Chancellor for a day: Tim Martin

JD Wetherspoon's founder says what he'd do if he were in Alistair Darling's shoes...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Tim Martin

My first principle is that a problem acknowledged is one half resolved, so, unlike Gordon Brown, I won't blame the Americans for our banking problems. Sub-prime loans in Ohio are nothing to do with Northern Rock.

My second principle is that humans are prone to 'irrational exuberance', so I won't be claiming the end of boom and bust. On the contrary, I won't forget the primary duty of the chancellor, in concert with my colleague Merv (King) at the Bank of England, of taking the punchbowl away just as the party gets started.

But let's get down to brass tacks. When he became chancellor, Brown masqueraded as a man of prudence but made Imelda Marcos look thrifty. Gordie increased public expenditure from £300bn in 1997 to about £640bn today. I'm a big fan of sensible public expenditure, but you can't increase spending at this rate and spend it wisely. Also, the spending increases have surpassed taxpayers' ability to pay. I don't fancy making spending cuts in the middle of a recession, so I'd keep public expenditure flat for the next two years, increase it in line with inflation for the five years after that, and then review the position.

At the same time, I'd give the beleaguered taxpayer a chance to re-group. A democratic society is really the relationship between an economic horse, comprising taxpaying companies and individuals, and a public service cart. The horse will always be willing to pull the cart but you mustn't overload it or, worse, put the cart in front of the horse. My predecessors forgot this point and started loading the cart on a downhill run during the last economic boom. Now that the bust is here, the horse is struggling to gain momentum.

I would freeze taxes at their current levels for the next seven years to correspond with the period of public spending restraint just described. Before my present job, I ran a pub company, and it was almost impossible to keep pace with changing tax rules. The Government had no real tax strategy apart from grabbing as much as it could at every opportunity. Last year, Wetherspoon paid £11 in tax for every £1 of profit. No wonder so many village pubs have had to shut down.

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