Labour plans return to March Budget

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A new Labour government would overturn one of the Treasury's seasonal rituals. December has been the department's most relaxed month since the switch to an end-of-November Budget three years ago. But Labour is planning to move the Budget back to its traditional March date, once again separating the spending round from tax changes. The motive is thought to be the party's wish to avoid having to announce extra tax measures only a few months after the Budget it plans immediately after the election. For Gordon Brown to wield the Chancellor's traditional red box in both June and November would expose Labour to fresh Conservative taunts about a double whammy.

A spokesman for Mr Brown dismissed the reports as speculation, but Labour advisers have been discussing abandoning the "unified" November Budget with both Treasury officials and other economists.

Some experts would welcome the move as they think combining tax and expenditure plans has killed all debate about spending priorities. Treasury mandarins would not object violently as it would end their extraordinary autumn work overload.