November 26th, 2015
Autumn Statement 2015
Today's main event was billed as a joint Spending Review and Autumn Statement. In truth, it was far more of the former and very little of the latter, with the proportion of the speech allocated to tax measures being almost non-existent. The key message was that, despite some changes, the reduction of the deficit is on track and the economy is safe in the hands of the government. That probably doesn't come as a great surprise given Mr Osborne's ambition for a promotion towards the end of this parliament. Once again he showed his innate ability to present statistics that support his claim of fiscal responsibility, despite the change of heart on tax credits. Looking at the figures a little closer gives a hint of a certain amount of 'smoke and mirrors', but that is only to be expected.
He can also claim to have listened on tax credits, despite the fact that the changes originally proposed will essentially come in anyway (albeit a little later) with the move to universal credit. What he did fail to point out was that the extra cost of changing his mind on tax credits was more than covered by the windfall of £27bn over this parliament (according to the BBC's Newsnightprogramme). The windfall arises from reduced forecasts for debt interest and changes to the way that the OBR forecast tax receipts (particularly VAT), and has allowed him to reduce departmental spending by less than anticipated and still be on track to meet his deficit reduction target.
Mr Osborne had a lot to say on home ownership and supporting housebuilding and we've grown accustomed over the last few months to seeing him in a hard hat and a high-vis jacket, extolling the virtue of the building or manufacturing sectors. Could it all have been leading up to the claim today: "for we are the builders"? From now on we can refer to him as "Bob".
The customary dig at those on the opposition benches was in evidence while he was discussing the importance of culture. The comment "his campaign has contributed to the arts, while his front bench contributes to comedy" was particularly well received – at least on one side of the house. The SNP didn't escape either as he asserted that, had Scotland voted for independence, the cuts that they would be announcing would be huge due to the collapse in revenues from North Sea oil.
One comment did appear to be capable of misinterpretation. I wasn't the only one to wonder whether his "permanent pothole fund" was an unfortunate turn of phrase, although given the state of the roads, it seems good progress is being made on creating more permanent potholes.
On the tax front there was very little to grab the headlines, although, as usual, there was much more buried away in the statement itself. It has to be said that there was very little in the way of back-up detail, and so, as we prepared the documents outlining the changes, there was a lot of searching to make sure nothing was missed. There were no changes to duties for the tabloids to get hold of, no announcements on headline rates and allowances; maybe it was the plan all along for the Summer Budget to be an early Autumn Statement.
At Tolley, we've been studying and analysing the changes, so that you don't need to lose any sleep – we've got it covered. Despite the lack of big announcements, it's still been a late night and our teams of writers, editors and technical specialists have been working throughout the afternoon and into the night to summarise not just what the changes are, but what they might mean for you and your clients. I'm extremely grateful for their efforts, and I hope that you find the documents useful.
Director of Tax Content Creation