NI’s Budget and UK Spring Statement coming along: What to expect

Two major budgetary events may coincide next week, with the Northern Ireland Budget and the first UK Spring Statement where the Chancellor will respond to latest OBR forecasts.

   7 March 2018

With the recent weather, it may not feel like spring but next Tuesday (13th) sees the first UK budgetary Spring Statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It just so happens that the legislation for the NI Departments’ Budget for 2018-19 is probably imminent.

Last Autumn Chancellor Hammond indicated that instead of two major “fiscal events” each year, he would consolidate this into a main Budget each Autumn: November-December. This will become the main event for changes in tax and spending. However, a so-called Spring Statement will still happen each March. In this the latest Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts are published and the Chancellor retains some scope to make policy changes in the light of these although he has implied he wants to reserve any major changes to the Autumn Budget.

We may also hear more next week about what the Chancellor is thinking about some of the big, long term issues such as whether to merge the Income Tax and National Insurance systems, the tax treatment of the self-employed, addressing the taxation of online retail, and how to fund health and social care for the elderly.

An additional Northern Ireland “fiscal event” is also probably imminent. As in 2017, in the absence of a functioning Executive, it will be necessary for a NI Budget to be put through Westminster. When this happens it will at least provide some certainty and clarity for the fiscal year which is about to start. However, the simple fact of legislating for a Budget does not change the reality that we are in a tight fiscal situation. So, things to look out for include:

  • Does the previous policy of trying to shield hospitals and schools in real terms continue (probably)?
  • What will be the 2018-19 cut in funding for the non-protected Departments (probably about 4% but for some the cut could be deeper)?
  • Will any moves be made to raise revenues such as in terms of Rates increases above inflation (perhaps not)?

Dr Esmond Birnie

Senior Economist (Economic Research)

Department of Acc, Finance & Economics

Areas of expertise Economic policy, competitiveness, economic growth and productivity.