Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, delivered his second Budget on 3 March declaring that “we will recover”. The key fiscal event, which had been delayed from the Autumn due to the pandemic, centred on a £65bn three-part plan designed to continue supporting British people and businesses through the pandemic, ‘fix’ the public finances once recovery begins and lay the foundations for the future economy.
The Chancellor began his statement by revealing the latest forecasts produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) which provide hope of “a swifter and more sustained economic recovery” than previously expected. The economy is now forecast to grow by 4% this year and by 7.3% in 2022, which means it will regain its pre-pandemic level by the end of Q2 2022, six months earlier than November’s forecast implied.
In terms of public finances, the OBR expects government borrowing to rise to a peacetime record of £355bn in 2020/21 in order to fund the government’s economic support measures. As the economy reopens and emergency fiscal support is withdrawn, borrowing is forecast to fall back to £234bn in 2021/22. The Chancellor did not set any new fiscal targets in this Budget, though he did acknowledge that tax rises would be needed in the coming years to help repair the public finances.
COVID-19 Support Measures
Prior to Budget day, Mr Sunak had already announced a number of coronavirus support measures including an extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, further support for a greater proportion of self-employed workers and details of the Restart Grant and traineeship schemes. During his speech, Mr Sunak reiterated that he “will continue doing whatever it takes to support the British people and businesses through this moment of crisis”, before confirming details of the various initiatives that will see total fiscal support rise to over £407bn:
• The furlough scheme will continue until September with no change to employee terms, although in July businesses will be asked for a 10% contribution rising to 20% in August and September
• The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will pay a fourth and a fifth grant, which will potentially be available to an additional 600,000 self-employed people
• The Universal Credit £20 per week uplift has been extended for a further six months
• A new Recovery Loan Scheme will replace existing government-backed schemes at the end of this month offering an 80% government guarantee on SME loans of between £25,000 and £10m
• The business rates holiday in England has been extended until the end of June with a two-thirds discount then available across the rest of this year
• £126m of new money will enable 40,000 more traineeships, with cash incentives for firms taking on an apprentice doubling to £3,000
• The 5% reduced rate of VAT for tourism and hospitality sectors has been extended until the end of September followed by an interim rate of 12.5% for a further six months
• A £5bn Restart Grant scheme will provide grants of up to £18,000 for high street businesses.
Personal Taxation, Wages and Pensions
The Chancellor will freeze personal tax thresholds and increase tax rates on corporate profits in a policy he says is “progressive and fair.”
From April, the Personal Allowance will rise with inflation as planned, to £12,570, before 20% Income Tax becomes payable. The Income Tax higher rate threshold, at which people start to pay tax at 40% will rise to £50,270. Both thresholds will remain at these levels until April 2026 (rates and thresholds may differ for taxpayers in parts of the UK where Income Tax is devolved). As previously announced, the National Insurance threshold will rise to £9,568 from April and the Upper Earnings Limit will be £50,270.
Looking at Inheritance Tax, the nil-rate bands will remain at existing levels until April 2026: £325,000 nil-rate band, £175,000 residence nil-rate band with taper starting at £2m.
The 2021/22 tax year ISA (Individual Savings Account) allowance will remain at £20,000. The JISA (Junior Individual Savings Account) allowance and Child Trust Fund annual subscription limit will stay at £9,000.
The Capital Gains Tax annual exemption will also remain frozen at £12,300 for individuals, personal representatives and some types of trusts, and £6,150 for most trusts.
The National Living Wage will rise to £8.91 per hour and for the first time will include those aged 23 and over. The Lifetime Allowance for pensions will stay at its current level of £1,073,100 until April 2026. As previously pledged, the new single-tier State Pension will increase from £175.20 a week to £179.60 in April 2021. The older basic State Pension will increase from £134.25 to £137.60 per week. The rise is the result of the triple-lock system, whereby the State Pension rises in line with CPI inflation, average earnings, or 2.5%, whichever is the highest. For this year, the increase is 2.5%.
In 2023, the main rate of Corporation Tax, paid on company profits, will increase to 25%. Businesses with profits of £50,000 or less will continue to be taxed at 19%. A tapered rate will also be introduced for profits above £50,000, so that only businesses with profits of £250,000 or more will be taxed at the full 25% rate. A temporary super-deduction tax incentive will cut companies’ tax bills by some 25p for every £1 they invest, by providing allowances of 130% on qualifying investment in new plant and machinery.
