Osborne's economic strategy remains self-defeating

The Chancellor is wrong to fund £5bn of extra capital spending by squeezing public services.

George Osborne's decision to increase capital spending by £5bn (to be announced in tomorrow's Autumn Statement) is a belated admission that, in times of stagnation, the state must intervene to stimulate growth. The delusion that the coalition's spending cuts would increase consumer confidence and produce a self-sustaining private-sector-led recovery has been abandoned after Osborne's "expansionary fiscal contraction" turned out to be, well, contractionary. Whisper it, but Keynesianism is back. The £5bn will be spent on "shovel-ready projects", including 100 new free schools and academies, roads, and science and technology programmes.

But rather than taking advantage of the UK's historically low bond yields to borrow for growth (as the IMF and the CBI, among others, have urged the government to do), Osborne will fund the move by squeezing current spending even harder. All government departments, except health, education and international development, will be forced to reduce their budgets by an extra one per cent in 2013-14 and a further two per cent in 2014/15. By reducing demand and leading to thousands of extra job losses, the new cuts will limit the effectiveness of the £5bn stimulus, which, in itself, is inadequate. The FT's economics editor Chris Giles suggests that "on generous assumptions it might increase growth in one year by 0.1 per cent."

Though Osborne will claim otherwise tomorrow, this isn't what's needed to make a real difference at this stage.

George Osborne during a visit to the offices of HM Revenue & Customs. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Forget gaining £350m a week, Brexit would cost the UK £300m a week

Figures from the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility reveal the negative economic impact Brexit would have. 

Even now, there are some who persist in claiming that Boris Johnson's use of the £350m a week figure was accurate. The UK's gross, as opposed to net EU contribution, is precisely this large, they say. Yet this ignores that Britain's annual rebate (which reduced its overall 2016 contribution to £252m a week) is not "returned" by Brussels but, rather, never leaves Britain to begin with. 

Then there is the £4.1bn that the government received from the EU in public funding, and the £1.5bn allocated directly to British organisations. Fine, the Leavers say, the latter could be better managed by the UK after Brexit (with more for the NHS and less for agriculture).

But this entire discussion ignores that EU withdrawal is set to leave the UK with less, rather than more, to spend. As Carl Emmerson, the deputy director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, notes in a letter in today's Times: "The bigger picture is that the forecast health of the public finances was downgraded by £15bn per year - or almost £300m per week - as a direct result of the Brexit vote. Not only will we not regain control of £350m weekly as a result of Brexit, we are likely to make a net fiscal loss from it. Those are the numbers and forecasts which the government has adopted. It is perhaps surprising that members of the government are suggesting rather different figures."

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, to which Emmerson refers, are shown below (the £15bn figure appearing in the 2020/21 column).

Some on the right contend that a blitz of tax cuts and deregulation following Brexit would unleash  higher growth. But aside from the deleterious economic and social consequences that could result, there is, as I noted yesterday, no majority in parliament or in the country for this course. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.