Simon Sweetman was an inspector of taxes for 18 years. He left the Inland Revenue in 1989 to join Chartered Accountants Scrutton Goodchild & Sanderson, later part of Scrutton Bland, where he was successively a senior manager and later a partner. He has been an independent consultant since 2001. He is a former member of the tax policy unit of the Federation of Small Businesses and the small business working group of the Chartered Institute of Taxation.
Budget 2010 and the World Cup: Confused as ever
Simon Sweetman is confused by the forthcoming Budget, the World Cup and the coalition...
David Cameron recently promised: “We are going to do a novel thing in this government. We are going to plan properly, proper meetings, proper processes, proper Budgets.”
Damn right that would be novel. It is also not the way this one is likely to happen (although to be fair they haven’t had that long to prepare for it). What seems to be happening at the moment is that most of the HMRC and the Treasury’s head office people are frantically beavering away at – presumably – weird and wonderful schemes to collect the 20% of the deficit reduction supposedly coming from tax increases - just as usual.
There is one simple explanation. Being the chancellor of the exchequer is not a job with a high fun content, and the only laugh you get out of it is being able to confuse and wrongfoot everybody with your cunning plans. For the media, the Budget is exciting because they can run extra pages and pages of tables showing that you’ll be 32p a week worse off and running comments that will be forgotten in five minutes.
Does it have to be done this way? Especially now we have the Pre-Budget Report? I can see no reason why all significant tax changes should not be trailed there and then put out for consultation (given the usual caveats about anti-avoidance, but we might get legislation with fewer loopholes this way). Do we think that the changes to CGT or VAT will just be simple rate changes, or will there be more tricks?
The other great advantage for the chancellor here is that this could be the Budget nobody cares about at all. There may be a perfunctory reaction but at 3pm on 23 June, England will be playing its last Group C match against Slovenia, and all eyes will be on that. Of course, if England is then eliminated the effects of the Budget may be added in to the general weeping and wailing.
So for the moment we are left to wonder just how much it is possible for the cabinet to empathise with the poor or with small businesses when most of them are millionaires and very few have ever even mixed with the peasants like us. The wealthiest group to run the country since Lord Salisbury’s last administration are not the people I would have chosen to decide how you and I are going to have to tighten our belts.
Who decides whether we should? I suppose one thing that has come out of this is that nobody can pretend economics is a science any more, as exchanges between economists look increasingly like a religious war. Can I be the first to urge that the Nobel committee abolish the economics prize forthwith (it was a bad idea in the first place and not, one should stress, Alfred Nobel’s) and use the money for good works.
However, if England wins the World Cup we just won’t care about it.