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Fantasy Budget: Be honest and realistic

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Ian Holloway has five priorities he would implement if he were Chancellor of the Exchequer. While he might get some praise from the public, he thinks the same might not be true of his political party colleagues.

21st Feb 2024
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It really is anyone’s guess what will be in the 6 March 2024 UK Budget. While this is not the first time it has happened, in case anyone has forgotten, there is a General Election due this year (or by 28 January 2025 at the latest). Coupled with this, the current UK government appears unpopular if opinion polls are to be believed. 

So, how does any servant of the public, not least the Chancellor of the Exchequer, balance this with the reality of having to deliver a fiscal statement? Plus, let’s not forget that he has a boss and we all know that bosses and their employees don’t always agree on the right way forward.

If I were in the Chancellor’s position, I hope that I would be able to implement my own five priorities – my boss did it, so why not me?

1. Take the politics out

Whatever political colour I might be representing, I would be delivering a fiscal statement for the country. Therefore, that should be the thought that is uppermost in my mind. I am not delivering it to please a tabloid newspaper or a particular faction of my party. I am there to ensure I get enough revenue through taxes to pay for public services, distributing the monies as fairly and responsibly as I can. This is always recognising that priorities are ever-changing. 

In 2024, for example, I don’t believe I could hold my head high by giving an income tax cut, knowing that afterwards I must navigate a road with potholes to get to a faraway NHS dentist before I go to the food bank for dinner.

2. Be honest

Free of political persuasion and the threat of negative editorials in the tabloids the next day, my second priority would be to ensure I am honest and relay the country’s economic situation as it really is. Politicians can manipulate figures and get them to say whatever it is they want them to, justifying their actions.

Let’s just be honest. As my mother taught me, if there’s no money left in the wallet, there’s nothing left to spend. But lessons my mother taught me are not the same as the message that will probably be relayed in the pre-Election Budget on 6 March. 

3. Be realistic

Nicely following my priority to tell it like it really is, I would have to look at the tax system and ask whether it was reflective of reality. For example:

  • Is the income tax personal allowance set at the right value given the cost-of-living crisis and the fiscal drag this is causing? If we can’t afford to increase it, be honest and say why.
  • Likewise the 45p approved mileage allowance payment rate, which has been at this rate since April 2011. Is it reflective of the costs that are different in 2024 than they were in 2011? I know that any increase may encourage the use of private vehicles and, therefore, is against a UK government policy, so in the name of realism, say “we have reviewed them” and be honest about why they are not increasing.
  • Similarly, the £8,000 tax-free cap on qualifying relocation expenses. This value has been in place for 20 years but expenses have not stayed the same. It would be realistic to say it needed to be reviewed (but then honest to say, “We’re not doing anything about it”).
  • I would not introduce policy changes mid-tax year such as the change to national insurance percentage in January 2024. It is not realistic that software developers and employers must implement a policy that was only announced a few months before. Was it that vital to inconvenience so many professionals? Not for this Chancellor.

Honesty and realism go together, though having five priorities seems to be the political thing to do.

4. Engage with the right people

There is a biblical term that I would abide by and that’s to separate my wheat from my chaff. If a government is to be truly representative of all people, it needs to engage with all representatives of those people. In payroll and reward terms, this means talking to people from all sectors, not just those that have the highest profile or have the belief that they are representative.

If I’m in charge I will prioritise talking and engaging with the right people. That doesn’t mean I stop talking to the people with the highest profile, the ones that believe can offer me wholly representative advice. But I will decide who I talk with and that would involve talking with all political parties, thereby linking to my “take the politics out” priority. 

I may be in government but I am part of a UK-elected Parliament. 

5. Enjoy the moment

A Budget for the people reflective of all views and political persuasions. That is easier said than done, so no wonder I would make my last priority to take advantage of the fact that I am allowed alcohol in the House of Commons when I deliver my speech. Geoffrey Howe used to have a gin and tonic, allegedly. Sounds OK to me.

Replies (2)

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Replying to Justin Bryant:
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By Justin Bryant
26th Feb 2024 11:24

So it would be a fantasy Budget to think that won't happen is my point.

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