Editor's Comment: Don't jeopardise a recovering economy for the sake of one month

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The secret of comedy, it has oft been observed, is timing. But why stick with just comedy? Politics, business, sport, murder. The effectiveness of almost every decision relies to a greater or lesser extent on its timing. As Hamlet said, 'The readiness is all.'

I feel the same way as Hamlet when I look at the Chancellor's timing on VAT. Alistair Darling was a superhero when he lowered the rate of VAT from 17.5% to 15% last November. There was bitching and moaning about the inconvenience of it all, as well as the cost, but retailers still bit his hand off at this early Christmas present.

And now? The 31 December deadline for the reversion to a 17.5% VAT rate is like a badly timed punch. For not only will it harm the retailers, as our report on p32 explains, depressingly, it will harm the Chancellor and consumers too.

We fully accept that the Treasury needs to improve the public finances and, with the economy expected to come out of recession at the end of the year, according to the IMF, it would seem that the end of the year is a judicious point at which to return VAT to its historic rate.

But the IMF also anticipates that the recovery will be "anaemic" at best, and it would be a real shame if the patient's health were jeopardised for the sake of a month. For make no mistake: the introduction of the VAT hike on 1 January will cost not only far more than the VAT reduction in implementation, it will surely risk more than we gained from the measure itself.

With the Ashes upon us, perhaps Darling would appreciate the analogy of the economy to a cricket bat. At first glance, it's a simple plank; but it is actually several pieces of wood that fit together cunningly so as to be sprung like a dance floor. Nonetheless, get the timing right, it can send a cricket ball to the boundary in four seconds. Get it wrong, and we'll all be screaming ow, ow, ow!

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  • ADAM LEYLAND
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