As I write this – the final roundup of economic trends for 2018 – I am trying to establish whether it has been a good year or not. If I had to place my bets I would wager that it has not. Waves of store closures and job losses have blighted the retail industry, but despite this, financial figures have generally been steady, if not growing. But of course we are nowhere near pre-Brexit levels.
I would argue the success that Donald Trump is strengthening in the dollar is one of the reasons we continue to lag behind. The euro is strong too, so the odds are not exactly stacked in favour of the UK – but as we have all seen, statistics can be manipulated to suit any argument. Therefore we should be wary of the Budget declarations made on 29 October, following the Conservative announcement that ‘austerity was coming to an end.’
At Your Convenience
We knew beforehand to look out for an extra £20bn going to the NHS by 2023, borrowing caps, and potential tax rises, but Philip Hammond sought to cloak meaningful policy under a wave of potty humour – a new mandatory business rates ‘relief’ for all lavatories made available for public use, when publicly or privately owned. We are now looking for the first shooting club or gun shop to make the most of this money-spinner…
However, a largely positive budget has been attributed to increased tax receipts, and a reduction in projected borrowing – but how can this be? 2018 has been a mixed bag for traders – while some will gladly stick with their financial results this year, others would like a second roll of the dice.
Many retailers felt the backlash amid competition from online firms that employ fewer staff and pay far lower business rates. In an attempt to level the playing field, Mr Hammond has aimed to cut charges for the traditional retailers and increase them for online traders.
The October budget has knocked £900m – around a third – off of the rates bill of 500,000 small retailers; more welcome relief to those who have premises with a rateable value less than £51,000. But considering that rateable values on a typical High Street site are usually higher than the paltry £51,000 threshold, is this enough to save the High Street?
Despite the promise of Theresa May – and reiterated by Philip Hammond in the chamber of the House of Commons – the first independent analyses of the budget suggest that the era of austerity is not over just yet.
The influences of the budget are unlikely to be felt amongst working families, with the poorest groups set gain a negligible £30 a year. The Chancellor also confirmed that there will be no ‘real terms’ increase in public spending apart from the NHS – as borrowing this year would be £11.6bn lower than predicted in March, at £25.5bn.
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said Mr Hammond ‘got lucky’ because tax revenues were better than expected. He explained: “I think [Mr Hammond] has abandoned any idea of getting the budget to balance by the mid 2020s.”
The IFS also branded the budget “A bit of a gamble” and stated: “What the OBR gives this year, it can easily take away again next year. If it does, then the Chancellor will have painted himself into a bit of a corner. To get himself out of that corner, the chancellor would have to raise taxes, or more likely, continue to borrow money.”
The Chancellor has since told the Treasury Committee that the target – set in 2016 – has not been abandoned and that there would be a “balanced approach” to cutting the deficit. This involved “recognising the need to reduce and ultimately eliminate the deficit in order to get debt falling sustainably – something we have now achieved – but also the need to support our public services, keep taxes low and, crucially, to invest in infrastructure, skills, training, research and development and support the future productivity of our country,” Mr Hammond told MPs.
“From our point of view, austerity is not a measure of public sector spending, it also refers to broader issues,” he said. One such issue addressed in the Budget was the declaration that maximum stakes for fixed-odds betting machines would be cut from £100 to £2, with the crackdown coming into force in October 2019. However, this may have triggered a set of events that could further influence the future of shooting.
The date to introduce new limits was revised from an originally planned April 2019. The change was considered “unjustifiable” by Sports Minister Tracey Crouch, who decided to cash her chips and walk away from the table. Despite her strong stance against fox hunting, Ms Crouch has supported various other areas of shooting since being promoted to Sports Minister in 2015.
In March, she championed the cause by reassuring shooters that: “The decision not to include shooting in 2022 [Commonwealth Games] should not be considered a reflection of the importance of the sport… UK Sport continues to invest funding into elite-level shooting.” And after shooting’s success on the Gold Coast, Ms Crouch added: “I support the request for the Birmingham Games to include shooting… Shooting is one of the top five most popular sports among Commonwealth nations and territories. If we are to host a shooting event, we must have the best venue to attract the world’s best shooters.
“While planning for the game continues, we continue to invest in shooting and its athletes’ medal-winning aspirations. Colleagues will be pleased to hear that UK Sport is providing £6.9million of funding for the Tokyo 2020 shooting performance cycle and £2.5m for para-shooting.”
Shooting may have lost an ally in Ms Crouch, but as Theresa May wisely stated before the Budget announcement, the move to bring austerity to an end was: “not just about more money into our services, it is about more money in people’s pockets as well.” If this becomes the case in 2019 – with shooters pocketing a little more disposable income – then perhaps it hasn’t been a bad year after all.