Autumn Statement takes centre stage in “tax land”

Let’s start with the Autumn Statement or in old money the pre-Budget Report.

There were only a few tax announcements of note.   January’s planned rise in fuel duty has been cancelled.   Not yet heard whether next August’s increase is also to be cancelled.  There have been further calls for the fuel duty escalator to be abandoned.  It will be interesting to see how the Scottish Government responds to the increase in business rates by the UK Government.  Tax competition within the UK; surely not.  There was also a tiny increase in the Bank Levy.

The Autumn Statement was of course dominated by the poor growth and debt figures.  It seems the reality of how we have got to this point and what lies ahead is slowly dawning.  According to figures published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies household incomes will fall by 7.4 per cent between 2009/10 and 2012/13 due to inflation and austerity measures.  This reportedly represents the worst fall in living standards since the three-day week in the 1970s and it would see an average family lose nearly £2,500 over the period.

Has the UK been living beyond its means?  Yes.  Is it going to take a number of years for the debt to work its way through the system?  Yes.  Do we now have a two tier public sector where the top tier earns more and has far greater benefits than the vast majority of those who work in the private sector?  Yes.  Will the UK and Scottish Governments have to deal with public sector wages, bonuses and benefits as well as pensions?  Yes.  Is there a quick fix.  No.

Now to the fiscal powers debate.  Interesting to see “devo max” being mentioned on the BBC’s One Show on St Andrew’s Day.  Did not expect  that.    The quality of the debate also surprised me.  Further evidence that this debate has now reached new pastures.

Interesting news report on the BBC website pages concerning the glacial process of devolving some parts of the corporation tax legislation to Northern Ireland.  It seems that a joint ministerial meeting is to take place before Christmas.  Three key points are to be addressed.  These are cost, how would this be administered and what form would the legislation take.  Not sure who is credited with first saying this but they are right.  “The main difference between evolution and devolution is that devolution takes longer.”  The article can be found here.

Now to Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said: “Europe is working towards setting up a fiscal union in a bid to resolve the eurozone’s debt crisis.”  How quickly this debate is moving.   For example the European Union’s council of finance ministers has endorsed European Commission proposals for tax policy coordination through the so-called “Euro Plus Pact” concluded in March by 23 of the 27 member states. The report calls for avoidance of ‘harmful’ tax practices.

Interesting article on the proposed European Financial Transactions tax and how not everyone from the city of London is opposed to this proposal.   The article from the Scotsman can be found here.

One last point.  If you did not see this week’s Panorama programme on PFI and I would recommend you do so.  A school without light switches!  No transparency.  “Dodgy accounting”.  You could not make this stuff up.  This issue is not going away.  How lucky we are that we are now doing things differently in Scotland.   That said, the huge cost to us in Scotland is still going to be with us for a least a generation.   The programme can be found here.

 Have a good weekend.


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