Reading Evening Post

The government has had to reveal at last just how big a deterioration there has been in our economic prospects and the public account. They now accept we are going into recession. They see that we are going to face a winter of job losses and bankruptcies. Woolworths and MFI have led the way in recent days. There are all too many more companies in distress, or good companies that cannot get the borrowings they need to see them over a difficult patch.

Interest rates are the price of borrowing money. When the private sector was borrowing too much, the Bank kept the price too low, encouraging many more people to pay too much for houses, and allowing businesses to pay too much for commodities and raw materials.

Then they decided to end the party, bringing down prices, damaging the banks, and disrupting trade and jobs.

Now the government is going to borrow too much. It looks as if the Bank is going to cut the price of money further, to allow the government to borrow more than it should – all the time the markets still allow them to do that.

Before the last round of interest rate cuts I suggested that the Monetary Policy Committee wrote to the Chancellor and said they would only cut rates if the government agreed to keep its borrowing under reasonable control. There was no letter, but the Bank and the government did start telling us they saw the need to have a clear pathway set out to return government borrowing to more normal levels, from the £157 billion bulge this year. The government also decided to talk about £78 billion borrowing this year – leaving out the money to buy bank shares and pay for the bank losses.

The proposed pathway back to sensible public sector borrowing still leaves us too much in debt. The Monetary Policy Committee should have another go behind the scenes to get the government to see sense. If it cannot, it needs to leave interest rates higher to allow for the government excess.

The problem is the Monetary Policy Committee is acting out of fear, following several years of getting it comprehensively wrong. They failed to see either the inflation or the recession they triggered. Now they are likely to misread the government debt problem.

Huge amounts of liquidity are being built up. In the short term this will not be inflationary overall , as the broken banks are not passing it on to the private sector. It remains inflationary in the public sector, which lives in an unreal world compared to the rest of us. The money is being passed on within the state, allowing many quangos, departments of the government and some Councils to be overmanned, and paying many very high salaries over £100,000 to people taking little risk and in some cases making little useful contribution. The public sector still has huge advertising and consultancy budgets, still has a massive army of officials looking for new ways to check up on us and persecute us, and still churns out the forms, compliance manuals, consultation documents and bossy boots instructions as if nothing had changed.

We certainly have two Britains. The government has split the country into the hard working compliance ridden tax paying private sector, shivering without cash and awaiting the call of the well heeled state Inspector, and the overbearing, camera wielding, humourless, play by the increasing number of rules politically correct Inspector state where any amount of borrowed money can be channelled into more nonsense. This is why the state can afford to prosecute us for parking in the wrong place, for offering a client a glass of wine or for using the wrong words to describe people, festivals or religious observance with no sense of proportion.

There is a growing sense of injustice amongst all those who run businesses and try to make a contribution through the private sector, and growing sense of unfairness between the towns and districts where people mainly work in the private sector, and the ones where a majority now draw their income from tax and public borrowing.

In the longer term the danger is that the government will want to use the printing presses to sort out its huge debt, which will be inflationary when the banks are working again.

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  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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