Lincolnshire

Matt Russell: Why I’m cautiously optimistic about the Autumn Statement

You might be bored of reading about the Autumn Statement by now. All of the negative reactions, the commentary, the opinions and everyone having a different interpretation of how good or how bad it is.

That’s including Karen Lee, the MP for Lincoln, who would have you believe that it’s the worst thing to ever hit the city with the poignant headline of how it ‘failed’ the people of Lincoln.

She makes sweeping accusations that large organisations don’t pay a fair amount of tax. She makes further accusations that the government has missed all of its targets to clear the Labour-created deficit, then she immediately goes on to demand more investment in public services.

Karen, which is it to be? Undoubtedly, more work needs to be done to ensure tax avoidance and evasion by the largest, international companies. But as Philip Hammond mentioned in his budget, that work has begun — and it’s started by Britain.

It’s easy to say large corporations should pay more tax — but for non-British owned or domiciled companies, how do you do it? How do you work on the global stage to enforce this? How do you solve a complex web of international taxation that no country has solved — with the compounding factor of negotiating Brexit at the same time?

I’m cautiously optimistic. As mentioned by the chancellor, the repatriation tax is a starting point. The low corporation tax pioneered by this government is another point for optimism; it encourages corporations to domicile in the UK and pay their taxes here, helping exchequer funds.

Public sector and government always plays catch up to private sector. Do people really believe that corporations, with huge armies of lawyers and accountants, will be out-smarted and out-thought by the public sector and government when it comes to global issues like tax?

Not a chance. So gentle prodding with the stick — the repatration of profits tax — combined with a juicy fat carrot; low corporation tax for businesses domiciled here; gives us the best remit to bank more taxation from companies. We’ve made a good start, and a better one than other countries

And then there’s the deficit and public sector. Clearly, it needs more investment. But when we pay more paying off our debt than we do our police and armed forces combined, we need to clear the credit card before we take out yet another loan with no steady plan on repayments.

Regardless of your political allegiances, I think almost everyone in the country would like to spend more on our NHS, on our police, on our education, on our stretched armed forces. But where does this money come from? Living beyond our means, as we’ve done for too long, means we’re spending more, paying more in interest charges and creating a longer-term problem.

This government, unpopular as it may be, has made headway in clearing our debts. And let’s be honest, deficit is a fancy word for debt — and we have a lot of it.

We need to spend the next few years clearing this debt so we can start with a blank slate, spending money we’ve earned and not borrowed to invest even more in this wonderful country.

So let’s be proud that we have one the best public sector healthcare system in the world, one of the best education systems, one of the most open and transparent democracies and be positive about what the future holds.