Economists ask: where is Osborne's Plan B?

Signatories of a letter to the <em>Observer</em> include several academics who backed the scheme las

A group of leading economists has called for George Osborne to change course on his deficit reduction strategy, saying that it is "stalling".

A letter to the Observer signed by 47 academics and economists said:

Recent economic figures have shown that the government urgently needs to adopt a Plan B for the economy. As economists and academics, we know the breakneck deficit-reduction plan, based largely on spending cuts, is self-defeating even on its own terms. It will probably not manage to close the deficit in the planned time frame and the government's strategy is likely to result in a lot more pain and a lot less gain.

We believe a more effective strategy for sustainable growth would be achieved:

- through a green new deal and a focus on targeted industrial policy.

- by clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion, as well as by raising taxes on those best able to pay

- through real financial reform, job creation, "unsqueezing" the incomes of the majority, the empowerment of workers and a better work-life balance.

These are the foundation of a real alternative and it is time the government adopted it.

Damagingly, several people have signed who were signatories of a letter to the Sunday Times last year which supported the Conservatives' approach. This indicates worry across the board about the slow rate of growth. Britain's economy grew by a sluggish 0.5 per cent in the first three months of this year but inflation rose by more than expected to 4.5 per cent.

The former chief economist at the Cabinet Office Jonathan Portes has also called for a change of course. Now director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, he said: "You do not gain credibility by sticking to a strategy that is not working." Sadly, Osborne does not appear to see it that way.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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If the cuts are necessary, where's Philip Hammond's deficit target gone?

The Chancellor ripped up his predecessor's plans and has no plan to replace them. What's going on?

Remember austerity?

I’m not talking about the cuts to public services, which are very much still ongoing. I’m talking about the economic argument advanced by the Conservatives from the financial crisis in 2007-8 up until the European referendum: that unlesss the British government got hold of its public finances and paid down its debt, the United Kingdom would be thrown into crisis as its creditors would get nervous.

That was the rationale for a programme of cuts well in excess of anything their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, campaigned on in the run-up to the 201 election. It was the justification for cuts to everything from English language lessons to library hours. It was the stick used to beat Labour in the 2015 election. Now it justifies cuts to payments to families that lose a parent, to mental health services and much else besides.

Which is odd, because there’s something missing from this election campaign: any timetable from the Tories about when, exactly, they intend to pay all that money back. Neither the government’s day-to-day expenditure nor its existing debt can meaningfully be said to be any closer to being brought into balance than they were in 2010.

To make matters worse, Philip Hammond has scrapped George Osborne’s timetable and plan to secure both a current account surplus and to start paying off Britain’s debts. He has said he will bring forward his own targets, but thus far, none have been forthcoming.

Which is odd, because if the nervousness of Britain’s creditors is really something to worry about, their causes for worry have surely increased since 2015, not decreased. Since then, the country has gone from a byword for political stability to shocking the world with its vote to leave the European Union. The value of its currency has plummetted. Its main opposition party is led by a man who, according to the government at least, is a dangerous leftist, and, more to the point, a dangerous leftist that the government insists is on the brink of taking power thanks to the SNP. Surely the need for a clear timetable from the only party offering “strong and stable” government is greater than ever?

And yet: the government has no serious plan to close the deficit and seems more likely to add further spending commitments, in the shape of new grammar schools, and the possible continuation of the triple lock on pensions.  There seems to be no great clamour for Philip Hammond to lay out his plans to get the deficit under control.

What gives?

Could it all, possibly, have been a con to advance the cause of shrinking the state?

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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