OK, we’ll bite. The Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner has a column with a headline which tends towards alarmist:
Negative interest rates put world on course for biggest mass default in history
On Wednesday, December 3, the chancellor will deliver the final Autumn Statement before the 2015 general election.
There will be extensive coverage of the chancellor’s speech live on ft.com. And from 3pm on December 3, a panel of personal finance experts will be on hand to answer your questions about its contents. Submit your questions in the live reader comments field or email the Money team at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time up to and during the live Q&A. We will choose a selection for our panel to answer.
On the panel are:
The discussion will be moderated by James Pickford, FT Money deputy editor, and Jonathan Eley, FT Money editor
We revealed in this morning’s FT that the Treasury is making it clear to investors in UK debt that if Scotland goes independent, the rest of the UK will still be liable for the debt that it has issued.
In other words, however the debt is carved up, if an independent Scotland defaults on one of its repayments, it will be English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayers who will have to pay up.
In one sense, this seems to give Alex Salmond a much stronger hand in any negotiation with the rest of the UK (again, if Scotland becomes independent) about how assets and liabilities should be carved up. After all, if the UK is guaranteeing Scotland’s debts, Salmond could turn round and insist his government will only keep up with repayments in return for another of his demands – for example, being allowed to use sterling. Read more
Philip Hammond appeared on the Today programme this morning defending his position after being accused of dragging his heels on the spending review.
The defence secretary has not yet submitted his draft plans for how he could cut 5 per cent of his budget in 2015-16 (half of that asked of other departments), but he told the BBC he was not a “hold out” adding that he hopes to have an “adult conversation” about where the axe should fall.
But in case anyone was in any doubt of how willing he is to stand up to the Treasury, he added this:
We should be very clear that there is a difference between efficiency savings, which may be difficult to achieve but are painless in terms of the impact on the front line, and output cuts, which are of a very different order and require proper and mature consideration across government about the impact that they will have on our military capabilities.
This June, George Osborne will unveil his spending review for the financial year 2015/16. The chancellor is expecting to have to make around £10bn of cuts to Whitehall departments, which, as we revealed in the FT a few weeks ago, would mean some departments taking a particularly heavy whack.
Our figures show that cutting at the same pace as the government has done so far, which is what Osborne has promised, would mean another £1bn taken out of both the business department and the money that goes to local government. The defence budget, possibly the most sensitive of budgets, at least within the Conservative party, would fall by nearly £770m. Read more
Welcome to our rolling coverage of the Autumn Statement.
George Osborne has missed his fiscal targets and cut corporation tax.
We’ll bring you all the day’s developments live. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton.
15.45: We’re winding up the blog now, but you can follow events as they unfold through constantly updating stories on the front page of FT.com
15.31: A representation of the “flamethrower of uncertainty” can be found in the documentation of the OBR. It is also known as a “fan chart”. I doubt George Osborne is a fan of it, though.
15.24: Chote speaks of the “flamethrower of uncertainty”- a favourite phrase, unsettlingly enough, of the OBR, which is a chart showing forecasts in a wide range that makes the chart lines look like a firebreathing dragon.
15.18: Chote says that the variation in the possible range in the forecast of net debt figures for the UK is a large number, but is “dwarfed by the scale of uncertainties” on the issuance of debt. I think that’s the second time he has said that in his address.
15.12: The Spectator is running a rather scary chart showing the lost output of the current “seven-year slump” in the UK.
15.07: Robert Chote, director of the Office for Budget Responsibility, is live now, going through his department’s figures that underpinned the bad news Mr Osborne has just had to deliver.
15.05: Gavyn Davies has blogged for the FT with his view on the autumn statement while the FT’s Lucy Warwick-Ching has collated some very interesting instant reaction from personal finance experts.
14.49: Hannah Kuchler on the FT’s UK desk has been keeping an eye on business reaction to the autumn statement.
The CBI, the employer’s organisation, urged the government to stick to its guns on deficit reduction to retain international credibility, saying it was no surprise that austerity would last longer than expected.
John Cridland, director-general, welcomed investment in infrastructure and support for exports, but said the proof was in the delivery. He said:
“Businesses need to see the Chancellor’s words translated into building sites on the ground.”
