UK News

Insights from the UK and beyond

from The Great Debate UK:

Budget day: Politics not economics

--Sam Hill is Senior UK economist at RBC. The opinions expressed are his own.--

The headlines generated by the forthcoming UK budget are likely to be political rather than economic; the general election is next year. Despite a faster than expected fall in unemployment and inflation, macroeconomic developments since the December autumn statement present limited scope for forecast revisions to government borrowing. But come the post-budget analysis, some of the seemingly esoteric revised economic assumptions may have important consequences for how the budget is perceived politically.

The modest changes we do expect to the economic forecasts would be seen as positive in essence. Small upgrades to the growth outlook should translate into borrowing reductions of  between £3 billion and £6 billion per year throughout the five-year horizon. That would leave the underlying measure of borrowing at £332 billion for the six years to 2018-19, down from £358 billion in the existing forecast from December, which itself represented a significant improvement on last year’s budget.

In these terms the presentation of the budget maths looks, on the face of it, to be a good news story for the government. It can claim deficit reduction is getting back on track. The complication comes though in the assessment that is made by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) about the responsible way to approach tackling the rest of the deficit from here.

The risk for the government is that the OBR’s updated outlook leads to the conclusion that further tax hikes or spending cuts are needed – despite those falls in the overall borrowing forecast. Whether or not this happens depends on how much below its capacity size the OBR thinks the economy is operating, both now and in future. The further below full potential the economy is judged to be, the more of the deficit it is safe to assume will disappear naturally as the economy grows. Conversely, if the OBR say there is no spare capacity, the entire remaining deficit from that point must be dealt with by announcing further policy tightening. This portion of the deficit is the structural deficit.

from The Great Debate UK:

Budget preview: Don’t expect pyrotechnics

--Nick Beecroft is Chairman, Saxo Capital Markets, Saxo Bank. The opinions expressed are his own.--

Those expecting a rivetingly exciting spectacle when the chancellor announces his budget next Wednesday will be in for disappointment, but that doesn’t mean that this won’t be an intensely political budget, given this really represents his last chance to make changes which will be fully appreciated by the electorate by the next general election. Having said this, his room for manoeuvre is limited, and the effect on the overall fiscal balance will be minimal.

from The Great Debate UK:

Budget background: Dark with light patches

--Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.--

Spring has sprung.

The grass has riz.

I wonder when the Budget is….

On 19th March actually or, more importantly in this age of nonstop campaigning, six weeks before the European elections and barely a year away from the general election. Since the 2015 Budget will be too late to affect our wallets before we go to the polls, this is George Osborne’s last chance to reassure us that the economic situation is under control. Will he be able to resist the temptation to give us a reward for our patience through four years of austerity and to reassure us that the misery is nearly over?

from The Great Debate:

Where does Britain stand in the global economic race?

Following the international financial crisis of the late 2000s, the world’s financial leaders have been working towards a standardized banking system that will strengthen banks at an individual level, and thus improve the banking sector’s ability to survive stress when it occurs.

In 2010 the Basel Committee produced a third accord outlining a set of regulations, with the goal of solving the banking system's ongoing problems. Since then the conversation has yet to cease over whether enough has been done, since the peak of the crisis in 2008, to ensure a stable financial environment that supports growth on an international scale.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

British economic governance encounters turbulence

Students of British history will recall the story of Thomas a’Becket, the 12th century prelate who was handpicked by Henry II to become Archbishop of Canterbury because of his loyalty to the Crown. Within months of his appointment, a’Becket turned against the King in the numerous conflicts between church and state. As a result, a’Becket was murdered at the altar of Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, after four of Henry’s henchmen heard their royal master mutter in irritation: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Archbishops do not have much political clout these days, but comparable spiritual importance now attaches to central bankers. And a central banker who suddenly seems reminiscent of Thomas a’Becket is Mark Carney, the recently appointed governor of the Bank of England.

When George Osborne, the British chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), delivered his Autumn Statement on Britain’s economic and fiscal prospects this week, he intended it as a “soft launch” for the Tory-Liberal government’s campaign for re-election in May 2015. The big set-piece speech offered Osborne an ideal opportunity to boast about the British economy’s sudden improvement this year and to announce some populist measures, such as a “voluntary” price-control regime for energy utilities, that were carefully designed to wrong-foot the Labour opposition. Osborne’s speech marked the start of a long political campaign designed to create a Pavlovian association in voters’ minds between government policies, rising house prices and the economic recovery. If this campaign is successful it will virtually guarantee election victory for the Tory-Liberal coalition -- and it could even make an outright majority for the Tories conceivable in 2015.

from The Great Debate UK:

UK recovery, but not on the high street

It was only a few days ago that George Osborne declared victory on economic malaise saying that the UK economy has turned a corner. The economic data has improved dramatically in the last six months, which gave Osborne a battering ram to launch a political attack on the Labour Party. Osborne used his moment in the sun to prove Ed Balls and all on the other side of the political bench wrong, saying that his austerity programme is right for Britain.

However, a little over 24 hours after Osborne’s speech a report from the Local Data Company made for uncomfortable reading as it detailed grim conditions on the UK’s high streets. High Street vacancy rates remain stubbornly high; out of 650 town centres in the UK the average vacancy rate is 14.1 percent, which is basically unchanged since February.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Even Britain has now abandoned austerity

The Age of Austerity is over. This is not a prediction, but a simple statement of fact. No serious policymaker anywhere in the world is trying to reduce deficits or debt any longer, and all major central banks are happy to finance more government borrowing with printed money. After Japan’s election of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the undeclared budgetary ceasefire in Washington that followed President Obama’s victory last year, there were just two significant hold-outs against this trend: Britain and the euro-zone. Now, the fiscal “Austerians” and “sado-monetarists” in both these economies have surrendered, albeit for very different reasons.

Much attention has been focused this week on the chaos in Cyprus. Coming after the Italian election and subsequent easing of Italy’s fiscal conditions, the overriding necessity to keep Cyprus within the euro -- and its military bases and gas supplies outside Russian control -- will almost surely mean another retreat by Germany and the European Central Bank from their excessive austerity demands. But an even more remarkable shift has occurred in Britain. The Cameron government, which embraced fiscal austerity as its main raison d’etre, was suddenly converted to the joys of debt and borrowing in this week’s budget.

What did you think of the 2011 budget?

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BRITAIN-BUDGET/George Osborne has delivered his budget speech for the 2011/12 fiscal year to parliament.

The Chancellor said corporation tax would be cut by two percentage points to 26 percent from April, rather than by just the one point originally planned. A levy on banks would be increased to help pay for it.

Is there a Plan B for the government?

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BRITAIN-BUDGET/

Our Reuters/Ipsos MORI poll is likely to make cheery reading for Britain’s Labour party.

For the first time since January 2008, they are level pegging with the Conservatives in terms of popular support; for the first time since May’s general election, more people are dissatisfied with the government than are pleased with it, and – perhaps most heartening of all for the opposition – three-quarters of the public would rather see slower public spending cuts than swift ones. And all that without Labour even having a leader.

from The Great Debate UK:

VAT rise – is it really that bad?

BRITAIN-BUDGET/

Rachel Mason is public relations manager at Fair Investment Company. The opinions expressed are her own.-

So the new coalition government is putting VAT up from 17.5 percent to 20 percent on January 4 2011 and the country is up in arms, but is it really that bad?

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