The CBI’s director-general Richard Lambert wants the Chancellor to ‘set aside the normal Budget theatricals’ on March 12 in favour of a ‘slimmed-down, practical’ six-paragraph speech, which acknowledges the current woes of the UK economy. In this revised version, Darling admits that it is no time to be imposing business tax increases and promises to postpone any decisions (including CGT and non-dom hikes) until next year.
The CBI does make a few good points. The Treasury’s been so busy trying to rescue the Northern Rock debacle that it can’t have spent too much time thinking about the impact of anything else it was planning to introduce. And with the world’s financial markets in turmoil, there’s a good argument for delaying any changes until it becomes clear which way the wind is blowing. This would also give those affected more time to plan.
However, asking a politician to be concise is like asking the new Russian president to sideline Vladimir Putin. It’s just not going to happen. Calling for a ‘bare minimum’ six-page Finance Bill is pie in the sky, given that Gordon’s Brown’s last Budget as Chancellor yielded 305 pages.
To be fair, even the CBI seems to realise that there’s absolutely no chance of Darling following its advice and keeping it brief. In addition to its revised version of the speech, it also includes three slightly more realistic proposals: a curb on public spending, incentives for entrepreneurs and a reform of the fiscal rules.
Still, you can’t fault it for trying. Particularly since this kind of dewy-eyed optimism is pretty rare for the doom merchants at the CBI...