Tag Archives: Office for Budget Responsibility

‘Recovery in sight’ says BoE. Oh really?

republicOne has to admire the Bank of England for its determined optimism in the face of all the facts. The only organisation that is even more adamant that the UK economy is going to grow is the Office for Budget Irresponsibility, and we all know how rarely that body ever gets anything right.

Today, the soon-to-be ex-governor, Sir Mervyn King, said the economy had “cause for optimism” and there was an “encouraging underlying picture”.

What makes this tragic is the timing. Today, the story appeared on the BBC’s business news web page beneath a revelation that the fashion chain Republic has become the latest High Street name to go into receivership, and an announcement that Blockbuster, which bit the bullet earlier this year, would be closing a further 164 shops – threatening 800 jobs.

Cause for optimism, Sir Mervyn? Really?

Comet has gone, Jessops has gone, HMV is hanging on by its forepaws after closing 66 stores. Now Republic. We understand more than 100 other chains are facing financial ruin.

What, in this situation, is the “encouraging underlying picture”? A resurgence in manufacturing? What good will that do, if everybody is out of work and unable to buy anything? Who will benefit?

It won’t be the people on the street. Republic had 2,500 employees; Blockbuster is likely to lose 800 staff. Those job losses follow the many hundreds in the other chains mentioned. If manufacturing does improve, it will be selling abroad, and the only beneficiaries will be company bosses.

You and I won’t see a penny of it.

One aspect of this that did make me smile was the fact that the administrators from accountancy firm Ernst & Young (itself no stranger to controversy – see the previous Vox Political article about tax avoidance for details) sacked all 150 staff at the fashion firm’s head office. All the managers lost their jobs, and quite right, too!

Get a clue, George! (Or: Saving the economy, part two)

What a lot of twaddle Gideon George Osborne was peddling to Andrew Marr yesterday!

Speaking in advance of his Autumn Statement (or mini-budget) on Wednesday, Gideon told us all that cutting the UK’s financial deficit was “taking longer” than planned. This is because his government hasn’t invested in any infrastructure projects worth mentioning, or created jobs any other way. Where projects have been identified (HS2, new airport/runway), his political party has descended into squabbles over price and place.

He said “to turn back now would be a complete disaster”, which is true but pointless, as nobody is contemplating it. If Labour were to take over in 2015, they would have to look at the situation then and find a way to progress from there – they wouldn’t try to turn back the clock; that’s not possible.

He said richer people would “pay their fair share”, which means nothing when we don’t know what Mr Osborne considers is fair to richer people. What we’ve seen so far would suggest he likes to hammer the poor while handing richer people a tax rebate. Do you think that’s paying their fair share?

But I’ve already tackled what I would do with taxation.

He said the deficit was down by a quarter. This is a statistic that the Tories like to peddle but it is utterly meaningless when you see that borrowing for October hit £8.6 billion – £2.7 billion more than in October 2011. How is this an improvement?

He did show one flash of wisdom; he wisely refused to divulge any of the Office for Budget Irresponsibility’s economic forecasts in advance of Wednesday’s Statement. This is an organisation that has been consistently wrong, ever since it was set up. I wouldn’t trust it to speak my weight.

His worst transgression, though, was this: “To go back to the borrowing and the debt and the spending that Ed Balls represents would be a complete disaster for our country.”

Get a grip, Gideon! Borrowing during the Labour years was around 2 per cent LESS than during any preceding Conservative administration over the last 40 years! As for debt, even after the financial crisis and the bank bailout, the UK’s debt was a lower percentage of GDP than it had been for most of the 20th century! You are peddling an infantile justification narrative that even a child can see is nonsense!

I think the biggest problem here is one of perception. Gideon‘s idea of borrowing and spending involves borrowing money to give to his party’s fatcat business friends through government schemes like the work programme (don’t let them tell you it’s payment by results – even the DWP has admitted it isn’t). If he actually got down to proper investment, in proper infrastructure projects, the economy would start to rally.

Government investment of this kind would, in fact, pay for itself – and help pay off the deficit.

Any spending has a greater impact on the rest of the economy than the initial outlay; this is known in the jargon as the ‘multiplier effect’. There are a variety of multipliers depending on the sector. The highest multiplier is attached to construction at 1:2.06, meaning that every £1bn invested in construction will actually generate £2.06bn in new activity.

