Yesterday we had an important debate on removing the deficit that has dogged UK public finances for more than a decade. Labour switched sides again, opposing the idea that in normal times there should be no deficit.
The present government plans to cut the deficit from around £70 billion this year to £6bn in 2018-19, and to move into surplus in each of the two subsequent years. This will end a long period of huge build up in public sector debt, which will exceed £1.6tn by 2017-18 (excluding the capitalised value of future unfunded liabilities and without imputing a value to future tax receipts to pay for them). Net debt as a percentage of GDP hit a high of 80.8% of GDP last year and is planned to fall this year and over the next five years, down to 68.5% by 2020-21.
The government assumes the economy will be operating at full capacity by the end of this decade, so the cyclically adjusted borrowing or repayment is the same as the actual one planned. The reduction in deficit comes about through a large increase in tax revenue. The plan is to raise £210 billion a year more in 2020-21 than last financial year. This will both remove the deficit and allow an increase of £109 billion a year in total public spending over the same time period.
It is curious that Labour have decided to ignore the deficit again and to argue for more borrowing. As the debt and deficit fall later this decade so the interest burden reduces, giving more scope to spend on public sector services with less going on interest charges.
UK state debt was £380 bn in 2001-2. It soared to £1080bn by the time Labour left office, and has risen to around £1600 bn since. It is currently falling as a proportion of GDP but still rising in cash terms.