Sturgeon in hot water, expenses and the budget

Sturgeon in hot water 

Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has faced calls to resign over new revelations in the Alex Salmond saga. Two former aides refuted her version of events and it was revealed that lawyers for the SNP advised the government that it was likely to lose any legal case they bring against the former First Minister. 

With a little over two months until the Holyrood elections and the SNP in need of a clear mandate to demand a future Independence Referendum, the timing of the inquiry couldn’t be worse. Recent revelations have also coincided with an apparent decline in support for independence, reaffirming a link between the Scottish public’s perception of the government’s competence and support for their flagship policy. With campaigning officially starting later this month and this saga showing no signs of an immediate resolution, Sturgeon herself looks at risk of becoming the biggest roadblock to an independent Scotland.  

The vaccine roll-out 

Emerging evidence continues to vindicate the UK’s decision to delay administering the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Analysis has shown that a single dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine cuts the risk of hospitalisation by over 80%. This data is based on those aged over 80, causing many in Europe to swiftly recalibrate their positions on which age demographics should receive which vaccine. This finding is particularly important for the AstraZeneca vaccine, as it faced much initial reluctance from various European leaders to endorse its efficacy amongst certain age groups. Thus far, this has severely hampered roll-out rates as European citizens have been less willing to take the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

The Budget – key points and what it means 

Speculation was rife before the Budget over the balance Chancellor Rishi Sunak would strike between fiscal stimulation and deficit reduction. Whilst income tax rates have not risen, the threshold for the personal allowance will be frozen until 2026 after a final planned increase of £70 in April 2022. Whilst not an explicit tax rise, this so-called ‘stealth tax’ will increase tax bills for millions of earners, assuming continual increases to initiatives like the minimum wage, which will be raised to £8.91, remain. 

An increase to Corporation Tax has been delayed until 2023, with the current rate of 19% increasing to 25% for larger businesses. Smaller businesses with profits of £50,000 or less will continue to pay the existing rate. Other announcements included a mortgage guarantee scheme for first-time buyers, the furlough scheme remaining in place until September and the £20 uplift in Universal Credit remaining for six months.  

It was clear that the Chancellor would have to raise taxes in some form to begin to pay off the debts accrued since the onset of the pandemic. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimated that in the financial year ending in April 2021, total borrowing would be £355bn. Allowing businesses to recover before increasing tax rates on company profits seems sensible. Emerging polling data also shows a high degree of public support for the measures announced, with 52% approving of the budget, according to a snap poll carried out by Opinium Research.  

New expenses come under fire 

MPs from across the political spectrum have been criticised for expenses claimed during the onset of the pandemic. New rules announced by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) in March 2020 allowed MPs to claim an additional £10,000, on top of the existing £26,000 to cover office costs, to ease the transition to home-based working.

Both Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner and Health Secretary Matt Hancock expensed a pair of Apple AirPods whilst others, including Barry Gardiner and Damien Moore, spent over £2,000 on Apple office equipment. John O’Connell, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, commented that: ‘With the economy and public finances in such dire straits, limiting their expenses claims would be a welcome way for MPs to show that we’re all in it together.’ 

Charlie Souster Account Executive

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