Monday, February 9, 2009

Budget Day 2009 will be in April. Ssh. Don't tell anyone.

I suspect that Budget Day 2009 will be announced at a time of the Chancellor's choosing so as to maximise the chance of managing the news cycle. However as there a number of external factors to take into account I think we can now pin down the most likely date this year.

As Mike Truman notes in Taxation magazine, we are all used to the uncertainty that surrounds the date of the Chancellor's Budget statement each year. And we are also consistently unhappy both with the lack of notice we normally get and with the lack of knowledge about the amount of time we are going to get.

The Treasury press office claims that 'no decision has been made yet' even though this is arguably untrue. Decisions have been made as to when the Budget won't be held. It won't be held at the same time as the Chancellor hosts a meeting of G20 Finance Ministers on 14 March and it almost certainly won't be held immediately before or after that meeting either. The same can be said about the full G20 summit on 2 April.

Could the Budget be held earlier than usual? In theory 'yes' but the consultation period for the draft clauses on the taxation of foreign profits continues until 3 March. The responses to the consultation should then be informing decisions as regards the draft legislation which is expected to form a key element of the Finance Bill. Also the current economic climate is such that the Treasury, the Chancellor and the PM are sure to want MORE time rather than less to finalise their further plans.

They will also have to rationalise the usual Budget spin about how further tax cuts cannot be made as these would need to be funded and this would mean tax rises elsewhere. Such arguments will need to be spun even harder than usual as, in recent weeks, numerous unfunded unplanned promises have already been made.

So I tend to believe that this year's Budget will be deferred until after the start of the new tax year on 6 April. It wouldn't be unprecedented but it would be unusual. I expect the economic crisis to be blamed for the (in)decision. And we don't need to wait for the Budget to know about the key tax rates, bands and allowances for 2009/10 as these were announced in the Pre-Budget Report last November.

The Budget is invariably held immediately after Prime Minister's Questions ("PMQ"). This used to be a twice weekly event on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But Tony Blair revised the procedure in 1997 and since then PMQ has taken place for just half an hour from 12-12.30 each Wednesday. Since 2001 Budgets have been held on Wednesdays.

As the House of Commons will be in recess (not sitting) from 3-19 April the most likely date for this year's Budget is.....Wednesday 22 April. But keep it to yourself.

If I'm right and 22 April has been secretly pencilled in, please don't tell anyone. If my rationale is correct and were to be widely publicised I would expect another date to be chosen. After all there must be a good reason for the Chancellor and PM believing that they have to surprise us all when they announce the date. It would never do for us to have more than a couple of weeks notice now would it?!

1 comment:

  1. And what do you know? I posted this prediction on Monday 9 February. Now today 12 February the Chancellor has confirmed I was right. Maybe I should make more of the fact that I'm a member of The Magic Circle!