Autumn Statement: Doing nothing might be better than ‘doing something’, says Danny Clifford

Danny Clifford of Ensors.

Danny Clifford of Ensors. - Credit: Archant

DANNY CLIFFORD, tax partner at Ensors Chartered Accountants, assesses Philip Hammond’s first - and last- Autumn Statement.

So this was the last ever Autumn Statement. I have never understood the need for this mid-year exercise.

Although previously there had been Summer Statements, the move to Autumn and a “re-brand” to the Pre-Budget Report by Gordon Brown saw it become more prominent.

The intention was that it would be a “mid year report on progress and the state of the economy” combined with an opportunity to debate on proposals under consideration for the next Budget.

What we got was a combination of tinkering with taxes, advance warnings of what might happen and a re-announcement of measures previously announced at one or more previous Budgets.

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Philip Hammond’s first (and as it turns out only) Autumn Statement featured only minor tinkering (I will give him the benefit of the doubt at this stage and assume there are not unannounced nasties hidden away in the Treasury papers).

You could accuse the Chancellor of doing nothing. If that is true I, for one, applaud him for it.

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I cannot understand why Chancellors past have seen the need to do “something” – to create complex new legislation all for the sake of a minor change which they think will go down well in an announcement. We have the longest tax code in the world, and have had to put in place an “Office For Tax Simplification”. Would it not be better just to leave the system as it is for a few years?

One of Philip Hammond’s announcements was the ending of the income and capital gains tax reliefs given in respect Employee Shareholder Status shares .

This is a measure only three years old which necessitated around 50 changes to existing legislation, much consultation, announcement, coverage and, as is clear from an online search, significant resources from advisors in examining the detail and explaining it to clients.

From the hours spent altering complex legislation to staff training and client meetings, I will not even begin to estimate the wasted cost. Had he done nothing all of those resources could have been used in a more productive manner.

Philip Hammond made a big issue of the fact that UK productivity lags so far behind other countries. I humbly suggest cutting red-tape and ceasing unnecessary tinkering for the sake of political point scoring is a good place to begin.

To use a football analogy – sometimes you can make space by standing still! An Autumn Statement short on tinkering is a good start.

Unfortunately, in 2017 there may be two Budgets!

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