate how he might balance the Government’s books in the future, while still having to pay out huge sums to support the economy. He said that he would continue to provide ‘whatever it takes’ to protect businesses and jobs during the present crisis, while being honest about the need to ‘fix the public finances’ and setting out his plans to build the future economy.
On 12 December 2019, the most important issue in the General Election appeared to be Brexit. On New Year’s Eve, Rishi Sunak was Chief Secretary to the Treasurer – Chancellor Sajid Javid’s second-in-command – and no one had heard of Coronavirus. When Mr Sunak took over as Chancellor on 13 February, with four weeks to prepare a Budget speech, there were only a handful of cases of the illness in the UK. In that short time, Covid-19 has become the starting point of a series of measures that the Office for Budget Responsibility described as the biggest fiscal stimulus since 1992. There seemed to be no end to the giveaways – £30 billion in all – and very little tax raising (even a freeze on alcohol and fuel duties). It seemed very different from the austerity of most of Philip Hammond’s Budgets.
Philip Hammond joked that he had avoided giving his speech on Halloween night itself because it would have been simply too tempting for the caption writers, and had avoided Christmas because he did not want to appear in cartoons disguised as Santa Claus. Even so, he was determined to honour the Prime Minister’s recent declaration that austerity was over. He repeated again and again that ‘the British people’s hard work has paid off’ and the fiscal rigour of the past eight years has allowed him at last to share out some of the benefits.
We were about to send the newsletter below out – just as the Tories announced a u-turn on National Insurance increases. We’d like to think it was the potential pressure of our commentary that made the government change its mind. Although we suspect it was more to do with The Sun and Daily Mail!
After much deliberation we decided to send the newsletter as is. Expect more of the unexpected as the government fiddle around the edges of the tax system to fund their spending.