Osborne to borrow more than Labour was projected to

Chancellor forecast to borrow £19bn more than the Brown government was expected to.

George Osborne rattled through the OBR's borrowing forecasts in his autumn statement - and with good reason. They show that, as a result of lower growth and higher unemployment, he will be forced to borrow £158bn more than forecast a year ago. Even more strikingly, Osborne is now set to borrow £19bn more than Labour was projected to (see Table 4.5 on p. 38 of the OBR's June 2010 release). With glorious irony, the national debt will now be higher under the coalition (78 per cent of GDP in 2014-15) than it would have been under Labour (74 per cent of GDP).

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Labour's smart line of attack is that while Osborne is borrowing to meet the cost of unemployment, they would have borrowed to fund growth.

It's true that external factors may well have forced a Labour chancellor to borrow more than forecast but here's the question Osborne and his allies will have to answer: why aren't the bond markets panicking? They claimed that borrowing a billion more than planned would take Britain to the "brink of bankruptcy". But the fact that Osborne is set to borrow a huge £158bn more than forecast in November 2010 shows this up as the myth it always was.

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.