The last Budget before Britain is due to leave the European Union, Brexit will be the backdrop as Chancellor Philip Hammond prepares for all eventualities and another rebellion if the UK’s divorce bill is higher than already envisaged.
Yet, at a time of maximum political uncertainty on the home front, Mr Hammond’s setpiece speech will need to pass a number of international, national and regional tests if it is to be considered a success and help the Government to regain some initiative.
Internationally, the Chancellor needs to show that Britain is ready for Brexit and that there are plans in place to limit the possible upheaval to all sections of the economy. Specifically, the private sector is looking for the clarity that has not yet been forthcoming.
Nationally, Mr Hammond needs to finance promised cash boosts for the NHS – what taxes will go up? – and meet the public sector’s expectations after Mrs May signalled an end to austerity at the Tory conference earlier this month. The growing controversy over Universal Credit’s implementation is another key issue.
And, regionally, the North will be expecting action on skills and transport to drive forward the Northern Powerhouse policy agenda and attract even more inward investment to the area. Mr Hammond also has it within his power to commit the Treasury to backing One Yorkshire after it emerged that countywide devolution could be worth up to £30bn a year – an opportunity that the Government should exploit because it can only enhance Britain’s economic standing nationally and internationally.