Normally, the Budget is the highlight of the treasury year. He has been preparing for months, with officials spending weeks working on proposals and competing to present them to the Chancellor. The Downing Street office gets more chaotic as Budget Day approaches as they rush to finalize everything.
These are not normal times. Not only is the Treasury headquarters nearly empty during the lockdown, but those work on Wednesday’s budget are much quieter than usual. This is because in the age of Covid-19, Rishi Sunak dramatic economic interventions have become almost routine. “We’ve been making so many of these big announcements recently that it’s become a well-oiled machine,” said a senior official. “It’s really not that frantic this time.”
Since last spring’s budget, there has been at least ten major announcements of the Chancellor including the establishment and extension of holidays, the creation of business loans, an “employment plan” in July and a “winter economy plan”. Each came up with eye-catching graphics to promote them on social media, an original idea from Mr. Sunak’s assistants Allegra Stratton – now poached by Boris Johnson to be his publicist – and Cass Horowitz, son of novelist Anthony.
One thing that has not changed is the desperation to quell the leaks. Some of the budget’s secrets could shake the markets if disclosed, opening up the possibility of insider trading. The policies that appeared in the newspaper have angered Treasury officials, who are pointing fingers at other departments in Whitehall.
However, this budget has so far been more confidential than usual. It may have something to do with the recent regime change to No 10: Ms Stratton and new Cabinet Secretary Simon Case are keeping a tighter ship than they were in Dominic Cummings days. Prior to that, Theresa May’s cabinet was the most elusive in recent memory – and between 2010 and 2015, the budget sparked annual information wars between Conservative and Liberal Democrat Treasury officials.
Even within the Treasury, very few officials have seen the full contents of the Budget. The main team responsible for overseeing the whole is Mr Sunak’s group of advisers – originally created as a ‘common economic unit’ shared by numbers 10 and 11, the chancellor has gradually claimed sole ownership of it. unity as his influence in Westminster grew.