Newspaper Articles

A shake-up for the fiscal calendar

Date: 24 November 2016
Authors:
Publisher: News International
Published in: Times

One announcement yesterday cheered me up immensely. This is the last autumn statement. From 2018 there will be only one fiscal event a year.

Now, that probably matters more to me than most people: only one all-nighter a year crunching the numbers will improve the quality of my life. Former colleagues in the Treasury will also be breathing a great sigh of relief. More time to focus on Brexit, anyway.

But there are more serious reasons for welcoming this change. In recent years the autumn statement has simply become a second budget. The result has been a proliferation of policy announcements.

As I and colleagues from the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Institute for Government wrote in September, a return to one fiscal event a year would release resources for better consultation, produce higher-quality legislation and make life simpler for taxpayers.

Part of the problem is that the way budgets and autumn statements work is that the chancellor and Treasury have almost free rein. They don’t need to go through the tiresome processes of finding room in the legislative agenda, consulting and other practices that other departments have to go through when making policy. This can mean spectacularly bad policy. The mistakes made by George Osborne, Gordon Brown and others — from omnishambles budgets to 10p tax rates — happened in part because they were able to make policy too often.

Mr Hammond has made a good start. Yesterday was, appropriately, dull. Few rabbits were pulled from his hat. But good luck to him. I hope he has the courage of his convictions and that his successors keep to his plans. I suspect, though, that this is an au revoir, not adieu, to the autumn statement.

This piece was first published by The Times and is reproduced here in full with permission. Paul Johnson is Director of the IFS - follow him @PJTheEconomist.