Budget 2015—the lay of the land for commercial lawyers

Budget day!

Soon a flurry of analysis will be flooding into the in-boxes of lawyers and businesses throughout the land.

Whilst many tax lawyers have pencilled in an evening of inhaling coffee and fighting the threat of paper cuts as they flick through hundreds of pages of documents from HM Treasury, commercial lawyers shouldn't have too much be concerned about (except for those that work in certain industries such as oil extraction).

That said, as always there are various nuggets of interest for commercial lawyers, so here we go, in no particular order:

  • Greater consistency in unit pricing—The government has been working with major supermarkets for some time on making unit pricing clearer (click here for details). It states today that it wants to continue working with them (and consumer organisations) to produce improved guidance to 'support greater consistency in unit pricing on most everyday products to help consumers compare prices'. We await details on this.
  • Prompt Payment Code—The government is looking to extend the Prompt Payment Code to cover wider poor payment practices, (for example in relation to the use of supplier lists). For details, check out, for example, the FAQs check out the Prompt Payment Code website.
  • Government payment practice—The government has announced that it will bring 'greater transparency to its payment practices' by asking its strategic suppliers to report quarterly on their payment practices from April 2015. It will also ask all central government departments to report quarterly on their payment performance from April 2015.
  • Digital currencies—The government announced its intention to apply anti-money laundering regulation to digital currency exchanges in the UK, to 'support innovation and prevent criminal use' (although it isn't exactly clear how regulation will help to support innovation given that anti-money laundering regulation is regarded as pretty onerous in other industries). Finally, the government has also confirmed that it will work with the British Standards Institution and the digital currency industry to develop voluntary standards for consumer protection.
  • Protecting vulnerable people from nuisance calls—The government is to provide a £3.5 million package to 'explore ways of protecting vulnerable people from nuisance calls'. It states that this will include 'trialling the development and provision of innovative call blocking technology'. There will also be research and a campaign to 'raise awareness of how to reduce and report nuisance calls'. The astute among you may recall that the government consulted on this late last year and that from 6 April this year the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is able to issue fines of up to £500,000 against businesses who are breaking electronic marketing laws.
  • Review of partnerships—The government has welcomed the final report of the Office of Tax Simplification's review of partnerships. The government states that it 'will consider or take forward over 70% of its recommendations and has already completed work on many of these'.
  • Regulations that inhibit innovation—The government wants to ensure that 'regulations do not restrict the creation of valuable and innovative products, services and business models'. Therefore it is looking to 'engage with business to determine where regulations inhibit innovation, including disruptive technologies, and develop a programme for addressing this in the next Parliament'. To be fair, this is the holy grail for any government of whatever colour (or indeed colours given that a hung parliament is very much on the horizon). As the Annual Report of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser said in 2014, 'government policies and regulations influence the direction and volume of demand for innovative products and services'; adding that 'governments can grow (and hinder) market demand for innovations by using regulation, taxes and other policies.' Indeed.
  • Updating government procurement frameworks to include sharing economy platforms—The government is going to allow government employees to use sharing economy solutions to book accommodation and transport when travelling on official business. This will be effective by autumn 2015. This builds on the Sharing Economy Review which was published in November last year.
  • Horserace Betting Right—The government states that it bring forward legislative proposals to replace the 1963 Horserace Betting Levy with a new Horserace Betting Right. The new authorisation scheme will apply to all bookmakers, wherever located, who take bets from British customers on British racing and will be administered directly by the racing industry. The government is still analyzing the feedback on its consultation on extending the Horserace Betting Levy to offshore remote betting operators licensed by the Gambling Commission

Of course, you may want to know more. If so, why not head over to the blog run by our colleagues at PSL Corporate Tax? If you sign up today you'll receive their summary of the Budget 2015 which they will be sending out tomorrow. In the meantime, do let us have your thoughts below. We always welcome them!

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