Budget 2030: What will chancellors of the future have to grapple with?

Stian Westlake
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What will the Budget in 2030 look like? (Source: Getty)

Red box at the ready: it’s two weeks until George Osborne delivers his final Budget of this Parliament. As it is happening only days after Nesta’s future-gazing London festival FutureFest (taking place on 14 and 15 March), we’ve been speculating as to what the Budget in 2030 might look like. Let’s take a look into the imaginary fiscal future.

It’s 2030 and, following successful pilot testing and amendments to the law, driverless cars have been available to the general public for several years. This Pixar-style utopia is accompanied by a series of benefits: safer roads (humans, it transpired, are terrible drivers), cleaner air, less congestion and, in turn, more productivity – after all, it was revealed way back in 2015 that driverless cars could save motorists six weeks per year in driving time.
Nonetheless, driverless cars are unlikely to outnumber traditional cars just yet. Although cheaper to run, they have remained more expensive to buy than their fossil fuel foes. So the Budget of 2030 includes a cash-for-clunkers scrappage subsidy for human-driven cars, in a bid to get them off the road for good. Not everyone is happy with the plans to send human drivers to the scrapheap. But despite a last-ditch protest, in which the elderly Lord Clarkson chains himself to the railings of Downing Street, consumers seem excited as car dealers offer special discounts to attract as much of the new business as possible.
The driverless dream means the end of drunk driving, but not of alcohol itself. The resurgence of rural pubs in the 2020s offered an unexpected fillip to the brewing industry. By 2030, more and more research is showing the health benefits of moderate drinking, and the effectiveness of beer and wine in delivering vital amino acids and antioxidants. As society becomes more tolerant of getting buzzed in all its forms, the government takes the plunge and slashes duties on alcohol. Since the rise of vaping more or less eliminated smoking in the early 2020s, 2030 is the first time in recorded history that the British Exchequer has not been dependent on sin taxes to pay its way. It’s also appropriate that, in 2030, for the first time since the days of Ken Clarke, the chancellor begins her Budget speech with a glass of whisky at hand.
Britain’s renewed passion for intoxication even has economic benefits. The economy of 2030 is filled with driverless cars, robot cleaners, and endless algorithms, which increase productivity exponentially and boost tax revenues. For people to add value in the job market of 2030, however, they need to exhibit the creative flair that free-thinking humans possess in such quantities. When it comes to creativity, we all know a little chemical courage goes a long way, as writers from Ernest Hemingway to Hunter S Thompson have showed. Forget Stem skills: in 2030, creative intoxication may prevent you from losing your job to a robot.
More soberly, the chancellor of 2030 will also be cracking down on tax evasion – of the digital kind. The government thought it had made tax evasion a thing of the past when it converted sterling into an entirely digital currency in 2025, to the widespread protests of civil libertarians and old people’s charities. The publication of a Scandinavian-style register of taxpayers also reduced tax avoidance.
But these crackdowns also led to a burgeoning of alternative currencies and time-banking schemes, where people would barter time with one another to avoid the digital eye of the state. The government had already shown it was serious about its monopoly on the money supply, when 2,000 users of the Bristol pound – a long-established local currency – were arrested in a tax sting in 2027. And the Budget of 2030 puts in place far harsher penalties for cryptocurrency tax evasion. But even before the speech is over, experts are wondering how on earth the chancellor plans to enforce them.
The chancellor’s job won’t be any easier in 2030 than it is now. But it may be a lot more interesting.
FutureFest will be held on 14-15 March at Vinopolis, London Bridge. Explore the future of machines, democracy, and thrills with speakers including Edward Snowden and Vivienne Westwood. www.futurefest.org.

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