Spring Statement 2018

Today’s Spring Statement was expressly not a ‘budget’; it contained no new spending or tax policy announcements. Instead, it was an opportunity for the Chancellor to update parliament on the latest UK economic and fiscal forecasts.

It is only three and a half months since the Autumn Statement in November. The big statements then were about the major downward revisions to the forecasts for UK economic growth.

Today there was a smidgeon of relatively better news on the economy. GDP growth in 2017 turned out to be slightly higher than the OBR had expected, and it has also revised up its forecasts for 2018. But these upward revisions in the early years of the forecast are mirrored by slight declines in later years (the OBR has effectively reassessed its view of where we are in the ‘economic cycle’).

Moreover, the upward revisions are nowhere near sufficient to offset the downward adjustments in November (see Chart). UK growth of 1.5% in 2018 is still forecast to lag EU and US growth (forecast at 2.3 and 2.9% respectively by the OECD).Continue reading

March 13, 2018

How should we pay for water and sewerage services in Scotland?

The design and structure of both income tax and council tax have  been extensively debated in recent years. But the design of charging structures for water and sewerage services, which represent a lesser but nonetheless significant expense for many households, have received less attention.

The average household bill for combined water and sewerage services in Scotland was £360 in 2017/18. However, there is significant variation in the charge paid by different households. What are the principles on which the water and sewerage charges are based? And is the distribution of charges across households fair?Continue reading

February 22, 2018

The choices facing Mr Mackay

As he has been developing his budget over the past few weeks and months, Mr. MacKay will have confronted a number of difficult choices. How should he prioritise his £27bn resource budget across portfolios ranging from health to education and local government? Should he use his tax powers to raise additional revenues, and if so by how much? What can he do to support the conditions for inclusive economic growth?

In previous blogs and in our latest commentary, we’ve discussed some of the key aspects of Thursday’s budget from the perspective of the economy and public finances.

But what are the big things to look out for from a policy perspective?Continue reading

December 13, 2017

UK Budget: what will it mean for the Scottish Budget?

When the Chancellor Phillip Hammond sits down after delivering his Budget on Wednesday, this will signal the start of the final three weeks of preparations before the Scottish budget is launched on December 14th.

But how will the decisions and announcements made on Wednesday effect the options and choices available to Cabinet Secretary for Finance Derek Mackay in his budget three weeks later?

Continue reading

November 20, 2017

Income tax increases on their own are not a solution for Scotland’s spending challenge

The Scottish budget faces a substantial challenge. Between now and the end of the parliament in 2021/22 the resources available to the government are projected to decline by about 3% in real terms.

This might not sound like much. But at the same time as the budget is declining, the health budget (which accounts for almost half of government spending) will increase by 3%. Whilst this might sound generous, a 3% increase is only just sufficient to keep up with a growing and ageing population (notwithstanding the general inflationary pressures facing the health service).

Furthermore, a range of other spending commitments have been made, on services ranging from childcare to policing, tuition fees to care for the elderly.Continue reading

November 2, 2017