A new Chancellor, a new Prime Minister, but would we get a new approach?

The tone of Philip Hammond's first Autumn Statement was certainly less triumphal, less celebratory, and it felt lighter on the statistics front than we had come to expect from George Osborne.

The run through the borrowing and growth forecasts was more subdued than previous set-piece events although Mr Hammond did manage to have the now customary dig at the opposition when he mentioned restoration funding for Wentworth Woodhouse, but having to link it back to the actions of the Labour government in 1947 did seem to be a bit tenuous.

It was reported in the press that when Philip Hammond (apparently known ironically as "Box Office" Phil for being the complete antithesis of George Osborne when it comes to courting publicity) gave his Cabinet colleagues a preview of his Autumn Statement, the immediate reaction was "where is the rabbit?"

For those of us eagerly watching this lunchtime, if there was a "rabbit" it was very much the announcement that this was to be the last Autumn Statement (although to be fair, this had been signaled in some quarters so was more of a kitten (look it up!)). In future the budget would be in November with the Autumn Statement being abolished. If this seemed like good news, there was a short-term sting in the tail in the fact that in 2017 there will therefore be two budgets, one in the spring and one in the autumn. Going forward, Mr Hammond announced that as well as the autumn Budget, there would be a Spring "Statement". The opposition apparently thought that sounded a bit like an Autumn Statement (only a bit warmer) but the Chancellor pointed out to them that the Office for Budget Responsibility was required to produce forecasts twice a year and the Spring Statement would be responding to that. I suspect that we weren't alone in thinking that we'd still get a plethora of tax announcements in the spring, but the Chancellor did helpfully indicate that he does not intend to use the Spring Statement to make tax changes "just for the sake of it".

For those of us with long memories, this is a return to the Conservative government of the mid-nineties when Kenneth Clarke delivered his budgets in November, before Gordon Brown reverted to the traditional March date, and inflated the status of the Autumn Statement as a set-piece tax event.

Some had suggested that an autumn Budget would give more time for debate, but with royal assent for the resulting Finance Bill expected to be before the start of the tax year, the length of debating time will be similar to the current system, albeit we'll now have Christmas in the way. Looking back at previous autumn budgets, royal assent was normally around the end of April/start of May so this will be an acceleration.
That said, having certainty on the rules before the start of the tax year will be of considerable benefit for taxpayers.

From a purely selfish publishing point of view, this moves our busy time of year away from the summer and is much preferred by the writers in my team. In fact, a plea was made by David Smailes, one of our writers, in a chapter he wrote for the Tolley Centenary book "Plucking the Goose – a History of Taxation from the Great War to the Digital Age" to return to the autumn Budget timetable, I don't think he realised that he had such influence!

As always, I am extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of not only my direct team, who have worked tirelessly into the evening and night to bring you a touch of insight on what the announcements are, and what they mean to you and your clients, but also the people behind the scenes who have supported us and made it possible. We hope you find the commentary useful.

Simon Groom
Director of Tax Content Creation

Download our free in-depth, practical guidance and analysis on the Autumn Statement using the form below.

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