Ann Baldwin on Budget stage fright – Fifteen seconds of fame.

‘Three, two, one and cue.’

This week accountants have been making their infrequent outings to radio and television studios to comment on the Budget. We are considered death to ratings most of the year, but earn a little respect when the media tries to deal with the mysteries of the tax system.

I went through this ritual for several years and the first terror I faced was being seen as expert on everything financial, assumed to be able to respond at speed on any problem and any tax. In a Leicester radio studio many years ago on a live phone-in, a listener shouted at me because I didn’t have a grasp of dog licences.

I learned to drop all the jargon like ‘nil-rate bands’ and check up on PAYE administration, because the date when the changes in tax impact on wages is of paramount importance to most of the viewing public.

I was more used to living in affluence and advising business people, but at Budget broadcasts I came face to face with those who struggle in poverty and who are daunted by the complex tax and benefits world with which they have to deal, without authority or support.

Once, two minutes before a post-Budget broadcast, my brief was changed from a panel discussion with representatives from the CBI and a leading union, to a sofa chat with a couple who were long-term unemployed and had several children. My pathetic response was to point out that they were not able to benefit from the increase in personal allowances and tax thresholds that year.

A partner of mine, the late Philip Hardman, told me that one year at the BBC Budget studios, the background was being repainted just five minutes before they went on the air.

So the big day comes. The Chancellor finishes his speech, makeup is slapped on you and it’s time to roll the cameras.

‘Ann, we’ve had to recut the programme. Can you give us a 30-second summary right after the weather and before we go to a sculpture of the Chancellor’s dog, Budget, made from margarine. Did you know 4 million people watch this programme?’

‘Three, two, one and cue.’

Ann Baldwin, FCA, is a management trainer and speaker.

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