But the British Chambers of Commerce was less positive, declaring the statement not good enough for a country meant to be in a state of “economic war”.
The government is just “tinkering around the edges”, John Longworth, the BCC’s director general said, adding: “The Budget next March must make truly radical and large-scale choices that support long-term growth and wealth creation. That means reconsidering the ‘sacred cows’ of the political class, including overseas aid and the gargantuan scale of the welfare state. Only a wholesale re-prioritisation of resources, to unlock private sector finance, investment and jobs, will be enough to win the ‘economic war’ we are facing. The danger is that our political class is sleepwalking with its eyes open.”
14.40: Lionel Barber, the FT’s editor, just passed by the live news desk so we asked him what he thought of the autumn statement.
The Chancellor is in a hole, but the good news is that he’s stopped digging. The FT supports the government’s fiscal stance, but is there more to be done on monetary policy to boost growth? That’s the question.
14.26 Who says the British don’t like doing things the French way? Might we surmise from this tweet from the BBC’s Robert Peston’s interview with Danny Alexander, Osborne’s Lib Dem No2, that the UK’s crediworthiness might be going to way of its Gallic cousins’?
Others are more chipper:
Vince Cable’s speech to Lib Dem conference was just about on-message as regard to the coalition’s economic strategy. We need the state, he said; we need a demand stimulus, he said; we are taking advantage of low interest rates and borrowing more, he said. But he didn’t quite call for more borrowing for an immediate fiscal boost.
In fact, any Lib Dem wanting to call for a departure from George Osborne’s Plan A will now find it very difficult to do so after the party conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of the current fiscal plan.
This morning, delegates were asked to vote for a motion backing the “difficult decisions taken by the coalition government” and calling for the government to “do everything possible to stimulate growth within its fiscal mandate” (emphasis mine). Read more
This morning’s papers are not going to make comfortable reading for George Osborne (not the first time we’ve said that recently…).
The Guardian has splashed on a story in the New Statesman that several of the 20 economists who signed a letter in 2010 backing the Osborne deficit reduction strategy had now changed their minds. The story was picked up in other papers too.
But of greater political significance is the piece I wrote in this morning’s FT about how the first fissures are starting to show in the joint coalition commitment to Plan A. Three Lib Dem MPs went on the record to say they wanted the chancellor to be more flexible with his spending plans, and allow the deficit reduction targets to slide in order to pay for a short-term stimulus. Read more
David Cameron’s interview with the Telegraph this morning was interesting for lots of reasons. But the main one was his big hint of having to cope with austerity until 2020. Asked if there was likely to be a decade of cuts, the prime minister said:
This is a period for all countries, not just in Europe but I think you will see it in America too, where we have to deal with our deficits and we have to have sustainable debts. I can’t see any time soon when…the pressure will be off.
I don’t see a time when difficult spending choices are going to go away.
Bleak words, which echoed what Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, said last month. He told an audience at the Institute for Government:
William Hague’s message in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that businesses should “work harder” to promote growth was certainly bold.
At a time when the economy is stagnating and the government’s strategy is increasingly being questioned, turning round and blaming the sector of the economy you’re relying on to turn that round seems like a reckless strategy.
Before we get on to why it’s not a good idea to blame business for not supporting growth, let’s mention why Hague has a point:
When George Osborne told the country last November that he was going to miss the target of eliminating the current structural deficit by 2015, Labour were quick to tell everyone how the chancellor’s economic gamble had failed.
Not only was Osborne having to borrow more to pay for this failure, the opposition claimed that he was even now having to borrow more than Alistair Darling would have done under his deficit reduction plan. That claim was illustrated by this graph, showing the course of borrowing under Darling’s 2010 plan and Osborne’s modified 2011 plan:
An additional 3,000 civilians will be axed from the Ministry of Defence after ministers realised the department’s “black hole” – the gap between revenue expectations and spending commitments – was bigger than previously thought.
This “black hole” has become one of the government’s most effective examples of Labour profligacy versus coalition (especially Conservative) fiscal discipline. But in truth, we’ve never really known how big it is or how close it is to being eliminated.
