Thursday, March 23, 2023

UK government announces spending, tax plans

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Pensions lifetime allowance to be abolished

Hunt announces that the annual tax-free allowance on pension savings will rise from £40,000 to £ 60,000, while the Lifetime Allowance, previously set at £1.07 million, will be abolished.

Nuclear energy to qualify for same incentives as renewables

Hunt announces plans to class nuclear power as “environmentally sustainable,” providing access for nuclear producers to the same investment incentives as renewables.

Up to £20 billion will be allocated for early development of carbon capture and storage.

Small and medium-sized firms that allocate 40% of expenditure to research and development will qualify for a new tax credit, while new tax reliefs are announced for film, TV and video gaming will be extended.

Investment allowance worth £9 billion a year

Setting out the government’s hopes for the U.K. to have the most pro-business tax regime in the world, Hunt announces a new investment allowance worth £9 billion per year, whereby every pound invested in IT, plant or machinery equipment can be deducted from profits.

The OBR forecasts that this will boost business investment by 3% per year.

Defense spending up by £11 billion over the next five years

Hunt announces an £11 billion increase to defense spending over the next five years, with another £30 million allocated to support veterans.

OBR: Economy to shrink by 0.2% in 2023

Hunt reveals the OBR is now forecasting that GDP will contract by just 0.2% in 2023, before growing by 1.8% in 2024. 2.5% in 2025, 2.1% in 2026 and 1.9% in 2027.

Unemployment is set to rise to 4.4%, with 170,000 fewer unemployed than initially forecast in the autumn.

Hunt confirms 12 new investment zones

Hunt announces that 12 new investment zones modelled on the regeneration of London’s Canary Wharf. The new zones will be in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, the North East, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, the East Midlands, Teesside and Liverpool, along with at least one in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Borrowing set to fall consistently

“Because of the decisions I take today and the improved outlook for public finances, underlying debt in five years’ time is now forecast to be nearly 3 percentage points of GDP lower than it was in the Autumn,” Hunt says.

In the Autumn Statement, Hunt set a target for public sector net borrowing to fall below 3% of GDP by 2027-28.

The OBR forecasts public borrowing to fall each year from 5.1% of GDP in 2023-24 to 1.7% in 2027-28.

Debt forecast to be 92.4% of GDP next year

Hunt says underlying government debt is forecast to be 92.4% of GDP next year, then 97.3%, then 94.6%, 94.8%, before falling to 94.6% in 27-28.

Fuel duty remains frozen for the next 12 months

The government’s 5p cut to fuel duty will be maintained and fuel duty will be frozen for the next 12 months, Hunt announces, saving the average driver £100 next year.

“Our Energy Price Guarantee, fuel duty and duty on a pint all frozen in today’s Budget. That doesn’t just help families, it helps the economy too because their combined impact reduces CPI inflation by nearly 0.75% this year, lowering inflation when it is particularly high,” Hunt says.

Hunt announces £63 million for leisure centers and swimming pools, £100 million for charities

Hunt announces a £63 million fund to keep public leisure centers and swimming pools afloat.

He also commits £100 million to “support thousands of local charities and community organizations.”

A further £10 million will be spent over the next two years to help the voluntary sector “play an even bigger role” in suicide prevention.

Energy bill support measures confirmed

Hunt confirms the pre-announced extension of the Energy Price Guarantee at £2,500 to the end of June.

Households on pre-payment meters, often among the U.K.’s poorest, will see their bills brought in-line with “comparable direct debit charges.”

Inflation set to fall to 2.9% by the end of 2023

The OBR forecasts that inflation is projected to fall from 10.7% annually in the final quarter of 2022 to 2.9% by the end of 2023.

OBR: UK economy will avoid a technical recession

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt is up and says the British economy is “proving the doubters wrong” as gilt rates, mortgage rates and inflation come down.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) now forecasts that the U.K. will avoid a technical recession in 2023.

Glassdoor: ‘Back-to-work’ Budget needed to address economic inactivity

Glassdoor’s U.K. Economist Lauren Thomas believes the country sorely needs a “back-to-work” budget aimed at tackling heightened economic inactivity, with a tight labor supply restricting economic growth.

“Severe labour shortages in the U.K. are a long-term problem that need immediate solutions. Still, the Chancellor has his work cut out for him with issues such as the UK’s ageing population driving retirement figures beyond his control,” Thomas said.

“Childcare for working parents and training for early retirees are a good start, but what impact this will have remains to be seen.”

Thomas added that hiring will remain difficult for British businesses throughout 2023, and said those seeking employment will need more support in order to tackle the staffing crisis.

– Elliot Smith

Tax-free pension limit to increase as Hunt seeks to boost workforce

Several British media outlets reported Tuesday that Hunt is planning an increase to the amount workers will be allowed to accumulate in their pension savings before entering a higher tax threshold.

The move is reportedly aimed at encouraging people to work for longer as part of a broad set of plans to rebuild the U.K.’s depleted workforce and boost growth.

The BBC reported that other measures expected include upfront childcare payments to parents on Universal Credit (a monthly support payment to low-income or unemployed households), along with additional fitness-to-work tests for people off work for health reasons.

