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What is the Budget?

Each year the Chancellor of the Exchequer presents the Budget. This comprises of a statement by the Chancellor on economic and fiscal policy, setting out major tax and spending decisions, accompanied by the Budget Report. Following the Budget the Government will introduce the annual Finance Bill, to implement the tax measures set out in the Chancellor’s statement.

As the standard guide to Parliament – Erskine May – notes, for many years the Chancellor has given a second statement on economic and fiscal policy during the course of the financial year. When the annual Budget was presented in the spring, this second statement was given in the autumn. This was termed the ‘Pre-Budget Report’ from 1997 to 2010, and the ‘Autumn Statement’ from 2010-2016.

Since its establishment in 2010, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has published a forecast for the economy and public finances, to accompany the Budget, and the Autumn Statement. The forecast will include a detailed costing of the Government’s individual tax and welfare spending measures.

The term ‘fiscal event’ is not precisely defined but is generally used for any statement by the Chancellor which includes tax and spending decisions. Occasionally Chancellors will make statements of this kind outside the normal Budget timetable, and the term may be used in these cases.

How does the Budget fit with the Government’s approach to tax policy?

In his Autumn Statement in November 2016 the then Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that from autumn 2017 the Government would present a single autumn Budget, to allow for greater Parliamentary scrutiny of Budget measures ahead of their implementation.

Mr Hammond presented the last Spring Budget on 8 March 2017, and the first Autumn Budget on 22 November 2017.

Following the Autumn Budget 2017, the Government published details of a revised annual Budget timetable for policy announcements, consultations, and the passage of legislation (HM Treasury, The new Budget timetable and the tax policy making process, 6 December 2017). An extract is given below:

“Under the new cycle of a single fiscal event each year, most tax policies will continue to be developed through an established cycle, whereby a policy announcement at the Budget is followed by a policy consultation, the publishing of draft legislation, and proposals are finally legislated in the next Finance Bill.

However, to reflect the move of the Budget from spring to autumn, the timing of this cycle will change. Policies will be announced at the Budget in the autumn, and consulted on in winter and over the spring. Draft legislation will then be published in July for technical consultation ahead of the Finance Bill being introduced in the autumn.”

What has happened in recent years with the presentation of the Budget?

Over the last three years this timetable has been affected by the timing of the 2019 General Election and the Covid-19 pandemic. In the first case the 2019 Budget, planned for 6 November, was deferred to 11 March 2020. In the second case, the Chancellor’s presentation of three economic statements over 2020, resulted in the Autumn Budget being postponed to 3 March 2021.

Following an Autumn Budget in October 2021 and a Spring Statement in March 2022, the then Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced a series of major tax and spending decisions on 23 September 2022. In a statement on 17 October 2022 the current Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that many of the tax changes Mr Kwarteng had set out would be reversed. In turn Mr Hunt set out a further series of tax and spending decisions in the Autumn Statement on 17 November 2022. Subsequently the Chancellor presented the Spring Budget 2023 on 15 March 2023.

What about public spending?

Although the Chancellor may often mention public spending in his Budget speech, the procedure by which Parliament scrutinises and approves of government expenditure is quite separate and is not discussed in this briefing. This is covered in Commons Library briefing Public Spending: a brief introduction. In addition the Scrutiny Unit publishes a guide on financial scrutiny for MPs.

Further Commons Library briefings on the Budget

Other Commons Library briefings provide a checklist of Budgets since 2010 with a list of key documents and recommended sources on tax policy (Key documents: taxation), and a longer historical list of Budgets and Finance Bills since 1968 (Budget debates and finance bills since 1968). A Commons Library Insight, What is the Budget? gives a short summary of what happens during and after the Budget.

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