Martin Gurney, tax partner at Haines Watts Swindon shares his views on the Autumn Statement.
To steal a line from Radiohead , the Autumn Statement was a Budget with ‘no alarm and no surprises’.
We are increasingly familiar with the government’s preference for ‘leaking’ Budget measures in advance, and for advance warnings on significant, future changes to the tax system, therefore Philip Hammond did not have much to say, from a tax perspective at least, that should have come as a surprise.
I have selected a few of the points that, in my opinion, have the greatest bearing on businesses.
1. Only one bite at the cherry
We had become used to the annual round of Spring and Autumn Budgets, and the disruption that this can bring to attempts achieve stability both in spending patterns and in the determination of likely tax liabilities.
The Chancellor has announced after Spring 2017, we will move to a single, Autumn Budget. Whilst this may seem relatively innocuous, any measures introduced reduce the likelihood of last minute changes to tax systems must be a good thing.
If we have the luxury of being able to plan with some degree of certainty, business confidence and stability hopefully follow.
2. Employment costs
Employers have already seen an increase in employment costs following the introduction of Pension Auto- Enrolment.
The Chancellor has added two further measures that will again affect employers:
· an increase in the National Minimum Wage (to £7.50)
· a decrease in the threshold above which an employer makes National Insurance contributions for an employee (£157 per week)
These new measures will further add to employment costs. With concerns that inflationary pressures may create the need for basic wage increases in order to avoid employees suffering real reductions in spending power, employers may be concerned that employment cost are set to escalate.
3. Beware the tax efficient
There is, in my opinion, a fundamental flaw in the logic of the tax legislators – we are not all equal! A business owner is unlikely to have the same tax profile as an employee, however we are being told that, in essence, they should be identical.
This is fundamentally flawed – there must be significant incentives for those who are prepared to accept risk in order to generate profit and economic growth, however the government continues to reduce the opportunities available for entrepreneurs to structure their affairs tax efficiently.
Today the Chancellor announced:
· salary sacrifice schemes will not be available for most types of benefit (pension, childcare, cycle to work and low-emission car schemes will remain unaffected)
· the government will seek to address the differential in tax between incorporated and unincorporated businesses
My concern is that, if we make it less attractive to act in an entrepreneurial manner, we reduce the likelihood that we will achieve the economic growth necessary to bring the budget back in to balance.
Global economic uncertainty, coupled with the potential impact of Brexit, has lead to forecast reductions in the likely scale of economic growth in the UK, the consequence of which is that we are likely to remain in budget deficit for the next few years.
This government is unable, or unwilling, to commit to significant spending without it being funded by savings or other fiscal measures.
As I often say to clients ‘it is difficult to shrink your way to success’. The Chancellor appears to recognise this but, in uncertain times, cannot risk significantly increasing tax burdens as this might further depress economic activity.
Therefore, yet again, the Budget pronouncements have been relatively neutral both in terms of infrastructure spending and tax measures. I suspect I will be saying the same in the Spring.
Pictured above: Martin Gurney, tax partner at Haines Watts