Seven Ways Osborne Could Fill the Hole in Britain's Finances

  • Bank levy, insurance tax offer chance to increase revenue
  • Government spending faces further 4 billion pounds of cuts

Businesses Want Rate Reform, Simpler Tax Systems: Cherry

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has business in his sights as he tries to put Britain’s public finances back on track.

An economy proving weaker than forecast four months ago means the chancellor has to find more money if he’s to meet his legally binding target of delivering a budget surplus by 2020. On Sunday, he indicated a further 4 billion pounds ($5.7 billion) of cuts to government spending are required, saying savings equivalent to 0.5 percent of total expenditure by the end of the decade are “not a huge amount in the scheme of things.”

On the revenue side, Osborne is hemmed in by a 2015 election pledge not raise the main rates of income tax, value-added tax and national insurance, together with commitments to ease the burden on low and middle earners by raising tax thresholds. That means he may have to find other routes he if wants to generate additional money.

Possible areas he’ll target include:

  • Off-payroll tax evasion. According to a government official, Wednesday’s Budget will include a crackdown on the use of personal-service companies to dodge employment taxes.
  • Multinational profit-shifting. In January, the Treasury completed a consultation on how companies should be allowed to deduct interest from their profits for tax purposes, as part of the global effort to ensure large companies pay more tax.  
  • Bank levy. Banks, higher taxes on which are unlikely to dent the chancellor’s approval ratings, fear Osborne may slow his plans to cut the levy.
  • Fuel duty. The collapsing oil price has fed through to motoring, where the pump price for gasoline is now at its lowest in six years, down by a third on 2014. This is as good a moment as Osborne has ever had to raise tax here.
  • Insurance premium tax. The Association of British Insurers has warned against more increases to this levy, which went up to 9.5 percent from 6 percent last year. Still, it’s an effective way for Osborne to raise money while letting someone else take the blame for rising prices.
  • Cigarettes and alcohol. “Sin taxes” are among the easier-to-defend ways to raise cash. The Sun on Sunday reported the tax on a pack of 20 cigarettes will rise by 16 pence.
  • Pension contributions. Although Osborne has ruled out flattening tax relief on pensions, he has other options to raise money here. He could again cut the maximum amount people are able to save, or he could start taxing employers on their contributions to staff pensions.

Meanwhile, the chancellor is under pressure from Conservative Party lawmakers who are on the other side from him over the referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union. One way to placate them might be to accelerate promised cuts in headline personal taxation.

He also faces calls from retailers to change the way local business taxes are calculated. Dave Lewis, the chief executive of Tesco Plc, told the Guardian that the current system was putting jobs at risk. “If the government is not careful, it is going to keep piling on the burden,” he said. “Business rates are the single biggest tax Tesco pays -– 700 million pounds a year.”

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