Financial Statement

Part of Ways and Means – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 19th March 2014.

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Photo of George Osborne George Osborne The Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:33 pm, 19th March 2014

I can report today that the economy is continuing to recover, and recovering faster than forecast. We set out our plan, and together with the British people we held our nerve. After the mess we were left, we are putting Britain right, but the job is far from done. Our country still borrows too much; we still do not invest enough, export enough or save enough, so today we do more to put that right.

This is a Budget for building a resilient economy. If you are a maker, a doer or a saver, this Budget is for you. It is all part of a long-term economic plan—a plan that is delivering security for the people of this country. I have never shied away from telling the British people about the difficult decisions we face, and just because things are getting better, I do not intend to do so today. Yes, the deficit is down by a third, and now in the coming year it will be down by a half, but it is still one of the highest in Europe, so today we take further action to bring it down.

Yes, investment and exports are up, but Britain has 20 years of catching up to do, so today we back businesses who invest and export. Yes, manufacturing is growing again, as my hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson just reminded us, and jobs are being created across the country, but manufacturing halved under the last Government, with all bets on the City of London. So today, we support manufacturers and back all regions of our country. While as a nation we are getting on top of our debts, for many decades Britain has borrowed too much and saved too little, so in this Budget we make sure hard-working people keep more of what they earn and more of what they save.

Yesterday we set out our support for parents with tax-free child care. Today support for savers is at the centre of this Budget, as we take another step towards our central mission: economic security for the people of Britain.

Let me turn to today’s forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility. I am grateful to Robert Chote, Steve Nickell and their team, and thank Graham Parker for agreeing to serve with them for another term. It is a credit to the OBR that we now take it for granted that the figures presented at this Dispatch Box are not fiddled but fair and independent. A year ago at the Budget, the OBR forecast the economy to grow by just 0.6% in 2013. it now confirms that it grew by three times as much. At the autumn statement, it significantly revised up its expectations for future growth. Today I can tell the House it is revising up its forecast again. A year ago, it predicted that growth in 2014 would be 1.8%; at the autumn statement, 2.4%; today, the OBR forecasts growth in 2014 of 2.7%. That is the biggest upward revision to growth between Budgets for at least 30 years. Growth next year is also revised up, to 2.3%; then, it is 2.6% in 2016 and 2017; and with the output gap closed around a year earlier than previously predicted, growth returns to around its long-term trend, at 2.5%, in 2018. Taken together, these growth figures mean our economy will be £16 billion larger than was forecast just four months ago.

There is another prediction the OBR makes today that the House will want to know about. Six years ago, Britain suffered a great recession. We had the biggest bank bail-out in the world. We had the biggest deficit since the war. We suffered the deepest recession in modern times—or as the shadow Chancellor put it, some mistakes were made. But later this year the OBR expects Britain to reach the point when our economy is finally larger than before it collapsed six years ago. That is because we are now growing faster than Germany, faster than Japan, faster than the United States—in fact, there is no major advanced economy in the world growing faster than Britain today.

But we should be alert to the risks. The euro area is slowly recovering, but as the OBR cautions today,

“further damaging instability remains possible”.

There is volatility in emerging markets, and while for now the OBR does not expect the situation in Ukraine to have a “large impact” on us, it does warn that an escalation risks higher commodity prices, higher inflation and lower growth. It is a reminder of why we need to build our economy’s resilience.

At home, the biggest risk is clear: abandoning the economic plan that is working. And nowhere is the success of that plan more evident than in job creation. Today again we are reminded that the most important consequence of our plan is more people in work, with each job meaning a family more secure. Some in this House predicted that our plan meant a million jobs would be lost. They were spectacularly wrong. The pace of net job creation under this Government has been three times faster than in any other recovery on record: 1.3 million more people in work. The latest figures today show a staggering 24% fall in the claimant count in just one year, and the fastest fall in the youth claimant count since 1997. The OBR now forecasts one and a half million more jobs over the next five years, unemployment down from the 8% we inherited to just over 5%., and the OBR predicts earnings will grow faster than inflation this year and in every year of the forecast. That is why the country can afford a real-terms increase in the national minimum wage. This is a Government whose plan is delivering jobs. We now have a record number in work; a record number of women in work; and for the first time in 35 years, a higher employment rate than the United States of America. That is what we mean when we say we are getting Britain working.

There can be no economic security if there is no control of the public finances. Before I presented my first Budget to this House, the Government were borrowing £1 in every £4 they spent, and we were faced with the threat of a sovereign debt crisis. We have taken difficult decisions, each and every one of which was opposed. But thanks to those decisions, the IMF now say that we are achieving the largest reduction in both the headline and the structural deficits of any major advanced economy in the world. There were those who said repeatedly that the deficit was going to go up. Instead, I can tell the House that the OBR has revised down the underlying deficit in every year of its forecast. Before we came to office the deficit was 11%. This year it says it will be 6.6%—lower than forecast and down a third; next year, 5.5%—down a half; then it will fall to 4.2%, 2.4% and reach 0.8% in 2017-18. In 2018-19, it is forecasting no deficit at all; instead, at plus 0.2%, a small surplus. But only if we work through the plan.

The Government’s fiscal mandate is met, and continues to be met a year early, yet while the underlying structural deficit falls, it falls no faster than was previously forecast, despite higher growth. This goes to the heart of the argument this Government have made: faster growth alone will not balance the books. Securing Britain’s economic future means there will have to be more hard decisions—more cuts. The question for the British people is: who has the credibility to deliver them?

