The second Spring Statement delivered by Chancellor Philip Hammond’s was against an environment of political mayhem, following the rejection of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal deal.
Despite describing the economy as ‘remarkably robust’, the Chancellor offered a clear warning on the potential impact of a no-deal scenario, which he said would put progress on the public finances ‘at risk’ and cause ‘significant disruption’ to the UK economy.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) revealed its latest diverse predictions on the economy, revising down its previous UK growth forecast for 2019 from 1.6% to 1.2%. Meanwhile, the forecast for government borrowing has also been revised down from £25.5 billion to £22.8 billion, with the Chancellor signalling rising wages and a strong employment market.
However, Mr Hammond emphasised the importance of a smooth Brexit transition in securing economic stability, pledging that a £26.6 billion ‘deal dividend’ would be made available to help boost the economy, providing that an agreement can be reached. The Chancellor also confirmed that a full Spending Review will conclude alongside the 2019 Autumn Budget.
The Chancellor also announced new government investment in the UK’s physical and digital infrastructure, technology, housing and the environment, together with a bringing forward of the £700 million reforms for business apprenticeships previously announced in the 2018 Autumn Budget.
The statement also confirmed that the government will apply a ‘light touch’ approach to penalties under its new Making Tax Digital (MTD) regime, which comes into effect on 1 April 2019 for VAT-registered businesses. The government will not mandate MTD for any other taxes or businesses in 2020.
Measures were also announced that include free sanitary products for secondary schools and colleges in England from the start of the next school year, and an additional £100 million fund devoted to tackling the recent increases in serious violence and knife crimes.