Fantasy Spending

The most concerning aspect of the PBR is its failure to address our excessive public spending.

Because the key reason for our fiscal mess is that over the last decade public spending has been increased way beyond the capacity of our economy to support. According to the OECD, next year it will exceed 50% of our GDP, and it must be cut substantially.

The OECD also says that in both 2010 and 2011, the UK will have the highest government borrowing of any developed economy. And that includes supposed fiscal basket cases like Ireland, Iceland, and Greece. We are living on the edge, abd sooner or later the financial markets will take fright.

Against that worrisome background, the PBR's main spending decison was to increase it. Yes, that's right - public spending both this year and next is now set to be £5bn pa higher than forecast in the Budget.

And the longer term looks no better. Despite some broadbrush promisess of caps on public sector pay and pensions, there is no comprehensive spending plan. And very little detail on specific cuts, such as those proposed in the TPA/IOD cuts paper. Instead there is a great deal of wishful thinking.

For example, the NHS has been targeted for £15-20bn of those notorious "efficiency savings", but there is no detail on how they will be achieved - other than a statement that details will follow in the next budget. In other words, the whole thorny issue has been deferred.

Now, as long as we can continue to borrow a rock bottom rates we can continue with the fantasy of high spending. But history tells us fantasies like this never have a happy ending - as the markets will doubtless remind us some time in the next 12 months or so.


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