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

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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