Please Darling... pre-Budget wishlist

1 December 2009

Chancellor Alistair Darling is facing the most difficult backdrop for a pre-budget since the 1940s with fiscal deficits projected to rocket, unemployment still growing and the economy the only one of the G20 nations still to be stuck in recession.  

Tax revenues will have to rise - but questions remain over which ones will soar and how much by.

Stephen Herring, senior tax partner at BDO LLP says: "Darling must perform a delicate balancing act to secure the confidence of the global financial markets while protecting any fragile economic recovery and boosting public confidence."

And Francesca Lagerberg, head of tax at Grant Thornton, adds: "The pre-Budget report will not be handing out generous tax benefits but will be more focused on tax efficiencies and is expected to shy away from broad, harsh tax raising measures with an election only six months away."

As usual the list of demands from the industry bodies and finance professionals just keeps on growing - and Darling is likely to leave more of them disappointed than satisfied.
Stamp duty

Property professionals want the government to modernise stamp duty with the current 'holiday' for properties worth less than £175,000 due to expire in 2010.

The 1808 Coalition is calling for the suspension of stamp duty for the duration of the housing downturn, with a commitment to review the existing system.

It also wants to reform the system to move from the distorting 'slab' system to a more progressive 'slice' system or progressive system which, like other taxes, is index-linked to inflation. Finally it believes the starting threshold for the tax should be well above the current £175,000 limit to ensure that as much is done as possible to assist first time buyers into the market.

Peter Bolton-King, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents, says: "The Coalition believes that stamp duty is an anachronistic tax which, in its current form, is preventing a recovery in the housing sector - it limits market flexibility, creates regional inequality and its slab structure unfairly distorts the housing market."

The Investment Management Association also wants to call time on stamp duty and stamp duty reserve tax on UK equities.

Richard Saunders, chief executive of the Investment Management Association says: "Stamp duty on equities represents a real drain on the value of people's investments and savings as well as impacting the cost of equity for companies on trading activity."

The Investment Management Association is calling for the annual ISA limit to rise in line with inflation.


Accountants Saffney Champness says the government should backtrack on its plans for restrictions on tax relief for pension contributions.

Partner Tim Gregory explains: "The new rules that effectively increase their taxes further just because they wish to save for their retirement are simply unfair. The termination of the 'quid pro quo' of full tax relief on money going into a pension in exchange for full taxation of an annuity coming out amounts to double taxation, and should be reversed before it takes full effect."

Business taxes

The TUC has called for a 0.05% transaction tax on instant sterling transfers between UK financial institutions 'so that the finance sector makes a major contribution to repairing the damage done to public finances by the credit crunch.'

It claims a transaction tax of 0.05% would have raised £37 billion in 2008, but would only impose a very modest charge on each individual transfer. A tax on the average CHAPS transfer of £2 million pounds would cost £1,000.

The Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor wants to see a new 10% levy on bank profits with all revenue raised - which is likely to be around £2 billion a year going to tackle the structural deficit.

The Federation of Small Businesses has called on the government to leave taxes on hold with small firms already bracing themselves for an increase in employers' national insurance contributions in April 2011.

It says that a reduction in business tax - such as corporation tax - would give them more of an incentive to take on another staff member.

Ben Read, managing economist at Centre for Economics and Business Research, says: "Almost all empirical evidence shows that increasing business taxation provides disincentives for small businesses to engage in activities that they have particular strengths in: entrepreneurial activity, investment and innovation, and employment.

"In short, taxing economically beneficial activity is inconsistent with encouraging a strong recovery, and would damage growth and employment prospects.''

Grant Thornton, meanwhile, believes the government should cut the rate of corporation tax to 25% to encourage multinational groups with European headquarters to remain in the UK and further delay the planned increase in the small companies' rate of corporation tax to 22%.

It also wants to see empty property business rates abolished and better employment measures to get people back into work.

Francesca Lagerberg, head of tax at Grant Thornton, says: "Businesses would like to see the availability of grants to employ those currently unemployed. We also call for a temporary national insurance contributions holiday for employers who employ the recently unemployed and younger entrants to the workforce."

Personal taxes

Saffery Champness believes the national insurance increases should be deferred and restrictions on personal allowances should be removed. Partner Clare Cromwell says: 'The effect of this restriction is to create a marginal income tax rate of 61.5% for those earning between £100,000 to £113,000. This anomaly should be looked at again.'

Capital gains tax

Grant Thornton wants to see greater clarity on the rate of capital gains tax (CGT) amid fears that the government could raise the tax to bridge the growing gap between capital and income tax rates.

Saffery Champness says the government should leave CGT well alone. Partner Tim Gregory says: "The prospect of an increase in CGT is a real fear, given the very large difference between the 18% flat rate and the proposed 50% top rate of income tax.

"At the extreme, some have spoken of an equalising of the rate, although this seems extremely unlikely to happen, as part of the package in the introduction of a flat rate for CGT was the abolition of any allowance for price increases."

Real estate investment trusts

Real estate investment trusts (Reits) should be allowed to count stock dividends towards their 90% income distribution requirements, according to the British Property Federation.

It says the move would allow reits to conserve cash during the recession and leave them better placed to expand over the coming year without adversely knocking the Exchequer.

What would you like to see in this year's pre-Budget report? Have you say in the comment box below.

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