Reading Evening Post

If government spending and borrowing stopped a recession and built a strong economy, the UK would be doing well today. Never has so much money been hurled at the problem, and never has so much been borrowed in such a short time. Yet the more they borrow the more unemployment rises. The more they spend, the more is wasted.

As so often in the British political debate there is no disagreement about what we want to do. All sensible politicians and parties want to end the banking crisis, stabilise the economy and start to get people back to work. We all want the conditions in which business can flourish and people can earn good money for their work. The government’s attempt to draw a contrast between “Labour investment” and “Tory cuts” is one of the more stupid misrepresentations.

In private most Labour politicians accept that somehow, sometime the massive public deficit has to be brought under control. Indeed, Labour’s own spending plans beyond 2010 imply reductions in spending to start to curb the deficit. In public and private Conservatives say they have no wish to sack teachers or nurses, and wish to run good quality core public services. This week Conservatives have been calling for better equipment for troops committed to Afghanistan despite the spending crisis.

There could be more agreement than crude spin doctor driven politics allows. The Treasury itself accepts that there is waste and inefficiency in public spending. This so far has been a very lop sided recession, with manufacturing taking the biggest hit and the public sector getting the extra money and jobs. There is the danger now that too much borrowing by the public sector will drive interest rates up again, damaging prospects elsewhere. Borrowing is just a deferred tax increase. At some point the debt has to be repaid.

The issue is how we can do more for less in the public sector. The answer is not difficult. Many of the techniques that are second nature to private business have not been adopted in the large public sector empires. There are too many layers of government, too much complexity, too many codes, rules and regulations. We could begin by removing unelected regional government, scrapping much of the instruction and prescription that Whitehall visits on Town Hall and scrap large centralised computer schemes that are often over budget and much delayed. Scrapping ID cards and the ID computer would be especially popular with many.

Last week the Bank of England raised the possibility that printing £125 billion to buy up government debt was enough. The interest rates the taxpayers have to pay when the government borrows more rose, as you might expect. It was chilling reminder of what might be to come, as they try to get our economy back to normal. It is still grossly out of shape. Much more work is needed to get us fit and well again.

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2 Comments

  1. Kevin Lohse
    Posted July 25, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Dear John.
    “If government spending and borrowing stopped a recession and built a strong economy, the UK would be doing well today. Never has so much money been hurled at the problem, and never has so much been borrowed in such a short time. Yet the more they borrow the more unemployment rises. The more they spend, the more is wasted.”
    do we call this “Somme Theory Economics”?

  2. Denis Cooper
    Posted July 26, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Last week the Bank of England created £4.5 billion and used it to buy previously issued gilts from private investors (Monday and Wednesday), while the Treasury borrowed £9 billion from private investors by selling them new gilts (Tuesday and Thursday).

    So the stock of gilts held by the Bank and removed from circulation rose by £4.5 billion, and now stands at £118 billion – which is over 97% of all the purchases made by the Bank using newly created money, its purchases of commercial assets amounting to a token £2.9 billion.

    The total volume of gilts held by private investors and therefore available to be traded through the market also rose by £4.5 billion last week – the £9 billion newly issued by the Treasury, minus the £4.5 billion bought by the Bank.

    But that was exceptional, as since the beginning of March the Treasury has issued about £64 billion, net of redemptions, while the Bank has bought up £118 billion, and therefore the volume of gilts in private hands has actually gone down by £54 billion.

    That £54 billion paid by the Bank to private gilts investors in exchange for some of their holdings, but not yet used to purchase new gilts, will either have been used by them for other purposes, or it will be cash on deposit.

    In effect the government now has two classes of gilts investors:

    1. Normal private investors – their holdings have dropped by about £54 billion, but they still own over three quarters of the total stock of outstanding gilts.

    2. An abnormal gilts investor, the Bank of England, which having spent £118 billion buying gilts now owns rather less than a quarter of the total stock.

    They are different, because the private investors will no doubt insist that interest and redemption payments for their gilts must be made in cash in the normal way, and therefore they must be given priority; but as the Bank of England is publicly owned it may be induced to except payment in additional or replacement gilts, rather than in cash, so allowing the Treasury to roll over its debts for many years.

  • 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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