Let me turn to the underlying cash borrowing numbers. Britain was borrowing £157 billion a year before we came to office. This year we expect to borrow £108 billion. That is £12 billion less than forecast a year ago. Indeed, even since the autumn statement the OBR has revised down borrowing in every single year. In 2014-15 it says it will fall to £95 billion. Then it falls again to £75 billion in 2015-16, then £44 billion, and then down to £17 billion. In 2018-19 we will not be borrowing at all—we will have a small surplus of £5 billion.

Taken together, these new figures mean Britain will be borrowing £24 billion less than was forecast. That is more than we spend in an entire year on the police and criminal justice system. Lower borrowing and a smaller deficit mean less debt. While we meet the debt target one year late as before, the OBR has revised down national debt in every single year of the forecast. It expects it to be 74.5% of GDP this year, 77.3% next year, peaking at 78.7% in 2015-16—lower than the 80% previously forecast—before falling to 78.3% in 2016-17, then falling to 76.5% and then 74.2% in 2018-19.

So, growth is up, the deficit is set to halve, debt is lower. and the biggest single saving of all is a £42 billion reduction in the interest payments we will have to make on that debt, saving every family in the nation the equivalent of almost £2,000, money that was going to creditors around the world, now going to pay for the NHS and other public services.

It is because we have a credible fiscal plan that the Bank of England can provide the support needed to businesses and families. Yesterday I confirmed the appointments of Anthony Habgood to chair the Court and Ben Broadbent and Minouche Shafik to be the new deputy governors for monetary policy and for markets and banking respectively. All three make a strong team at the Bank stronger still.

I today reconfirm my remit for the Monetary Policy Committee, including the target of 2% CPI inflation, which the OBR expects will be met this year, next year and in the years ahead. I also set out the remit for the Financial Policy Committee, the body created by us to avoid the mistakes of the past. Although the OBR forecast that house prices will remain below their real-terms peak until at least 2018, I have asked the committee to be particularly vigilant against the emergence of potential risks in the housing market. To enhance our resilience and protect us from economic shocks, we will also continue rebuilding our foreign exchange reserves. Those reserves are now 50% higher than when we came to office.

Of course, the prerequisite of sound money is a sound currency, and the £1 coin has become increasingly vulnerable to forgery. It is now among the oldest coins in circulation, and one in 30 £1 coins is counterfeit. That costs businesses and the taxpayer millions each year, so I can tell the House that we will move to a new, highly secure £1 coin. It will take three years. We will consult with industry. Our new £1 coin will blend the security features of the future with inspiration from our past. In honour of our Queen, the coin will take the shape of one of the first coins she appeared on: the threepenny bit. A more resilient pound for a more resilient economy.

Sound money depends, too, on sound public finances. We are entering a critical phase and we must learn from the past. Every time a post-war Government have embarked on public spending cuts, real spending has risen back to its previous heights within three years. Sure enough, there are those today who say: “Ease up, spend more, borrow more.” That would mean debt rising towards 100% of GDP, undermining growth. It would be a huge mistake, and we are not going to let that happen.

Many Chancellors faced with a recovering economy and improved borrowing forecasts before an election would be tempted to squander the gains. I will not do that today. These gains were hard won by the British people, and we are not going to jeopardise their economic security. Britain is not going back to square one, so in this Budget all decisions are paid for. Taxes are lower but so, too, is spending, for we must bring our national debt substantially down. Analysis published today shows that just running a balanced current budget does not secure that. Instead, Britain needs to run an absolute surplus in good years. We will fix the roof when the sun is shining, to protect Britain from future storms.

So I can confirm that, in addition to the cuts this year and next, there will be cuts in the next Parliament too. To lock in our country’s commitment to this path of deficit reduction, we will seek the support of Parliament in a vote, and I will bring forward a new charter for budget responsibility this autumn. We are taking further difficult decisions now so we can reduce the deficit and protect our NHS and schools and meet our obligations to the world’s poorest by contributing 0.7% of our national income to help them. I am proud that we are doing that.

On public service pensions, we implemented the reforms proposed by John Hutton. Once again the House will want to thank him for his work. We will ensure that schemes are properly valued, saving the taxpayer over £1 billion a year. We are continuing with pay restraint in the public sector—an essential part of maintaining sound finances and economic stability. We will also insist on the prudent management of departmental finances. Thanks to the efforts of my colleagues in Cabinet, these now regularly come in under budget. In order to lock in these underspends, I said in December that we would reduce spending by £1 billion in 2015-16. Today, I am making that overall billion-pound reduction permanent.

I look forward to the work my excellent colleague the Chief Secretary is now doing, with the Cabinet Office, to find further efficiencies. Difficult decisions on public service pay and pensions, further savings in departments, a cap on welfare bills—none of these decisions is easy, but they are the right thing to ensure that Britain lives within her means.

We set out today the details of that welfare cap, and we will seek the support of Parliament for it in a vote next week. From housing benefit to tax credits, the full list of benefits included in the cap is published in the Budget document today. Only the state pension and the cyclical unemployment benefits are excluded. I am setting it at £119 billion in 2015-16. It will rise, but only in line with forecast inflation, to £127 billion in 2018-19.

Britain should always be proud of having a welfare system that helps those most in need, but never again should we allow its costs to spiral out of control and its incentives to become so distorted that it pays not to work. In future, any Government who want to spend more on benefits will have to be honest with the public about the costs, will need the approval of Parliament, and will be held to account by this permanent cap on welfare.

The distributional analysis published today shows that the Budget decisions, and the decisions across this Parliament, mean that the rich are making the biggest contribution to the reduction of the deficit, because we are all in this together. [Interruption.]


Richard Taylor
Posted on 20 Mar 2014 10:41 am (Report this annotation)

The budget documents, which were published as soon as the chancellor sat down after delivering his speech, are available at: