UK government borrowing rises

UK government borrowing rose by half a billion pounds in June.

According to the Office for National Statistics, public sector net borrowing, excluding interventions such as bank bailouts, was £14.4bn last month.

While tax revenues increased in the month by 3.6 per cent to £40.9bn, total government spending only dipped by less than 1 per cent to £52.4bn.

This is up from £13.9bn in June 2011, and raises doubt over the government’s ability to meet full-year targets to bring down borrowing.

Borrowing in 2011-12 was also revised downwards. The ONS has said today that borrowing in the last financial year was actually £125.7bn, down from the original estimate of £127.6bn that it made last month.

The figures come after the International Monetary Fund said this week that the government should slow the pace of the tough austerity measures if the economy fails to pick up.

Colin Edwards, economist at the Centre for Business and Economic Research (Cebr), said, "The ability of the government to borrow at historically low interest rates – the yield on 10-year government bonds currently stands around 1.5 per cent - provides some room for manoeuvre in the government’s attempts to reduce the deficit. Indeed, the debate over the pace of fiscal consolidation gathered momentum this week as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) slashed its forecast GDP growth for the UK to 0.2 per cent for 2012 from 0.8 per cent in its April forecast, bringing it closer to Cebr’s most recent forecast for a 0.2 per cent contraction this year.

"Against this backdrop, the OBR forecast for public sector net borrowing to fall this year by around £10bn looks under threat. Hence, the government is between a rock and a hard place: economic growth is minimal and the deficit appears to be rising again. The IMF’s remarks this week mean the debate around easing the pace of fiscal consolidation is likely to gather momentum in the lead up to the Autumn Statement."

This article first appeared in economia.

Photograph: Getty Images

Helen Roxburgh is the online editor of Economia

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.