Thursday, March 22, 2012

Budget 2012: some initial thoughts

Another year and, whilst the media response is pretty feckless, I am moved to comment on what is, in the round, a pretty good Budget by Messrs Osborne and Alexander in difficult circumstances.

Firstly, income tax rates and allowances. Taking another chunk of the poor out of the income tax bracket is clearly a big success for Liberal Democrats, and we can look forward to telling the public that we delivered on that key commitment in 2015. Next, I suggest, increasing and synchronising the National Insurance Contributions (NIC) threshold and taking full-timers on the minimum wage out of both income tax and NIC on their earnings.

As for the new 45% rate, I am intrigued that, in the depths of the HM Revenue & Customs report on the efficacy of the 50% rate band was an alternative estimate, suggesting that the impact might have been a net loss to the Exchequer of £1.7 billion. Yes, there were references in the report to 'Monte Carlo simulations' (quite appropriate, some might say) but my suspicion is that George and Danny may have 'put away a little for a rainy day' by taking a conservative position as to the impact of moving from 50% to 45%.

The restriction of currently unceilinged reliefs to 25% of income is interesting, although the kinds of reliefs involved might be seen as esoteric to ordinary taxpayers. Many of them are seen as being a means of providing wealthy people with huge incentives to become even wealthier, so they'll not be mourned by anyone except accountants and their wealthy clients.

On pensioners, the gradual loss of the additional personal allowance will not affect all pensioners, particularly female ones, who are more likely to be poor and not pay income tax anyway. It also won't affect pensioners with income higher than £30,190 either, as they would have lost any additional sum in its entirety anyway (the allowance is lost at a rate of £1 for every £2 of income above £25,400 at present). And for those in between, the additional state pension will more than cover the effective real loss of allowances.

The new higher rate of stamp duty for properties with a value of £2 million or more, and the even higher rate for corporate vehicles purchasing property are, to my mind, better than a mansion tax in some ways. The new 15% rate will encourage people to put properties in their own name instead, improving transparency of ownership. And, as it's paid by the purchaser, who must therefore be wealthy, it doesn't impact on that small, but curiously much befriended group of poor people who live in astonishingly expensive homes (how do they maintain them if they're so poor?).

Corporation tax is interesting, in that both Alastair Darling and George Osborne appear to be of one mind, at least as far as moving towards a single rate. Whilst Alastair appeared to be moving towards a 25% rate, it looks as though George is aiming at 20%. If it encourages large corporations to remain in, and come to, the United Kingdom, it will probably cover its costs in the long run. However, that may be a big if, and the major benefits are likely to be in terms of a boost to business confidence.

Sin taxes are, I'm afraid, another kicking for those that like to drink or smoke, as well as for the pub industry. Unfortunately, by using the word 'sin', they imply guilt, so one can't be too surprised when punishment comes. That said, some action to support your local public house might be popular, as people approve of such things. Something to watch for next time, Danny?

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