I woke up this morning feeling a nostalgic pang that would have seemed ludicrous a decade ago. As a schoolboy, when the sun came out in late February and early March heralding spring, thoughts inevitably turned to the joys of the cricket season.
As an accountant, I used to feel a similar thrill of anticipation at the prospect of a controversial Budget speech from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and its exciting aftermath.
Typically, the package would be filled with surprises, with many taking effect very quickly. There would be some changes that were retrospective to Budget Day, others that set people racing around to beat a midnight deadline, with the majority taking effect two or three weeks later on 1/6 April, as appropriate.
I still remember people dashing out of the office to fill their cars with petrol prior to a duty hike or rushing to the pub/off-licence to load up with their preferred tipple in a last-minute bargain.
More interestingly, there was the opportunity to contact clients with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save vast amounts of tax provided that they took significant action before the end of the tax year. This generated interesting work and lucrative fees; a perfect combination.
Genuinely, we did not have any real idea of what was going to come until a respectable-looking middle-aged man (they always were) stood at the dispatch box with a battered old briefcase and quite often a bottle of whiskey with which to taunt those on the opposite benches.
These events were genuinely dramatic and frequently highly entertaining. The Chancellor would always pull a financial rabbit out of the hat, much to the surprise of everyone, even the initiated.
As a direct consequence, most firms of accountants of any reasonable size felt an obligation to prepare or buy in some kind of publication for the enlightenment of clients who really cared about the ways in which their financial futures were to be affected. Similarly, for year after year, I joined team of colleagues who stood up in various relatively respectable venues to deliver our words of wisdom about the impact of changes that initially seemed unintelligible. Not only that but we often spoke to full houses, tempted as much by a desire to find out the facts as the chance to tuck into some not particularly appetising finger food and cheap wine that was not quite as cheap as it would have been 24 hours before.
Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to have become the official opposition within the government but has largely abrogated his duties in determining the country’s finances. At present, his Prime Minister and her cabinet seem to be interested in nothing at all bar their attempts to understand what they have got themselves into with the decision to leave Europe.
In November we had a non-Budget, which means no real fiscal policy for 18 months or more. In the longer term someone is going to have to get a grip and determine how the country’s finances are to be protected and enhanced in the next few years, particularly given that even the most fervent supporters of the departure from Europe accept that it is going to come with a massive upfront bill.
In this light, nothing would cheer me more than an immediate announcement from Philip Hammond that he is restoring the March Budget speech and has some practical ideas for recovering the initiative on both financial and fiscal fronts.
About The Imprudent Accountant
Someone who should know better, but can't resist the occasional rant about the more exasperating aspects of the accountancy profession.