Devolved administrations seek clarity on UK budget timings

Ahead of the final March Budget, a trilateral meeting of the finance ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has called for the UK government to strengthen arrangements for consulting the devolved administrations in advance of future Budgets, and challenged plans for £3.5bn of further cuts in 2019-20

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement that starting from autumn 2017, Britain will only have an autumn Budget, announcing tax changes well in advance of the start of the tax year, and that from 2018 there will be a Spring Statement, responding to the forecast from the OBR, but no major fiscal event.

The ministers have issued a joint letter to the chief secretary to the Treasury in which they say the UK government should announce the Budget earlier in the autumn, to allow greater time for devolved administrations to consider the impact on their Budgets well in advance of the start of the financial year.  They also sought a commitment that no further reductions will be made to devolved budgets.

Scotland’s finance secretary Derek Mackay said: ‘The decision to move the date of the Budget to an annual autumn publication has implications for the budget cycles of the devolved administrations. We would welcome a commitment to engage with us in developing the approach to the new budget timetable and ensuring that steps are taken to support rather than undermine devolved budget processes. This is particularly relevant given the further devolution of tax and social security responsibilities.

‘We also remain very concerned about the potential impact of the further cuts to public spending that the UK government intends to make in 2019-20. We seek reassurances that they will not pass on further austerity and make additional reductions to devolved budgets which are already experiencing real terms cuts.’

Welsh government’s finance secretary Mark Drakeford said: ‘The UK government’s continued approach to austerity and the uncertainties following the EU referendum result mean we are facing unprecedented economic challenges and pressures on our Budgets.  That is why it is so important that the UK government engages and consults early with the devolved administrations around the key finance issues we are facing.’

Stormont finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said: ‘The austerity agenda that the Conservative government continue to pursue is not working. It already places severe burdens on devolved budgets and further cuts in 2019-20 would be unacceptable.’

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