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.