I am tempted to ask, “Is that it?”, but perhaps I will not.
Yesterday, the Office for Budget Responsibility published its forecasts for the UK economy over the coming years, which painted a very difficult picture: Britain is expected to grow this year by 0.9% and next year by 0.7%; growth is forecast at 2.1% in 2013, 2.7% in 2014, 3% in 2015 and 3% again in 2016. The OBR showed that in 2009-10 borrowing was £156 billion a year. Last year, that fell to £137 billion. This year, the OBR expects it to fall again to £127 billion.
The OBR did not just publish forecasts. It did us a favour, because it looked back and reopened the books on the era of the previous Government, and an important factor emerged. It told us that an even bigger component of the growth that preceded the financial crisis was part of an unsustainable boom, and that the bust was deeper and had an even greater impact on our economy than previously thought, meaning that the effects will last even longer. It said:
“The peak-to-trough fall in output over the recession is now estimated to have been greater than previously thought at 7.1% rather than 6.4%”
That is a huge change to the figures. It found that from near the end of 2010 we were taking a serious hit from rising global food and energy prices.
I want to add a further quotation from the OBR as these matters form the baselines of our debate today:
“Most of the weakness can be explained by an external inflation shock”.
Its third point is that the eurozone crisis is
“likely to have contributed to weaker UK growth and business and consumer confidence.”