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Government borrowing figures for August have been released and the Treasury has been talking nonsense about them. Again.
Let’s start with the facts: UK public sector net borrowing was £14.4bn in August – slightly higher than the same month last year, and therefore the biggest deficit for the month since records began. Corporation tax receipts fell by 2.1 per cent; benefit payments rose by 4.9 per cent.
Barring the effects of one-off transactions like the raid on the Royal Mail Pension Plan that I mentioned last month, borrowing from April to August increased by £12.9bn, or 22 per cent, on the same period last year – to £61.3bn.
The British Chambers of Commerce reckon that at this rate, total borrowing for 2012-13 will be £20bn+ more than estimated by the misnamed Office for Budget Responsibility at the time of the last budget.
Public sector net debt stood at £1.04 trillion at the end of August 2012, equivalent to 66.1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) – that’s up from 1.032tr at the end of July, or 65.7 per cent of GDP.
The BBC, reporting on its website, has stated that the figures make it more likely the government will fail to wipe out the structural budget deficit by its deadline – and I think it won’t make a difference whether that’s 2015 (already long-abandoned) or 2017.
The Treasury, on the other hand, is still telling us it is getting the deficit down. Exchequer secretary to the Treasury David Gauke said new figures showing borrowing for 2011-12 came it at £119bn, rather than the OBR’s forecast of £126bn meant the government was dealing with its debts.
This is particularly rich, coming from him. Everybody now knows that the best way for the government to pay down its debts is to tax all the rich Brits who have stashed their cash in offshore tax-havens. Mr Gauke used to work for a tax avoidance firm and his wife is a tax avoidance lawyer. He is exactly the wrong man to lecture us on getting the deficit – the difference between government spending and tax receipts – down.
Some, like Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, are now saying that overshooting the deficit reduction target would be acceptable if the reason was slower economic growth across the world, and the government has been happy to play its ‘Eurozone Strife’ card many times in the past.
But I’m not convinced. I tend to agree with The Guardian’s summary of the Coalition’s non-achievements so far, which states: UK exports to the EU have been growing, at least until early 2012; the deepening Eurozone crisis was mainly due to the same austerity policies employed in the UK; therefore austerity should have been cut back and demand revived.
What we’re left with should be no surprise to anyone: Numbers that don’t add up and explanations that don’t make sense.