Monday, 19 September 2011

Black hole in public finances

Ministers have been sounding a gloomy tone recently and it's not just because of the eurozone crisis. Work by the Financial Times using the Office for Budget Responsibility model suggests that the structural deficit is £12bn higher than previously thought, a slippage of 25 per cent.

It seems that the level of spare capacity in the economy, both in terms of plant and labour (with the right skills mix), is lower than was previously thought. I would add a note of caution here as spare capacity is more difficult to forecast than most economic variables.

What this would imply is yet more spending cuts or tax increases, but politically that is not viable given the sluggish growth in the economy which, according to the Bank of England, would have tipped into recession but for quantitative easing. What the Bank also admits that QE has pushed inflation higher than it would have been by 0.75 to 1.5 per cent. Of course, inflation also reduces the real value of the debt.

In any event we aren't going to see value added tax go up to 22.5 per cent which is what would be required to plug the gap. But it is does show how difficult will be for the Government to meet its structural deficit target and have some good economic news by the time of the next general election.

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