In Brown's case the three stages are represented by the pre-Budget statement, the Budget and the party conference. The trouble is that changes are not implemented in the order they are announced: this may be for a good reason - such as a period of consultation - but can lead to real confusion.
The best example I heard was the reduction in national insurance contributions announced in the last Budget as compensation for the energy tax - a reduction, that is, from a rate to which NIC had not yet been increased!
Interestingly, that particular reduction of 0.5% in the rate of employers' NIC was altered again to 0.3% in the pre-Budget statement. So the rate has now gone up, and will be coming down, but not by as much as you thought it would before it went up - perfectly clear, isn't it?
What is needed is a clear summary both with the pre-Budget statement and with the Budget itself, of the changes in chronological order of their effective date, whenever they were originally announced.
While on the subject of NIC, the details of how NIC will be applied to benefits have still not been revealed. These changes were announced in the last Budget and will take effect in only four months' time - scant time to make the necessary changes to payroll systems.
More positively, there are clear signs that this government is now much more willing to listen to the results of consultation exercises than it was in its early days. On both corporate venturing and R&D, the proposals have been made more flexible and attractive - at least in theory.
I admit to scepticism as to how much difference these proposals will make to corporate behaviour but we shall see.
The changes to environmental taxes also go a long way to addressing the concerns of industry, although the impact in relation to administrative burdens has been less well dealt with.
In relation to charities, a rather limited set of proposals in the original consultative document has been expanded to give some practical help and real changes to the regime for charitable giving. While charities will no doubt be disappointed that more was not done in relation to VAT, the abolition of limits on gift aid and payroll giving could have a major impact in the longer term.
There are also at least two cheers on behalf of the lower paid, particularly pensioners with savings income. The Chartered Institute of Taxation's low incomes tax reform group has argued hard that the 10% rate should apply to savings, so this change is very welcome. However, we still need some simpler mechanisms (and practical help) for pensioners who may be entitled to a £50 to £100 refund of tax but have no chance of calculating this themselves or of paying for professional advice in respect of such small sums.
The area which worries me most is the hypothecation of revenues from fuel duty and tobacco duty, to transport and health spending respectively. This could herald a potentially revolutionary change in Treasury thinking, where hypothecation has previously been anathema. Once it has begun, where does it end? How do you pay for the things that don't have easy parallels in the tax system - like sewage, for example? (VAT on food, perhaps? Only joking!) And what about things that some people disagree with?
Tax inspectors of the early Eighties vintage will remember fruitless arguments with people trying to hold back the proportion of their tax bill that matched spending on cruise missiles.
This is a dangerous way of avoiding the argument about otherwise unpopular tax increases, and could easily become a hostage to fortune. If the government wants to go down this path, it will have to rethink more than just duties. And it will have to think again about how it is recycling the revenues from the proposed climate change levy.
To return to the topic I started with, what possible link is there between energy use and a reduction in employers' NIC?
Heather Self is chairman of the Chartered Institute of Taxation's technical committee and a partner with Ernst & Young.
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