I know some people play ‘Budget bingo’, ticking off the soundbites from the chancellor’s speech as he labours the Government’s core messages.
And congratulations to those of you who bet on lots of “long-term economic plan” and “budget for the next generation”.
Personally, I like to play Budget bingo with the media reaction, and this year you could barely move without tripping over “rabbit out of the hat,” “devil in the detail,” and “curate’s egg”.
The rabbit in question was the levy on sugary drinks. I may be a cynic, but I think George Osborne calculated he would rather be photoshopped as Dizzee Rascal than be derided for missing his growth and borrowing targets, so he identified this measure as an elaborate distraction.
And we should see it for what it is. Rather than the holistic obesity strategy promised at the start of the year and now delayed until summer, this is a stunt and the industry is now going to have to work hard to get the Government to go back to first principles: what are they trying to achieve in terms of public health and consumer behaviour, and is this an effective way to do it?
The devil is in the detail of business rates reform, and we are still waiting to hear the full outcomes of the Government’s review of this tax, and to hear more details of how more devolution of business rates to local authorities will work in practice.
But let’s give credit where it’s due – the increase in the threshold for 100% rate relief to businesses with a £12,000 rateable value, and the extension of the small business multiplier to business up to £51,000 rateable value, will bring significant cost savings for independent local shops and, in the context of the national living wage, it’s fair to say any savings are most welcome.
So onto the egg, and the chancellor’s duty rates policy. The freeze on beer and cider duty is welcome as these products are still subject to large scale duty fraud (let’s hope the Alcohol Wholesalers Registration Scheme makes inroads into tackling this problem).
The increase of an extra 3% on hand-rolling tobacco is a disastrous policy in the context of the rampant trade in illicit tobacco – with hand rolling tobacco disproportionately favoured by the criminals trading in this market.
I know I’m like a stuck record on this, but remember to tell your MP what you thought of the budget – good bad and indifferent. Build up the dialogue now so that they understand your business better when you need to lobby them.