Reform have produced a sensible pamphlet entitled “Off balance” prior to the Budget. Unlike many commentaries about the last five years it agrees with this website that large errors made by Central Banks and Banking Regulators in leading western economies caused the violent boom and bust cycle. It was avoidable, if they had listened to those of us who warned against too much credit prior to 2007 (there were a lot of people worried about that) and to the few of us who warned of too little money in 2008-9.
The Reformers also sketch out a sensible agenda for the budget. They urge “more capitalism”, not less. They seek more competitive tax rates, less regulation, and more infrastructure investment based on market prices and market returns. It is an old recipe that could produce a decent dish.
They explain how the UK ec0nomy started to decline, as measured by income per head relative to others, from 2005 onwards. As the public sector took more and more of our resource, as public spending and the deficit rose, even as we reached the top of an unsustainable boom, we were slipping back. By 2009 our income per head was £12,869 lower than Norway, £7,128 lower than the USA and £6,044 lower than Switzerland to name three of the top four of the world.
The pamphlet says that Labour attempts to narrow the regional gap failed. Despite money and time lavished on regional policies, London performed much more strongly than the North and West. London went from £22,136 of gross value added per head in 1999 to £34,200 in 2009, with its share of UK GVA rising from 19.2% to 21.5%. They warn the government against any idea that it can grow the economy differently to move activity from south to north and from London elsewhere.
The government in drawing up its budget should heed this advice. They also need to understand that so far the squeeze has been on the private sector, not the public. The BBC/IFS figures over the week-end again confirmed a theme of this site. The losers since 2008 have been private sector employees. There were 1 million job losses during the recession in the private sector, whilst public sector jobs expanded by 400,000. The private sector has taken the hit from high inflation, leaving people worse off as prices outstrip wage awards. Pensioners have lost out from low interest rates whilst mortgage holders have benefitted. No-one on median earnings has lost out from tax and benefit changes (excluding VAT), whilst those on higher incomes have been hit by tax and benefit changes.
Let us hope the Chancellor acknowledges this by cutting tax on fuel, and by further Income Tax cuts. Any relief of these pressures would be helpful for recovery. Meanwhile public spending from the Coalition remians up 7% in cash terms so far, and on course to rise each year in cash terms from now until 2015. The cuts are the result of a failure to manage the public sector more effectively, and the result of decisions to boost some areas at a time of tighter budgets.
The Budget will probably include cutting costs on business through deregulation,.Enterprise Zones and other initiaitives. In practice we will be waiting for the Vickers Report into banking, as that is likely to have more impact than the budget.
The main figures for this government’s strategy for the five years (20014-15 compared to last Labour year) remain as below:
Total spending plus £71 billion a year,
Total tax revenue plus £176 billion a year,
5 years additional state borrowing £440 billion.