It turns out that the UK government has been borrowing less than we thought

As we look at the latest numbers for the UK fiscal situation we cannot avoid this thought for the post election situation which was expressed by Shirley Bassey some years ago.

Hey big spender,
Spend a little time with me
Wouldn’t you like to have fun, fun, fun
How’s about a few laughs, laughs
I could show you a good time
Let me show you a good time!

Yesterday produced an example of that on the tax front as Prime Minster Boris Johnson proposed cuts in National Insurance contributions in the same manner as the personal allowance for income tax was raised. This would start with a rise to £9500 in the National Insurance threshold and might go as high as £12.500 to align it with income tax. The initial cost would be around £3 billion a year.

Housing has also come to the front line with Labour promising to build a lot more homes.

In 2017, they promised 100,000 council or housing association homes a year. Now it’s 150,000 between them…..Labour’s £75bn plans will be paid for using half of its £150bn Social Transformation Fund – a pot it says it will use to “repair the social fabric” in the country, if they win a majority in 12 December’s general election. ( BBC)

On the other side of the coin there is less explicit spending from the Conservatives but a clear implicit burden for the taxpayer from these.

The party will promise to introduce a new mortgage with long-term fixed rates, and only needing a 5% deposit, to help renters buy their first homes.

And it will create a scheme where local first-time buyers will be able to get a 30% discount on new homes in their area.

State mortgages? Also a type of help to buy on steroids. So extra liabilities for taxpayers which should be a debit somewhere in the public finances.

The Liberal Democrats offer this.

On Wednesday, the Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto, promising to build 300,000 homes a year by 2024, including 100,000 social homes.

The problem with all of these is twofold. We seem to be building more houses now anyway so how many more do we need? The issue seems to be more of one of them being in the wrong place rather than a total shortage. Also we have had lots of schemes to build more houses which have been full of hot air including one which built none at all. Whoever gets in power there will be more spending in this area it seems.

The Liberal Democrats

Last time around their manifesto was not available but we see now that actually they plan to be relatively fiscally responsible.

A good government should responsibly manage the nation’s finances: taking advantage of opportunities to borrow to invest in key infrastructure while making sure that day-to-day spending does not exceed the amount of money raised in taxes…….Ensure overall national debt continues to decline as a share of national income.

The “day to day” bit looks a continuation of the swerves we see to look like you are being restrained when you are spending but the national debt plan does imply a brake. Compared to the plans of the Tories and Labour quite a brake actually.

Where things get confused is here, because we would under their plan to stay in the European Union just carry on so the “bonus” is what precisely?

Use the £50 billion Remain Bonus to invest in services and tackle inequality, giving a major boost to schools and combatting in-work poverty.

On the other hand they do move from fantasy to reality with their plan to raise the basic rate of income tax by 1 pence. That is I believe for improvements to education in theory although of course it just goes in the same pot. But at least it is reasonably clear.

How much are we taxed?

Here are the calculations of the Resolution Foundation.

Total revenue as a share of GDP has risen to its highest level since 1985-86 but remains very close to its post-war average of 37 per cent. Tax revenue excluding other receipts has hit its highest share of GDP since 1981-82.

Today’s Data

This should bring us back to reality although there are issues with the version of reality presented to us as regular readers will be aware. There is yet another example of that today and let me illustrate with something you might have been expecting.

Borrowing (public sector net borrowing excluding public sector banks, PSNB ex) in October 2019 was £11.2 billion, £2.3 billion more than in October 2018; this is the highest October borrowing for five years (since October 2014).

If we stay with the October figures then yet again the phrase “as expected” can be used.

Departmental expenditure on goods and services increased by £2.3 billion, compared with October 2018, including a £1.0 billion increase in expenditure on staff costs and a £1.0 billion increase in the purchase of goods and services.

That is consistent with what we have been seeing with a hint of spending ahead of the supposed Brexit date at the end of October. Indeed overall the spending was higher overall because we see that there was a cut.

Interest payments on the government’s outstanding debt decreased by £0.5 billion, compared with October 2018, largely resulting from movements in the Retail Prices Index (RPI), to which index-linked bonds are pegged.

But I am afraid if you look deeper there is a swerve as hinted at below.

Borrowing in the current financial year-to-date (April 2019 to October 2019) was £46.3 billion, £4.3 billion more than in the same period last year; this is the highest April-to-October borrowing for two years (since 2017), though April-to-October 2018 remains the lowest in such a period for 12 years (since 2007).

So much of the extra borrowing was October which made me thing hang on! We have been told for a while spending has been higher and last month the year so far was £5.9 billion higher.So we should be £8.2 billion higher now not £4.3 billion. The difference is found below.

PSNB ex in the current financial year-to-date (April to September 2019) has been revised down by £3.9 billion compared with figures presented in the previous bulletin (published as corrected on 29 October 2019) as a result of updated central government data.

 

 we find out that  the problems have been mostly with expenditure.

Over the same period, we have reduced our previous estimate of central government current expenditure by £2.5 billion. Reductions in previous estimates of the purchase of goods and services, social assistance and “other” current grants of £3.2 billion, £0.6 billion and £0.6 billion, respectively, were partially offset by a combined upward revision to previous estimates of staff costs and grants to local government of £1.4 billion and £0.5 billion.

Seeing as that is the expenditure which we are told has gone up this month the situation looks a bit of a mess.

Also we never seem to be able to quite shake off issues with the banks whatever subject we look at.

The previous estimate of interest and dividends receipts has been increased by £0.7 billion, largely because of a £0.8 billion misrecording of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), paid in April 2019, being captured in cash receipts but not in central government net borrowing. Further, updated bank levy data increased tax receipt estimates by £0.2 billion.

Comment

So there you have it a clear case of value from my style of work as in actually looking at the numbers and data. You will find loads of reports in the media that we have spent more whereas overall we have spent less than we thought! Or if you prefer today’s revisions mean that the UK’s fiscal stimulus has so far been smaller than we have been told. In a way that about sum’s up the years I have been looking at this area.

Looking ahead we do seem set to spend more whoever forms the next government and in some cases much more. We can borrow more presently at cheap rates ( 1.21% for the 50 year Gilt yield) but as to taxation I intend to wait and see as in recent times governments have not found it easy to actually raise it. The last big move I can recall was the post crash rise in Value Added Tax and some taxes have the issue illustrated by Ireland and the way big companies use it.