Some of you may have noticed that the Budget is coming this week. I’m not sure what gave it away. The pages and pages of coverage in all of the Sunday newspapers or the drip-drip of announcements, trails and general testing of the water that we have seen from the Treasury for what seems like forever.
But it is here and on Wednesday, as Sebastian Vettel once described the first qualifying of the Formula One season, it is pants down time for the Chancellor.
So what can we expect? There seems to be two schools of thought.
School one – there will be lots of announcements. A big reveal on how this Government is going to balance its books: new taxes to start levelling up and more funding for the regions, as well as an increase to the National Minimum Wage. Exciting times.
The other school of thought is a far more conservative (small c) route – effectively everything is kicked down the road to the spring. So, that’s the business rates review and most of the tax rises that have been widely trailed and any changes to VAT or fuel duties – the list goes on. In effect, the message will be: “Yes, we need to raise taxes but there is an HGV shortage causing mayhem for shoppers and potentially cancelling Christmas”, “we don’t know what is going on with lockdown and we are better off taking note next year”. A pragmatic course of action, but one that leads itself to being criticised for its reactive nature and lack of leadership.
It appears that the second option is far more sensible. The Government may have a large majority but the last thing they want, or need, is a winter of struggle and discomfort for the public, as, for example, Amazon hikes prices following an online sales tax increase or more shops are forced to shut as business rates don’t support new commuter or shopping habits.
But where does that leave the economy in the long run? I guess the answer to that is somewhat in limbo, but almost certainly not worse off than we are now. The truth is that the world is different and a lot of us are still working out what that looks like. Does hybrid working affect development, growth or teams? Can city centre coffee shops cope if commuters are only in on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday? Can Gap really only exist online? We just don’t know. And until we do know, it would seem far too early to start regulating, let alone taxing companies based on “new models”.
Politically, the rumour mill seems to have decided that we are almost certainly having a General Election in 2023. That will mean that Rishi will not want to burn too many bridges or risk re-election. Therefore, tax increases need to be sooner rather than later but it would seem that it is just a little too soon. “Get through Christmas and do it in the spring” is the likely message.
Those of you who want high drama, prepare to be disappointed. I am expecting slow and steady to be the order of the day.
Aaron Bass is an associate director at The PR Office.