THIS should have been UK Budget week. But amidst chaos at Westminster the Budget is indefinitely postponed and we now face six weeks of campaigning for a General Election.

Sadly there is no guarantee that this will lead to any early end to the gross uncertainties which continue to severely damage the UK economic outlook. Indeed the odds on any clear-cut outcome, any party with an overall majority in the House of Commons, appear long.

Consequently, uncertainty over Brexit and so much else looks set to continue. We can have no clear idea as to what will happen on 31st January. Even if the new UK Government reaches some agreement with the EU, which is endorsed by Parliament, we will then only enter a transition period.

Business will not know what trade and investment deals will be made with who – and when – until that transition period ends. The end date is set to be 31st December 2020, but you can bet your boots on either a further extension or the UK crashing out before key trade deals are in place.

This will all make life in the UK’s private sector increasingly uncomfortable.Who would want to operate an international business from Scotland in these circumstances? The extended period of marked, indeed mounting, uncertainty will inevitably be accompanied by ultra-low business investment, no progress on productivity and the probability of rising unemployment.

At the same time the global economic uncertainties are also on the up, becoming more serious as the weeks and months drift by. The economic news from The USA, China and Europe is mixed at best. China has slowed to its lowest growth rate for a couple of decades, due not least to the trade war with the US. Germany is probably in formal recession and the rest of Western Europe is not far behind. The US Federal Reserve has again cut interest rates in anticipation of a significant slowdown in growth, and the odds appear to be on another cut around the turn of the year. Sorry to appear a doom-monger, but positive expectations are hard to find.

In this gloomy context, one item of good news is that we will now see a report from the truly independent UK Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – coming soon. Its report was scheduled to appear alongside the Budget to provide that now customary, but still crucial, independent insight into the UK macro-economic and fiscal outlook.

For a while it looked as if that independent report would be cancelled along with the Budget. However, wiser counsel has prevailed. Robert Chote, the head of the OBR took the decision to proceed with publication when the politicians and their advisers at Treasury and No 10 might have preferred to leave the economic and fiscal canvas blank, so that they could paint their own pretty pictures without the risk of informed critical commentary.

Now the OBR report will be published on 7th November. No doubt this publication will be followed by the inevitable and equally valuable companion analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). These reports, along with follow up analysis by IFS and others when manifestos are published, will enable interested parties (not least voters) to consider economic and fiscal policy proposals from all parties against an informed and independent backcloth.

We already know that the days of public finance austerity have come to an end. That will continue to be the case whoever forms a Government after the 12th December election. Another independent ‘think tank’, the Resolution Foundation, has formed the judgement that the £27billion of headroom for increased spending allocated by Philip Hammond only last March was used up in the next six months. The fiscal rules set by Mr Hammond have not so much been broken as shattered.

That may well be an appropriate policy response to the continuing economic doldrums. But it would be good to think that this was all part of a well-planned strategy to encourage investment, stimulate productivity and return our economy to what we had thought of as trend and sustainable growth. But we know that is not the case. There is no thought of any economic strategy. Under a new majority Conservative Government we would probably see tax cuts for the best off, adding further to the deficit. The imbalances in our economy could well be accentuated as sluggish growth continues and a Brexit shock is eventually felt.

This has all been posed in relation to the UK economy and the UK Budget, but of course it matters equally in Scotland. We have a Holyrood Budget along with forecasts from the Scottish Fiscal Commission (SFC) scheduled for 12th December. However, a variety of inputs into the Scottish budgetary process depend upon the state of the UK public finances and tax rates to apply in the year ahead. It seems inconceivable that there can now be a UK Budget before mid-January 2020, 20 months after Mr Hammond’s last effort; and the suspicion must be that the Scottish Budget will de facto have to be delayed until February at the earliest.

What a way to run an economy. Even Private Pike of Dad’s Army fame might be embarrassed! At least we have OBR and IFS; and in Scotland a well-functioning Scottish Fiscal Commission and strengthened Fraser of Allander Institute. There work is of increasing importance.

Jeremy Peat is at visiting professor of the University of Strathclyde