Chancellor George Osborne has hit the banks with a surprise £800 million tax hike as he announced the Government’s new bank levy was to be made permanent.
The unexpected move – unveiled by Mr Osborne on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme – was greeted with shock and anger by the banks, with some bank chiefs reported to be “livid”.
The British Bankers’ Association (BBA) accused the Chancellor of “changing the tax goalposts” and warned that it would make the UK a less attractive place for businesses to operate.
However, the increase was dismissed by shadow chancellor Ed Balls as a “damp squib” intended to deflect attention away from the Government’s failure to secure a wider agreement with the banks on bonuses and business lending.
The so-called Project Merlin talks between ministers and the banks are entering a crucial phase after months of sparring between the two sides.
Mr Osborne insisted that the announcement on the bank levy should clear the way for a deal to curb bonus payouts while increasing lending to cash-starved small and medium-sized firms. He said: “It’s very important to get all the components in place. Today’s announcement clears the way so now banks know where they are on taxation.”
The BBA however criticised the Treasury for making last-minute adjustments to the levy which was announced in last year’s Budget. “The levy itself is complex and will hit our most global banks hardest as they operate and pay tax across national boundaries,” it said in a statement.
“Changing the tax goalposts also makes things harder – all organisations want a predictable tax regime so they can plan their businesses accordingly and constant chopping and changing risks making the UK a less attractive place for businesses to operate.”
Mr Osborne said that he was scrapping the lower introductory rate originally planned for 2011 as the banking sector is returning to health faster than expected. The Treasury had planned to phase in the levy, with banks paying a lower introductory rate on their balance sheets since the start of the year.
But the tax will be increased in March and April to offset this before settling at 0.075% a month. The tax, which was introduced on January 1, will now raise the full £2.5 billion target in 2011 and 2012 before rising to £2.6 billion for the following years.