The briefing that we are in for several more years of Austerity Britain was curious. How does this square with the more optimistic forecasts from the Office of Budget Responsiblity, the official forecaster?
The official forecasts do not think we are in for more years of austerity. “Whole economy earnings” grow at 2.6%, 2.2% and 3% in the three years up to the election. Wages and salaries rise by more than inflation this year and in 2014-15, and go up by 2.5% in the middle year when prices are forecast to rise 2.6%. In their graph the OBR shows real wages increasing just above zero next year, rising to a 2% annual gain by 2015. The OBR forecasts rising share prices throughout the period and small rises in property prices. There are too many people in the UK on low incomes, and have been for many years. At least the forecasts say more will have jobs and wages will start going up.
Current public spending rises every year in cash terms, and public sector investment spending also rises next year and the year after. The OBR confirms that in the period Quarter 4 2011 to Quarter 3 2012 the public sector has grown overall in real terms, contributing 0.4% to total economy growth, which came in at just 0.3%. They forecast small real declines in public spending hereafter, but that of course depends on how inflation turns out. With a pay freeze in place, if it were effective, the cash rises in spending should allow some growth in service provided.
The OBR forecasts 1.2% growth next year, 2% in 2014, 2.3% in 2015, and higher rates in the following two years. All this could better be described as “gently recovering Britain” rather than “Austerity Britain”. The number of jobs has outperformed their past forecasts by a wide margin, which is the one bit of good news.
The issue, however, is will these latest OBR forecasts be any more accurate than the ones they issued two years ago? Now they have slashed the 5 year growth figure from 13.2% for 2010-15, to under 6%, maybe they have cut it by enough. They do, however, still offer us the same profile of growth as before, with the fastest growth forecast for the latest years of the forecast. As the OBR say in their document “A key risk is that potential output turns out to be lower at the end of the forecast period than we currently assume”.
Indeed. The OBR’s gently recovering Britain could become Austerity Britain again, if inflation is not controlled, and or if output does not expand as planned. We need more growth and faster growth. The aim should be to help many more people enjoy rising and higher living standards.
I will look tomorrow at options to accelerate growth more, to make it less likely we have another disappointment.