Members of Parliament of all political persuasions took a sharp intake of breath when Phillip Hammond reached the end of his Autumn Statement presentation last week. Here’s what he said:
This is my first Autumn Statement as Chancellor.
After careful consideration, and detailed discussion with the Prime Minister, I have decided that it will also be my last.
Cause for celebration? Cause for dismay? With the rapt attention of the whole House he continued:
Mr Speaker I am abolishing the Autumn Statement.
No other major economy makes hundreds of tax changes twice a year, and neither should we.
So the spring Budget in a few months will be the final spring Budget.
Starting in autumn 2017, Britain will have an autumn Budget, announcing tax changes well in advance of the start of the tax year.
From 2018 there will be a Spring Statement, responding to the forecast from the OBR, but no major fiscal event.
If unexpected changes in the economy require it, then I will, of course, announce actions at the Spring Statement, but I won’t make significant changes twice a year just for the sake of it.
This change will also allow for greater Parliamentary scrutiny of Budget measures ahead of their implementation.
Mr Speaker, this is a long-overdue reform to our tax-policy making process and brings the UK into line with best practice recommended by the IMF, IFS, Institute for government and many others.
This change does seem to be sensible. We look forward to the time when the Finance Act is enacted before the start of the new tax year. Presenting the Finance Bill November/December should be enough lead time to achieve this. Could it be we are making sensible changes to the administration of tax, at long last?
This does mean that 2017 will be a year of transition. We will see, and need to accommodate two Finance Acts during the year.