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Philip Hammond’s spring statement avoids any real tax surprises
BRITISH CHANCELLORS used to be content with making a dozen or so tax-policy changes every year. That changed at the turn of the century when additional financial statements, made at a different time to the annual budget, became common. This gave chancellors more opportunity to fiddle, pushing the average number of changes to over 60 per year. Philip Hammond, the current chancellor, has bucked the trend: his spring statement today announced just eight tax tweaks.
When Gordon Brown, Britain’s longest-serving chancellor, delivered his first budget in 1997 it contained just 17 tax measures. Eleven years later he had introduced nearly 300. Over a period of just six years George Osborne made 672 changes to tax policies. He too started relatively small, with just 37 adjustments in his first year. But in 2015 he made 133, the most of any chancellor. All this fiddling makes the tax system more complicated, and so less efficient.
Mr Hammond had seemed to be going the same way as his recent predecessors. After his first fiscal pronouncement, the autumn statement of 2016, this newspaper congratulated him on having made just 44 changes. By last year's budget that had risen to 85. Yet today's spring statement is one of the least fiddly fiscal events for decades. Mr Hammond had already pledged that spring statements would be low-key affairs. And there is such uncertainty over Brexit that making changes now seems a bit pointless. If Britain were to leave without a deal, for example, Mr Hammond might have to rethink fiscal policy from scratch.