Spring back, Autumn forward

Once I was a sentimental thing,

Threw my heart away each spring,

 Now a spring romance hasn’t got a chance

 Promised my first dance to winter

What can we expect from Phillip Hammond’s first Budget today? He’s already talked about the wodge that is coming the way of the education sector (the words ocean and drop spring to mind) and we’ve heard about the new T-level qualifications to try and stop people thinking of technical or vocational qualifications as somehow ‘less worthy’ than academic ones. Not worse, not better, just different qualifications for different skill sets.

A new (well he’s new-ish) Chancellor’s first Budget usually has something of the personal statement about it – however quietly hinted. Hammond will want to be seen as the man who wasn’t George Osborne. The man who didn’t bang on about austerity and how things will need to get tougher still before they get better.

Hammond is the Chancellor on whose watch Brexit will happen. If it does all go belly-up  (though its looking less and less like the financial Armageddon that Osborne warned about) then he’s the one whose name will be linked with it. He’s lucky in that growth does seem to heading in the right direction, though it’s not enough to warrant any real kind of giveaways.

So, for this first Hammond Budget, we’re unlikely to see huge giveaways, nor massive claw-backs. He doesn’t strike me as a barn-stormy type, high on the idea of political theatre, so it is likely to be measured and not contain too much that we haven’t already heard in the Autumn Statement. It is, of course, also going to be the last Budget of its type – the Autumn Statement and the Spring Budget will, henceforth, swap positions. This time next year we will be seeing a Spring Statement, which will be an update on the changes announced in the Autumn Budget, well ahead of the new tax year, instead of a few weeks shy of it.

The long-campaigned for VAT reduction on home improvement work is never going to happen and there was precious little in last month’s Housing White Paper to suggest that changes to stamp duty to encourage older people in larger properties to downsize more easily and free-up family-sized homes might be on the cards.

We might see some movement on the revised business rates announced. There has been a lot of publicity around the number of small businesses – run by those ‘hard-working families’ the Tories are so fond of – that are going to suffer greatly under the proposed changes.

We might also see more money for vocational training, investment in new emerging technologies, tax thresholds rising and state pensions inching up.

Nothing to get too excited about.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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