As well as a Cold-War style murder and frenzied international diplomacy, this week also saw the UK enjoy the thrill of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement. ‘Box office Phil’, as he is (unkindly but possibly fairly) named did at least manage to get a few jokes at the despatch box as he unveiled probably the dullest fiscal statement since, well, perhaps ever.
Growth was fractionally up, borrowing was fractionally down. Other than that almost nothing changed. With the Conservative Party clamouring for more spending on almost everything, Hammond hinted that while there was no cash today, there would be more cash in this Autumn’s budget (which helpfully will come just as the Brexit negotiations are at their peak).
Yet in the detail there were various open ended consultations that showed Hammond’s political antennae remained as weak as ever – with measures hinting at cracking down on the cash economy and increasing VAT on companies with a turnover of less than £85,000. Small businesses clearly remain in the Treasury’s targets – lucky for the Conservatives they aren’t a core pillar of their electoral support…
Equally interesting was how far the Tory tax and deficit debate leans toward greater spending. Even John Redwood – that stony faced Thatcherite – is urging more Government spending not debt reduction. Behind the scenes there is talk of another 1p on national insurance to support the NHS. Despite the fact that the tax burden is at the highest in decades, support for further reductions in spending is pretty non-existent, in part because of the Brexiteer promise for £350 million on the NHS. This new tone was the most notable fact in a week even fiscal wonks (including us at Field) would struggle to describe as interesting.