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Spring Budget 2017 Summary

Peter Legge Peter Legge

A humorous Hammond delivers Spring Budget 2017

Northern Ireland was the recipient of some welcome news in today’s Budget 2017 Statement by The Chancellor, Philip Hammond. 

Positively, he noted that employment levels in Northern Ireland are currently at a record high, with average wages that have grown faster than in any other part of the UK since 2010. The Chancellor also announced an additional £120m of funding for the incoming Northern Ireland Executive. 

The result is that once the NI political parties agree to form an Executive, they will have an additional £30m for capital investment and £90m for departmental day to day spending. This additional support for NI comes on top of the £250m earmarked for NI (over the next 4 years) in Philip Hammond’s November 2016 Autumn Statement and has been linked as a key contributor to the recent increased growth forecasts.  

In general, it was a low-key affair as predicted, with the Chancellor deferring many significant tax changes or incentives until the economic impact of Brexit is better understood. However, he did seek to address certain aspects to boost productivity and improve skills. 

Probably the biggest surprise today was the extent of the Chancellor’s one-liners and comic timing!

At a time when the UK economy as a whole is still sailing forward in growth terms, at least Hammond resisted the temptation to cut and run. To the extent that there were giveaways, these were modest, except for the additional spending on social care and education – the latter focused on free schools and technical learning so vital to the boost needed to productivity.

While Northern Ireland’s growth forecasts for 2017 are less than half that of the UK, the incoming Executive now need to focus on agreeing an urgent, sustainable budget for NI to facilitate the commencement clause for the devolved rate of Corporation Tax to apply from 1 April 2018.    

Today the Chancellor was also concerned about the growing tax gap between those in employment and those self-employed, or who use service companies. He sought to close that gap by increasing the Class 4 National Insurance Contribution (NIC) rate by 1% in 2018 and a further 1% the year after. There will still be a gap between different types of worker – employees will still pay 12%. But this isn’t the big shock some see it as – the NIC rate will still be only 2% for earnings of self-employed over £43,000 a year.

On service companies, he is backtracking on a measure introduced last year by reducing the tax free dividend allowance from £5,000 to £2,000. This is meant to bring more owner workers of companies into the higher dividend tax rate applied from last year, whilst protecting those with modest passive shareholdings from tax altogether.

On tax overall, there was talk of some simplification for Research and Development, some anti-avoidance measures (which Budget would be complete without them?!) but generally an opportunity for wholesale tax reform was missed.

And in overall summary that is because this Chancellor doesn’t need to be that radical now.

Beyond that, we have our own power sharing Executive to be formed, together with Brexit looming on the horizon and an unpredictable President in the US (the major trading relationship the UK has after the EU) promising wholesale tax reform. So why do anything substantive now?  Better to enjoy the slightly improved public finances, store some cash away for a rainy day (or the eventual general election) and keep them laughing in the aisles for now.