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Can We Expect a ‘Steady As She Goes’ Autumn Budget For Stormy Times?

It might be the case, in these vexatious political times, that the Conservatives are hoping for some tasty vote-winning offerings from Philip Hammond’s upcoming Autumn Budget.

But the Chancellor’s style has always been steady and unshowy and there is little to suggest he plans to break that habit with any earth-shaking announcements on 22 November. There are, however, some hot topics that he is unlikely to be able to avoid, around student debt, the housing crisis and, of course, Brexit.

So, there is speculation around whether he may move towards writing off student loans, ushering in lower tax rates for youngsters – perhaps paying for this by cutting pension tax relief for older, wealthier workers.

There have been comments in some quarters about the possibility of allowing some Green Belt development, to help boost housing stock, with a reduction in stamp duty for first time buyers also being suggested. We may see more detail to the already-announced Help-To-Buy mortgage fund and around the £2 million already pledged for new rented social housing.

Of course, one of the Chancellor’s big challenges will be to find an extra £0.5bn a year over the next two years for Northern Ireland as part of the DUP’s confidence and supply deal, brokered after this year’s election.

But the biggest task on Philip Hammond’s mind will, no doubt, be cushioning Britain from the potential economic squalls caused by Brexit. This prospect in itself suggests that the Autumn Budget will be a ‘steady as she goes’ budget. The Prime Minister has already pledged £250 million in extra departmental spending for Brexit preparations, but with the myriad of unknowns that are heading this way fast, it seems likely Philip Hammond will try to create a plump fiscal cushion, to absorb any shocks to the UK economy.