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Saudi Arabia: an overview

Saudi Arabia possesses 18 per cent of the world’s known petroleum reserves and consequently ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum. This sector accounts for roughly 45 per cent of national budget revenues, 55 per cent of GDP and 90 per cent of export earnings.

The government has strong control over major economic activities, although it is currently encouraging private-sector growth to lessen the kingdom’s dependence on oil and to provide more jobs for a growing population. In 2007, just 10 per cent of GDP was contributed by non-oil manufacturing and less than 6 per cent of total employment.

In recent years, private sector and foreign investors have been allowed to participate in the power generation and telecom sectors. It was approved for membership of the World Trade Organisation in 2005.

High oil revenues mean that the government runs with a large budget surplus, which is invested back in development projects. However, there is still a big problem with youth unemployment.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.