Why a VAT cut would pay for itself

The Guardian is wrong to oppose Balls's call for a temporary VAT cut.

Ed Balls's bold call for a temporary VAT cut might have been welcomed by Guido Fawkes but some of the shadow chancellor's traditional allies haven't been so supportive. A Guardian editorial declares that a cut in VAT "makes sense only if one wants to shovel £2.5bn a month out of the Treasury as fast as possible". But it's clear that the Grauniad has got its sums wrong. Osborne's VAT increase will raise around £13bn a year, so at worst a reduction to 17.5 per cent would cost the Treasury £1.08bn a month, not £2.5bn.

This error aside, there's much evidence that a cut in VAT would largely pay for itself. The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that the increase will reduce GDP by around 0.3 per cent a year. We know from the OBR's most recent Economic and Fiscal Outlook that a reduction of 0.3 per cent in growth adds around £13.9bn to the deficit (over two years).

Ok, so what about the remaining £7bn? Well, as Balls said in his speech yesterday, a VAT cut would act as an effective fiscal stimulus. The Tories' decision to raise the tax was partly based on the mistaken belief that its temporary reduction to 15 per cent failed to stimulate the economy. But an analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that consumers spent as much as £9bn more than they otherwise would have done during the period for which the cut ran.

A VAT cut would boost consumer confidence, lower inflation (thus reducing the risk of a premature rate rise), protect retail jobs and increase real wages, meaning that it would likely pay for itself in the long-term. With growth flat for the last six months, the economic case for a VAT cut is overwhelming.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.