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A panic Budget as economy worsens

Figures published by the Office for Budget Responsibility on the morning of the Budget statement, and the Office for National Statistics today tell us more about the state of the economy than George Osborne did.

The austerity programme introduced to reduce government debt and attract investment has so far failed. Savage cuts in public sector services and jobs were supposed to lead to a resurgence of the private sector, and pave the way for the growth that capitalism feeds off. It hasn’t worked.

According to the OBR's pre-Budget forecast in June 2010 growth in the UK was supposed to be driven by business investment, which was predicted to grow by 8% in 2011, 9.8% in 2012 and in double digits after that. It turns out that in 2011 it grew by 0.2% and in the new, equally over-optimistic forecast the OBR expects investment to in 2012 to grow by only 0.7%.

Government borrowing hit a record for the month of February, rising to £15.18 billion, double what many expected.

UK retail sales volumes fell by 0.8% in February compared with the previous month, according to the ONS, and January's unexpectedly strong growth in sales volumes of 0.9% was also revised down to show an expansion of only 0.3% compared with December.

The lack of growth has meant that tax receipts are down 2.7% on a year ago, principally from declining income tax receipts. Government spending is up by 8.3% on a year ago, because of higher social benefits due to rising unemployment.

So the immediate 1% additional reduction in corporation tax, whilst the increase in personal allowances for those fortunate to be still in work is deferred for a year, shows something of the panic behind the confident bluster of the Coalition’s Budget.

The wrecking of the planning system (reducing more than 1000 pages of controls to 50), combined with measures to further drive down wages is designed to encourage investment from international capital markets into low wage areas of the UK.

Reducing the 50 pence top rate of tax will have no impact on the rich, but the reduction in age-related allowances will further reduce living standards for millions of older people who already receive amongst the lowest pensions in Europe.

The 2012 programme of Budget measures are a precursor for a far more brutal assault on living standards as global economic conditions continue to deteriorate. As astute Tory commentator Peter Oborne puts it today, “the risks ahead are immense – eurozone collapse, war with Iran, economic stagnation. It must be said that Mr Osborne does not have the air of a man who is fully in control.”

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
22 March 2012

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