A beginner’s guide to the Autumn Statement

Since the 1970s, the government has had a legal duty to publish two economic forecasts each year. The Budget is the best known of these; the other is the autumn statement.

Traditionally, the Budget dealt with tax and the autumn statement with spending allocations, but this distinction has long since disappeared. Since 2010, autumn statements have also included economic forecasts from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.

As a much newer invention than the Queen’s speech and the Budget, the autumn statement lacks the usual pomp and circumstance of parliament’s other set pieces.

However, as with the Budget, politics takes priority over policy here. It is usual for the Chancellor to repeat existing policies, spending much of the time drawing attention to government successes.

As the last autumn statement before the General Election, you would normally expect to see ‘giveaways’ to the electorate. However, the Conservative Party are working a nuanced line in their messaging, trying to convince voters both that the economy is growing well under their leadership, but also that the recovery is still fragile enough that a return to Labour could risk it all. You can expect to hear the phrase ‘long-term economic plan’ once or twice.

This is also why many of the spending announcements trailed so far have focused on healthcare. As one of the top issues for the electorate, the government cannot risk stories of a NHS winter crisis just before an election. Cameron’s line at PMQs last week – if you can’t be trusted with the economy, you can’t be trusted with the NHS – was likewise crafted as an attempt to counter Labour’s polling lead on this issue.

Andrew O’Brien has written more on what the voluntary sector should be looking out for in the autumn statement.

Pub quiz trivia

  1. Denis Healey was the first Chancellor to deliver an autumn statement – although it wasn’t yet referred to as this – in 1976.
  2. The autumn statement is an odd name given that Osborne has made all of his autumn statements in December. Over the years it has wandered between 9 October at the earliest and 10 December at the latest. Think of it a bit like university terms named after saints’ days and festivals that do not actually occur during term time.
  3. Ken Clarke changed all the timings in the mid-1990s, moving the Budget to November and introducing a summer statement to fulfil the legal requirement.
  4. Gordon Brown rebranded the autumn statement as the pre-budget report
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Charlotte was our senior external relations officer and public affairs consultant. She has left NCVO

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