BLOG: A flat rate of tax relief is just a teaser for the govt's latest panto

Written by Lauren Weymouth
22/01/16

Anybody who watches the PMQ’s will know the government enjoys nothing more than playing host to a theatrical production. Every Wednesday, leading protagonist David Cameron takes to the stage to perform alongside a cast of untrained actors, who, despite their lack of skill, seem to execute the ‘oh-no-she-didn’t’ style script particularly well.

But among the many things missing from the government’s array of panto-style productions is something usually quite essential in the world of theatre: a plot. The all-important crux of a performance that delivers a beginning, a middle and an end does not seem to appear in any of David Cameron’s nation-wide shows.

And I’m not just talking about the weekly PMQ’s. It’s also missing from the Budgets, the Autumn Statements and the General Election campaigns, too. They’re all full generous promises for a good show, but very rarely reach a point of climax.

This week, we were delivered a premature teaser for March’s production of the Budget, performed by another of the government’s favourite protagonists, Chancellor George Osborne.

The teaser, which was delivered in the form of a report in the Financial Times, told us that the spring performance is set to include a ‘radical overhaul’ of UK pension policy as we know it. Speculation has since led us to believe the government could potentially take a liberal swerve away from the current pension taxation system, towards a flat rate of tax relief.

If the plot plays out as predictions have anticipated, the performance could not only be controversial, but former fans of Osborne’s work could be left feeling significantly dissatisfied.

The introduction of a flat rate would be a landmark move for the Conservative party - a digression from the typically right-wing policies that benefit the rich in favour of a system that would considerably benefit the poor.

It is also a plot-line that could prove popular to almost 15 million workers who currently pay into a pension scheme. But for the 4.9 million high earners who normally give the loudest applause to Osborne’s performances, there will undoubtedly remain some bemused faces.

In typical government style, this is all very theatrical. The lead up to the show threw out a couple of potential story-ideas (such as taxing pensions like ISAs), causing a complete stir among the industry. Once this was achieved, it was then followed by months of build-up and speculation, only to end in another teaser, which had taken a complete U-turn on the original. I can't help but feel the results will be a very anti-climatic show.

The government has us exactly where it wants us. Its teaser this week caused an eruption of both praise and criticism for a show that is yet to even take place. Judging by both the national headlines and my e-mail inbox this week, we’re all preparing for something pretty huge. But we should also prepare for the Budget like we would prepare for an over-hyped movie; with a little bit of cynicism.

Despite my reservations, I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I will, of course, be one of the millions eagerly tuning in to the yearly production - if for no other reason than to do my job - because how could we possibly get this far and not find out what all the fuss was about?

But whatever these so-called ‘radical’ reforms turn out to be, or not to be, will there be more than 4.9 million applauding Osborne’s performance? That is the question.

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