Rishi Sunak was expected to deliver a budget in November that set a course for Boris Johnson’s government for the rest of the parliament. A resurgence in the pandemic has left the chancellor’s plan in tatters. Here we ask what it means for the government, how Whitehall will cope – and the precedents.
There is a recent precedent for a budget delay. Sunak’s predecessor, Sajid Javid, was due to hold a budget in November 2019, but a looming general election and disputes over Brexit forced a delay. Javid resigned soon after the election, preventing him from delivering a single budget.
The event must be held every year as the precursor to a finance bill, which sets out the government’s tax and spending priorities. That forced Sunak to hold a budget in March this year, just before the financial year ended on 5 April.
Gordon Brown delayed his 2003 budget until after 5 April, leading to speculation that he was holding back in order to gauge the likely cost of the imminent Iraq war.
Like Javid, Sunak wanted the budget to be held in the autumn to give the public, businesses and civil servants plenty of time to put in place big changes to the tax and spending policies before the financial year-end. A significant budget next year will give taxpayers and government departments little scope to make adjustments.
A four-year comprehensive spending review (CSR) – which sets departmental budgets – was due to accompany the budget after the last CSR was set in 2015 and given a one-year extension last year. A strategic plan is unlikely, making another one-year extension a certainty.
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