Alan Budd’s job at the Office of Budget Responsibility is to inject realism into the inherited forecasts from Mr Darling’s Treasury.
He inherits some racy forecasts for economic growth. The last government thought the UK economy would sprint to growth of 3-3.5% next year, and stay above 3% for the following two years. The average of independent forecasters think 2.1% is likely in 2011, followed by 2.4% in 2012 and 2.7% in 2013.
There’s a difference in the impact on the government deficit. If the economy grows by 1% more next year that will generate around £6 billion of extra tax revenue, and save maybe £1.5 billion of unemployment and other costs. If the following year the economy grows by another extra 1% roughly the same favourable improvements occurs, taking the cumulative total to £15 billion. Go on like that for long and you will be talking serious money.
Turn it round, and it means that the new government may have to say the prospective deficit in 2011 will be several billions higher, and the 2012 one worse still compared with the current forecast.
When I wrote the Economic Policy Review I commissioned a paper which looked at the long term growth rate of the UK economy. Labour had recently hiked it to an unbelievable 2.75%. We concluded it was more likely to be below 2% once the debt bubble was blown away. It is true there is a big downturn to recover from, but it seems very unlikely that the long term rate of growth is anything like 2.75%, which in turn makes it unlikely we can enjoy three years of growth above 3%.
The only thing that could change that is aggressively to set out to make the UK the best place for jobs and business in the developed world by following pro enterprise tax and regulatory policies.