I will come on to that right now.
“In five years’ time, we will have balanced the books.”
The Government have failed to do that. It is worth revisiting the promises made then before giving the Chancellor the congratulations he seeks now for this 2015 Budget. In June 2010 they set a forward-looking fiscal mandate to achieve a cyclically adjusted current balance by this financial year. It was a rolling target, but no one took the rolling nature of it very seriously, so let us put that to one side. In short, they were saying they would eliminate the deficit by this financial year. In 2010, by their own measure, we were told they would do this, achieving a surplus of 0.3% last year and 0.8% this year. That is what we were told would happen. In the event, the Chancellor completely failed to meet that goal. The deficit came in at 2.4% last year, is forecast to be 1.7% of GDP this year and does not move into a surplus until 2017-18, some three years later than planned on their own measures.
There was also a supplementary target for public sector net debt as a proportion of GDP to be falling by 2015-16. The Chancellor managed to achieve that through some jiggery-pokery with the numbers, namely rapid asset sales in the last Parliament to pay down enough of the debt for his supplementary target to be met. But rushed asset sales mean poor value for the taxpayer, as the disastrous sale of Royal Mail illustrated in technicolour.
It is also worth reflecting on what we were told the debt-to-GDP ratio would be in 2010. It was supposed to fall from 61.9% of GDP in 2010 to 69.4% and 67.4% last year and this year, but debt as a proportion of GDP was 80.8% last year and is forecast to be 80.3% this year.