The government could, for example, embark on a massive programme of publicly-owned housing, to help reduce the deficit. It can do so much more efficiently than the private sector for three reasons: First, government has a return in the form of taxes; secondly, welfare spending falls as people are brought into work; thirdly, government borrows at much lower interest rates.

For these reasons, government can actually build the same house for a much lower net outlay than the developer and so offer affordable housing which contributes to reducing the deficit.

Also, there are 1.8 million families (representing over five million people) on council house waiting lists. There is an urgent need to build affordable housing for these people, which would also help reduce housing benefit payments.

There is no obstacle to increasing borrowing in order to fund investment. The interest rate on 10-year government borrowing is currently well below the level of inflation – meaning the government can borrow at interest rates that are less than zero in real terms. Why doesn’t anyone ask Gideon why he isn’t taking full advantage of these amazingly favourable opportunities?

This is the kind of investment that creates real jobs. You don’t create jobs by bullying people on benefits into work that doesn’t exist, Gideon! Here are a few more examples of where public sector jobs would benefit the economy as a whole:

It has been estimated that over a million ‘climate jobs’ could be created if the government was serious about tackling both climate change and unemployment – these would include areas like housing, renewable energy and public transport investment including high speed rail, bus networks and electric car manufacture.

Much of the country outside of London also needs huge investment in bus services – and, just as we should invest in electric car technology, we should also invest in electric buses and tram networks.

Only 2.2% of UK energy comes from renewable sources compared with 8.9% in Germany, 11% in France, and an impressive 44.4% in Sweden. If we are committed to tackling climate change and ensuring domestic energy security there needs to be investment in renewable energy technology.

Are you going to mention any of those in your Autumn Statement, Gideon?

I think not.

Smaller recession won’t stop the agony for the sick, disabled, unemployed, low-waged…

Official figures have been revised to show the UK economy contracted by less than thought in the second quarter of 2012. Apparently the recession only deepened by 0.4 per cent, rather than the 0.5 per cent to which it was revised last month. The original estimate was 0.7 per cent.

Big deal.

It’s a far cry from original Office of Budget Irresponsibility estimates for 2012, which had the economy growing (if you can believe it) by 2.5 per cent during the year. Instead it has contracted by around 1 per cent. That’s a huge error margin – around 1/28 of GDP.

And it’s a far cry from what the Coalition were predicting in 2010, when public sector job losses were going to be offset by a huge inrush of private sector jobs that never came. David Cameron can swan off to New York (incidentally avoiding the reappearance of his friend Rebekah Brooks in court) and talk about a million jobs being created, but that doesn’t even begin to cover the harm that his austerity measures have perpetuated.

And of course it means that we’re all still in the longest double-dip recession since the end of World War II, thanks to the Coalition – they can blame Labour all they want, but the figures tell the truth: GDP started dropping after the Tories and the Liberal Democrats took the reins of power.

What does this mean for the less well-off in society? Well, it’s obvious…

Continued recession means that there will be less tax money available to the Treasury (and there’s still no real effort being made to track down those tens – maybe hundreds – of billions being kept away by tax avoidance).

This will allow Messrs Cameron, Osborne et al to continue their persecution of the poorest in society – those who had nothing to do with the causes of the recession – and their programme of rewards for those who made this possible – the bankers and financiers who did dump us all in it.

So we will see further deep cuts in the welfare budget. More sick and disabled people will be driven to suicide. We have already seen news stories in which it has been admitted that failed ESA claimants have ended up destitute – expect many more in the future.

The Universal Credit will come in, capping the amount of benefit families will be able to receive and ensuring that they are plunged into poverty, through no fault of their own.

The Localism Bill will come in, forcing councils to create council tax relief schemes that will force the lowest-paid in society out of their homes to search for accommodation in less “attractive” parts of the UK – if they can find anywhere at all.

And as I’m typing this, in the back of my mind I can hear Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, whose coalition with the Conservatives has made all this possible, saying: “Only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted with the economy and relied upon to deliver a fairer society too.”

And that’s the funny part!

Government borrowing: Insanity, explained with nonsense

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.