A three-month extension to the temporary Stamp Duty Land Tax ‘holiday’ in England and Northern Ireland was announced, with the £500,000 threshold at which SDLT starts to apply now set to end on 30 June. A threshold of £250,000 applies for a further three months, with the regular £125,000 threshold returning from 1 October 2021.
The Chancellor introduced a new mortgage guarantee scheme. From April, the government will provide guarantees to UK lenders who offer mortgages to buyers to secure a loan with a 5% deposit on a property of up to £600,000 up to 31 December 2022.
Environment and ‘Help to Grow’ Initiatives
Mr Sunak outlined his plans for Britain’s “future economy”, with a “commitment to green growth” at its heart. He announced:
The UK’s first Infrastructure Bank, based in Leeds, with an initial capitalisation of £12bn, it will invest in green projects across the UK
New funding for offshore wind infrastructure in Teesside and the Humber
A new NS&I retail ‘green’ savings product
An updated monetary policy remit for the Bank of England, reinforcing the importance of environmental sustainability and the transition to net zero
Support for the development of new solutions to cut carbon emissions
At least £15bn of green gilt issuance in the coming financial year.
Skills training for small businesses is also part of the future economy, Mr Sunak said, announcing a £520m ‘Help to Grow’ scheme that includes:
Help to Grow: Digital – offers SMEs free online advice and a 50% discount on productivity-enhancing software (up to the value of £5,000)
Help to Grow: Management – offers access to a 12-week training course with leading business schools, which is 90% government subsidised.
Other key points
* The establishment of eight new freeports in England
* As previously announced, an extra £1.7bn will be allocated to help the government reach its vaccination target of offering a first dose to every adult by 31 July
* £400m to help young people catch up on lost learning
* £700m to support the UK’s arts, culture and sporting institutions as they reopen
* £150m to help communities take ownership of pubs, theatres, shops, or local sports clubs at risk of loss
* Over £1bn was announced for 45 new Town Deals across England
* Increased funding for the devolved administrations; £1.2bn for the Scottish government; £740m for the Welsh government; and £410m for the Northern Ireland Executive
* Fuel duty and alcohol duty frozen
* An extra £19m was pledged for domestic violence programmes
* An additional £10m to the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust, to support veterans with mental health issues (2021/22)
* Contactless payment card limit increased to £100 for a single transaction and cumulative contactless payments up to £300, the new limits will be implemented later in 2021
* Air Passenger Duty rates will increase in line with RPI from April 2022
* Company vehicles – fuel benefit charges and the van benefit charge will increase in line with CPI from 6 April 2021
* VAT registration and deregistration thresholds will not change for a further period of two years from 1 April 2022
* Taxpayer Protection Taskforce is being established, costing over £100m to combat fraud within COVID-19 support packages
* City and Growth Deals – over the next five years £84.5m in funding will be brought forward to speed up investment in local economic priorities
* £375m for a new Future Fund: Breakthrough scheme, facilitating investment in high-growth, innovative UK firms
* The government is launching the prospectus for the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund
* The symmetric inflation target of 2% for the 12-month increase in the CPI measure of inflation will remain in place for the financial year 2021/22.
The Chancellor signed off saying, “An important moment is upon us. A moment of challenge and of change. Of difficulties, yes, but of possibilities too. This is a Budget that meets that moment.”
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All details are correct at the time of writing (3 March 2021)
With the number of coronavirus cases rising across the UK, the Prime Minister was back on the Downing Street podium last Wednesday to announce new measures. As we enter the autumn, with the country at a critical moment and the average rate of new infection four times higher than in mid-July, the government announced the introduction of the rule of six. From Monday (14 September) social gatherings of more than six people (of all ages) are banned in England. This limit applies to indoor and outside settings and is enforceable by police, who will issue fines or make arrests.
A support bubble or single household larger than six, will still be able to gather and COVID-secure venues such as gyms, restaurants and places of worship, can still hold more than six in total. The rules do not affect education and work settings.