It is generally reckoned that when the coalition came in, there was a £10bn gap that needed closing over the course of the parliament, but the total overspend on existing projects could eventually be as high as £38bn. Read more
Unless there is a last minute U-turn in Whitehall tonight, one of the ways which George Osborne will pay for the various jobs and infrastructure schemes in Tuesday’s growth review will be to squeeze tax credits.
This is a result of protracted bargaining – Osborne wanted to freeze benefits, but the combined efforts of the Lib Dems and Iain Duncan Smith put a stop to that. Eventually the compromise was made that credits would come under the axeman’s blade instead.
So who suffers if these are frozen or cut? Read more
The unemployment stats on Wednesday triggered a new round of speculation about whether George Osborne was likely to meet his two fiscal targets: balancing the structural current deficit and having debt falling as a ratio to GDP by the end of the parliament.
Neither target is quite as tough as you might think, however, as the Guardian has pointed out today. On the debt target, technically, the government could borrow billions more than it is currently planning and still not breach it, as long as it slowed borrowing towards the end of the parliament and showed debt was falling by 2015. This is unlikely to happen (partially because it could breach the other target), but it is possible. Read more
We reported last week that George Osborne and Vince Cable were pushing for a new toll road scheme on the heavily congested A14 near Cambridge. Today, the Sunday Times suggests that road tolling will play a central role in the government’s growth review on November 29.
The paper says Osborne and Cable want £50bn from the private sector, mainly pension funds and insurance companies, to fund new infrastructure, including roads, homes and power stations. In return they will get a share of tolls, rents and energy bills.
The problem is that ministers can’t force private companies to spend their money on such schemes: all they can do is put the incentives in place for them to do so. But these carry their own risks. Read more
Last week Andrew Tyrie told The Times the government’s growth strategy was not coherent or consistent. In remarkably outspoken comments, the chairman of the Treasury select committee said policies such as the Big Society or the green agenda were “at best irrelevant to the task in hand, if not downright contradictory to it”.
Number 10 may have been reluctant to comment this morning on revelations by the FT’s Chris Giles about a £12bn ‘black hole’ in the public finances but Lib Dems, cornered at their conference in Birmingham, were more open.
Senior Lib Dem MPs quizzed on Monday suggested they were not entirely surprised by the 25 per cent increase in the structural deficit, but not surprisingly, are still not in any mood to back further cuts to bring it under control. Read more
On the day after George Osborne admitted that he had recently lowered his short-term growth expectations, and with a row currently waging over the government’s wish to scrap the popular 50p top rate of income tax, Ed Miliband might have been expected to use the first PMQs after the summer to attack David Cameron on the economy.
But instead, we found ourselves in two rather old arguments, about police numbers and NHS waiting lists. While both are undoubtedly important subjects, somehow the debate felt a bit off-topic.
The reason for Miliband avoiding the big issue of the day became apparent later in the session, when the prime minister was asked by a Labour backbencher about the 50p rate and replied:
The person responsible for Labour’s economic policy at the last election said that they had no credibility whatsoever.
He was referring to Alistair Darling, Labour’s former chancellor, whose memoirs published this week describe a 2009 pre-Budget report whose creation was so chaotic and disunified that it resulted in a complete mess of an economic policy. Read more
Amid the frenetic activity surrounding the response to last week’s riots, a cautiously-written, but telling article by George Osborne and a group of other finance ministers in today’s FT risks slipping by unnoticed.
The piece is moderate in tone, but has the chance to be controversial on a number of levels:
1) It calls for other countries to follow broadly the UK deficit reduction plan. When the ministers write that there should be “credible fiscal consolidation in countries with large deficits”, it is a clear message to western economies: cut your deficits now. Read more
It never looks good for a politician to gloat in the middle of the turmoil, and George Osborne isn’t doing that. But he is pointing out, unsurprisingly, that the swift cuts to eliminate the deficit have made bond traders less likely to turn their sights onto the UK.
In the Telegraph today, he writes:
In retrospect, the use of political capital to implement immediate efficiency savings, pass the emergency Budget, agree the most difficult Spending Review for generations and put in place long-term fiscal reforms to pensions was an excellent investment in our country’s economic stability. Thanks to these decisions, the credit rating agency Standard & Poors took the UK off negative outlook and reaffirmed our AAA rating.
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