So ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ has made his first and last ‘Autumn Statement’.
There will, in future, be just one ‘Budget’ a year. After today’s underwhelming package, that’s probably just as well.
The chancellor’s only major flourish - in an otherwise stodgy affair – was to rip up the established fiscal calendar. The absurdity of having two big tax-and-spending set-piece moments a year has finally been addressed.
Commentary opportunities for journalists and city pundits may be sadly curtailed. But, as Phillip Hammond told us, improvements in productivity are vital. With no exceptions for the Westminster village and its associated hangers-on.
Throughout his big debut, Hammond did everything he could to claim the title of Mr Sensible.
After lavishly praising his predecessor George Osborne, there was an immediate move to distance himself:
“My style will be different from his – no more pulling rabbits from hats”, he told a jumpy Commons – full of MPs not quite sure how to react to the arch-pragmatist.
The Chancellor was at pains to point out just how constrained he is, with the deteriorating outlook for growth and the public finances.
The deficit won’t be eliminated this parliament. That much we know. The borrowing figures still stretch out into the years ahead – like an ever-receding horizon.
But, Hammond believes what he calls “high value investment” in “infrastructure and innovation” can be financed with additional government debt.
New cash for a Housing Infrastructure Fund. Money to address traffic pinch-points. More capacity on the railways. Tax relief on new fibre infrastructure.
These are the solid, long-term things that this sober chancellor thinks will be good for us.
Compared with his predecessor, Hammond is slightly more interventionist; slightly more generous when it comes to welfare; slightly more serious about solving the riddle of Britain’s low productivity.
But after George Osborne’s budgets – dripping as they always were with political calculation – Hammond’s main event will disappoint the headline writers, addicted as they are to the big surprises.
In a few weeks’ time, the contents of this package will be largely forgotten. That will probably suit this unflashy chancellor perfectly.
Brexit of course was the great unspoken theme today - the elephant in the chamber.
There was almost no mention of what is the biggest source of economic and political risk in the years ahead.
According to the figures published today, government finances over this parliament have deteriorated by over £100billion since the referendum vote.
It’s the issue that tangles everything – a web of uncertainty that the most sure-footed chancellor is certain to be caught in eventually.