Boris Johnson said, “we must act” to avoid another lockdown, adding, “Let me be clear – these measures are not a second national lockdown – the whole point of them is to avoid a second national lockdown… I wish that we did not have to take this step, but, as your Prime Minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives… it is so important that we take these tough measures now.” Matt Hancock said the new rules will not be kept in place “any longer than we have to.”
During the briefing, the Prime Minister also outlined ‘Operation Moonshot’, an expansion of testing to ten million a day by early 2021. Frequent testing of the population would allow people without the virus to conduct their lives as normal, allowing the economy and society to remain open despite the virus being in circulation. Boris Johnson said the government was “working hard” to increase testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.
Quarantine list additions: Last week, in a change of policy for the government, England introduced island-specific quarantine, rather than restrictions applying to an entire country. Travellers arriving in England from seven Greek islands needed to self-isolate from 4am last Wednesday. Mainland Portugal was placed back on the quarantine list last week, effective from Saturday (12 September) morning. Meanwhile, Sweden has been added to England, Scotland and Wales’ safe lists.
Economic growth and trade talk wrangling’s: According to official figures from the Office for National Statistics, the UK economy grew by 6.6% in July, the third month in a row of economic expansion. Despite this, output remains below prepandemic levels and the ONS outlined the UK ‘has still only recovered just over half of the lost output caused by the coronavirus.’ The UK’s economy is 11.7% smaller than it was in February.
Despite subdued trading, the FTSE 100 ended higher last week. Trade deal negotiations between the UK’s Brexit negotiator Lord Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier continued last week. The UK has published a bill to rewrite parts of the withdrawal agreement it signed in January, but the EU is demanding the UK drops plans to alter it. Lord Frost said, “Challenging areas remain and the divergences on some are still significant”, but UK negotiators “remain committed” to reaching a deal by the middle of October.
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As Storm Francis lashed the UK last week, another storm was brewing as the government took a late U-turn regarding the use of face coverings in schools in England. From the beginning of September, secondary pupils and adults in local lockdown areas of England and in areas facing extra government restrictions, will be required to wear face coverings when moving around the school, in corridors and communal areas.
Any secondary school in England will have discretion to introduce the use of face coverings in communal areas, where social distancing is not possible, a move which has prompted criticism from some teachers, with the announcement last Tuesday being made just hours before schools reopened in Leicestershire. The guidance does not include the use of face coverings in the classroom during lessons, where the government says they could ‘inhibit learning.’ The guidance extends to further education colleges but not to primary schools. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the new policy follows updated advice from the World Health Organisation, “Our priority is to get children back to school safely. At each stage we have listened to the latest medical and scientific advice… I hope these steps will provide parents, pupils and teachers with further reassurance.”
Eat Out success prompts extension – Some restaurants are keen to continue offering discounted meals in September, following the success of the Eat Out to Help Out initiative in August. The scheme ended on 31 August, but nationwide chains including Prezzo, Harvester, Toby Carvery, Bill’s and Pizza Hut are amongst those due to take part, although the eateries will have to cover the costs themselves.
Support for those self-isolating on low incomes – From Tuesday (1 September), workers on low incomes living in parts of England where there are high coronavirus rates will be able to claim up to £182 if they have to self-isolate. Strict eligibility criteria mean people claiming Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit, who are unable to work from home, will qualify for the £13 per day payment. The benefit is initially being trialled in parts of North West England. Eligible individuals who test positive and are employed or self-employed, need to isolate for 10 days and will receive £130. Eligible members of the household, who would have to self-isolate for 14 days, will be entitled to a maximum of £182. In addition, anyone who is told to self-isolate by NHS contact tracers and meets the eligibility criteria will be entitled to £13 a day for the duration of self-isolation.
Renewed optimism US stocks hit record highs last week after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell outlined the central bank’s strategy for avoiding future crises and inflation control measures. During the week, stocks rose amid renewed optimism about US China trade tensions, with both Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin renewing their commitment to a trade deal.
Quarantine list additions – Due to a rise in infection rates, quarantine rules were implemented on Saturday morning for travellers returning to the UK from Jamaica, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. Cuba has been added to the list of countries now exempt from quarantine.
In other news The government is preparing to launch a campaign this week aimed at encouraging employees back to their workplaces. Lockdown restrictions in parts of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire will be lifted on 2 September due to ‘positive progress’, the government has announced.
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