— Elliot Smith

Hunt expected to announce £4 billion childcare boost

The Guardian reported Tuesday night that Hunt is expected to announce a £4 billion expansion of free childcare that will provide an extra 30 hours a week of care to parents of one- and two-year-olds, while adding £288 million in funding for the existing program of free care for three-year-olds by 2024-25.

British parents face the highest childcare costs in the world, according to the OECD, making it a crucial battleground ahead of next year’s general election.

– Elliot Smith

Energy bill support extension a ‘no brainer’

Laura Suter, head of personal finance at British investment platform AJ Bell, said the extension of the Energy Price guarantee would be a “big relief” for many households staring down the barrel of another huge jump in energy costs from April.

“It’s a no brainer for Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to extend the Energy Price Guarantee, as the previous plan to make it less generous at the same time as stopping the monthly rebate we’ve all been getting off our bills would have landed the average household with an extra £900 on their annual fuel bills in one swipe,” Suter said in an email Wednesday.

“A key part of the announcement is also that those on pre-payment meters will no longer have to pay higher rates for their energy. The topsy-turvy policy means that currently the poorest and most vulnerable households pay higher costs for their energy than the wealthiest in society. Why it’s taken the government until the tail end of the cost-of-living crisis to fix this anomaly will baffle many.”

– Elliot Smith

Energy bill support to be extended by three months

The government announced on Wednesday morning that its energy bill support program, which seeks to cap energy bills for the average household at £2,500 per year, will run for another three months.

The Treasury said energy prices were 50% lower than forecast in October, but remain high. The government hopes the extension will “bridge the gap” to a reduction in prices expected from the end of June.

“High energy bills are one of the biggest worries for families, which is why we’re maintaining the Energy Price Guarantee at its current level,” Hunt said in a statement.

“With energy bills set to fall from July onwards, this temporary change will bridge the gap and ease the pressure on families, while also helping to lower inflation too.”

The total cost of extending the Energy Price Guarantee at its current level will be £4 billion, the Treasury said. The EPG cap will rise from £2,500 to £3,000 from July until the end of March 2024.

– Elliot Smith

A Budget fraught with unrest as public sector workers strike en masse

Union members gather outside Westminster Central Hall, in London, on Feb. 1 ahead of a march and rally against the Government’s controversial plans for a new law on minimum service levels during strikes.

Kirsty O’connor – Pa Images | Pa Images | Getty Images

With the cost-of-living crisis still very much in full swing and public sector wages failing to keep pace with inflation, strikes have become a regular fixture in the U.K. during a “winter of discontent.”

As Hunt takes to the dispatch box in the House of Commons on Wednesday, thousands of teachers, junior doctors, civil servants and rail workers will be forming picket lines and protests.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) begin a two-day strike in England on Wednesday, affecting schools and colleges.

Junior doctors who are members of the British Medical Association and the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association are walking out over pay and conditions. This follows industrial action by nurses throughout the winter.

Up to 150,000 civil servants across more than 100 government agencies and departments, members of the Prospect and Public and Commercial Services unions, will walk out Wednesday amid disputes with the government over wages, pensions, redundancy terms and job security.

London’s underground system will be severely disrupted on Wednesday as members of the RMT and ASLEF unions strike over job cuts, conditions and pensions.

– Elliot Smith

The UK economy in numbers

The U.K. economy flatlined in the final quarter of 2022 to narrowly avoid entering a technical recession, though suffered a sharp slump in December. 

The latest data showed the economy grew by an annual 0.3% in January, exceeding expectations.

Alongside Hunt’s Autumn statement, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility predicted that British households would experience their sharpest fall in living standards on record amid persistently high food and energy costs and tightening financial conditions.

The OBR also projected a five-quarter recession that would see GDP contract by 1.4% in 2023.

Deutsche Bank suggested in a note last week that this will likely be revised up to just a 0.5% contraction, in line with the Bank of England‘s forecast for a shallower downturn.

The U.K. annual consumer price index (CPI) inflation rate dropped to 10.1% in January from 10.5% in December, having consistently fallen since hitting a 41-year high of 11.1% in October 2022.

The Bank of England in February hiked its main interest rate by 50 basis points to 4%, but the future pace of monetary policy tightening remains unclear as policymakers try to wrestle inflation down toward the Bank’s 2% target.

The Monetary Policy Committee will be assessing Tuesday’s tight labor market data and next Wednesday’s CPI print ahead of its rate decision on March 22.

– Elliot Smith

BNP Paribas: Fiscal credibility ‘easily lost, hard to regain’

BNP Paribas Chief European Economist Paul Hollingsworth noted that the Conservative government’s fiscal credibility was “easily lost, hard to regain,” after 2022 became a rollercoaster for economic policy under four finance ministers in just 12 months.

Hunt set a target of putting the public sector debt-to-GDP ratio on a downward trajectory and getting public sector net borrowing down below 3% by 2027/28.

However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party currently trails the main opposition Labour party by more than 20 points in most national opinion polling, with the next general election slated for 2024.

“The improved macroeconomic backdrop and better-than-expected performance in public finances have presented UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt with a GBP25-30bn windfall,” Hollingsworth said.

“Our central case is that he will only give away around half of this, and bank the rest for some likely re-election giveaways.”

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