What are the papers saying about Jeremy Hunt's 2024 Spring Budget?

From a £300m tax raid on second-home owners, to cutting Whitehall waste, here's what the chancellor could have in store for Wednesday's budget.

File photo dated 15/03/23 of Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, who has has been urged to provide help to music venues ahead of next week's Budget. UK Music has called on Jeremy Hunt to use his Budget on March 6 to cut the current 20% VAT rate on ticket prices to 10%, which the body claimed would support venues, musicians and consumers. Issue date: Wednesday February 28, 2024.
Jeremy Hunt has said he wants to cut taxes in a 'responsible way', but economists have warned his plans could backfire. (Alamy)

Jeremy Hunt has remained relatively tight-lipped when asked about his 2024 Spring Budget, due to be revealed in Parliament on Wednesday.

The chancellor has said he wants to bring down taxes in a "responsible" way that isn't aided by more borrowing, with the aim of boosting economic productivity.

With UK government debt running at £2.65 trillion – nearly 100% of GDP – some economists have warned Hunt may be limited in how much he can cut, suggesting he should instead be investing more in public services.

The chancellor appeared to play down expectations on Sky News's Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips programme, although he didn't rule out a last-minute "rabbit from the hat" moment. While Hunt didn't go into much detail, the Sunday papers have given some hints on what we could expect to be unveiled come Wednesday lunchtime.

From a reported £300 million tax raid on second-home owners, to a crackdown on public sector bureaucracy, here's what the papers are saying about Hunt's upcoming budget.

The Sunday Times

In a last-ditch attempt to cut personal taxes by 2p in the pound, Hunt and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are expected to meet tonight to decide on whether to cut income tax and National Insurance, the Sunday Times reports.

One source told the paper: "1p is affordable, 2p isn’t. We’re trying to make it, but we don’t know whether we can."

In an attempt to make the numbers stack up, Hunt is reportedly planning a £300 million tax raid on people who rent out their second homes as holiday lets. The Times says he would do this by abolishing a series of tax perks for these landlords.

Sunday Times front page 03/03/2024
The Sunday Times reports that Jeremy Hunt and Rishi Sunak will discuss how to fund tax cuts over the weekend. (The Sunday Times)

The Observer

With the Tories trailing behind in the polls on an election year, it is easy to understand why Hunt would want to win over voters with personal tax cuts next week.

However, leading economists, including two former advisers to the Treasury, have warned this could backfire and scupper the Conservative Party's chances of staying in power.

In a joint-statement to the Observer, Dimitri Zenghelis, a former head of economic forecasting at the Treasury, and Anna Valero, a former member of the chancellor’s economic advisory council, warned against "economic short-termism" and "low and volatile investment".

They say "tax cuts to stimulate a pre-election consumer spending spree" will "cost us all dear", instead calling for a "package of measures to drive UK innovation and competitiveness, spur productivity and unlock new, intelligent and sustainable forms of growth".

Sunday Express

With the prospect of Hunt backing away from cutting income tax and reducing National Insurance instead, the Sunday Express has warned of "furious backlash" from pensioners.

The newspaper says that since the Conservatives came into power, the number of over-65s paying income tax has almost doubled due to a freeze on personal allowances and an upcoming state pension increase forcing hundreds of thousands of pensioners to start paying income tax.

If Hunt only settles on cutting National Insurance, which is not paid by over-65s, Dennis Reed, of pensioner campaign group Silver Voices, warns the chancellor “won’t win a single older voter back”.

Sunday Express front page 03/03/24
The Sunday Express warns that only cutting National Insurance will alienate older voters. (Sunday Express)

The Sunday Telegraph

One way the chancellor could fund tax cuts is by cracking down on inefficiency in Whitehall and the public sector.

Hunt has already publicly referred to a "public sector productivity drive" he says will deliver "up to £1.8 billion worth of benefits by 2029", but he went into more detail in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.

The chancellor criticised Whitehall departments for spending money on "woke initiatives", which suggests these could be for the chop. In 2022 a group of 40 Tory backbenchers wrote to Hunt, telling him up to £7bn was being spent on anti-racism and pro-LGBT measures, according to the Conservative Way Forward pressure group.

Hunt has also vowed to but back on red tape that leaves police officers, nurses and doctors tied up with paperwork when they could be on the frontlines.

Alluding to this on the BBC's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme: “Typically, nurses will say they spend up to a third of their time filling out forms rather than looking after patients.

“Police officers say that they will spend up to eight hours a week on unnecessary paperwork. I think we have to think about not the money we are putting in but whether we can do things more efficiently so that we get more out."

03/03/2024 Sunday Telegraph front page
The Sunday Telegraph reports that Jeremy Hunt is planning a war on 'immoral' waste in Whitehall. (The Sunday Telegraph)

The Sun on Sunday

With Sunak and Hunt grappling over how to pay for an income tax or National Insurance cut, the pair are expected to announce taxes on a number of "smaller luxuries", the Sun on Sunday reports.

This could include taxes on business flights, cigarettes and vapes, with a government source telling the paper: “The idea is to raise lots of little pots of money to pay for the tax cuts. Every penny counts. Every little helps – as the Tesco saying goes."

The Sun put this a little more blunty, describing it as a "Tesco Value budget".

However, some senior Tory MPs have said bolder measures are needed if Hunt wants to achieve a 2P income tax reduction, one of whom said: “To stand a chance of having a bump in the polls we need decent tax cuts.”

The Independent

The chancellor is expected to "steal" Labour's flagship policy of scrapping non-dom status – a tax loophole that allows people to live and work in the UK, while having their permanent residence registered abroad.

It means they only pay UK tax on money that they earn in the UK, meaning that they do not have to pay tax in the UK on money they make anywhere else in the world – providing the money is not paid into a UK bank account, as Yahoo News explained earlier this week.

One shadow minister told the Independent that they were "not surprised" that the Tories were preparing to adopt Labour's policy, telling the newspaper: “It looks like they are running out of other options and are desperate to find room for tax cuts to please the right of the party.

“There are so many other examples where they have taken Labour’s ideas… but let’s see what they actually announce and what they do with the money they take from the most wealthy."

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