In the last Spring Budget in December, Philip Hammond announced a change to the tax timetable: after March 2017, there will be just one annual Autumn Budget covering tax and spending.
He started his March speech by recalling that one of his predecessors had made a similar decision 24 years ago, and joked that Norman Lamont had been sacked shortly afterwards. He did not dwell on the fact that Mr Lamont was overtaken by the financial turmoil caused by Britain leaving the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, which might have suggested uncomfortable possible parallels.
Rather, he declared that the economy is in a robust condition, a strong and stable platform for Brexit negotiations. The Chancellor was keen to show that he listens. In response to a clamour for action on social care for the elderly, he allocated £2 billion over three years. In response to protests that the new system requiring small businesses to make quarterly online tax reports was being brought in too quickly, he delayed it by a year for those with turnover below £85,000.
And in response to complaints from many small businesses that the April 2017 rates revaluation would put up their costs sharply, he provided some transitional reliefs. In keeping with Mr Hammond’s low-key image, there were few announcements worthy of a headline – but one in particular is likely to be debated keenly. In the 2015 Conservative manifesto, they said: ‘we can commit to no increases in VAT, Income Tax or National Insurance’.